MONTREAL - Recent terrorism alerts in New York City have not slowed plans
there to protest the Republican
National Convention (RNC), which is set to officially nominate George W. Bush
on Sept. 2 to run for president in November's U.S. elections.
This week alone, the myriad groups and coalitions organizing marches, days
of action, conferences – even a "bike national convention" – to mark
the RNC are gathering to: plan direct action (nonviolently block streets); stage
benefit concerts to fundraise for the protests; and even recite the Bill of
Rights into their cellular phones, to emphasize U.S. guarantees of freedom of
speech and assembly.
"We are still going to be out there talking about our issues ...we are
not going to change our plans," says Lisa Bhugalia, coordinator of Still
We Rise, a coalition of 40 groups that fights for the rights of the poor
and has scheduled a march of 25,000 people in downtown Manhattan (New York City's
heart) on Aug. 30.
Already tense New York has tightened up considerably in recent weeks. On Aug.
1, U.S. officials hiked the official terror alert in the city, in Newark in
neighboring New Jersey State and in Washington, D.C., following reports that
intelligence agents had uncovered information signaling a possible terrorist
attack on financial landmarks in those cities.
Emerging the day after the opposition Democratic Party nominated Senator John
Kerry to face Bush in November's election, the alert was met with some skepticism,
which grew in subsequent days as officials acknowledged much of the intelligence
was years old.
Also, late last week authorities announced they had arrested two New York State
men for plotting to launder money for a rocket-launcher that would be used in
a plot – created as a "sting" by security agents – to murder a Pakistani
diplomat. They also announced that the al-Qaeda terrorist group of Osama bin
Laden had plotted hijacking helicopters to use as weapons in New York City.
"The city definitely is putting on a large scare, but we're really solid
and with the spotlight turning to New York we want to use this to really get
out the issues that [people] are facing and struggling with on a daily level,"
Bhugalia told IPS.
"What I've heard from different organizations is they feel more scared
to not be out on the streets, talking about the ways in which these issues and
policies have affected their lives."
Among the main events scheduled to protest the RNC is an Aug. 29 rally organized
by United for Peace
and Justice (UFPJ), a coalition of more than 800 groups that spearheaded
the global antiwar marches of millions of people in February 2003, and "direct
action" on Aug. 31 coordinated by the ad hoc RNC
Not Welcome Collective.
The location of the UFPJ rally remains controversial. When city officials rejected
the group's application for a permit to gather in Central Park – ostensibly
because of concerns for the grass – UFPJ agreed to relocate to the West Side
Highway on the edge of Manhattan.
But rejection of the request to gather in the hugely symbolic public space
rankled many activists and ordinary citizens alike, including the New York
Times, which denounced the decision in an editorial.
On Tuesday, UFPJ leaders rejected the deal, saying authorities promised to
provide access to water and other services at the highway site but have not
fulfilled the pledges. They have now applied for a permit in another part of
Another broken agreement threatens the work of hundreds of independent and
community media journalists traveling to New York, where Democrats outnumber
Republicans five to one, to report on the convention.
They were supposed to work from a newsroom provided by the Grassroots Media
Coalition. But just minutes before members of the group were to sign a contract
for the space not far from Madison Square Garden, the convention site, owners
scrapped the deal.
"The executive director actually said, I believe, that law enforcement
was telling them not to do anything different during the month of August or
during the convention," said Ana Nogueira, a member of New York City's
Indymedia, one of three organizations in the coalition.
"That put some fear into them and literally two minutes before signing
the contract, they pulled out," she added in an interview.
"We don't know if [the warning] was specific to us or the space; it might
have just been that they were contacting buildings in general."
The coalition has since found another (donated) space and is now hoping to
get an Internet connection established in time for the convention.
Many observers have no doubt that New York's police, who have a reputation
for violence and have been strategizing with the Secret Service for the past
18 months, are trying to choke dissent before it can begin.
They point to the "surges" being practiced on city streets by groups
of up to 80 police cars, which charge down a road in rows before stopping and
swinging in against the curbs. At a legal protest in March to mark the one-year
anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, police, who number 37,000, used
interlocking steel barricades to flank the marchers, creating a vast pen that
authorities call "free-speech zones."
Protesters have also been honing their tactics. Speculating on whether police
will enforce a "no-mask" law, the RNC Not Welcome Collective advises
on its website: "It is most unwise to wear masks at permitted marches where
there are always interlocking steel barricades and rows of cops on either side
of the street."
"When it is time to act, and if it is necessary, then mask up and perform.
After your escape, the thing people will remember about you is the color of
your kerchief (or your Yankees cap). Swap some clothes if that makes you feel
more comfortable, then you're ready for Plan B," it adds.
The site also includes a list of hotels where RNC delegates will stay, a map
of corporations the coalition says are profiting from the war and occupation
of Iraq, another of New York City's public surveillance cameras and a guide
to police tactics.
According to Bhugalia, all protesters do not match the mainstream media's description
of anarchists and other marginalized people who do not represent everyday Americans.
It is a "broad coalition of people coming together – from across generations,
across racial and ethnic lines, across class backgrounds even, to say that,
'OK, we have an opportunity to make a statement ... people inside are making
policies; we outside are the ones who have to live with those policies, and
look at what those policies have done.'"