Why I’m Staying to Greet the G.O.P.

When the Republicans come to town this weekend, I’ll be here to greet them. And I won’t be making nice.

There are many good reasons to hit the streets for a giant, peaceful protest against the Red States’ presence in New York City during their party’s convention.

Among the best? The fact that chief puppeteer, Karl Rove, would prefer a riot.

Never mind that the convention is in a Republican-run city, in a state controlled by Republicans. Our Republican president is already planning to pin any problems on Democratic Sen. John Kerry.

And Republican Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been doing his level best to create those problems by refusing to allow a large after-protest rally to take place in Central Park, the only space big enough to accommodate it.

“The mayor has certainly been flirting with chaos,” said Bill Dobbs, the spokesperson for United Peace and Justice, the major event’s organizer, as the group waited for the ruling in a lawsuit it filed against the mayor’s intransigence. “The impact of his policies has been to introduce volatility into what ought to be a smooth protest.”

In fact, United for Peace and Justice is skilled at smooth protest—they’re the folks that have brought you three huge, peaceful anti-war demonstrations since February 2003. And I plan to help them howl about Bush’s overall agenda on Sunday, August 29.

But all my brethren don’t feel the way I do. Many gay people are packing up and heading for the hills—or at least for the sand dunes. The feelings of stand-up comedian Paul Hallasy are fairly typical. Despite being a veteran of many demos over the years, he is daunted by the threat of terrorism, the logistics of getting around and the fact that his day job’s office is directly above Madison Square Garden. Plus, he’s half-convinced that any rally will turn into a police brawl. He’s marching this week—right onto the Long Island Rail Road.

“I witnessed 9/11 first-hand, as it happened,” he told me. “I’ve suffered enough. The first day they were taking reservations at the Belvedere [in Cherry Grove], I made mine.”

With a choice between a sandy beach and a fizzy pink cocktail with a pink umbrella in it and the hot asphalt on Seventh Avenue, it’s not a hard decision to understand. But I didn’t stick it out in New York with the destruction wrought by Osama Bin Laden stuck in my window view only to be chased out by George W. Bush.

There are many good reasons for gay men and lesbians to vote against Bush in November. His support for the Federal Marriage Amendment, has recently overshadowed many others, including his opposition to civil unions and nondiscrimination laws that include gender identity and sexual orientation.

The federal judges he has appointed are more often than not openly hostile to the gay community—and will outlast his presidency by decades. The Supreme Court has existed in its current configuration longer than any other in history—its stasis is not likely to last another four years.

And Bush’s erosion of the wall between church and state goes beyond embarrassing arguments over whether to teach evolution to school children. “Christian” values are inhibiting scientists at the Department of Health and Human Services from doing vital work related to HIV, AIDS-service organizations have been threatened with the loss of federal funds for the explicit discussion of safe-sex in HIV transmission prevention materials. Under the guise of “abstinence-only” sex education, a scientifically invalidated methodology, young Americans—including gay kids—are systematically denied life-saving information. All thanks to W.

“We have looked at a dozen core issues of concern to our community,” explained Sean Cahill, director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute. “On each of those, Bush stands against us.”

But for New Yorkers, simply voting against the president is not enough: W. has no chance of winning here anyway. The Republican National Convention is our opportunity to show the rest of the country what democracy actually looks like when its messages can’t be controlled by the corporate media or carefully filtered through the candidates’ focus groups.

Cahill and some of his Task Force colleagues will be marching with Gays Against Bush on Sunday.

Despite the New York Police Department’s overwrought displays of military hardware in the weeks leading up to the convention, and its rhetoric purposefully conflating demonstrators with terrorists—both blatant attempts to dissuade potential free-speechers from exercising the First Amendment—dozens of other protests are scheduled as well. You can find a list of them at unitedforpeace.org, or counterconvention.org. Ironically, the vast majority of violence at street protests in New York City is engendered and perpetrated by the police.

At her keynote speech before the American Sociological Association last week, noted Indian author and political activist Arundhati Roy noted, “No government’s condemnation of terrorism is credible if it cannot show itself to be open to change by non-violent dissent.”

And United for Peace and Justice’s Dobbs, himself a longtime gay gadfly and ACT UPer. commented, “Contemporary gay struggles were built on street protests,” adding, “If you make it impossible for people to protest, the hope for things to change diminishes.”

Those are the best reasons of all to stay in New York and talk back to George Bush and his minions

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