January 18, 2004
As the meticulous planners of the Republican National Convention continue to make arrangements for this summer’s historic event at Madison Square Garden, a handful of community activists huddled themselves away in a ramshackle East Harlem office last Thursday night to plot their counterattack.
They envision a political march on August 30, commencing simultaneously in Brooklyn and Harlem and converging in Times Square, where an expected 50,000 will rally. Calling for a stop to unjust social and economic policies, it would be something akin to a “Poor People’s March,” but the group searched for a more uplifting title at last week’s meeting.
After tossing ideas for new names in a hat, written on small slips of paper jokingly referred to as hanging chads, they decided on an allusion to a Maya Angelou poem: “Still We Rise.”
““We’re not here to raise hell–we’re here to raise issues,” said Louie Jones, a member of the New York City AIDS Housing Network, as he collected spare dollar bills from the group.
Jones bantered with cohorts from local activist groups FUREE, Picture the Homeless, ACT-UP, and the International Action Coalition. Flopped on a lopsided couch, pizza in hand, they exchanged ideas for an ambitious five-tiered, issue-based platform: health care, criminal justice, welfare, immigration, and homelessness.
“Though we all work on different things, we have these broader issues in common,” said Lynn Lewis, co-director of Picture the Homeless. “From these five points, each of us can develop an agenda that reflects our constituents.”
The coalition is also working with the noRNC.org Clearinghouse, a New York-based entity being formed by anti-Bushies to help other activist groups share organizational resources, protest strategies, and mobilize support.
But there’s one main concern: The protest might not take place at all. Due to national security concerns, the convention is being coordinated by both the Secret Service and NYPD. For several months, those agencies have been working to prepare for any number of wily protestors, leaving the Still We Rise organizers worried their march routes will be blocked, their protest cancelled.
Still, they say, their message will get out. “This is the people’s platform,” said Jones. “We’re not here to create talking points. While they work to rebuild Ground Zero for the RNC, we’re here to remind them that life is still Ground Zero for those of us living in poverty.