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N.Y. Activists Prep for GOP Convention

October 13, 2003

NEW YORK (AP) _ Adding the Internet and e-mail to traditional organizing techniques, protest groups say they are getting an early start in attracting tens of thousands of demonstrators to New York for next year’s Republican convention.

Opponents of the Iraq war, welfare reform _ even those angered by the selection of New York City _ say they will seek protest permits and arrange travel for the four-day convention that begins Aug. 30, 2004.

Protests are an expected sideshow to any political convention, but Steve Ault, a veteran activist helping organize a massive anti-war demonstration, said the events taking shape for next year are unprecedented.

``There’s a rather profound and unique opposition to (President) Bush developing, and we see that in the early interest in these actions,″ said Ault, who helped plan a 1982 nuclear disarmament rally in Central Park that drew 750,000 people. ``We haven’t seen anything like this.″

Large-scale protests are certain to come up against what arguably will be the tightest security ever for a political convention, which is taking place in the city struck by terrorists on Sept. 11, 2001.

Some activists are upset with the notion of Republicans meeting in New York City, where Democrats outnumber GOP supporters, 5-to-1. Others argue that Republicans are exploiting the Sept. 11 tragedy by staging the convention the week before the third anniversary of the attacks that leveled the World Trade Center.

That opposition has spawned at least two anti-convention Web sites, including www.rncnotwelcome.org, which advertises itself as a resource for demonstrators. It does not publicize a specific event, but features links to housing, food and transportation options for demonstrators.

Many groups say the Internet and e-mail have transformed and multiplied what used to be leaflets-on-the-street campaigns to draw crowds and spread messages.

Jim Wilkinson, spokesman for the Republican gathering, which has not yet launched its Web site, said convention officials welcome the protesters.

``The great thing about America is everyone has a right to have their voice heard,″ he said.

Convention organizers and protesters agree that the rallies will further disrupt traffic and strain security. Police say they are formulating security plans around Madison Square Garden, the convention site, and other potential protest locations, although details have not been released.

The police department has received two formal applications for permits to stage protests around the convention, said Lt. Elias Nikas, a police spokesman, although organizers say paperwork is being completed for several more.

United for Peace and Justice has already applied for permits for an anti-war march from an area south of Madison Square Garden north to Central Park. The group also plans a Ground Zero rally on Sept. 2, when the convention concludes.

A half-dozen organizations have asked the New York Civil Liberties Union for help with permit applications and other legal issues. Chris Dunn, associate legal director at the NYCLU, said he expects to meet with city officials this month to work out early details.

``There is going to be a huge amount of protest activity focused in midtown,″ Dunn said. ``There’s no doubt (the city) will try to impose certain limits on how many people can do what, where.″

In the past, police, citing security concerns, have placed tight restrictions on demonstrators, keeping them behind barriers and limiting their movements. That has drawn complaints from activists, most recently in February when protesters were kept away from the United Nations during an anti-war rally.

Among the groups working with the NYCLU is the New York City AIDS Housing Network, a Brooklyn-based organization planning a demonstration on the first day of the convention. It hopes to stage a Times Square demonstration, recreating an AIDS rally that drew 50,000 in 1992, when the city last hosted a presidential convention _ for the Democrats.

One international group, Food Not Bombs, promises to cook and serve donated food to activists, delivering by bicycle if necessary.

Keith McHenry, who co-founded the group in 1980, said chapters from as far away as Vancouver, British Columbia, and Ireland are coming. ``I’ve been doing this for 30 years and I can’t believe how organized this is,″ he said.

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