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Indymedia, the RNC and the Battle for New York

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The corporate media’s coverage of the protests in the run-up to the Republican convention has focused on logistics–permits, routes and so forth–as opposed to content and examining who and why tens of thousands are taking to the streets. We speak with the Arun Gupta of the New York Independent Media Center. [includes rush transcript]

Much of the corporate media’s coverage of the protests in the run-up to the convention has focused on whether or not organizers will have a city permit for their planned demonstrations against the Republican Party.

What is not being talked about in the corporate press is who the tens of thousands of protesters are and why they are taking to the streets during the convention. Some 200 marches, rallies and direct actions are planned for this week and next organized by groups from across the spectrum representing peace, environmental, religious, immigrant, youth and community organizations.

  • Arun Gupta, former editor of The Guardian, one of the most respected independent newspapers in recent U.S. history. He is currently an editor with the New York City Independent Media Center’s newspaper, The Indypendent.

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

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined right now by two guests. Arun Gupta is former editor of The Guardian, on of the most respected independent newspapers in recent U.S. history. He’s currently editor with the New York City Independent Media Center’s newspaper, The Indypendent. Also Rick Rowley is with us. He is an independent filmmaker and journalist who has traveled the world telling the stories of resistance movements. Most recently he has just come back from several months in Iraq. One of the founders of Big Noise Tactical Media. His new film, produced with his partner, Jacquie Soohen premieres tonight in New York. It’s called The Fourth World War. And we welcome you both to Democracy Now! Let’s begin with Arun. Can you talk about what is happening in this next week? Your newspaper, The Indypendent, I think it’s the largest circulation, what, of an independent newspaper in a long time here in this country?

ARUN GUPTA: That’s right. Or at least that’s what we have been able to determine so far. We have had some research librarians look into it, and from what they have been ability to dig up, no other paper, alternative, grassroots paper has done a print run of more than 100,000 in over 30 years. The records are incomplete from the 1960s. So at least as far back from the early 1970s —.

AMY GOODMAN: This print run is 200,000.

ARUN GUPTA: 200,000. And we’ll be coming out tomorrow with another issue of over 100,000. We’re just trying to basically fit into the moment, and generate a lot of information and also publicity about what’s happening. And basically to provide a counter to a lot of the fear mongering that’s going out there.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And how are you distributing the newspaper?

ARUN GUPTA: It’s a real grassroots effort. It’s pretty amazing. We have mobilized scores, maybe over 100 people to do it in all sorts of ways. We have people driving around, dropping it off at hundreds of spots, people rolling laundry carts and grocery carts down the street with 500 papers in them, stopping in every store. Teams going out into the subways. We’re hitting all the hundreds of events that Amy mentioned, so we’re really trying to blanket the city as much as possible.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s talk about some of those events. Give us a brief schedule of what we’re going to see in these coming days or at least what’s planned right now?

ARUN GUPTA: Well, I think it’s important to point out that it’s — there’s an amazing almost like cultural and festival atmosphere. That’s not what’s going to get the press. There’s all sorts of concerts, poets against the war, film festivals. There’s a green festival, all sorts of outdoor public space festivals. What’s going to get the press are the protests, the marches. And those divide up into two basic areas. There’s the non-permitted versus the permitted. As you mentioned, U.F.P.J. has the permitted march on Sunday. They have been trying for more than a year to get Central Park. And, of course, it was turned down repeatedly. So, they will be having a march which estimates are it will probably draw well in excess of 100,000 people, which I think is pretty amazing given all of the fear mongering and terror scares. The city is really clearing out. Also a lot of people are clearing out. But many people are also coming in. We have seen very large infusion. And there will be many New Yorkers out there. There are two other events the same day that fall into the non-permitted category. Because of the police denial of Central Park, there’s been six or seven calls that we can count for people to gather in Central Park. Everything like Reverend Billy at one point called for a mass wedding on the Great Lawn, though I think now he’s calling for some sort of pow-wow. There’s the libertarians are calling for reclaim Central Park. Not In Our Name, a militant group, is also calling for people to gather in the park. There may be chaos that results, but if it does, it will be from the police, because people want to be able to peacefully express themselves, and enjoy the city. I think it’s very important to point out, especially in relation to the last conversation that every single group has committed itself to peaceful action. Indy Media actually talks to all of the organizers. We have talked to every single organizing group. Everybody is going to be doing non-violent protests. They are very clear: “We want peaceful action.” So if any chaos does occur, I think it will become from policing policies, and not even from the beat cops because they’re really pissed off, frankly, because of contract negotiations. And so the rumor is they don’t want to be dealing with all of this overtime, all of this chaos, but it’s the higher up, the brass and frankly, I think the republicans who are putting pressure on them, and instituting this campaign to deny the use of any sort of public space. And so, the Reclaim the Park is an effort to say, “This is our city.” It’s the republicans who are invading it. Then later that evening, you are going to have what’s called the Mouse Bloc. People are calling for folks to come to Broadway where the republicans, the elephants, will be going to Disney sanctioned theater. The — that’s a funny little anecdote about how the Republican Party didn’t want the republican delegates to see such stuff as Assassins, which is a Steven Sondheim musical, I believe, about people who tried to assassinate the president, or Rent, which is a gritty musical about the Lower East Side.

JUAN GONZALEZ: They’re actually going, as I understand it, to about seven or eight different Broadway shows all sponsored by The New York Times, special performances for the republican delegates. What the liberal New York Times is doing spending hundreds of thousands of dollars bankrolling entertainment for a partisan political organization, I’m not quite sure. But it hasn’t gotten much attention in most of the press.

ARUN GUPTA: There were people who were joking about how protesters should sponsor people to go see Assassins, you know, and as a counter to that, but it really is amazing, it shows you where the corporate press comes down. Even the liberal establishment.

AMY GOODMAN: But instead, they’re offering discounts to, is it Naked Boys Singing?

ARUN GUPTA: Yeah. Something like that.

AMY GOODMAN: Tuesday, a day of direct action. Can you talk about that?

ARUN GUPTA: Tuesday is a day of direct action. But I’d actually also like to mention Monday because this actually may be the most incredible thing that goes on. The Kensington Welfare Rights Union, which organized a non-violent protest in Philadelphia at the Republican National Convention there in 2000 will be doing the same. In 2000, the Philly police refused to give them a permit. They marched anyway. Nobody was arrested. This time what they’re saying they’re going to do is — it’s going to be — we talked to the organizers, they say they’re going to have over 10,000 people. They’re going to march from Dag Hammarskjold Plaza across from the United Nations to Madison Square Garden. They’re asking the police for a permit, but not one is forthcoming. It’s not surprising because from what — I have talked to them, and from what I saw in a press release, they’re going to march up to the front doors of Madison Square Garden or that’s the plan and they want to issue an arrest warrant for George Bush. And so it’s great theater. But obviously the police are not going to give them a permit for that. They say, we’re going to march anyway. So they’re calling for mass non-violent civil disobedience. Now, they are very much in many ways a poor people’s movement. According to their organizers, they’re going to have 1,000 poor families, hundreds of disabled people, a large contingent of blind people, clergy, international human rights observers from Latin America that they have invited. You are going to get the spectacle of thousands of people especially the most vulnerable of society and this puts the city in a real dilemma, and the republicans, do you have the cops attack children, the disabled, the blind, or do you let them march to the front door and that gives lie to all of the fear mongering and scares that we cannot have people marching around the city. So the cops and the city are kind of damned if they do or damned if they don’t. I cannot see the cops letting them march, but that means they’re going to have to try to arrest or bottle up 10,000 people. It could be crazy. Now, what Tuesday is is that represents kind of the traditional direct action movement that came out of Seattle. I guess if something can be traditional after five years. It’s a lot of anti-globalization activists. Again, they have also committed themselves to a mass non-violent action. They want to do civil disobedience. There’s talk about sit downs in the streets. Maybe some blockades of intersections. It’s all still being figured out. Various estimates have been put how many people are being talked about, and it is probably going to be thousands of people. One of the things that needs to be emphasized again, why they’re organizing it is because they want to say, we have a right to be in the streets. We have a right for peaceful redress of grievances. We don’t have to go through these permitting games. Basically, the First Amendment is the only permit we need. So, this has become in many ways just a battle over the — to exercise Constitutional rights. That’s very important to understand.

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