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Protests Planned During Republican Convention in NY Cover Many Issues - 2004-08-27

The protesters gathering in New York for the Republican convention span the political spectrum from anarchists to anti-war activists. New York City Police, already taxed with protecting the convention site and monitoring for terrorist activities, will be working around the clock to keep the demonstrations peaceful.

New York police arrested the first activists four days before the official start of the convention Monday. But early arrivals and workers at the Madison Square Garden convention site were able to catch a quick glimpse of 11 members of ACT UP, an AIDS advocacy group, as they took off their clothes. The naked activists stood near the site entrance for about 10 minutes before police arrested several of them.

ACT UP member Robert Dabney says the group wants President Bush to be more of an activist in helping fight the HIV/AIDS virus in underdeveloped nations.

"Today's protest is to tell the naked truth to President Bush and the Republican Party," said Mr. Dabney. "Our protesters are demanding, Number One, that the president support full debt cancellation for the poorest nations of the world."

ACT UP organizers say they staged the small protest Thursday, so their message would not be overshadowed by other demonstrations once the convention kicks off. Indeed, there is a lot of competition for attention outside of the convention hall, much of it starting before the convention.

The Sierra Club, a nationwide environmental group, has launched an eight-day sunrise-to-sunset vigil at the site of the former World Trade Center to call attention to continuing pollution problems.

About a quarter of a million people are expected to march past the convention site as part of a demonstration sponsored by United for Peace and Justice, a nationwide coalition of anti-war, anti-President Bush groups. UPJ lost a court battle with the city over the right to hold a rally in Central Park. Some of its members insist they will head for the park anyway. But UPJ says it will keep its protest peaceful.

Still, some activists seem to be courting confrontation with authorities. Jamie Moran is associated with an Internet Web site, called, a clearinghouse for protest activities. For months, the Web site has been tracking where Republican delegates will be staying, what Broadway shows they will attend and where they have luncheon reservations. Mr. Moran says thousands of committed activists visit the Web site each day. He expects many to risk arrest to make their point.

"People are concerned," he said. "People are definitely concerned that the environment from the mayor and police is hostile. But that is not going to really stop us from taking to the streets. Things do not change, unless people really struggle and do not allow themselves to be scared."

The War Resisters League also is hoping for arrests, as part of what the group is calling a "die-in" that it plans to stage on the second day of the convention. Participants will lie down in front of Madison Square Garden, where the convention is being held, and not move until they are arrested.

That night a group of Christian, Jewish and Muslim religious leaders plan a peaceful rally at Riverside Cathedral, a New York landmark, to deplore poverty and unemployment, and cutbacks in health care.

In the midst of all the demonstrations, members of an environmentalist group will ride their bikes through the city, to raise awareness about environmental issues, and to protest the war in Iraq. Brandon Neubauer will be among them.

"My problem with the war in Iraq is that is it a very thinly veiled excuse to exploit the resources of a very poor country, so that corporations can profit off of it," said Mr. Neubauer.

Artists have organized quieter forms of protest. One local gallery is showing an exhibit of mostly anti-war artworks, called Peace Signs. Cartoonist Ward Sutton's poster, entitled "That's Entertainment" depicts a soldier covered with the insignias of media companies, including news organizations.

"The points I was trying to raise with this piece are the way that war has sort of perversely become almost a form of entertainment to the viewing public," she explained.

Organizers of a week-long Imagine Festival of the Arts say the more than 100 events they are featuring are non-partisan, and geared toward exploring critical issues facing the nation. On September 1, they plan to have several thousand people standing along a 4.8 kilometer route from Wall Street to the convention site, waving pink slips (symbolizing notices people receive when they lose their jobs).

A new survey shows that only about 10 percent of New Yorkers plan to participate in protests. They appear to be more concerned about the traffic jams the convention is creating. Still, New Yorkers overwhelmingly support the right of protesters to demonstrate. The city's 37,000-member police force will be kept busy guarding the convention, monitoring for possible terrorist activities and keeping the peace. But the city's Republican mayor, Michael Bloomberg, says everyone is welcome, delegates and protesters alike.

"We have a unique opportunity to tell New York's story of openness, tolerance, inclusiveness, and hospitality," he said. "New Yorkers and all of our guests, I know, understand the need to protect the rights of everyone, those who wish to speak and those who don't."

In an effort to discourage violent protests, the city is issuing buttons to peaceful protesters, and some New York City businesses are offering discounts to people wearing such buttons.

Apparently there is a protest for every taste. The Web site lists 184 participating organizations and hundreds of events, everything from a Bush Film Bash to an anti-Bush mothers march across the Brooklyn Bridge to a Hip Hop party and protest.