Opponents of President Bush are planning massive protests in New York City during the Republican National Convention, which begins the last week of August. Organizers predict that protesters will far outnumber the 5,000 Republican delegates, who will be in town to officially nominate President George Bush as their candidate for re-election. Police are preparing for hundreds of thousands of environmentalists, anarchists, women's advocates and others who will stage elaborate demonstrations, some of them disruptive, to call for an end to the Bush administration.
New York City resident Brandon Neubauer is the organizer of a bicyclists' environmental group called Time's Up. He plans to take part in a massive mobilization of anti-corporation, anti-Bush protesters who will converge on New York City during the Republican National Convention. He also plans to take part in what he calls a "bike bloc," which will snarl traffic as commuters try to get to work, as a protest against their use of private gasoline-powered vehicles.
He says he's ready for anything, because he has been involved in violent street protests before. "Getting shot in the chest with a rubber bullet feels like someone takes a sledgehammer and slams it into your chest, but instead of it being a large impact, it's a sort of smaller impact about the size of a quarter," he said. "I immediately had a bloody welt and my chest was very swollen. And it was incredibly painful."
That happened in Miami, he says, while he was filming scuffles that broke out between riot police and demonstrators at a free trade summit last year. But he doubts there will be violence in New York
In many ways, Mr. Neubauer is typical of the 100 or so demonstrators who, on a recent Thursday evening, filled a church in Manhattan's East Village to distribute leaflets and talk about their plans. He is 26 years old and white. His sandy-colored hair is woven into dreadlocks and pulled back in a ponytail. He freelances for a living, so like some 40 million other Americans, he doesn't receive benefits such as health care coverage from his employer.
Hundreds of other groups are also planning marches and disruptions of business as usual.
"The Church of Stop Shopping uses what we call retail intervention, which is theater placed inside corporate chain stores like the Disney Store or like Starbucks," said protester Michael O'Neil. "We want to wake people up to how corporations are colonizing public space and turning public space into a place where only monetary transactions are allowed to occur."
Police and city officials say they want to allow free speech during convention week, but they are also planning for crowd control. The city's 41,000-member police force insists it is ready to deal with 200,000 or more protesters. Some demonstrators have reported being questioned by the FBI. Others believe federal agents have infiltrated their ranks in an attempt to root out anyone who might be planning violence.
One corner near the convention site, Madison Square Garden, will be cordoned off specifically for protesters. But only a handful of permits have been granted to protest groups, so most street actions will be unauthorized.
The main umbrella organization for protesters, United for Peace and Justice, had requested a permit to hold a rally in Central Park, but was repeatedly turned down by the city. Jim Lesczynski, who chairs the Libertarian party, a group involved with United for Peace and Justice, says they will gather there anyway.
"The First Amendment is pretty clear that you have the right to peacefully assemble," he said. "And it's not a right if you have to ask somebody's permission."
Other, more mainstream groups will host demonstrations that have received permits, such as Planned Parenthood, which hopes to draw thousands for its March for Women's Lives across the Brooklyn Bridge.
"We made the decision here in New York City as the local Planned Parenthood to have this march right at the beginning of the convention so we can very proudly show the Republicans who come here and show the national media that this city is indeed pro-choice," said Joan Malin, head of the New York division of the pro-choice women's health organization. "It cares very, very strongly about these critical rights and we need to do everything we can to make sure they are not lost or even drowned out in this political season."
Planned Parenthood's political arm supports Senator John Kerry for president. But while many protesters agree with the popular slogan among the president's opponents: "Anybody But Bush," this woman, who calls herself Wynde Priddy and says she represents a socialist feminist group that seeks radical change, illustrates that the protesters aren't necessarily backing the Democratic candidate.
"What I hope it won't become is a pep rally for Kerry, which is what I feel a lot of the big marches have become," said Ms. Priddy. "Like the march for Women's Lives in Washington, it just was like, turned into a huge, like Democratic convention! It was really disappointing."
For many protesters, the week the Republicans come to town represents the opportunity of a lifetime. Some are intent on disrupting the Republican convention. Others are exhilarated about the chance to say whatever is on their minds.