New York (CNSNews.com) - As 50,000 Republicans head to their national convention in New York in late August, a coalition of anti-war and anti-GOP activists are planning to throw a welcome party of sorts -- that is, if they can get the permits they need to demonstrate.
A number of groups, led by United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ), are planning demonstrations. But the largest protest appears to be the one organized by UFPJ, which would begin as a march through the streets of Manhattan, move alongside the convention's home in Madison Square Garden, and end with a massive rally -- or curtain-raiser, as it is called -- featuring 250,000 people.
Even though organizers at UFPJ have been planning the event since last June, the group has not been able to secure the necessary permits from the New York Police Department or city's parks department. In late April, the parks department rejected the group's plan to gather at Central Park's Great Lawn, citing concerns about damage and destruction to the grass.
"This decision defies history, it defies common sense and it defies constitutional law. It's all about politics," said William K. "Bill" Dobbs, the media coordinator for UFPJ. Dobbs, a critic of the Bush administration, is a long-time peace activist who notes that several concerts and rallies that have been held at the Great Lawn in the past.
Despite the setback, UFPJ quickly appealed the decision and expects a resolution as early as next week. If the group loses its appeal, it could take the city to court. In any case, it hopes like-minded New Yorkers will launch a letter-writing campaign to city leaders, expressing their dissatification.
Dobbs said he fears the city is purposely delaying the issuance of permits in an effort to prevent protesters from gathering in Manhattan when the GOP convention is in town from Aug. 30 to Sept. 2. He also said he fears the city might reject or fail to act on permits submitted after June 15, a recommended date for filing applications.
"We certainly believe the RNC has a right to be here and assemble, just as we do," Dobbs said. "But they ought to work as hard to ensure there is a right to protest as much as the city is working to accommodate the RNC."
Other protests and demonstrations will likely take place during the week of the convention, but UFPJ's march and rally is clearly the largest planned at this stage. People from across the country are expected to travel to New York.
"I think it's crazy that they're not allowing permits for UFPJ right now, because people are coming no matter what," said Jim Macdonald, an activist with the D.C. Anti-War Network. "So are you going to facilitate people or are you going to create a situation where people are driven to the edge?"
Macdonald said he wants people to know that the Democrats aren't getting a free pass this year either. His Anti-War Network has teamed with Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), who is still running for the Democratic presidential nomination even though Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) has all but secured it.
Members of the D.C. Anti-War Network will be in Boston in late July for the Democrats' gathering, but the Republican convention remains the top target.
Those planning the convention, from police to the New York City Host Committee to the Republicans putting on the show, have been preparing feverishly for months to get things ready. And despite the threat of disruptions and distractions, organizers aren't worrying too much about the protesters.
"We're taking every precaution to prepare and meet that challenge," said Paul Elliott, press secretary for the New York City Host Committee, the organization responsible for raising money and taking care of logistics.
In a recent New York magazine article, members of the New York Police Department said they were more concerned about terrorism than protests. Commissioner Ray Kelly said the department has a track record with protesters, whereas terrorists pose different challenges.
Among the protest crowd, however, demonstrators such as Faye Anderson recognize the challenges that lie ahead. Anderson, who serves a media liaison for the noRNC Clearinghouse, is a veteran of past Republican conventions until she grew frustrated with the GOP in 2000.
"Every four years, the convention planners want to keep protesters away," Anderson said. "It was true in Philadelphia, San Diego, Houston, New Orleans, and it goes as far back as they've been staging them.
"Of course, this year there are likely to be more protests because there's a war," she added. "And the usual efforts to keep demonstrators away from the delegates are exacerbated by the fact that it's post-9/11 in New York."
See Related Story:
Activists Aim to Frustrate, Disrupt Republican Convention (May 13, 2004)
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