Building the Feb. 15 Mass Demonstration

The Fight for the Right of Assembly in New York City

by Fred Feldman

The following message was circulated on Jan. 30 to many e-mail lists, reporting the refusal of the New York City Police Department to issue a permit for United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ) to hold a massive march on February 15. This is followed by a similar response by José G. Pérez, who reported this development to another e-mail list.

If a court is to decide next Thursday about our right to have a march, I think a large number of us should be there for the occasion. In addition we should be provided immediately with the addresses of police officials and the mayor, so that we can send demands that the officials do their constitutional duty. Prominent supporters of our rights should be mobilized to demand that the mayor intervene to guarantee that the first amendment to the constitution is operative in New York City on February 15.

I hope the UFPJ coalition will be providing us with more information. A fight around this basic democratic rights issue, which involves the whole drive to limit the rights to oppose U.S. wars and much else, can contribute to building the march, which is also directed against the Patriot Act, Homeland Security, illegal detentions, racial profiling, and the like.

We should also keep in mind that this is taking place as the British authorities attempt to prevent the rally that day in Hyde Park. [Editors’ Note: Within a week, after massive public protest in Britain, the authorities backed down and granted a permit for the Hyde Park rally in London.] We should not proceed on the assumption that this is a minor problem. I think a public fight is needed before the Thursday hearing to establish our position in the public eye before any court action is taken.

Below is an urgent message relayed to us by Todd Chretien.

Please circulate this information far and wide.

From: Date: Thu, 30 Jan 2003 12:09:31 EST

Feb. 15 NYC Police forbid marching, UFPJ coalition goes to court Thurs. AM!

by mark c (dc-imc) 12:21am Thu Jan 30 ’03 (Modified on 10:35am Thu Jan 30, ‘03)

The NYC authorities are refusing march permits for Feb. 15.

Under no circumstances, they say, will there be a march bigger than 10,000 people. Why? Because the police cannot contain it.

The following are excerpts of notes from [UFPJ] Co-chair Leslie Cagan of the United For Peace and Justice Coalition (admin. committee notes).

a) The NYC Police Dept. informed our lawyers today that they will NOT issue a parade permit for the demonstration. On the call today we all agreed to challenge this decision in court. The New York Civil Liberties Union is representing us and the papers will be filed in the court tomorrow (Thursday).

The police said they would grant us permission to have a rally, but for safety and security reasons they will not give us the permit to march. Our lawyers believe we have a strong case, but certainly there is no guarantee on what the judge will eventually decide. […]More details on the campaign will be forthcoming very soon. In the meantime it is full steam ahead with the organizing!

NY march permit fight: we cannot afford to take it lying down

by José G. Pérez

By attempting to deny a parade permit to UFPJ, organizers of the Feb. 15 New York antiwar protest, the ruling class has thrown down the gauntlet.

Now the job of the antiwar movement and all defenders of civil liberties is to cram it down their throats.

We mustn’t console ourselves with thoughts like that this was just some local cop being stupid, or just a probe to see if the movement would passively accept the restrictions, or, worse, think that the courts will fix things as a matter of course.

On the contrary, given the political context, where the administration is on an all-out push for war, and has seen the strength and impact of the antiwar movement, which has heightened hesitancy in some in ruling class circles, we must assume this is no bumbling misstep motivated by local concerns. We must assume that this decision comes from the Oval Office—whether orders came down or it just resulted from the overall political course Bush has set.

It is important to note that a very similar thing is happening in London around the Feb. 15 demonstration. The cops, you see, are concerned about the grass in the public parks.

This attack may be very important for them: it has to do with the whole point of the Ashcroft Raids against immigrants, of the trampling on habeas corpus, of the Guantánamo concentration camp, of the every-letter-carrier-a-snitch TIPS program, of the no more privacy Total Information Awareness program, of the unconstitutional Patriot Act and union-busting Homeland Security Act. The whole point is to intimidate us. To silence us. To cow America’s working people into submission.

If hundreds of thousands of us keep demonstrating and reaching out, organizing in schools, workplaces, and communities, turning the antiwar movement into the voice of the majority, the working people—then the ruling class campaign against democratic rights will collapse.

Those running this administration aren’t idiots. They saw what happened to the repressive Cold War climate of McCarthyism when it came up against the blast furnace of the civil rights movement and the antiwar and student movements and everything that followed. McCarthyism *collapsed* because people were no longer afraid.

Today’s antiwar movement has already dealt major blows to the patriotic hysteria they tried to build up in the wake of 9/11. If the movement continues to build, that hysteria and the witch-hunting will fall apart completely. Especially since this McCarthyism is much less firmly rooted than the anti-Communist one of the late 1940s and the 1950s, and is not backed up by a big capitalist boom that can serve to placate people through economic concessions.

So we must assume it is no coincidence that this attack comes as the Bush administration shouts “Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!” on its war drive.

It may seem like a small thing, after all, what is a “peace crawl” down the street if they’re going to let you have a rally anyways? That’s precisely it. They’re letting you have the rally. They’re staking out the position that the government decides when, where, and how the people exercise their democratic rights. And soon it will be whether we can exercise them, and shortly after that, “What democratic rights?”

This is the escalation of the ruler’s offensive against the democratic rights of the American people that the red-baiting barrage was meant to prepare. It is a crucial battle. It must be fought, using all weapons at our disposal—-not just lawsuits.

A lawsuit can be a fine thing, but especially under current circumstances, one would have to believe in the tooth fairy to imagine the courts stand as a bulwark against the ruling class’s assault on freedom. Quite the contrary, they are an integral part of that assault, and the movement should steel itself for possibly losing the court case, even being hit with an injunction against the march and thereby being forced to show these robed reactionaries of the ruling rich where to file their orders.

This prohibition by King George—for that is what this is in essence; only fools will believe the cops are ultimately behind this—should be treated as an Intolerable Act. We must defend our democratic rights in the courts and in the streets, by exercising them. If we simply let the rulers get away with it, we’ll see further attacks and inroads on the right to protest. And it will take a much greater struggle to reconquer what was so lightly given up.

UFPJ should accompany the lawsuit with a massive campaign of protests and an unbreakable decision that this prohibition will not stand. We the people will defend our democratic rights, by any means necessary.

Report from Antiwar Coalition

NYC Police Grant Permit for Rally, But Not for March

The following message from the United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ) coalition was posted on Sat., Feb. 8, 2003.

Dear Friends of United for Peace & Justice:

Good news! We have secured an assembly point for the “World Says No to War” protest on February 15. The New York City Police Department has offered a permit for a noon rally on First Avenue stretching north from 49th Street, which is within sight of the United Nations. This is an important victory, and we are confident that February 15 will be a day of massive, peaceful, powerful protest in New York City.

The downloadable leaflets on our website will soon reflect this information:

The Police Department has, however, so far refused to approve a permit for a march. We insist on our right to march, as well as to rally, to express our opposition to this war. We expect to be successful in our vigorous political and legal efforts to obtain a march permit. We will not be distracted from our objective of mobilizing for February 15. Nor will we capitulate to the NYPD’s attempt to curtail our rights of expression and assembly: Military aggression abroad is entangled with restriction of civil liberties here in the United States, and we reject both.

As part of our campaign for our rights to expression and assembly, United for Peace and Justice filed suit in Federal Court in Manhattan to require the NYPD to issue a march permit. A hearing was held on Friday, February 7, and the judge's decision may be announced on Monday, February 10.

What can you do?

1) KEEP MOBILIZING FOR FEB. 15: The NYPD wants to discourage people from coming to this protest—we need to redouble our efforts to make February 15 an enormous gathering for peace. Please contact Fran Geteles asap (212-663-8048) if you are organizing buses or trains. Check out our website at —we’ve added lots of new information.

2) SPREAD THE WORD: Forward this message widely, post the assembly location on your website, tell everyone you know to gather at noon on Saturday, February 15, at 49th Street and First Avenue.

3) KEEP UP THE PRESSURE: We need all of our supporters to make a huge ruckus about the NYPD's attempt to keep us from marching on February 15. Some suggestions:

If you’re not already on our email list, you can receive future updates like this one about the February 15 mobilization, including an announcement of the judge's decision on Monday about our march permit lawsuit, by clicking here

Thanks for your support . We can still prevent this war, and together we will win the right to march.

Sincerely, The February 15 organizing staff of United for Peace and Justice

New York City Council Proclamation:

February 2003 Will Be “Black Protest for Peace Month”

The text of this proclamation was forwarded on Feb. 8 by Fred Feldman, who asks: “Will the march permit be far behind?”

The Council of the City of New York is pleased and proud to join family, friends, and distinguished community members in declaring Black History Month “Black Protest for Peace Month” in the City of New York; and

WHEREAS: February, being Black History Month, is a time to celebrate and proudly extol the cultural heritage of all people of African descent; it is also a time to reflect on the African-American experience, a time when we honor and remember, with special gratitude, the many illustrious achievements and contributions that African-Americans have made to all aspects of our national life; and

WHEREAS: Today, our celebration is tempered by the knowledge that our nation is on the cusp of yet another war, a war which seems patently unjust: a war which holds not the promise for future peace but rather more ruin, devastation, and mass destruction; a war that will be fought by tens of thousands of young men and women, many from the African-American community; and

WHEREAS: African-Americans have a rich and proud history of fighting for the ideals that have ensured the prosperity and progress of our country; they have also courageously protested against war and sought peaceful resolutions to global conflicts; and

WHEREAS: Chief among the many leaders who have preached tolerance and understanding in time of war was the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose “Why I Oppose War in Vietnam” speech, delivered at Riverside Church almost 36 years ago, still resonates today with the force of prophecy and moral indignation; and

WHEREAS: Black history is nothing if not a history of struggle against what Dr. King called the three evils: racism, poverty, and militarism; these social and societal ills, which are firmly in our thoughts during Black History Month, can all be connected to the very real need to stop this war; and

WHEREAS: Through the exemplary and courageous leadership of individuals such as Rev. Herbert Daughtry, Rev. Al Sharpton, Larry Holmes, Ron Daniels, and Monica Moorehead, we have been given the opportunity to make a difference and take a stand against the Bush administration’s hysterical rush to war; it is with this in mind that we declare Black History Month “Black Protest for Peace Month”; now, therefore

BE IT KNOWN: That the Council of the City of New York declares February 2003 as BLACK PROTEST FOR PEACE MONTH In the City of New York

Signed this 7th day of February in the Year Two Thousand and Three

Charles Barron, Council Member, 42nd District

“Protest is Treason” Says New York Sun, Backing Denial of Feb. 15 Permit

by Fred Feldman

(Note: The item below, quoting the New York Sun, was submitted by Jennifer Scarlott to the NYC Anti-War list.)

The New York Sun was started about a year ago as a kind of daily non-tabloid “respectable” competitor to the New York Post—possibly aiming to drain away some of the scandal sheet’s significant college-educated and professional readership. It hasn’t succeeded and I haven’t noticed whether it is still a daily. I occasionally pick one up for free from piles that are left on the street, apparently in hopes of landing free readership. This editorial may be an attempt to stake out territory well to the right of the Post (of the New York City-area dailies, only Long Island Newsday has what can be considered even a vaguely antiwar position), as well as to lend some support to the city officials’ efforts to sabotage the protest.

The paper correctly summarizes the officials’ objectives in blocking the permit: “The longer they delay in granting the protesters a permit, the less time the organizers have to get their turnout organized.” The editorial is itself enough to demonstrate that the refusal to issue the permit is completely illegal. The turnout, however, has been being organized for some time and shows every prospect of being very, very large, and very, very defiant of unconstitutional restrictions on our right to express our views.

(from Jennifer Scarlott: )

On Thursday, Feb. 6, 2003, the lead editorial entitled “Comfort and the Protesters” on page 6 of the New York Sun had this to say (this is a partial quote):

“Mayor Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Kelly are doing the people of New York and the people of Iraq a great service by delaying and obstructing the anti-war protest planned for February 15. The longer they delay in granting the protesters a permit, the less time the organizers have to get their turnout organized, and the smaller the crowd is likely to be...and at some level, the smaller the crowd, the more likely that President Bush will proceed with his plans to liberate Iraq…

“The protesters probably do have a claim under the right to free speech. Never mind that it’s not the speech that the city is objecting to—it’s the marching in the streets, blocking traffic, and requiring massive police protection…

“So long as the protesters are invoking the Constitution, they might have a look at Article III. That says, ‘Treason against the United States shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort. No person shall be convicted of treason unless on the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act, or on confession in open court…

“So the New York City police could do worse, in the end, than to allow the protest and send two witnesses along for each participant, with an eye toward preserving at least the possibility of an eventual treason prosecution. Thus fully respecting not just some, but all of the constitutional principles at stake…”

We Will March

by Brian Dominick

This article by an antiwar activist in upstate New York was posted on the web site of Z magazine on Feb. 7, 2003

Today I called the office of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. I left a short message for him, stating that I will be marching on the streets of his town next Saturday, February 15, in protest of a renewed war on Iraq. I added that I will do so whether a permit is granted for the demonstration or not. I also mentioned that I intend to bring two or three hundred of my neighbors with me on buses fellow organizers and I have chartered. I made it quite clear that, permit or no permit, we will march.

As a U.S. invasion force builds in the Middle East, the largest, most diverse movement ever to challenge a war expands in scope and intensity throughout the world. This latest clash between the streets and the elites is at this phase neither cataclysmic nor revolutionary, but it is certainly momentous. The coordinated, global actions of February 15 will almost certainly constitute the largest grassroots mobilization in history.

Citing a concern that people’s “everyday lives” would be disrupted by a massive demonstration in Manhattan, police and city officials have refused to provide protest organizers a permit to march outside the United Nations headquarters. Somehow the preposterousness of that statement seems to be lost on authorities and most reporters: It is the destruction and cessation of peoples’ lives we will be marching to prevent. Disruption of lives the world over is guaranteed by the policies being aggressively pursued by the U.S. government. To oppose the elimination of lives, we will march.

Bloomberg’s attempt to deflate demonstration sizes by denying a permit is remarkably transparent. It has been tried before, in New York and many other cities throughout the United States. There’s a significant likelihood that, as is typical, a permit will be granted at the eleventh hour, once officials are satisfied that a substantial number of would-be demonstrators have canceled their plans to participate.

Ironically, if a permit is not handed down, officials will be partly responsible for transforming what would otherwise be a legally sanctioned expression of dissent, into a truly massive act of civil disobedience. The remainder of that responsibility rests on the shoulders of those of us who can participate. If the state wishes to offer us a choice between silence and civil disobedience, they leave us no choice at all. If we number in the tens of thousands, they will have no capacity to stop us, and any attempt to do so would be massively detrimental to the City’s image. We will look around at ourselves, at the sheer mass of protesters, and we will march.

We are motivated, at this point, by something no politician can so easily manipulate or stifle. We are repulsed by the anti-democratic process by which our leaders have settled on the course of war. We are disgusted by the disdain their carelessness demonstrates toward the security of the Middle East and the world. We are terrified of what missiles, bombs, and bullets will do to the people of a country already tortured by more than a decade of vicious sanctions. These motivations have compelled us to pour out into the streets of countless cities large and small, in unprecedented numbers. And as the buildup of invasion forces in the Middle East continues, a comparable escalation in the size and intensity of antiwar forces is approaching a boiling point throughout the world.

Now that the government has revealed its objective is to use crude repression to quell our dissent, those of us who live in the Northeastern U.S. have even more reason to turn out in New York City. Instead of letting them frighten off a movement they have no practical ability to restrict, we will demonstrate their efforts to quiet us can only backfire by inspiring still more action. We will march!

[From Z magazine: Brian is an antiwar organizer in Syracuse, NY. He and other local activists have organized 5 charter buses and numerous carpools to NYC for February 15. For more information on the demonstrations in New York and San Francisco, check out

[To tell New York City officials you intend to march on New York streets come February 15, call: NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg: 212-788-9600, 212-788-3010, 212-788-3040

  NYC Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly: 646-610-8526

  NYPD Chief of Department Joseph Esposito: 646-610-6710]

Judge Denies Right to March in NYC

The following message was posted by the UFPJ coalition on Monday, Feb. 10, 2003.

Dear Friend of United for Peace and Justice:

To our great shock and outrage, Federal Judge Barbara Jones ruled this morning that the City of New York can deny United for Peace and Justice a permit to  march on February 15. Citing “heightened security concerns,” she ruled that we may only hold a stationary rally, for which we have been granted a permit for First Avenue stretching north from 49th Street.

We are accepting the rally permit, and our massive demonstration to stop the Iraq war will go forward no matter what. But we are appalled by this attack on our basic First Amendment rights, and we will continue to fight for the right to march. Our attorneys, the New York Civil Liberties Union, have already filed an appeal, and we are asking all of our supporters to protest passionately against this attempt to stifle the growing opposition to Bush’s war.

We will provide you with more information soon on this rapidly evolving situation. For now, we encourage you to keep organizing and mobilizing for February 15—we have a legal permit to rally, and we cannot and will not let the NYPD and the Bush Administration silence our cry for peace.

More than 300 cities around the globe will be holding protests this weekend against the Iraq war: Let’s make New York City’s protest the biggest, most passionate anti-war gathering of them all.


1) KEEP MOBILIZING FOR FEB. 15: The NYPD [and the Bush Administration—The Editors] wants to discourage people from coming to this protest. We need to redouble our efforts to make February 15 an enormous gathering for peace. Please contact Fran Geteles asap (or 212-663-8048) if you are organizing buses or trains. Check out our website—we’ve added lots of new information.

2) SPREAD THE WORD: Forward this message widely, post the assembly location on your website, tell everyone you know that the February 15 protest is indeed happening and that we have a permit to rally at 49th Street and First Avenue.

The February 15 organizing staff of United for Peace and Justice