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Published: Sunday, 8/22/2004

NYC prepares for invasion of GOP protesters

BY JAMES DREW
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

Eight days before the Republican National Convention begins, New York City and federal authorities are preparing for hundreds of thousands of demonstrators, united in their opposition to President Bush.

The FBI said it anticipates violent protests.

"We have reporting that people who are going to a site to protest [in New York] may be planning to do more than protest," said Gary Bald, an FBI counterterrorism official.

Organizers of several demonstrations say their strategy is "nonviolent civil disobedience," and they fear the police will instigate violence.

A demonstration in Boston at the Democrats' national convention. Police expect the situation to be worse in New York. A demonstration in Boston at the Democrats' national convention. Police expect the situation to be worse in New York.
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Experts say it is unclear how what happens on the streets will affect the presidential race.

"Demonstrations are attempts to influence public opinion," said Lauren Langman, a sociology professor at Loyola University of Chicago. "The problem is there is not much opinion to influence. What they are trying to do is publicize the opposition to Bush."

On Aug. 29, the eve of the GOP national convention, an anti-Iraq war coalition of 800 groups called United for Peace and Justice is organizing a march and rally. According to the coalition's request to New York City for a permit, 250,000 people are expected to march.

Last week, United for Peace and Justice filed a lawsuit against New York City officials, saying they improperly had denied a permit for protesters to use Central Park.

City officials have said the massive demonstration would damage the park's grass. They have offered a portion of the West Side Highway as an alternative, but United for Peace and Justice noted that it is four long blocks from the convention site at Madison Square Garden.

A coalition of groups calling itself "A31" plans a day of events on Aug. 31, ending with a march leading to Madison Square Garden. New York City officials plan to seal off several blocks around the arena from protesters.

"Inside the Garden, the Republicans are holding a dog-and-pony show, fueled by corporate dollars," according to a statement on the "A31" Web site. "Outside, where the barricades end, real democracy begins. Wherever these barricades end, we will create 'free speech zones.' These will be places where we can express our outrage, where we can create the kind of world we want to see through music and free food and dancing and debate. We will not be asking for permits to create these zones," the "A31" coalition said.

New York City officials have said they are bracing for arresting 1,000 protesters a day during the convention from Aug.

New York City officials have said they are bracing for arresting 1,000 protesters a day during the convention from Aug.

30 to Sept. 2. Many protesters believe it is unconstitutional for the city to require organizers to get permits to speak out.

Planning for the Republican National Convention has intensified the debate over the state of political dissent in the post-9/11 world.

As with the Democratic National Convention in Boston, the federal government has declared the GOP convention a "national security special event."

That has enabled the Secret Service to coordinate security among law-enforcement agencies and the FBI to gather intelligence.

On Aug. 1, the Department of Homeland Security raised the threat level to "high risk" for the financial sector in New York City, northern New Jersey, and Washington, saying that al-Qaeda members had planned car bombs and other attacks against specific sites.

The FBI has confirmed that it has questioned some protesters after examining Web sites with links to a site instructing how Molotov cocktails, slingshots, and bolt cutters can be used in New York City protests.

The American Civil Liberties Union has denounced the FBI's use of the Joint Terrorism Task Force to infiltrate groups and monitor their activities.

"Resources and funds established to fight terrorism should not be misused to target innocent Americans who have done nothing more than engage in lawful protest and dissent," said Anthony Romero, the ACLU's executive director.

The Ohio Republican Party plans to have a conference call tomorrow with convention delegates and one topic will be security, party spokesman Jason Mauk said.

"The overwhelming majority of our delegates are excited about going to New York City. Their contribution to the war on terrorism is ensuring four more years of George W. Bush," he said.

Mr. Mauk said the strategy of anti-Bush demonstrators is a "wild card."

Two months ago, an anarchist identified as "B. Real" wrote that "we can't just fight the cops head on and win" outside the Republican National Convention.

In an article posted on an anti-authority Web site, B. Real said the days of young, black-clad anarchists marching together and trying to break through police lines were over.

"Don't focus on the target they want us to attack; the whole city is fair game," wrote B. Real. "From defense contractors to the mayor's house, from changing billboards to blocking roads, there are literally thousands of targets and actions that can make a big impact. You love the images of ninjas and pirates? Well, it's time to start acting like them and get invisible."

Both anarchist groups and adherents of "direct action" - a nonviolent effort to create a crisis so that an opponent is forced to confront an issue - have used their Web sites to list the hotels where GOP delegations will stay.

The 179-member Ohio GOP delegation, which is sharing the Marriott Marquis Times Square with the California and Tennessee delegations, has hired a security firm for its events, Mr. Mauk said.

Mr. Mauk said protesters won't be barred from around the hotel but said demonstrators should not be allowed to create chaos.

"It's not to say people don't have rights, but we have a right to be safe and secure. If these groups are out there to disrupt security procedures and distract police officers from doing their duty, that puts lives at risks," Mr. Mauk said.

"There is a stark contrast between the positive message of President Bush and the Republican Party, and the anarchists who will literally stop at nothing to inject their angry rhetoric into the political process," he said.

Susan Heitker, a 32-year-old anarchist who lives in Athens, Ohio, said the "threat of terrorism" from al-Qaeda during the GOP national convention is a "scare tactic to keep the people in fear" and clamp down political dissent.

She said she does not support violence and that anarchism - which she defines as "libertarian socialism" - is "about truly having a free society based on mutual aid, cooperation, and full participation of its citizens."

"If you use violence to create an anarchist society, it goes against the grain of anarchism," she said.

David Solnit, a San Francisco-based activist and key organizer in the demonstrations against the World Trade Organization five years ago in Seattle, said national political conventions are "full of opportunities and traps."

The opportunity, he said, is for activists to "become a stronger counterforce to Bush that can continue as a counterforce to [John] Kerry, if he gets in."

In an interview posted on the Web site AlterNet.org, Mr. Solnit said: "The trap is being laid by the Bush gang and Homeland Security to use us to further criminalize and intimidate dissent and paint protesters and anarchists as another threat to scare people into submission.

"If we are thoughtful, fluid on our toes, their repression will backfire on them. It's clear we will have to fight on many levels to be in the streets, but how we do this is the real battle over ideas and stories," Mr. Solnit said.

Those watching the Republican National Convention on television - if TV covers demonstrations - won't be able to identify leaders.

Groups that have protested economic globalization use a decentralized, leaderless model, with "spokescouncils" leading small groups of activists called "affinity groups" that can move in waves at demonstrations.

The groups, which have opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq, have thrived through the Internet and their structure resembles the net, said Dr. Langman, the sociology professor at Loyola University of Chicago.

As a result, the groups are more democratic and leadership is more spread out than earlier movements, such as the Vietnam War protests of the 1960s, said Dr. Langman who opposed the Vietnam War and was at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago when police clashed with protesters.

Jake Hasselbach, a University of Toledo student, hopes to take part in the protests in New York City. He said he attended the "direct action" against the International Monetary Fund and World Bank in 2003 in Washington.

If he gets a ride to New York, Mr. Hasselbach said he will volunteer as a street medic. He also has advice for the "black bloc" anarchists.

"If protest kids dressed sharp instead of wearing black and kept their same ideals - stay vegan and left wing - and they got involved and vote, we would have it made," he said.

Contact James Drew at:

jdrew@theblade.com

or 614-221-0496.



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