Questions looming over the RNC protests are numerous and unlikely to be answered until the moment of truth.
After months of politicking by the New York Police Department (NYPD) and United for Peace and Justice (UNFP), organizers of the main August 29 march, a judge’s final ruling has denied Central Park to the protesters for a rally. The city claimed that demonstrators would damage the lawn. So, last Thursday, a route agreement was reached: The march will proceed past Madison Square Garden East on 34th Street, and down Fifth Avenue to culminate at Union Square. Marchers will assemble at 10 a.m. (14th Street and 7th Avenue).
The NYPD has been preening about the expected numbers of arrests. On Wednesday, the intimidation began in earnest when the NYPD declared this Friday’s Critical Mass —a monthly mass bicycle ride that starts from Union Square and has taken place peacefully for the past several years— “an unpermitted protest,” and threatened to arrest anyone carrying a sign. But, from the inside of organizing, there is precious little talk of property damage —even the anarchists are holding press conferences this time in an effort to counter fear-mongering by the NYPD and media which equates protesters with violent terrorists.
This won’t be your mother’s protest. New Yorkers by nature are a clever bunch. Their creative skills have been pressure tested, and after a year of organizing through the noRNC Clearinghouse, an umbrella group for sharing RNC protest information and resources, they are well- equipped to bring that creativity to the barricades.
The groups mobilizing to greet the Republicans have taken a cue from the recent past. They have witnessed the Miami Model, in which FTAA protesters were treated to a bit of homegrown martial law by the Miami police, and seen the welts from rubber bullets fired at peaceful protesters in Oakland when they attempted to block the entrance to a shipping yard that they believed was handling cargo for the Iraq war. They have marched in four-sided pens and been driven from the streets by mounted police. This mobilization is not about engaging a hyper-militarized police force; it is about making dissent public, unavoidable and engaging.
The wild card here is New York itself with its thousands of freelancers, who possess creative skills and outrage aplenty and have pooled their energies and resources to mount the most innovative and unpredictable demonstrations of dissent ever. New York is not defined by the fact that we got blown to smithereens one fine September day, it is defined by the fact that culture and creativity are the everyday stock in trade, the currency that flows. Activists have conceived a massive carnival of dissent, free to all comers, participants and spectators alike.
Legions of bell ringers will surround Ground Zero at 5:30 p.m. on August 28 to “Ring out the Republicans” with a score composed by the mother of meditative music, Pauline Oliveros. The Billionaires for Bush have received a permit to play a morning game of croquet, in grand mocking style, August 29 in Central Park. Dogging the delegates on their way to prescreened Broadway shows on the eve of the convention will be the Mouse Bloc. Scores of angry young people have forfeited time and energy to become shadow “volunteers” for the RNC, to generally gum up the works. People for the American Way and the AFL-CIO have organized The Line, forming at 8 a.m. on September 1, a symbolic unemployment line running from Wall Street to Madison Square Garden. The Viking Bloc, the Clandestine Insurgent Rebel Clown Army, the Pirate bloc, Code Pink, Greene Dragon, Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping, Women in Black, all are ready to drive the NYPD and the delegates to distraction.
If the ideal is met, what you will see on the streets of NYC during the Republicans’ visit are thousands of small roving bands of creative resisters, meeting delegates head on. There also will be plentiful street theater wherever delegates congregate: Soho, Ground Zero, Herald Square, Tavern on the Green — and at war profiteer headquarters such as Bechtel, the Carlyle Group and Fox News, where a Shut Up-a-thon will take place at 4 p.m., August 31. The National Lawyer’s Guild and the NYCLU will be monitoring all of it to aid arrestees and prepare a report on the current treatment of protesters in the United States.Big rallies also are planned every day of the convention. Planned Parenthood of New York has organized a march across the Brooklyn Bridge at 11 a.m. August 28, followed by a rally on the Manhattan side. At noon August 30, the Still We Rise Coalition, 35 groups fighting AIDS and homelessness, hold a permit to march from Union Square. And at 4 p.m. that same day the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign will hold a massive and unpermitted poor people’s rally and march at the United Nations (45th and 1st Avenue).
August 31 has been reserved for Civil Disobedience and Direct Action, so look for the War Resisters League and the Pagan Cluster to lock arms and drop to the street as close to Madison Square Garden as they can get. The Central Labor Council steps up at 4 p.m. September 1, with a permit for a Labor Day Unity Rally right under the noses of Republicans (8th Avenue and 30th Street).
But the action really worth watching will unfurl where delegates and lobbyists come face to face with actual unmasked New Yorkers, who will demand accountability. Many activists don’t expect their point to be made behind metal barricades miles from the delegates. They plan to take their point to the source, one rabid Republican at a time — that is, if the delegates have the nerve to get off their shuttle buses.