Open Central Park to the protesters!
On Tuesday, The New York Times reported that United for Peace & Justice, the group planning a mass rally and protest for Aug. 29, the day before the start of the Republican National Convention, has now asked the city to let them hold their event on Central Parks North Meadow. This comes on the heels of the citys rejection of the groups request to use the Great Lawn.
In its most recent offer, the city has said United for Peace & Justice can use the West Side Highway in Midtown for a rally site. However, the protesters rightly say the highway will be brutal in August, that they will literally bake under the sun on the hot pavement, and that perhaps the city is offering this site as a way to discourage a larger turnout. In addition, the protesters contend the experience of a rally on a highway is nothing like that of one in a park, especially Central Park. Sound, visibility, safety and the ability to move about freely are far superior in the park, as opposed to a street, which is narrower and walled in. The mention of a narrow, walled-in space raises the specter of how the city handled, or rather mishandled, the rally against war with Iraq on the East Side earlier this year on Feb. 15, when protesters were crammed and herded basically immobilized in metal pens.
The city has said the Great Lawn cant be used because the grass would suffer too much damage from the estimated 250,000 protesters. Bill Dobbs of United for Peace & Justice said the protesters are willing to walk three-quarters of a mile more in order to reach the North Meadow to have the experience of rallying in Central Park. However, a Parks Department spokesperson said the North Meadow is even more fragile, in a sense, than the Lawn because it is so heavily used for sports and by youth leagues. The North Meadow, like the Great Lawn, underwent a renovation a few years ago, costing $4.7 million.
While its wonderful Central Park is flourishing under the Central Park Conservancy, a private organization, its important to point out the park still belongs to the people. When Central Park was designed by Vaux and Olmstead it was intended as an intensely democratic place, where all classes and ethnic groups could mingle and enjoy the natural setting as an escape from the oppressive city. The democratic ideals at the core of the parks creation must not be forgotten. And what could be more democratic than citizens voicing their views while a national political convention is in town?
Again, a bond can be posted for any potential foreseeable damage that may occur to the grass. If a few peewee leagues have to reschedule their games we think theyll be able to find alternate makeup dates.
As Dobbs says, the city is treating Central Park like a lawn museum, seemingly trying to put an end to its use as an important event space. The park wasnt created as many are in Europe, where no one dare walk on the lawns. Open the park to the people already and let the protesters have their say!