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Over a Hundred Thousand Are Expected to Protest in Manhattan This Saturday Despite the Banning of a March: The Federal 2nd District Court of Appeals Yesterday Upheld the Ban

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Millions of people on five continents are expected to protest against war in Iraq on Saturday. From Antarctica to the Pacific Islands, hundreds of cities in 60 countries will be holding events. The list of rallies, vigils and marches continues to grow. According to today’s Guardian of London, the list currently includes more than 300 cities in Europe and North America, 50 in Asia and Latin America, 10 in Africa and 20 in Australia and Oceania.

But in Manhattan yesterday, the federal 2nd District Court of Appeals upheld a ban on the march in Manhattan on Saturday.

Organizers are moving forward with plans for a massive, legal peace rally that day. It will take place on First Avenue, stretching north from 49th Street.

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

AMY GOODMAN: Millions of people on five continents are expected to protest against war in Iraq on Saturday. From Antarctica to the Pacific islands, hundreds of cities in 60 countries will be holding events. The list of rallies, vigils and marches continues to grow. According to today’s Guardian of London, the list currently includes more than 300 cities in Europe and North America, 50 in Asian and Latin America, 10 in Africa, 20 in Australia and Oceania. But in Manhattan yesterday, the federal 2nd District Court of Appeals upheld a ban on the march in Manhattan. Organizers are moving forward with plans for a massive legal peace rally that day.

We’re joined in our studio by Leslie Cagan, who is organizer of this Saturday’s event in New York with United for Peace and Justice. She’s also chair of the Pacifica Radio Foundation. And Michael Ratner is with us, human rights lawyer and president of the Center for Constitutional Rights. His latest book, along with his colleagues, is Against War with Iraq: An Anti-War Primer.

Welcome, both, to Democracy Now!

LESLIE CAGAN: Good morning.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Leslie, you newly define the voice of the voiceless.

LESLIE CAGAN: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: But if you can bear it, can you explain what has happened? What has the federal court ruled?

LESLIE CAGAN: Well, my understanding, not being a lawyer — Michael can probably help — sorry about my voice, folks — but the federal court, the appeals court, basically upheld the decision by a lower court earlier in the week that the city of New York could limit our exercise of free speech just to a permitted rally. We had applied for permits to rally and march, and the city denied the march part of the demonstration. We took them to court. And at two levels in the federal court system, they said that the city, and in particular the police department, could, in the interest of, quote, “security,” limit our free speech rights.

AMY GOODMAN: Didn’t they use the term “in a time of war”?

LESLIE CAGAN: That I don’t recall them saying particularly — yes, actually yesterday they did. In the appeals court, they did use “in time of war.” And I must say, in this whole process, it does feel like we are in the time of war.

AMY GOODMAN: I don’t know if people know your history, going way back. The New York Times did a profile of you recently. But you have been through a lot of these marches, organized the major anti-nuclear march in the 1980s, where more than a million people turned out in New York.

LESLIE CAGAN: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: So, what happened there? I mean, in terms of the police, they allowed a march.

LESLIE CAGAN: Yes. I mean, that was a struggle. It’s always a struggle. But we won the right to march, not only anywhere in New York, but literally on First Avenue past the U.N. This time, they said not only could you not march on First Avenue past the U.N., but nowhere in Manhattan would they allow a march.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, what is the big deal? I mean, if you have a permitted, legal rally, where hundreds of thousands of people can turn out, why is the issue so critical to be able to march?

LESLIE CAGAN: Well, for us, it’s important, because one of the ways that people express their opposition to this war — and we must not lose the central issue here: It is our opposition to the war against Iraq. And they are, in some ways, diverting us from that central issue. But the fight for our right to march is also obviously very, very critical. But one of the ways people do that, in a march, is to gather in different constituency groups, in different contingents. People march as labor, as students, as seniors, etc., etc. You lose that in a rally. You don’t get that sense of the diversity of who’s there. You also don’t get — it’s a less empowering feeling to be penned in. And the city of New York, the police department will have pens on First Avenue, limiting people’s movement. It is a much more empowering feeling to be in your contingent, marching with your constituency, literally making your voice heard.

AMY GOODMAN: Michael Ratner, can you talk about this from a legal point of view, what the judges have ruled and how unprecedented it is?

MICHAEL RATNER: Well, my view is it’s completely unprecedented. Here we have the critical issue of the day: whether or not we should go to war with Iraq. We have the biggest protest in the United States about to happen in New York. And what do the mayor, the police department, the lower federal court judges and the upper federal court judges do, but say you can have the demonstration, you can have a rally in one concrete place, but you can’t march. Unheard of. Major issue of the day, not being able to allow people to engage in public protest.

Understand, and it was raised in the court, that three or four weeks from now there will be a St. Patrick’s Day parade going down Fifth Avenue — a parade, in other words, people marching. Why is that different? Because it’s cultural, because it’s St. Patrick, or because of the message? Obviously, in this case, in my view, it’s because of the message. They don’t want the message getting out throughout New York and having a major demonstration in this city right now.

AMY GOODMAN: What about the level of harassment that we’ve been hearing reported at all different levels? Leslie, if you have the voice —

LESLIE CAGAN: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: — to talk about this, can you give us some of the examples?

LESLIE CAGAN: Yes. Well, two examples come to mind immediately, is that people — at least one person I know and maybe more — who have been leafleting in the subways of New York have been getting $50 tickets. I’ve never heard of that before.

And also people outside of New York have been getting calls from the intelligence division of the New York City Police Department, not only asking them how many buses they’re bringing, but asking them how long they’ve been involved, where do they live, what kinds of groups are coming on the buses. We’ve been very clear to people around the country, and we want to make this clear again: You do not have to answer those questions. You should not answer those questions.

AMY GOODMAN: Just this morning, a member of our crew was at Penn Station, and he had a pin on, and the police stopped him and started to question him.

MICHAEL RATNER: You do not have to answer those questions. I want to reiterate that. And you can just say to the person, “I’m not answering the question.” Say to the cop, “I don’t want to answer the questions.” You can then say, “I have a lawyer,” and you can even basically use the name of the Center for Constitutional Rights. Tell them to — tell the cop to call the center and let them talk to us at the center. Believe me, they won’t call us.

AMY GOODMAN: What about the issue of transportation on Saturday? We’ve seen the signs in the subways on both the West Side and the East Side saying that above the protests, there will be subway interruptions.

LESLIE CAGAN: Yes. Well, of course, anybody familiar with the New York subway system knows there’s constantly interruptions and construction, etc. And some of that will go on. But in our negotiations with the police yesterday afternoon, we said to them, “We do not want subways closed.” We do not want people who are walking on the streets — on the sidewalks, not in the streets, but gathering in groups and walking on the streets to the rally area to be interrupted. Some buses will be parking at Shea Stadium in Queens and taking the subway in. We want to make sure that subway line is running. They said all of that will function.

But I must say, people should not be surprised if they run into some problems from the police department. They have been — well, on the face of it, they’re very polite and joking with us and etc. Below that is, I think, a very, very serious commitment to undermine our protest. And we’re encouraging people to not let that happen, to make sure you come to the rally site, bring your signs, bring your banners, walk to the rally site, on the sidewalk — that is permitted, that is legal — and make your voice heard. We’re also encouraging people, though, to bring radios, bring portable radios. WBAI here in New York will be broadcasting the rally. We’re trying to develop what we call a people’s sound system, so that wherever you are in New York, you will be able to hear the rally.

AMY GOODMAN: And, of course, this broadcast, that we will be doing on Saturday, Pacifica station WBAI. Democracy Now! will be aired all over the country by Pacifica stations and any station that wants to. And in addition, it is going to be the largest public media collaboration we have seen in this country, because we will be broadcasting from noon until 3:00 also on television. We’ll be broadcasting on DirecTV, WorldLink. We’ll be broadcasting on Free Speech TV, which we do every day on Democracy Now! That’s channel 9415 of DISH Network. And any public access TV station, you can call and ask them to broadcast the protest. Among the people who will be speaking, who?

LESLIE CAGAN: Bishop Tutu from South Africa will be speaking. Julian Bond, the chair of the National Association — the NAACP, the largest African American organization in the country, will be speaking. A whole host of New Yorkers from different constituency groups. The executive vice president of the Communication Workers of America, Larry Cohen, will be speaking. Kim Gandy, the president of NOW, the National Organization of Women, will be speaking. There will also be music and cultural presentations. It will be a full dynamic program. The program from the stage is critical, and that will go on. What is also critical is that people not let the courts and the New York City Police Department deter them from being on the streets of New York.

AMY GOODMAN: I also just want to say for any radio station, we hope to be broadcasting from 11:00 until 4:00 for the radio stations, 12:00 to 3:00 for TV, and so people can tune in then. Michael Ratner, you have written the book Against War with Iraq with your colleagues, Jennie Green and Barbara Olshansky of the Center for Constitutional Rights, an antiwar primer. We have seen in the last few days, Chuck Lewis put out on his website, Center for Public Integrity, the Justice Department pretty much top-secret draft of an expansion of the USA PATRIOT Act. Now, a two-part question. One is, nonstop — in fact, this morning listening to the radio and watching television, all across the board, and this weekend, pretty much 24 hours a day, and it becomes the icon of the networks: terror alert, terror alert, up to the orange alert, right below red alert. I almost think that the networks should replace “terror alert” with “protest alert.” It is very frightening. Today they’re talking about preparing every hospital in New York for biological and chemical weapons victims. What is going on here?

MICHAEL RATNER: Well, I think what you’re saying is right. I mean, what’s going on here is, as the court itself said, “Because we’re on an orange alert, that’s one reason that we don’t want this march to happen. Because we’re in a war,” which, of course, could take 40 years, according to our own government, “we don’t want this march to happen.” So I think there’s a huge intimidation going on.

And obviously, what’s going on, on a deeper level, in my view, is — what are we afraid of? What’s really going on is we’re afraid of the United States right now going to war with Iraq, because if anything is going to make our world less safe, it’s going to be that, and not our protests in the street. Our protests in the street and at the demonstration are going to be what makes us safe.

And I just want to echo what Leslie said. That court of appeals decision should be basically a sign to everybody to get out onto the streets and into that demonstration. We have to show them. If you weren’t thinking of going before, you should be there now.

AMY GOODMAN: One reporter asked at one of your press conferences, United for Peace and Justice, Leslie, “Listen, you don’t think you’re going to be heard outside the United Nations? You’ll have a gathering, and the U.N. will hear you. What’s the issue?”

LESLIE CAGAN: Let me just say we’re thinking of changing our name to United for Peace, Justice and Democracy. The struggle for democracy is central here. There are several issues here. One, again, is that we believe we, the people who are demonstrating, have the right to determine the nature of our demonstration, that it’s not up to the mayor of the city or the police department to tell us how we can make our voices heard. Two is that we are concerned that if they can shut down a march here, what will they do tomorrow in Des Moines, or the next day in Kansas City, that this is part of a national problem that we’re facing, and that is the shredding of the Constitution.

AMY GOODMAN: Or at the Republican convention here in New York.

LESLIE CAGAN: Exactly.

MICHAEL RATNER: Oh, I think that’s right, Amy. I think this is — I agree with Leslie. This is really a bad sign of our next years in this country in terms of protest, democracy. You can describe it — really, what’s going on is a police state right now in this city. That’s what we have here. We have a police state in this city right now.

AMY GOODMAN: What about the expanded USA PATRIOT Act that John Ashcroft is proposing? Can you go through some of the points that have now come out?

MICHAEL RATNER: Well, there’s two things. One is, it’s not chance that right now there was a decision in a New York City court in a case called Handschu that allows increased government spying. That came down a week ago. And I don’t think it’s chance that it came down a week ago, right before this demonstration, because these guys were prohibited, essentially, from spying on demonstrations before this decision came down, and now they’re allowed to.

Now you have — in addition, of course, on the federal level, the first thing you have in that new supposed PATRIOT Act II is to wipe out all restrictions on police spying that are in any state of the United States. So, to the extent the Handschu opinion, which still has a little group that meets together to decide on misuse of spying, if this PATRIOT II goes through, all court federal proceedings, all court orders will be wiped off the map, period, no more.

Secondly, you have an amazing ruling in terms of citizenship coming out of here. If one is accused of supporting a terrorist group, and one is convicted, which could even mean giving blankets to somebody the U.S. designates as terrorist, you can get your citizenship lost. In fact, you will have your citizenship lost under this. Unheard of, in my view.

AMY GOODMAN: What does it mean, citizenship lost?

MICHAEL RATNER: It means that you won’t be a U.S. citizen anymore. In other words —

AMY GOODMAN: And if you were born here?

MICHAEL RATNER: If you were born here, no, you’re gone. It’s not just naturalized citizens.

AMY GOODMAN: Where do you go?

MICHAEL RATNER: That’s a good question. Where do you go? You probably go to jail for a very long time. But where do you go after that? Well, I guess, you know, the same place they’re planning to maybe put Saddam Hussein if he leaves. You know, I don’t know, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: Bus captains, people who are in charge of organizing, how have they been approached?

LESLIE CAGAN: Well, again, people outside of New York have been called systematically by the police department. We haven’t heard reports yet here in New York about organizers of different groups that are coming being directly harassed, but we’re assuming that the police are watching very, very closely. And I say that not to frighten people. People need to know what is going on. At the same time, if we don’t stand up for our rights now, they will chip away and chip away until we have none left. Now is the time to make our voices heard. And now, as the U.S. inches closer and closer to war, we have got to come out in large numbers. And our protests will continue after this weekend. We are not going to be deterred. We will do everything we possibly can to stop this insane drive to war.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Leslie Cagan, chair of the United for Peace and Justice coalition’s protest this weekend in New York. The motto, “The World Says No to War.” And Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights. He’s president. His book, Against War with Iraq: An Anti-War Primer, with Jennie Green and Barbara Olshansky of CCR. Thank you very much.

MICHAEL RATNER: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: You’re listening to Democracy Now! When we come back, Howard Zinn. Stay with us.

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