Peace Activists Planning to Disrupt Manhattan
by Sarah Ferguson
Village Voice - March 25th, 2003:
Taking their cue from protesters in San Francisco, who shut down that city's financial district last week with a wave of raucous street blockades, marches, and sit-ins, activists in New York—including many from more mainstream groups—are calling for widespread civil disobedience in midtown Manhattan this Thursday. Their aim is to disrupt "business as usual."
The actions include a mass die-in at 8 a.m. at Rockefeller Center to protest "media collusion and corporate profiteering from the war." (Rockefeller Center houses NBC and General Electric, among other companies.)
There are also plans for roving traffic blockades at intersections and other "creative disruptions" outside the offices of media firms, oil companies, and military contractors, starting at 7 a.m. and continuing throughout the day.
As with the San Francisco demos, "autonomous affinity groups" will decide how and where they intend to disrupt. A list of potential targets is posted at www.m27coalition.org.
"We want to bring home the fact that life here can't just go on like normal while people are being slaughtered in an unjust war abroad," says Max Uhlenbeck, a student coordinator for United for Peace and Justice, which organized Saturday's four-hour march down Broadway.
Students from New York University and high schools are planning noon walkouts, echoing the mass walkouts that took place across Europe last week. Columbia students are staging their own walkout Wednesday.
Organizers stress that Thursday's protests are intended to be nonviolent. Though no group is specifically endorsing the actions, members of a broad cross-section of peace groups are participating—from rabblerousers like ACT-UP, Reclaim the Streets, and the Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade to folks from Brooklyn Greens and Peace Williamsburg-groups not known for engaging in radical tactics.
"It's not just 20-year-olds. A lot of respectable nine-to-fivers are ready to do things to try and put a wedge in this war," says Julie Zuckerman, a kindergarten teacher and mother of two from the West Village who is a member of New Yorkers Say No to War. "We've tried to use legitimate mechanisms like contacting our congressional representatives, but to no avail," says Zuckerman. "We aren't being listened to, so what do you do?"
No one expects the actions in New York to be as massive or unruly as the protests in San Francisco, which brought more than 2200 arrests in two days. Another 120 were arrested there on Monday at a protest outside the offices of the Carlyle Group, a defense contractor.
Still, Brad Simpson, an organizer with the War Resisters' League, says he's been overwhelmed with calls from people who want to take part in civil disobedience trainings. "In the last three weeks, I've been contacted by at least a dozen groups that we can't get to because we don't have enough trainers in New York," he said.
Of the more than 100 people he has trained, Simpson says, "Most are individuals who aren't affiliated with any activist group. What's so extraordinary is that they've moved from being not necessarily political to wanting to get arrested in just a number of months because they're so pissed off."
At a planning meeting Sunday attended by more than 200 activists from 20 groups, some questioned whether clogging the streets and disrupting business would only alienate New Yorkers-while doing little to stop the war. There's already a backlash in San Francisco, where the mayor complained demonstrators were costing the city $900,000 a day.
But that view was drowned out by the sense that marching peacefully is not enough to convey the depth of opposition to this war. "Desperate times call for desperate measures," says Kiyoko McCrae, 23, an actor and translator who works with Peace Williamsburg. "One day of disruption in people's lives is nothing compared to the $1.1 billion a day that the US is spending to fight this war. If this is the only way that people are going to start listening, it's worth it."
Another open planning meeting is scheduled for Wednesday at 6 p.m. at Judson Memorial Church, off Washington Square Park.
Also on Thursday:
Brooklyn Greens and several other peace groups are planning a picket outside the residence of Senator Charles Schumer to protest his support for the war. They're gathering at 9 Prospect Park West, near Carroll Street, from 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.
WBAI radio is hosting "An Evening of Resistance to the War on Iraq" at Riverside Church, featuring Jimmy Breslin, Ossie Davis, Pete Seeger, Andre Gregory, Reverend Herbert Daughtry, and Ron Daniels. The event starts at 7 and goes until 10, at 490 Riverside Drive at 120th Street. For more information, call 212-209-2869 or visit WBAI.