NYC: Anti-RNC Protest Permits Denied

Revolutionary Worker #1240, May 16, 2004, posted at

As the August 30-September 2 Republican National Convention (RNC) draws nearer, the police and government are gearing up for the huge numbers of protesters that are expected to be out in the streets of New York City.

Not In Our Name and others are calling for "more than a million in the streets when the Bush team meets." Many other groups have announced plans for anti-RNC protests. The authorities are moving on three fronts in their attempt to contain and disrupt the protests.

  1. Obstructing or denying march and rally permits. None has been issued so far, and the city has already denied a permit for one major protest. The aim is to set the terms on where and when protest will be allowed--even as the officials prattle on about how "freedom of speech" will be upheld.

  2. Creating a lockdown zone in the center of Manhattan. The area around Madison Square Garden, where the RNC will take place, is slotted to be turned into a militarized zone off-limits to anyone who does not pass strict security clearance.

  3. Propagating a broad atmosphere of "looming terror threats" to scare off people from coming to NYC for the RNC protests and to garner support for whatever outrageous action law enforcement throws down.

According to media reports, the Department of Homeland Security has designated the RNC a "National Security Event" and designated federal funds for security measures. The Secret Service and FBI are reported to be working with the NYPD to prepare for the RNC protests.

Permit Fight

On April 29 the city Parks Department announced that it was denying a permit to United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ) for a rally on the Great Lawn of Central Park on August 29 (the Sunday before the convention begins on August 30). The city also denied another permit request for the use of Tompkins Square Park, in the East Village, as an encampment during the convention.

A Parks official told the media that the permit for the rally on the Great Lawn was turned down because the area can only hold 80,000 people--and the grass would be damaged if more people were allowed to rally there! Of course, damage to lawns is not the real issue here--and the official reason was a totally lame excuse for suppressing dissenting voices, since there have been concerts and protests in the same area before with hundreds of thousands of people.

Especially in the past few years, the NYPD has made it a principle to challenge and outright deny permits, forcing organizations to appeal and go to court to fight for the right to march and rally. The effect is to knock wind out of the planned events, force organizers to dedicate their energy in this realm, and leave to the last minute the actual location of protests (if there is any location at all). With the RNC the stakes are raised much higher--and the authorities want things as much under their control as possible. Bill Dobbs of UFPJ told the RW that among the places police "suggested" as alternate rally sites was Flushing Meadows Park in Queens--miles away from the RNC.

Seventeen organizations are now waiting for permits. The NYPD has given a June 15 deadline for the filing of all RNC-related permit requests. The UFPJ has appealed the denial of the Park permit and is still waiting for a march permit for the same day.

Police Preparations

Along with these moves around permits, law enforcement authorities are also issuing warning about "unruly protesters"--trying to set the stage for police attacks on demonstrators and to sow divisions among the protesters.

NY Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said the cops are "prepared to deal with" what he called "pockets of demonstrators that will probably break the law." He also declared, "Our job is to facilitate peaceful demonstrations, to make certain this is a peaceful event for everyone." And the New York Daily News wrote, "Officials said groups of would-be anarchists or violent marchers sometimes stand out by doing things like wearing black masks, but often they hide within larger groups of peaceful protesters."

Such words are meant to encourage some sections of the protesters to "distance" themselves from more militant and confrontational forces--and to set up justification for police brutality against those who refuse to stay within the bound of allowable protest as defined by those in authority.

Similar noise is being made in advance of the Democratic National Convention (DNC), which takes place July 26-29 in Boston. The Boston Herald in early April warned about "underground extremists who endorse rioting and mayhem" coming to the DNC.

Dropping such items into the media is an attempt by the authorities to set the terms in advance for police tactics like charging into protests--permitted or not--to "extract" and arrest demonstrators. The NYPD has specially trained squads--made up of nine cops each and led by a sergeant--to move into crowds of protesters and single out specific people for arrests. This is a tactic they developed for protests against the World Economic Forum in January 2002.

Midtown Lockdown

The outlines of what the authorities are planning for the area around the actual convention are becoming more defined. The image that springs to mind is of the U.S. military compound in central Baghdad.

In early April Crain's NY Business reported, "People familiar with the security plans being considered say that the immediate area around the Garden may be closed off starting in early August and that during the convention, pedestrians may need passes to enter certain streets." [ RW emphasis] According to the NY Post,"Pedestrians and drivers will be required to show identification proving they have business in the area during the four-day gala."

The area being talked about includes 7th and 8th Avenue between 31st & 34th Street. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people pass through and work in this dense commercial area and transit hub. Locking down such an area is no small matter.

The NYPD denied rumors that the Long Island Railroad and Amtrak trains into this area would be shut down during the RNC--but they do plan on putting cops on every train coming into the station.

In June the NYPD will meet with security directors for buildings in the Madison Square Garden area to lay out more of the plan. The indications are that the area where the convention is taking place will be for all intents and purposes a militarized zone, with a large swath around it also being under the equivalent of martial law.

All this--the rulers say--is being done to ensure that the "democratic process" can take place.

Opposing the Government's Agenda of Horror

Aside from the concrete preparation for suppression of protest and dissent, the power structure is also trying to create a certain climate where attention is focused on possible "terrorist threats" around the RNC-- in order to further justify their moves against protesters. The L.A. Times , for example, said, "It's quite conceivable the GOP convention could serve as a magnet for terrorists itching to prove the U.S. President's ineffectiveness." The NYPD has widely publicized that its forces have undergone training for biological and chemical weapons in preparation for the RNC.

The rulers who are raising these alarms about "terrorist threats" are precisely the ones who have killed countless thousands of people in wars of conquest in Afghanistan and Iraq and are planning more crimes worldwide. They are the ones who oversee torture chambers in Iraq and dungeons around the world. They are the ones who are intensifying police-state repression in the "homeland" in the name of "war on terrorism."

As the call for protests from Not In Our Name says, "The Republicans are coming to NYC trying to use the grief of 9/11 to advance an agenda of horrors." The eyes of the world will be on New York City at the end of this August. There is urgent necessity and great opportunity for people to make clear that dissent will NOT be silenced- -and to deliver a loud and clear "NO!" to Bush and all that he represents.