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2004-08-27

The Battle for New York: A Roundup of the RNC Protests Plans

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Hundreds of protests and direct actions are kicking off in New York this weekend ahead of the Republican National Convention. We speak with several protest organizers about what’s to come. [includes rush transcript]

The protest action here in New York has kicked off in dramatic fashion ahead of next week’s Republican National Convention. Yesterday a group of activists used cables to scale down the side of the Plaza hotel in central Manhattan and hang a massive banner. The banner had 2 arrows facing in opposite directions. One arrow was labeled Bush, the one pointing in the opposite direction was labeled Truth.

The activists that carried out the action call themselves "Operation Sibyl," and describe themselves as a concerned group of students and professionals. Police were slow to respond, and by the time they arrived on the scene the banner was ready to be unfurled. Police attempted to rush up with a team of specialists with climbing gear and stop the banner from being dropped, but they were too late. The banner hung for about a half an hour before police took it down.

  • Evan Thies, spokesperson for Operation Sibyl.

That was Evan Thies from Operation Sybil describing the banner drop yesterday at the Plaza Hotel just one of the many actions that are now underway in New York. Over the next week, there will be literally hundreds of actions, rallies, marches and various disruptions of the convention. Today we are going to look at some of the actions planned for this weekend. We have invited into our studio some of the organizers of these protests.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ: The protest action here in New York has kicked off in dramatic fashion ahead of next week’s Republican National Convention. Yesterday a group of activists used cables to scale down the side of the famous plaza hotel in central Manhattan and hang a massive banner. The banner had two arrows facing in opposite directions. One arrow was labeled bush, and the one pointing in the opposite direction was labeled, truth. The activists that carried out the action call themselves "Operation Sibyl," and described themselves as a concerned group of students and professionals. Police were slow to respond. And by the time they arrived on the scene, the banner was ready to be unfurled. Police attempted to rush up with a team of specialists with climbing gear and stop the banner from being dropped but they were too late. The banner hung for about an hour before police took it down. Evan Thies, a spokesperson for Operation Sibyl, describes the action.

EVAN THIES: Today’s action was about reaching out to undecided voters across the country and getting the message out that ordinary people are willing to do extraordinary things to get rid of George Bush. The people up there today were a lawyer, a minister, an architect and a small businessman all from diverse backgrounds, from across the country, Texas, New York, Ohio, that came together just for this one action, this one day, to get out the one message that Bush is deceiving the American people.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Evan Thies, from Operation Sibyl describing the banner drop at the Plaza Hotel, just one of the many actions now underway in New York. Over the next week, there will be literally hundreds of actions, rallies, marches, various disruptions of the convention. Today we’re going to look at some of those actions planned for the weekend. We’ve invited a number of people representing different organizations, but we will start with Hani Khalil, organizing coordinator for United for Peace and Justice. Hani, it seems that all of the attention has been to whether or not you will have a proper permit to march. What is happening on Sunday?

HANI KHALIL: Well it’s been a phenomenal battle. We’ve been negotiating with the police and putting pressure on the city for more than six months to be able to have a safe and permitted rally. And in an effort to discourage people from attending, what really could be the largest march during the Republican National Convention, the city actually told us that the only place that we could end our march with the rally, was the Westside highway. It was the Westside highway or no way. We thought that Central Park was the most important or the best venue for us to do the march, or to end the march, so we fought that through every means we possibly could. Including a lawsuit. Well, we didn’t win that lawsuit. We’re not going to Central Park, but we are thrilled to be able to announce that six weeks after being told we couldn’t go anywhere but the Westside highway, we’re ending our march on Broadway. And so we’re going to have a safe and permitted rally. We’re looking forward to having elderly folks, parents, children, immigrants to be able to participate in the march without fear of being attacked by the police, or otherwise getting into conflicts. We’re going to be assembling at 10:00 a.m. in Manhattan at 7th Avenue and 14th Street. Kicking off the march at noon, North on 7th Avenue, heading east on 34th street, south on 5th Avenue and winding down on Broadway until we end the march at Union Square at 14th street.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, we —

JUAN GONZALEZ: I wanted to ask you whether there was unanimity among the members of the coalition on that or whether there are some that still feel that the march should have attempted to go to Central Park anyway, and risk the possibility of confrontation or not?

HANI KHALIL: Well, we have had very broad-based consultation with member groups of the United for Peace and Justice in New York and elsewhere as to how to move forward in the event that we were denied a permit for a rally in Central Park. And people overwhelmingly feel this a major victory. The truth is that after it became clear initially that the city didn’t want us to go to Central Park, we put other options on the table, including going to Times Square, 3rd Avenue and so on. Every one of those was rejected. Why? Because the city and the Republicans don’t want us anywhere close to where the Republicans are going to be because it will make it harder for them to get out their message, and for to us to be able to put forward our message of peace and justice. So, what we’re going to be in effect doing is we’re going to midtown Manhattan. That’s where we are going to be. That’s a major victory. We’re going to be on 5th Avenue where, for folks who are not from New York, it’s been years since people have been able to march on 5th Avenue.

AMY GOODMAN: Martin Stolar, attorney, do you think that it is less safe for people to march where they’re marching than if they could have been contained in Central Park? Do you think that the point is to provoke a confrontation with the protesters? It seems that the easiest thing to do would be to have them in Central Park on the Great Lawn. You form a police cardon around them if that’s what the authorities want to do, and that’s the end of it as opposed to setting up this other situation.

MARTIN STOLAR: I would have thought so. What they wanted to do on the Great Lawn was hold a rally, with stages and speakers and amplified sound. What is going to happen, however, is only that there’s going to be a march, and the march will disperse at Union Square, without a rally, and without speakers, and without sound. Hopefully, because the police are allowing people to move and to march, there will be no arrests. It’s the same as it was last March 20th, when U.F.P.J. organized a march and people were allowed to march down Broadway. There were very, very few arrests that were done. As opposed to February 15th, when the police penned people in and drove horses into the crowds. Then there were hundreds of arrests. In any event, it’s a rally or its a march that’s permitted. There will probably be police along the way to facilitate the march, but hopefully there will be no arrests. In any event, we at the national lawyer’s guild will have our green hats out there as legal observers to make sure that there is no police violence against peaceful protesters and we have our teams of lawyers who are prepared to deal with people who are arrested.

AMY GOODMAN: What are people’s rights?

MARTIN STOLAR: People have an absolute right to march, particularly with a permitted march. You have the First Amendment right to march. You have the First Amendment right to protest. You have the First Amendment right to ask your government to redress your grievances. The problem that has gone on in recent years is that there has been what the National Lawyers Guild’s report — now has just come out — there has been an assault on free speech, public assembly and dissent. This report is just out. It’s 100 pages written by the guild’s executive director, Heidi Boghosian, that is available from the guild and also available to download. And it documents how dissent has become criminalized, how the First Amendment has been chipped away at by both the federal government and various state governments. That’s something that we cannot allow. And that’s one of the reasons why it’s so important for United for Peace and Justice and other groups and organizations to be able to exercise their First Amendment rights. Hopefully here in New York, we still have the First Amendment, and the Lawyers Guild and our observers and lawyers will be out there trying to protect it.

JUAN GONZALEZ: In your interpretation of the negotiations between United for Peace and Justice and the police, will individuals be able to go to Central Park, if they do want to go?

MARTIN STOLAR: Absolutely. Central park is open to anybody who is New York City.

AMY GOODMAN: We heard Leslie Cagan, one of the coordinators of United for Peace and Justice say, she’s going to central park for a picnic after the rally.

MARTIN STOLAR: The only thing that you wont be able to do in Central Park is to use amplified sound. Because to use amplified sound, you need a permit.

HANI KHALIL: Well, absolutely. People have the right to assemble and to engage in all kinds of activities in Central Park, to picnic, to dance, to do anything they want to including to express their political views. And so people are going to be able to do that, and so, we’re — we support their right to do that, including our own right to do that. We’re just simply asking people to participate in our march, and after the march ends, to then, if they want, to go — if they want to go home, that’s fine, if they want it go to Central Park and engage in whatever kind of activity they want to do, we encourage them.

JUAN GONZALEZ: What does the Lawyers Guild advise people, given the enormous clamp-down now throughout New York city by the police to in terms of what when you are stopped, police asking you for ID, when you are prevented from going to particular areas, what are you advising the citizens to do?

MARTIN STOLAR: When you are stopped and asked for your ID, you don’t necessarily have to provide it. There’s no law that says you have to cooperate in anything. You can walk away, saying, no thank you, I decline to give you my ID. If you’re arrested, then it’s a wise thing to have a photo ID, because then there’s possibility of getting a desk appearance ticket and not spending 24 to 36 hours in the system, and in the cells. The police have set up a special holding area at peer 57 and on 11th street over by the west side where they’re not giving you central booking. They’re holding people on the peer and will bring them to the tombs and put them through the system unless they give desk appearance tickets. And we have been meeting with both prosecutors and the police around this to try to urge them to please give desk appearance tickets instead of clogging up the courtrooms. The judge, however, are ready. They have added extra arraignment parts day and night arraignment parts. We’re ready for that, too. With the assistance of the people’s law collective, from New York, and the midnight special law collective, they have come in from San Francisco to help us out. The Lawyers Guild office is a beehive of activity so we are getting ready for what we hope does not happen, but anticipate it might.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to hear from different groups who are going to be involved this weekend. I want to thank you, Marty Stolar, president of the New York chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, and Hani Khalil, who is the organizing coordinator for United for Peace and Justice. We’ll be there covering the rallies this weekend and be bringing you those broadcasts over this next week.

AMY GOODMAN: I’m Amy Goodman with Juan Gonzalez. As we talk with organizers from around the city, who will be involved in actions this weekend beginning with Partha Banerjee, a kind of speak-out today on Democracy Now. Immigrants rights activists joining up with the United For Peace and Justice march on Sunday.

PARTHA BANERJEE: We are asking all immigrants to come out and be a part of this historic march on Sunday, August 29. Immigrants are going through a very, very difficult time, especially since 9/11, detentions, deportations, massive special registrations, thousands of hate crimes, loss of jobs, loss of health care. They’re really, really tearing apart their lives. This is really the opportunity when immigrants can voice their protests. They can voice their anger. They can voice their frustration, not just against this Republican party or any other political party. This is not about any party. This is really about a system that sustains and thrives on lies and propaganda and fear.

AMY GOODMAN: The action you are going to be doing?

PARTHA BANERJEE: We are asking all immigrants to fearlessly come out and be a part of the United For Peace and Justice rally on Sunday, and we are asking them to assemble on 22nd Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues. This is the location, a very safe and secure location that United For Peace and Justice has given us, and this is going to be very safe for immigrants because it’s going to be sandwiched between a group of Veterans For Peace and a group of Labor For Peace. So, I think it will work out very well. They should all come out.

JUAN GONZALEZ: We’re joined next by Joan Malin with the Rally For Women’s Lives at City Hall Park, which will be on Saturday.

JOAN MALIN: On Saturday morning, we’re going to be marching. This is a pro-choice march to show that this city and this country is pro-choice. We will march across the Brooklyn Bridge starting in Cammon Plaza and then rallying in City Hall Park. The threats to women’s health and rights are very real. This is an anti-choice administration with an anti-choice Congress paving the way to an anti-choice judiciary. Their assaults include a ban on abortion legislation which was passed last year, but cuts in family planning, promotion of abstinence only until marriage, sex education, and denying access to emergency contraception. We must do everything that we can to insure that women’s health and women’s rights remain and that the services that Planned Parenthood provides and that people rely upon every day can continue to be provided in this city and in this country. Yesterday a federal judge declared abortion ban legislation unconstitutional. We were pleased with that decision, but we know that these assaults are going to continue, and we know we need to do everything that we can to assure that we have a Supreme Court that will continue to affirm women’s rights, and that the services that we provide can continue to be provided for the women and families that need us.

AMY GOODMAN: And so your march again, time and place?

JOAN MALIN: It’s going to be Saturday morning starting at 11:00 at Cammon Plaza across the Brooklyn Bridge and we will rally in City Hall Park.

JUAN GONZALEZ: You have not had any problems with permits on your march?

JOAN MALIN: No, we have had actually tremendous support from the Police Department so far.

AMY GOODMAN: Joan Malin, thanks for joining us. Silky Shah, organizer with the National Youth and Student Peace Coalition on Saturday hosting the Books Not Bombs Youth Convention.

SILKY SHAH: Yeah. It’s a convergence, actually. We’re bringing students and youth from across the country together, and we’re going to be having issue workshops, strategy discussions, skill trainings. It’s going to be all day long. In the evening, we’re going to have banner making and puppet making for the U.F.P.J. March the next day. We will be focusing on five Books Not Bombs agenda items, which are: "Education Not Empire," "Respect for our Civil Liberties," "Schools Not Jails," "Peace Not War," and "No More Military Recruitment." It’s going to be —

AMY GOODMAN: Where are you doing this?

SILKY SHAH: It’s going to be at St. Mark’s Church on Tenth Avenue — or Tenth and Second Avenue. And we’re going to be meeting with the youth contingent on Sunday morning before the U.F.P.J. march, at 18th and 7th.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Your convergence will be going on all day?

SILKY SHAH: Yeah, all day. It starts at 9:00 a.m. tomorrow.

AMY GOODMAN: And on Sunday, what time are you meeting?

SILKY SHAH: 10:00 a.m.

JUAN GONZALEZ: We’re joined next by John McDonagh, founder of Cabbies Against Bush and the host of the WBAI program Radio Free Eireann.

JOHN MCDONAGH: Well with Cabbies Against Bush, we’re organizing Yellow Cab drivers for the four days during the convention to turn their headlights on and keep them on during the daylight hours and to shine the light on Bush and his policies. We are also asking passengers when you get into the cab, tell the driver to turn on the lights. We have a lot of immigrant drivers. They might be a bit afraid to turn on their headlights. Because we have all heard of what the T.L.C., the Taxi and Limousine Commission. They picked up the terror of the Lower East Side, Mike Wallace during the week. So if they are arresting passengers, they could harass Yellow cab drivers. But a Yellow cab driver, if he’s told to turn on the radio, on turn on the air conditioner, he can also be turn on his headlights. So it’s very important that passengers in New York City, protesters coming in, tell your driver, turn on the headlights, you want to be part of the protest. As far as Yellow cab drivers, we’re going to have the lights on and we are also going to be handing out coupons, to any Republican delegate who during the four-days of the convention in a fit of patriotic urge wants to go fight the war in Iraq, we will give them a free ride to the airport. We kicked it off with a press conference in front of Fox television on Monday, because during an interview with Michael Moore, Bill O’Reilly stated to him, that he wouldn’t send his kids to fight in Iraq, that he would go to fight in Iraq. That brought a tear to my eye. So I figured if he’s going to be that patriotic and fight in Iraq for my freedom, the least I could do is give him a lift to the airport. We went down there; we handed him the coupon and as far as I see, but Bill, if you are listening, we have a Yellow cab waiting for you and Sean Hannity. We were going to do the same with Rush Limbaugh, but he’s a drug addict and he probably couldn’t — we don’t want to be sending drug addicts over to Iraq at the moment.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And John, the T.L.C. In a rare moment, apologized for the Mike Wallace incident. Is this is a new era of compassionate enforcement?

JOHN MCDONAGH: As I stated, I would rather be an Al Qaeda member in Guantanamo Bay in front of the tribunal down there than in front of the T.L.C. Commission and having the court system that they have here. They have more justice down there. When we appeared before the T.L.C…

AMY GOODMAN: The Taxi and Limousine...

JOHN MCDONAGH: They have their own private court system where there’s no media or anybody allowed into that. If they’re arresting passengers like Mike Wallace who lunged at the T.L.C. who lunged at the T.L.C. and was arrested, you can only imagine what they’re doing to Yellow cab drivers.

AMY GOODMAN: This news conference that you had Monday, I hear that you will be appearing on Fox today?

JOHN MCDONAGH: Allegedly they’re going to send a car service. I would have preferred a Yellow cab, but they’re going to send a car service to bring me to Fox television at 4:00 today and I hope to hand out plenty of coupons to all of the patriots that are at Fox television and we’ll line up the Yellow cabs and take them to the airport. Good luck, because I’ll sleep better at night knowing that Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity are fighting for my freedom.

AMY GOODMAN: What time can we see you on Fox today?

JOHN MCDONAGH: 4:00 p.m.

AMY GOODMAN: John McDonagh, founder of Cabbies Against Bush, and host of the WBAI program Radio Free Eireann. Finally, Brandon Neubauer, organizer with Time’s Up, an all-volunteer environmental group that helped organize the first critical mass bike ride.

BRANDON NEUBAUER: Yes, the first critical mass bike ride in New York City. For the R.N.C., we have actually organized something called the Bike National Convention. That’s been going all week. Some of the more popular rides that are coming up are our bike blocks which are being held in solidarity with the United For Peace And Justice march. We’re meeting at 11:00 a.m. Union Square South this Sunday and also 4:00 P.M. Union Square South on Tuesday in solidarity with the 8/31 Day of Direct Action and Non-Violent Civil Disobedience.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Brandon, we keep hearing that the city of New York is engaged in a crackdown on bicycles these days.

BRANDON NEUBAUER: Well, it’s funny, because critical mass in New York has existed for ten years. Time’s Up helped get it started, but it’s not our ride. We don’t organize it. It’s a spontaneous coincidence held in over 300 cities all over the world. When the cops have showed up, they have essentially facilitated the ride. Helped us block traffic, and it seems that they’re trying to make a move, and essentially issuing threats and instilling fear to try to keep people from showing up. It does look like there’ll still be the largest critical mass in New York City history. We have regularly been getting more than 1,000 people on the ride.

AMY GOODMAN: Brandon, explain what Critical Mass is.

BRANDON NEUBAUER: Sure. Critical Mass is a gathering of people coming together at the same time and place. Typically bicyclists and skaters. It’s — we ride as a group, and we typically tend to go through red lights. It’s a way to create a temporary autonomous zone in a little bit of the world as we would like it to be, very much flying in the face of car culture and the oil wars that they require. And anyone that’s participated in it, pretty much has to go every month because it’s one of the most enjoyable, joyful expressions that you can participate in.

AMY GOODMAN: How many of you ride at once?

BRANDON NEUBAUER: Starting last year, we started getting more than 1,000. We’re getting up to 1200, 1500 people. We go up Sixth Avenue or any major avenue. We stretch more than 20 blocks, which is a mile. This despite the threats of the Police Department, I’m expecting this tonight’s ride, which is a 7:00 p.m., Union Square North, to be awesome. And the reason why the cops are cracking down on it, because they know it’s a source of spirit for the people involved.

JUAN GONZALEZ: There will be activities every day during the convention week?

BRANDON NEUBAUER: For the group that I’m organizing with?

JUAN GONZALEZ: Yes.

BRANDON NEUBAUER: We have been doing the Bike National Convention, which we have been having events like the Paul Revere’s ride which was last Tuesday, and then last night, the D.N.C. to R.N.C. march, the welcome ride, and the main rides again that are coming up are the bike blocks being which are Sunday, 11:00 a.m., Union Square South and Tuesday, Union Square South, 4:00 p.m.

AMY GOODMAN: What time is tonight’s.

BRANDON NEUBAUER: As always, critical mass is 7:00 p.m., Union Square North. Time’s Up. Again Time’s Up doesn’t organize the ride. It’s organized by everyone that shows up. Everyone can speak for it. It is very much an embodiment of the global justice movement in terms of decentralized actions and people taking responsibility for themselves.

AMY GOODMAN: Did the police say they will stop tonight’s?

BRANDON NEUBAUER: You know, it depends on who you talk to. The police essentially have said that they’re going to arrest people that violate traffic laws, which I find pretty ironic because —

JUAN GONZALEZ: Anybody that goes through a red light or doesn’t have a light on their bike…

BRANDON NEUBAUER: For the last three years, whenever the cops did show up, they essentially helped us go through red lights and helped it run more smoothly.

AMY GOODMAN: We’ll keep tabs.

BRANDON NEUBAUER: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: Brandon Neubauer, organizer of Time’s Up, an all-volunteer environmental group helping to organize — Brandon himself organized the first Critical Mass bike ride here in New York, and some of the organizers, we have just heard from around the city, who are planning for this weekend’s convergence of — we’ll see — thousands? Tens of thousands? Hundreds of thousands?

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