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Thursday, August 26, 2004

"One if by private jet, two if by SUV!" That was the Paul Revere-esque call sounded by a group calling itself Greene Dragon on Tuesday evening, signaling the unofficial start of the 2004 Republican National Convention here in New York City. The group mounted “horsecycles” and raced south from Central Park to sound the alarm to a city bracing itself for anything and everything over the next week, and this was just a minor sampling of the craziness about to ensue.

Today, the protests slowly began to kick in en masse, with one group known as Act Up! blocking traffic in front of Madison Square Garden, the sealed-off site of the convention, shedding their clothes in the middle of an intersection to draw attention to the Bush administration’s failed policies on AIDS. If you don’t mind a few bare asses (and who in my audience does?!), here are a few snaps of the scene. Earlier in the day, a couple of protestors repelled down the outer-facing of the famed Plaza Hotel in midtown to drape a giant anti-Bush banner. Yep, here we go. Prepare yourself New Yorkers. And welcome GOPers. Here's a map.

The decision by the Bush administration to stage its coronation of King George here in the most liberal of cities may have seemed like a good idea three years ago, but I imagine there is a lot of second-guessing going on in Republican quarters these days. The pre-convention protest hype has been unreal. The media has been reporting story after story after story about planned actions being numerous, massive and disruptive. There is a reason the president plans to fly in, get a quick photo-op with NYC firefighters, give his speech and get out as fast as he can. Many Republicans may be wishing Tom Delay’s roundly-criticized proposal of housing delegates on a cruise ship on the East River had come to fruition.

Simply put, the battle between protestors outside the Garden and the delegates inside is a fight for attention. Will the story be the Bush mandate or will it be the massive civil disruption occurring outside? The Bush team is surely hoping for the latter because any attention giving to their actual record can only backfire.

No doubt, the Bushies are hoping for a repeat of Chicago ’68 so they can paint the rowdy and disrespectful protestors as representative of the Democratic party, turning off any undecided voters who may be leaning toward Kerry. Some have even suggested that the Bush camp may plant flag burners and other offensive protestors among the ranks of the peaceful to portray the left as nothing but loony freaks bent on total chaos. Unfortunately, eco-terrorists, trans-genders and anarchists don’t play that well in the heartland. So, on behalf of peaceful protestors everywhere, I say to the anarchists – Stay Home! You may think you’re actions are clever and useful, but you’ll be playing directly into the hands of the very people you hate so much.

The protestors are planning to voice their disgust for a variety of reasons. Some are upset at the war-mongering tendencies of the Bush administration, some at its social stances on issues such as abortion and gay rights, and some at its ties to big money, big oil and corporate corruption. And some will be protesting against the simple fact that the Republicans are exploiting New York City and 9/11 for political gain. This week’s Village Voice outlines ten ways Bush has screwed New York, while The Nation recently penned an article on how terrible the Bush administration has been to this city. As I said, there are many a reason to protest the Bush administration and what it stands for – in fact, there are 1,000 reasons.

But the lion’s share of attention leading up to next week’s show has been given to one group, United for Peace & Justice, and its well-documented fight with Mayor Bloomberg over where it could stage its 250,000-member march and rally. UFPJ wanted to conclude its march this Sunday at Central Park, New York City’s town square, but the city has denied them at every turn, primarily employing the hey-you-kids-get-off-my-lawn reasoning. Bloomberg even made a silly attempt to appeal to protestors last week by offering them discounts at hotels and restaurants throughout the city, a clever gesture but clearly a PR stunt. Honestly, your average protestor is hitching a ride here and planning to stay in an abandoned church or sleep at hostel due to cost constraints, $20 off a suite at The Plaza isn’t going to mean much.

Today, the city and UFPJ agreed to allow the march to proceed past Madison Square Garden and then circle back to finish where it starts at Union Square. But most activists are still planning on breaking off from the march at 34th Street and heading straight for the forbidden green zone of Central Park to, uh, have a picnic. It’ll be interesting to see how this all plays out on Sunday. Come back to this page next week for a first-hand account.

While I do plan to participate in Sunday’s march, wherever it ends up, and have helped to plan and promote a post-march music and politics event in my home borough of Brooklyn, I will, for the most part, be focused next week on blogging the convention itself – the speeches, the parties and the scripted disinformation. While the world around me erupts in a cacophony of civic anger, I’ll be holed up in my steamy apartment watching Arnold Schwarzenegger and Travis Tritt fire up their troops on CSPAN. So here’s a rough guide, collected from as many pinko, tree-hugging, lesbian loving, communist websites as I could find, to the action outside the convention. Enjoy.

Friday, August 27th
The aforementioned Greene Dragon group mimics George Washington’s crossing of the Delaware “to liberate New York from the Bush loyalists, and America from its corporate monarchy” by boarding the Staten Island Ferry at 2 p.m. and charging toward downtown New York. And radical bikers from the group Time’s Up take to the street to raise awareness of cyclist’s rights, because really, that’s what this election is all about. 7 p.m. at Union Square.

Saturday, August 28th
The day kicks off with a March for Women’s Lives across the Brooklyn Bridge, organized by Planned Parenthood, Code Pink and a variety of other women’s rights organizations. At the same time, women will be completely degraded when a group calling itself “Wet T-shirts for Kerry” assemble in contentious Central Park for a massive squirt-gun fight (2nd item, after the McCarthyism-esque FBI story). At 5:30, Ring Out the Republicans will stage a massive bell-ringing protest around Ground Zero to “demonstrate the solidarity of New Yorkers against the GOP.” Bring your own bell.

And RNC Not Welcome reminds us that convention delegates will be receiving complimentary tours of the city from NYC & Company. The group has also posted a full list of official RNC delegate events on their site, not that they want you to do anything with that information.

Sunday, August 29th
In addition to the previously discussed march and rally from United for Peace & Justice, the Billionaires for Bush group, perhaps the most inventive and entertaining anti-Bush group, is planning a Billionaire Croquet Party at Central Park at 10 a.m., tongue-and-cheekily claiming that “500,000 anti-Bush protestors will be barred from the park so that we can play croquet.” The Billionaires will also conduct a “Million Billionaire March” to “overwhelm UFPJ’s tiny 250,000 person march.” And following the march, the Billionaires will welcome Republican delegates as they descend on the theatre district to attend complimentary Broadway shows, although not the off-broadway production Naked Boys Singing. The Billionaires will be cheered on by the New York City Radical Cheerleaders. Also, a Mouse Bloc (whatever that is) is scheduled for the GOP’s night on the aptly named Great White Way.

If you’re not into the Broadway thing, come to Brooklyn for Bush Bash in Brooklyn, a full day of music, comedy and political thought beginning at 3 p.m. Alternatively, if you’re a Republican backer, you can attend a show at Crobar starring the sad remains of Lynrd Skynrd to honor redneck GOP senators Lindsey Graham and Saxby Chambliss. This is what the Republicans refer to as “star power.”

Monday, August 30th
On the first official day of the convention, the Poor People’s Economic Rights Campaign, who have erected symbolic “Bushvilles” across the country, will assemble at the United Nations at 4 p.m. and proceed on a “March For Our Lives,” despite the lack of a permit from the city. The group Still We Rise will conduct a similar march, albeit with legal permission, from Union Square to Madison Square Garden. Apparently, Monday is the day for poor people to march, which makes sense considering today’s announcement that 36 million Americans are living in poverty thanks to the Bush administration’s economic policies. The day will wrap up with an effort to “Light Up the Sky.” As the organizing group proclaims, “imagine it’s 2 or 3 in the morning and our city is ablaze with a silent and overwhelming rebuke.” But how can I get any sleep with all my lights on?

Tuesday, August 31st
This will be anarchy day. The group A31 has taken the lead in demanding a series of civil disobedience acts, including impromptu alternative “free speech zones”, corporate building blockades and sit-downs. There’s no telling what this group will come up with, but if the information on its site is any indication, their actions will be intimidating. Look out Hummer.

Another group, War Resisters, will stage a “die-in” at Madison Square Garden after a march from Ground Zero beginning at 3 p.m. To add to the chaos, the Billionaires will be “flashmobbing” throughout the day and a collective group will participate in a “FOX News Shut-up-a-thon,” using conservative commentator Bill O’Reilly’s signature tagline against him from outside FOX studios in Manhattan. And look, our good friend Ralph Nader will be on a panel at The Campus Anti-War Counter-Convention. The day wraps up with a “Ring of Hope” around Manhattan.

Wednesday, September 1st
Early in the morning on Wednesday, People for the American Way will form a symbolic unemployment line from the World Trade Center site to the steps of Madison Square Garden to “represent the 1.2 million jobs lost overall since March 2001 and the more than eight million Americans currently unemployed.” Once again, the busy Billionaires will be there “to taunt the lazy whiners… Get a Job!” A group calling itself Shut it Down NYC is also urging all city “Actors, musicians, waiters and waitresses, retail salespeople, and hotel staff” to call in sick. And in perhaps my favorite protest of the week, Axis of Eve is “calling upon Eves from all over to put on your protest panties and participate in Operation EXPOSE and DEPOSE – a media spectacle to lay bare the shameful tactics of the Bush Administration and demand an end to political cover-up.” In other words, I bunch of women are going to show us their panties – now that’s a protest I can get behind! And take pictures of. Sweet.

Thursday, September 2nd
On the last night of the convention, the night the Republicans will nominate King George for four more years (of hell, as Teresa puts it), liberal posterboy Al Franken is urging New Yorkers to participate in a “great American shout out” by lifting their windows and raising their voices in a coordinated scream of “fuhgeddaboutit” to coincide with Bush’s acceptance speech. Veterans for Peace will also conduct a “Vigil for the Fallen” in Union Square at 7 p.m.

And finally, capping the sheer weirdness of some of the week’s actions, the Brooklyn Orgastic Politics Collective will be “redirecting the Orgone Energy above Manhattan, attempting to suck the fascism from Madison Square Garden as Bush is re-nominated.” Don’t ask me, I have no idea.

Enjoy the festivities everyone, and above all else, be peaceful. Please.

More information:
The Republicans Guide (official RNC site)
The People’s Guide
Site for News you won’t get from corporate media: Indymedia.org
A complete guide from New York Magazine
And a good guide from, of all places, the Fairfield Weekly

"To sin by silence, when they should protest ... makes cowards of men." – Abraham Lincoln

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