Volume 74, Number 16 | August 18 - 24 , 2004

Villager photo by Q. Sakamaki

Making a protest sign for the Republican National Convention in DUMBO, in Brooklyn.

Anti-Bush protesters sue to rally in the park

By Lincoln Anderson

Right before going to press, The Villager learned that United for Peace and Justice plans to file a lawsuit on Wednesday afternoon, Aug. 18 to demand that the Bloomberg administration allow the scheduled Aug. 29 “World Says No to the Bush Agenda” rally to be held in Central Park.

“We are going to court tomorrow afternoon,” said a source on Tuesday night, adding that a press conference would be held announcing the suit.

Last week, as a result of objections among its own coalition members, U.F.P.J. rejected its previous agreement with the city to rally on the West Side Highway in Lower Manhattan and filed a new permit for Central Park. But the administration promptly dismissed it.

Also on Tuesday, Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields joined the call to allow the protesters to use Central Park.

“The city should stop trying to block the application to use Central Park for a rally protesting the Republican National Convention and approve the permit immediately,” Fields said. “There is no better venue in Manhattan for such a protest and it has proven to be ideal for numerous, large events.” Fields called the rally “a matter of free speech, a right enshrined in our Constitution. An event as large and as political as the Republican National Convention requires that we make room for dissent, and the Bloomberg administration appears to be trying to squelch that dissent.”

In addition, City Councilmember and Manhattan Borough President candidate Bill Perkins told The Villager he planned to ask the Council to hold hearings into what role the Central Park Conservancy, a private fundraising vehicle that is the park’s de facto operator, may be playing in blocking the approval of a permit for the protesters to rally in the park. Perkins has been a leading advocate in the Council for U.F.P.J.’s right to a safe, pen-free rally in the park, instead of on a blazing hot highway.

Meanwhile, Former Mayor Ed Koch, who is vice president of the R.N.C. Host Committee and chairperson of its Volunteer Committee, told The Villager that while it’s true that he did overrule his Parks commissioner in 1982 to allow the No Nukes rally to take place on the Great Lawn, “it didn’t make a difference,” because the Lawn hadn’t been renovated at that point. U.F.P.J. has cited Koch’s ’82 decision as an example the mayor should follow and that he should overrule his Parks commissioner, Adrian Benepe, who opposes the use of the Lawn, North Meadow and East Meadow for the 250,000 protesters that U.F.J.P. is anticipating.

U.F.P.J. has suggested looking at the use of the Mall in Washington, D.C., to see how protests and the impact on the grass there are handled. Leonard Lee, a member of the permit department for the National Park Service for the National Capitol Region, said that the Mall has a dual mission.

“The mission is to conserve and protect, but at the same time, also to provide access. We have to walk that fine line,” Lee said. Use of the mall for an event generally requires a bond of anywhere from the minimum of $1,000 to $300,000, he said. He said there is generally a “resting period” of from two to three weeks between big events. He said that “just people assembling” would not devastate the grass, but that damage could be caused especially by equipment, such as Jumbotrons, a stage, lighting and so forth. He admitted that there are some areas of the Mall that are “damaged,” as in without grass at the moment, and in need of repair.

The N.C.R. issues 3,000 permits for events annually, the majority of which are on the Mall, he said. Told that in New York City, the issue is just one large protest to be held in the park on one day, as opposed to multiple events throughout the year, Lee said, the effect on the grass probably wouldn’t be significant: “You would think if there’s not a history of repeated events, there would be relatively little, if any, adverse impact. It would seem that would be less of a factor.”

Lee said the Mall has an underground irrigation system — like the Great Lawn — but that this is not damaged by lots of people standing on the grass. The pipes could be damaged by tent stakes being driven into the ground, however, he said. Told that one would think it would take an elephant standing on the Mall to dent an underground irrigation pipe, Lee agreed, “So would I.”

Koch said the bond for use of the Lawn should be $16 million, since that’s what it cost to renovate it in the mid-1990s. But Lee said that sounds extreme, implying a drastic overhaul.
“Sixteen million would mean tear it all out and put it in all new,” Lee said.

On a bizarre note, on Sunday the New York Post reported that the planned “Mouse Bloc” protest on Aug. 29 would actually involve the release of live mice outside Broadway theaters where the R.N.C. delegates will be attending shows.

Brandon Neubauer, the R.N.C. organizer for the nonprofit environmental bike group Time’s Up!, which plans to lend mounted support to the “Mouse Bloc,” said the article was totally inaccurate.

“Mice scare elephants,” he explained. “There will not be any mice, not live or dead mice. Some of us are vegetarians. You might be right, though, if you said some people might be dressed as mice or carrying mice-specific signs.”

Neubauer blasted the Post’s bogus article as another example of the “corporate media” trying to set the protesters up for a clash with the police and as just the latest gaffe by the tabloid. “C’mon, this was the paper that said ‘Kerry picks Gephardt,’ right?” he said. “Their stories need to be fact checked at least three times.”

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