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Volume 73, Number 3 | May 19 - 25, 2004


Manhattan can fit protesters and the G.O.P.

This summer, the Republican National Convention is coming to New York City for the first time in the Grand Old Party’s history. This summer, hundreds of thousands, if not millions of protesters, are expected to gather in the city to protest Bush administration and Republican policies supporting war with Iraq, more tax cuts for the rich and Constitutional amendments banning gay marriage and abortion.

Both summer events — the convention and the protests — will be great for New York. As both of the major party presidential candidates have said, “Bring it on.”

Protests are part of any political convention and given President George W. Bush’s many divisive policies and the fact that he took office under disputed circumstances, it is natural to expect large protests at the convention.

The city’s Police and Parks Departments have denied the protesters’ application for 250,000 people to march past the convention site at Madison Sq. Garden and continue on to Central Park’s Great Lawn. The Great Lawn was restored in 1996. Park officials say if there were heavy rains, a quarter of a million people could cause many millions of dollars in damage and require the lawn to be closed for a year for resodding. That would be a heavy cost indeed, but the information behind those assertions needs to be made public to be evaluated by independent experts.

The city has suggested staging the protest in Flushing Meadow Park. As some of the organizers have said, they’ll be happy to move to Queens once the convention moves there. And last we checked, there was grass that could be damaged there too.

The spirit of the First Amendment — not something to be brushed aside in the present context — suggests protesters have the right to get at least within shouting distance of the Garden and be able to gather somewhere within reasonable walking distance. If the city can’t meet those requirements, then the city should have made that clear in the first place and declined to host the convention. And it shouldn’t cite lawn damage as a way to remove the protest from Manhattan. Protest is a vital part of our democratic traditions, as is the convention itself.

Former Mayor Ed Koch, who is vice chairperson of the Host Committee for the R.N.C., suggested on Monday in an article in the Washington Post that the protesters could post a bond to cover damage to the Great Lawn “and be done with it.” That seems like a sensible idea.

As an alternative to using the Great Lawn, one high-ranking city official told us that there may be large street intersections not too far from the Garden where the protesters could congregate. It’s up to Mayor Bloomberg to make such information public and get the N.Y.P.D. to work closely with the rally organizers.

This town is big enough for conservatives, anarchists, right-wingers, left-wingers, Republicans, Democrats, other party members, independents, big conventions and big protests. This is New York.