Volume 74, Number 15 | August 11 - 17 , 2004


One more time: Let the protesters have the park!

Before the Republican National Convention has even hit town, the effort by United for Peace and Justice to secure a safe and appropriate site for its planned Aug. 29 “The World Says No to the Bush Agenda” rally has become one of the largest civil-liberties battles in recent memory.

Although last month, U.F.P.J. accepted a permit for a march past the convention site, Madison Sq. Garden, and down the West Side Highway, ending with a rally on the highway at Chambers St., the group now says the rally site simply does not work for them physically or philosophically. On Tuesday, they told the city they won’t use the highway and filed a new permit for use of three huge fields in Central Park — the North Meadow, East Meadow and Great Lawn. However, within hours of the announcement, the Bloomberg administration denied U.F.P.J.’s new permit application for the park, as it had done with the organization’s previous application for the park.

Yet, U.F.P.J. has made it clear that, no matter what, they no longer plan to use the highway rally site. Their complaints, we feel, are legitimate. There have been no guarantees from the city that metal protest pens won’t be used and the fact remains that a hot highway in late August is no place for a massive crowd, one that is sure to include many senior and disabled protesters.

The park — not a highway — is where people seek refuge from summer’s swelter. And a large, long and wide space is naturally more suitable for a rally than a highway, since the latter presents problems of sound and visibility.

The city keeps arguing that the Great Lawn and, also the North Meadow, have been renovated and that the grass lawns can’t handle thousands of protesters. Harm the grass? This is the most important presidential election of our lives! Grass will grow back. U.F.P.J. says it has 1,000 volunteers who are ready to help fix up the lawns, if needed, after the protest. Also, a bond can be posted to cover any damage, and surely individuals and groups will step forward to back such a bond in the name of freedom of expression and dissent.

More frightening, by rejecting the protesters’ new request for Central Park the mayor is creating a volatile situation. If, as seems likely, a federal lawsuit is filed by U.F.P.J. to use the park and it fails, it will then be unclear what will happen on Aug. 29 once the protesters reach the Garden. In short, a chaotic situation is shaping up. A protest out of control is good for neither the city nor the protesters.

The solution is simple — give the protesters the park. Let them enjoy their experience, just as the G.O.P. delegates — for whom the city is bending over backwards to welcome — hope to enjoy theirs.

Already many New Yorkers are planning to flee the city to avoid the convention. If it appears this protest will devolve into disarray, the exodus will increase. With a word, Bloomberg can work it out, as former Mayor Ed Koch did in 1982 for the No Nukes rally. We hope Bloomberg shows as much common sense as Koch did.

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