NEW YORK – In what has become a confrontation here between civil liberties advocates and this city’s Republican mayor, United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ) is locked in struggle with Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the city police and parks departments to obtain a permit for a protest rally in Central Park during the Republican National Convention. UFPJ is the national coalition that has organized several demonstrations of hundreds of thousands of people against the war in Iraq.

UFPJ applied for a permit over a year ago. Recently, and after much public pressure, the NYPD agreed to allow demonstrators to march past Madison Square Garden, where the RNC is being held, on Aug. 29, a few days before George W. Bush is to be nominated as the GOP candidate for president. However, police want the protesters to rally off the West Side Highway on the westernmost side of Manhattan – where organizers argue any rally would be isolated and virtually unseen – rather than in Central Park.

Originally, UFPJ wanted to hold the rally, expected to draw 250,000 people, on Central Park’s Great Meadow. The parks department refused, saying that the Great Meadow only had a capacity for 80,000 and that too many people would ruin the lawn. UFPJ, seeking a compromise, asked for another section of Central Park, but the mayor and the parks department still have not issued a permit.

In a radio interview with National Public Radio, Bill Dobbs of UFPJ argued that the mayor is not playing fair with those who wish to protest the RNC. Bloomberg, he said, is rolling out the red carpet for the Republicans – he has given them $5 million of his own money and free subway cards, for example – and has tried to isolate protesters to minimize their impact.

The City Council passed a resolution by a vote of 44-4 calling on the city to protect people’s right to protest, and members of the city’s congressional delegation have asked the mayor to sign a Memorandum of Understanding to respect that right.

“Today, the City Council went on record on the side of liberty,” said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, in a statement on the group’s web page. “Today’s resolution calls for action to ensure that the city gives the same consideration to protesters as it gives to conventioneers.”

UFPJ is urging calls to the mayor at (212) 788-3000 and Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe at (212) 360-1305 to demand a permit.

The author can be reached at dmargolis@cpusa.org.

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