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Commentary :: Environment : Organizing
The Long Arm of the UfPJ? (and RNC Photos)
30 Aug 2004
Modified: 06:49:58 AM
NEW YORK CITY- A half a million people marched by the Fortified and Republo-filled Madison Square Gardens today, and many felt the conspicuous absence of a rallying point. Tolu Olupna, a NYC resident, felt that the march was “disorganized,” because of the lack of a rally space. “I would love to be listening to speeches right now,” Olupna said as she sat in the shade at Union Square with other marchers uncertain about just where to go.
But requests for a permit to rally on the Great Lawn were finally denied by the New York State Supreme Court. UfPJ officially asked people not to march to Central Park. After a long and inspiring march, a focusing point is a positive thing, it is a place to get out the message, a place to talk and connect with people. UfPJ didn’t win a permit, but does that mean that they should also act to discourage people from assembling anyway?
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The Long Arm of the UfPJ? +RNC Photos
An article on the UfPJ website explained their reasoning:

“We are committed to having a safe, legal protest march, that anyone and everyone can attend - kids, seniors, immigrants, people with disabilities. We therefore are NOT leading our march to Central Park, and we ask everyone who plans to participate in our march to respect our desire for a safe and legal event, and not to organize breakaway marches from it to the Park.”

As the “legal” march negotiated with the city neared it’s end UfPJ “marshals” urged protestors to disperse with bullhorns. On 19th street they herded protestors towards Broadway, away from the park, using steel gates, effectively splitting up the march and coercing people to leave the area. But each time they made their bullhorn announcements random voices from the crowd cried “Central Park!” The owners of those voices and others made for the subway gates.

At the Lawn later in the day tens of thousands showed up to claim their right to assembly. The randomness of the gathering and the collective conviction in the freedom of assembly created an atmosphere that a “legal” rally could not have mustered. Street theater and puppet groups improvised their acts, the billionaires marching band walked off the job and joined up with a troupe of drummers, several people were suddenly half-nude and dancing. I don’t mean to say something so sappy as “everyone was jamming together on one vibe and it was a truly enlightening experience!” But there is something incredible in a crowd when they feel they are standing up to the authorities and winning, even if it is in a small way such as this statement supporting our freedom to express ourselves and assemble in public.

“Ultimately, freedom of speech means freedom of speech. No one should bother us, including the helicopter above.” Said Bob Armstrong of Jersey City, NJ.

Perhaps this “unlawful” gathering is a hint of what is possible, of what might be inevitable, in the future of large American demonstrations. Foregoing the whole permitting process and rejecting the controls the government we criticize tries to put on our freedom of speech. Regardless of where individuals on the lawn fell on the political spectrum, from Radical to Democrat to Hardcore Billionaire Republican, regardless of their age, race or ability (of which all points of the spectrums were represented including families with children), none seemed to be the least bit concerned about participating in an un-permitted rally. Magdely La Monte, 16 years old, was incredulous,

“What are we doing wrong? I mean, what are they gonna do, take away our rights?” she asked. And what would NYPD do if a large group, such as UfPJ, were to challenge a unconstitutional decision such as New York’s refusal to allow a rally on the Great Lawn? What would happen to UfPJ if they did challenge the city and actually encouraged people to extend the march to the Great Lawn? If arrests were made, could the courts convict us? Would Americans be arrested for stepping on grass?

Organizers of an anti-war movement, or any socially conscious movement that advocates humanity, is not necessarily bound by the city permitting process in order to practice non-violence. History has shown that the interpretation of the first amendment is bent in times of national “emergencies” such as the red scare in the 20’s, McCarthyism in the 50’s, Vietnam in the 70’s and now the war on terror. In their rush to prevent any type of confrontation with the authorities organizers can, as in the case of UfPJ this week, allow the authorities to pressure them into situations that harm the effectiveness of their own demonstrations and the movement as a whole. On the ground, at the marches, the UfPJ “Marshals” herd protestors as if the people do not have a voice or a mind of their own. In effect, they become peddlers of control. In a circular process they prove their ability to control, win more permits for large rallies, and then direct more energy back into control tactics. Helping to keep a march peaceful is an important and necessary task. But when the authorities yank on UfPJ's chain and the group not only obeys, but encourages others to obey as well, instead of standing by our constitutional rights, the organizational structure of the UfPJ must come into question.
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The Long Arm of the UfPJ? +RNC Photos
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The Long Arm of the UfPJ? +RNC Photos
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See also:
http://www.bigmuddyimc.org/newswire/display/318/index.php

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