New York has launched a program to welcome demonstrators coming to the city at the end of the month to protest the Republican presidential nominating convention. City officials hope the effort will ensure that the rallies are calm and, at the same time, contribute to the economy.
After months of negotiating with protest groups planning massive rallies in New York to demonstrate against everything from the war in Iraq to President Bush's formal renomination by his political party to administration policies on the environment, the city has now decided to embrace the demonstrators.
The city will give members of registered protest groups buttons containing a picture of the Statue of Liberty holding a banner that reads "peaceful political activists." People who show the buttons at restaurants, hotels, stores and museums will receive discounts. The effort is part of a campaign to keep the protests as peaceful as possible. Tens of thousands of protesters are expected in New York before and during the convention, which runs from August 30 until September 2.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg says that while most venues try to keep protesters away, New York wants to accommodate them, as long as they remain peaceful.
"We want to make sure that those who come here to protest get our message which is "We want you to be welcome and to enjoy New York City," he said.
The program is also part of a city effort to boost the local economy. The irony has not been lost on protest groups who say city officials are recognizing that there will be more demonstrators than convention delegates. Last month, businesses in Boston complained bitterly that tight security and heightened safety concerns during the Democratic convention actually hurt businesses.
Announcing the program, Mr. Bloomberg was joined by two former New York mayors, David Dinkins and Ed Koch, both Democrats. Mr. Koch said that the convention should be a plus for the city.
"We want you whether you are a demonstrator or whether you are a delegate, when you leave the city, as the Mayor pointed out, and go home to your own community, to say 'I had a wonderful time in New York.'"
Meanwhile one of the biggest groups, United for Peace and Justice, has filed a lawsuit asking the New York state Supreme Court to overrule a city order prohibiting the anti-war group from holding a rally in Central Park the day before the convention begins. The group had accepted the city's offer to march past the convention center at Madison Square Garden and then rally along the West Side Highway, but now says there are too many logistical problems in that plan.