UFPJ, going up 8th Avenue to the park

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the press conference across from Madison Sqare Garden ended, some participants still linger [NY1's Michael Scotto in front, Donna Lieberman of the NYCLU in the center, and from UFPJ, Bill Dobbs, back to camera, tall on the far left and Leslie Cagan, partly obscured, fingers spread, on the right]




Beginning last June United For Peace and justice (UFPJ) started planning a New York City march and rally for August 29, the eve of the Republican Convention. They still have no permit.

In fact, no police or park permits have been granted to any of the organizations planning protests related to the Convention, although some applications were made up to a year ago.

UFPJ has filed an application for a permit to walk up 8th Avenue from 23rd Street, past the site of the Convention, Madison Square Garden, and end up with a gathering in Central Park. The NYPD and the NY Parks Department wants them to go to Queens for their rally or, alternatively to bake in the wasteland of the West Side Highway, four long blocks left of the Convention site.

Today a number of groups planning protests related to the Convention joined UFPJ in a press conference across the street from Madison Square Garden, to describe their frustrations with city agencies and to demand that Mayor Bloomberg protect their right of dissent.

We should all be concerned with what the experience of these groups says about the agenda of the Bloomberg administration, bending over backwards to see that the convention of a radical right-wing political party goes as smoothly as possible, while doing absolutely nothing to ensure the peaceful assembly of those who wish to voice objection. Should this surprise us at a time when the Republican party controls the mechanisms of all three branches of the federal government as well as Albany and our own City Hall? Now even dissent must be eliminated or at least rendered invisible.

Even beyond the big issue, the city's behavior is appalling for what will be its impact on the basic safety of both New Yorkers and visitors in the last days of what will surely be a long summer. We should be asking how are the best interests of anyone being served when no group knows how to plan for August 29, neither a police department (already being stretched to the limit by real or imagined security concerns) nor a crowd whose size some now expect may easily end up as a seven-figure number. The city is playing a dangerous game, and we are the pawns.

Virtually every other great city of the world (and I won't even use the customary patronizing qualifiers, "western" or "industrial") can accomodate enormous peaceful protest without confining participants in pens or moving them far beyond the periphery of protest targets. But in the land we call "of the free" we only imagine we can exercise such liberty, and it's some measure of just how unfree we are that few understand that they are are so bound.

The right to dissent and the right to protest are meaningless if the dissent and protest are neither heard nor seen.

On August 29 we gotta pass by the Convention site, and we gotta have the Park.