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GOP Protest to Head for 34th Street

The large antiwar protest set for Sunday on the eve of the GOP convention will take 100,000 marchers down 34th Street and across Herald Square.

NEW YORK — The protest march Sunday on the eve of the Republican National Convention will take tens of thousands of demonstrators down 34th Street and across Herald Square, past Macy’s flagship and major retailers such as the Gap, Old Navy, H&M and Victoria’s Secret.

After a state judge on Wednesday barred organizers from rallying in Central Park, United for Peace and Justice, the coordinating group, said Thursday that it had agreed on a march route with the New York Police Department.

The group will march north on Seventh Avenue from West 23rd Street to West 34th Street, then turn east for two blocks on West 34th Street before going past the Empire State Building and turning south on Fifth Avenue to Broadway. The demonstration is to end in Union Square Park at East 14th Street. A police spokesman confirmed the department had approved the plan.

“We’re not thrilled to have them, because they’ve been loudly proclaiming they’re not going to listen to anybody,” said Daniel Biederman, president of the 34th Street Partnership, which represents landlords and retailers. “I predict the PD will handle it well, because I just see a very sensible approach throughout, and they’re used to handling difficult groups.”

Many retailers had yet to hear of the protesters’ route through the neighborhood and hadn’t put any plans into effect. A Macy’s spokeswoman said the store will be open on Sunday.

An H&M spokeswoman also said the retailer’s two stores on the route will be open. “I think they’ll go with the flow as long as possible,” she said.

Diesel, which has a store at Union Square, is expected to close for a couple of hours on Sunday, according to Craig Leavitt, executive vice president of sales and retail at Diesel USA Inc.

“Obviously, the main concern is for the safety of our employees and our customers,” he said. “Given the size of the march that’s planned, we will probably be closing for a portion of the day.”

Concluding the march at Union Square Park appears to accomplish two objectives: It will funnel the crowds into a large area that often accommodates rallies — several events are scheduled for the park later in the week — and it ends the protest more than two miles south of Central Park, which may reduce the number of people who choose to head there afterward.

United for Peace and Justice has been arguing with the city for months over the route for its demonstration, which will now travel past the Seventh Avenue side of Madison Square Garden, where Republicans will be meeting Monday through Thursday to nominate President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney for reelection.

Last month, the city had proposed that instead of marching to Central Park’s Great Lawn, which city officials argued would be irreparably damaged by such a large crowd, the group should proceed from the Garden to the West Side Highway to rally. The group filed suit in State Supreme Court last week in a last-ditch effort to use the park.

“We ask everyone who plans to participate in our march to respect our desire to have a safe, legal march,” Leslie Cagan, national coordinator of United for Peace and Justice, said during a news conference on Thursday. “There is no reason to fear us. We come in the name of peace and justice. We are not interested in bringing damage or hardship to the city of New York. We are a little concerned that some people, either purposely or unconsciously, have kind of put out this fear in the city that you have to be worried about the protesters.”

Biederman said his main concerns were that street decorations could be damaged. The 34th Street Partnership has invested about $20 million in lampposts, planters and greenery, and more than $5 million worth of street furniture was placed along the blocks the march will traverse, he said. The march is set to kick off at noon Sunday, with participants expected to begin gathering along Seventh Avenue and side streets about two hours beforehand.

“When people have to be concerned about people breaking store windows or getting into fights, they can’t always pay as much attention to things like flower beds and trees,” Biederman said.

Cagan said a number of national figures would be leading the march. Among them are Jesse Jackson of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition; Bruce Raynor, general president of UNITE HERE; actor Danny Glover, and filmmaker Michael Moore.

Jackson spoke to reporters by phone from Libya, where he was meeting with AIDS patients. He said he would participate in the march because he believes that Bush administration policies — particularly the war in Iraq — have made it difficult for the U.S. and Americans to work on international humanitarian projects.

“We lost our credibility in the world,” he said. “We lost our moral authority.”

Bill Henny, vice president of Local 180 of the Communication Workers of America, said organized labor also opposes many Bush policies.

“On Monday, over 6 million workers lost the right to paid overtime…We’re marching in opposition to that.”

City officials have played down concerns about small groups of protesters informally descending on Central Park. In a briefing Wednesday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said, “People have a right to go to a park.” But, he added, “We expect everybody to comply with the law.”

Essential Facts

Republican National Convention
Monday to Thursday at Madison Square Garden
Convention Hours: Monday, 10 a.m.-1 p.m. and 8-11 p.m.;
Tuesday-Thursday: 8-11 p.m.
Street closings and changes in public transportation have begun to be phased in and will go into full effect at 2 a.m. Monday. Police will staff a command post on West 35th Street between Seventh Avenue and Broadway. In addition to the 311 city information hotline, two additional phone lines will be available for people with convention-related questions: 212-239-4381 and 212-239-2344.

Street Closings

  • The “frozen zone” will encompass the streets adjoining Madison Square Garden and the James A. Farley Post Office: West 31st and 33rd Streets, Seventh, Eighth and Ninth Avenues. These streets will be closed to traffic during convention week and pedestrian access will be limited to those with photo ID who live or work in the area.
  • West 32nd Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues will be closed to traffic and will serve as a pedestrian access route to Penn Station.
  • A “safety zone” from West 29th Street to West 35th Street and from Sixth to Ninth Avenues also will be maintained by the police. Controlled pedestrian access to streets will be allowed, but pedestrians may be subject to search. The zone will largely be closed to traffic after 4 a.m. Monday. Delivery trucks will be allowed in from 2 a.m. to 2 p.m., Tuesday through Thursday, but drivers and vehicles will face inspections.
  • Seventh Avenue from West 29th to West 42nd Street and Eighth Avenue from West 23rd to West 31st Street will be closed to traffic during convention hours. In addition, blocks of Eighth Avenue south of West 31st Street will be closed to traffic as needed to accommodate demonstrations.
Public Transportation
  • Penn Station will be open, though some entrances and exits will be closed.
  • New York City subways are expected to run as usual, but the M4, M10, M16, M20, M34, Q32 and X51 buses will be rerouted to avoid the convention area.
  • The Long Island Rail Road plans to operate normal service, though some trains may be subject to inspection. The LIRR also serves Jamaica Station in Queens and Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn, where transfers are available to the subway.
  • New Jersey Transit Midtown Direct trains will terminate in Hoboken, where transfer is available to the PATH trains. The PATH serves Penn Station and also stops downtown.l Amtrak passengers will have to buy their tickets in advance. Walk-up ticketing will not be available at Penn Station.
Rallies
In addition to the United for Peace and Justice rally on Sunday, there are several rallies planned for Saturday. Among them are:
  • 11 a.m., March for Women’s Lives New York, Brooklyn Bridge.
  • Noon, A Green World is Possible, Washington Square Park, Manhattan.
  • 2 p.m., March Against Bush Attack on Starbucks Workers Union, from East 36th Street and Madison Avenue to West 33rd Street and Fifth Avenue.