Volume 17 • Issue 13 | August 20 - 26, 2004


Protestors, be peaceful; city, give them the park

More Americans are opposing a war overseas, there are violent protests at the president’s party convention and the more pro-war candidate for president ends up winning the November election. It is not a prediction for this year but a recollection from 1968.

There are significant differences between 1968 and 2004 to be sure. Most notably, the Democrats held the White House and were waging the Vietnam War in ’68 even though the party’s candidate, Vice President Hubert Humphrey, appeared to be the one more intent on stopping the war. This year, the Republicans’ candidate, President George W. Bush, is the person more committed to continuing the war in Iraq.

We bring up 1968 because there is an important lesson for the hundreds of thousands expected to protest against Bush at this year’s Republican convention in New York. Regardless of whether or not Chicago police officers provoked the demonstrators 36 years ago, the sight of longhaired demonstrators fighting with police no doubt turned off much of Middle America and helped Richard Nixon and the Republicans win the presidency.

We can’t read the minds of Bush and his political guru, Karl Rove, but it seems to us that for them, the best convention scenario would include television footage of violent protests, vitriolic demonstrators making outlandish charges, and numerous acts of vandalism. If such acts were to occur – and we are not predicting that they will – it would likely have the effect of drawing sympathy to Bush. The anti-Bush protestors could help him win the election if the demonstrations turn chaotic and violent.

The would-be demonstrators have much to be angry about but the best and most effective protest would be a massive orderly demonstration. Protest leaders must work to keep the demonstration peaceful and marginalize violent groups. It is here that the venue issue becomes critical and Mayor Mike Bloomberg needs to bend and offer the protestors either Central Park, or another suitable location in closer proximity to Midtown.

Despite his flamboyant offer of discounts to peaceful protestors, Bloomberg has not bargained in good faith with the protestors, who have organized a series of events from next weekend until the convention’s last day, Sept. 2. First his administration told United for Peace and Justice that the group couldn’t gather on Central Park’s Great Lawn for its Aug. 29 march because of potential damage to the grass. Last week, Bloomberg said having a rally of 250,000 people in the park would be dangerous because emergency vehicles couldn’t get through.

Raising this new argument about the park at the 11th hour calls the city’s opposition further into question. With the park’s Loop and numerous vehicular access areas, of course emergency vehicles could get in. The city so far has not produced evidence showing the park is incapable of accommodating large crowds without serious damage. U.P.J., after accepting the city’s banishment to the West Side Highway, changed its position after pressure from its base, and is now challenging the city’s permit denial in court.

After floating the idea of a permit for Times Square, the city nixed that

location and pushed the protestors onto the West Side Highway at Chambers St., snaking north. Every New Year’s Eve, the world gets to see that Times Square can accommodate large crowds. Instead, the city is favoring the option that looks like it will have the worst effect on residents and traffic.

The highway sound stage will be closer to large residential communities in Tribeca and Battery Park City than the other possible sites. The demonstration will of course close a highway rather than some city streets. One of the major entrances to the city, the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, would either be closed or severely impacted during the march. In an emergency, most of the crowd could only disperse in two directions, north and east, rather than four at the other locations.

The city’s non-negotiating tactics have only added fuel to the anger against Bush and created a more volatile situation that could spiral out of control. Central Park remains New York’s ultimate public park. A bond can be posted to cover potential damages. A Quinnipiac poll says that 75 percent of New Yorkers feel the rally should be held in Central Park. Although his party is probably telling him not to, the mayor must listen to the people.

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