Several thousand protestors marched through midtown Manhattan on Saturday, according to information given by Police Commissioner Kelly in a press conference at the 17th Precinct Police Department that same night. While noting the march was mostly peaceful, Kelly said 27 people were arrested for disorderly conduct after police got word that protestors planned to attack authorities with wooden shields bearing the words “No WEF.” Those arrests were made at 59th Street and Fifth Avenue around 1:30 p.m. Nine additional arrests were made Saturday for various offenses, including destruction of government property and possession of narcotics.
Overall, Kelly said he was pleased with the small number of problems that arose. “Our goal is to keep the city safe but allow people their right to protest,” Kelly observed.
The march, which started around noon Saturday, was spearheaded by Another World Is Possible and Reclaim The Streets. Protestors gathered on the West Side at Columbus Circle then marched along 59th Street to Lexington Avenue, where they headed south to the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. Some stores, such as Gap and Banana Republic units on Lexington Avenue, closed their doors during the protest.
Fidel Maltz, a protestor and local resident, said he was out to protest clothing manufacturers that use sweat shops in Nicaragua, his home country. Another New Yorker, Hillary Exler, offered: “I think the World Economic Forum represents minority interests.”
Last week, the Gap store on 54th Street and Fifth Avenue was another primary gathering point for protestors.
A Gap spokesman said the company conducts inspections of its plants and also hires independent monitors to ensure that working conditions meet Gap’s standards.
Following a Thursday evening rally there organized by UNITE, on Friday afternoon a San Francisco-based group called Save the Redwoods Boycott Gap showed up to decry the retailer again. In addition to accusing Gap of allowing its contractors to use unfair labor standards, this group protested the fact the family of Gap Inc. chairman Donald Fisher has an ownership position in the Mendocino Redwood Co.
A demonstrator from San Francisco, who said his name was Griffin, pointed to a foot-thick section of a redwood trunk that was about four-feet in diameter and said, “They cut that down for no reason.” He alleged that the company felled the tree and then discovered that its wood was unsuitable for lumber. He claimed the company clear-cuts redwoods.
MRC owns a 350-square mile property in northern California and said that it cuts on only 3 percent of its land each year.
A Web site maintained by the Mendocino Redwood Co. acknowledges the Fishers are its primary investors, but contends, “MRC’s long-term goal is to restore its property to a redwood and Douglas-fir dominated, selectively harvested forest. This forest will be managed for the benefit of wildlife, old growth, fisheries, clean water, clean air, community well being and employment, and sustainable timber production. MRC seeks to be a model for forest restoration.”
Asked whether Gap officials have responded to his complaints, Griffin responded, “They lie. We are here to boycott the Gap.”
While Friday’s crowd of demonstrators was smaller in number than Thursday — it numbered several dozen, rather than several hundred — it was more boisterous. Banging drums, the protesters marched past the front of the Gap store, dropping pine boughs at the door while police shouted at them to stay away from the windows.
As the police tried to pen the demonstrators onto half of the sidewalk, some in the crowd shouted at them, including one man wearing a T-shirt showing an altered version of the Gap logo — in the same logotype, it said “Crap.”
“We do not have freedom to assemble,” the T-shirted demonstrator yelled. “The police are threatening to arrest us.”
While the boisterous crowd prompted the police to pull out plastic handcuffs and roll up a paddy wagon, the demonstrators soon settled into their designated area and no arrests were made at that time. A police spokesman Friday afternoon said there had been no arrests or reports of vandalism related to the forum that day.
After two days of rain, the mood around the forum was more subdued on Friday. The police had blocked off only the block of Park Avenue immediately behind the Waldorf, rather than a stretch of several blocks as they had Thursday. Lexington Avenue remained closed to vehicles and most pedestrian traffic from East 47th to 57th Street.