Volume 74, Number 17 | August 25 - 31 , 2004


Protesters, be peaceful; mayor, give them the park

More Americans are opposing a war overseas, there are violent protests at a national political convention and the more pro-war candidate for president ends up winning the November election. This 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 more intent on stopping the war than the Republican candidate, Richard Nixon.

This year, the Republicans hold the executive branch and their candidate, President George W. Bush, is the person more committed to continuing the war in Iraq after having preemptively launched it on dubious grounds.

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 protesters fighting with police no doubt turned off much of Middle America and helped Nixon 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 and casting doubt on the campaign of John Kerry. The anti-Bush protesters 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. That is, in fact, exactly what United for Peace and Justice, the group organizing the Aug. 29 “World Says No to the Bush Agenda” march and rally, wants.

However, by refusing the protesters Central Park for their rally site, Mayor Bloomberg has helped fuel a volatile situation. Now time is running short. Bloomberg needs to bend and offer the protesters either the park, or another suitable location in closer proximity to Midtown.

If U.F.P.J. prevails in its lawsuit against the city and is allowed to rally in Central Park — the best and safest venue for the rally, in our opinion — it will go a long way toward insuring a peaceful protest on Aug. 29. However, if U.F.P.J. loses the lawsuit and is denied the park, the city and the rally organizers must work together to make sure that the march remains peaceful.

On the organizers’ part, this means disseminating clear instructions informing protesters exactly where they should go after marching past Madison Sq. Garden, the convention site, on Sunday afternoon. For its part, the city must provide the protesters clear dispersal points after they pass the Garden — as well as entry into Central Park, if that is where they chose to go on their own. Finally, to those who would incite violence, we remind them of the result of Chicago ’68 — Nixon won.

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