At a time when Americans are politically polarized over Iraq and other divisive issues, Republicans plan to nominate an extreme right-winger in a city where 81 percent of the locals voted for Al Gore. To top it off, they're scheduling their Roy-in-the-lion's-mouth act in September -- the GOP usually holds its confabs in July -- to coincide with ceremonies commemorating the 9/11 attacks.
At the risk of coming off like those who warned that President Clinton risked his life every time he appeared before audiences of well-armed soldiers on Southern military bases, let me say, as a New Yorker: This is a very bad idea.
"Next year in New York" is already the rallying cry of more than 150 groups planning to protest Bush's coronation. United for Peace and Justice, which organized some of the biggest demonstrations against the invasion of Iraq, has applied for a 250,000-person permit to march past Madison Square Garden, where the convention is being held, on the event's first full day.
Everyone from radical anarchists to moderate environmentalists expects the New York City GOP ideological collision to spark the biggest American protest march since the end of the Vietnam War.
Families of 9/11 victims, predominantly Democratic like the oasis of ideological sanity they live in, are so incensed at reports that the convention was timed to allow Bush to lay the Freedom Tower cornerstone at the World Trade Center site that many plan to join the protest. "Keep your hands off Ground Zero," Rita Lasar, head of a 9/11 victims group, warns Republicans. "Do not make a political football out of this."
Too late. New York's Republican mayor and governor have denied the cornerstone-laying story, but they've confirmed that Bush will shuttle back and forth between the convention in midtown and speeches at Ground Zero. And Rudy Giuliani is encouraging convention organizers to use 9/11 as a prop.
Activists are talking, some with barely hidden glee, about the possibility of violence. "It'll be Chicago 1968," a well-connected progressive leader predicts, referring to the "Days of Rage" riots during that year's Democratic National Convention. "Things are gonna burn, people are gonna die." Harsh new NYPD tactics, like using horses to trample protesters, could throw gas on an already combustible situation. "Angry protesters have claimed police are meeting [anti-war] demonstrations with new heights of repressiveness, amounting to a pattern of unfounded arrests and abuses," reports The Village Voice.
Both sides are itching for a fight. "If they think New York City will welcome them with open arms, or even tolerate them dancing on the graves of the WTC victims, they are in for a very rude awakening," "Seraphiel" posted to the TalkLeft.com Web site. "I hope it is a remake of the '68 convention in Chicago and the fabulous NYPD, this time, get to break some left-wing heads like grapes," a Bush supporter named "David" retorted.
As much as I relish the idea of a million angry Americans turning the tawdry Necropublican National Convention into a Seattle WTO-style fiasco, the potential for mayhem is terrifying.
As a Manhattanite, I hope that the Republicans will seriously consider moving their convention somewhere else. New York, wounded by the dot-com crash and 9/11 (the latter injury exacerbated when Bush welshed on the money he promised to help the city rebuild), continues to suffer from widespread unemployment.
The risk of convention-related terrorist attacks should be reason enough to not hold it in a city that paid the highest price on 9/11. A revival of 1968, with cops fouling their batons with the blood of young people, wouldn't do anyone -- left or right -- any good.
Riots would make everyone look bad -- New York, the GOP and the demonstrators. The resulting property damage could exceed the cost that would be involved in moving the convention to another city -- a price that the well-funded Bush campaign can easily afford.
The Bushies would be better off today if they had taken my advice on Afghanistan, Iraq and the economy. They've haven't listened yet -- but that's no reason not to start now.
Ted Rall's most recent book is: Gas War: The Truth Behind the American Occupation of Afghanistan.
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