Convention protestors hope to camp out in the park


By Lincoln Anderson

Thousands of protestors are expected to flood into New York when the Republican National Convention hits town Aug. 30-Sept. 2. The center of action will no doubt be around Madison Sq. Garden at 30th St. and Seventh Ave., but afterwards the protestors will need somewhere to stay. Some local activists think Tompkins Sq. would be the perfect spot to pitch tents and camp out.

East Village activist John Penley and Aaron Kay, a.k.a. the Yippie Pie Man, plan to apply jointly for a camping permit for Tompkins Sq. Park — with a “fallback” location of East River Park if they don’t get Tompkins Sq. — and also Central Park. Kay has requested the applications and plans to file them under the name Rainbow Affinity Tribe.

According to Penley, another East Village figure, “Jerry the Peddler,” has already applied for a camping permit for Central Park.

Penley said Lynne Stewart, who is being prosecuted by Attorney General John Ashcroft on charges of aiding terrorism, will be the “attorney of record” on the permits.

“We’re expecting it to be the largest protest in New York history. People are coming from all over,” Penley said. “We’re applying for camping and cooking, through the whole convention. We expect protestors to stick around for when Bush goes down to the World Trade Center on 9/11. They delayed their convention — they usually have it earlier — just so Bush can go and use 9/11 to get elected.”

However, he admitted Tompkins Sq. is a long shot and that their asking for it is a bit of a “symbolic” gesture.

“We don’t expect it to be granted — to be honest with you,” he said. “We expect to get some remote part of Central Park or part of East River Park. “

Penley said there is a history of protestors camping out in city parks during political conventions. He said he did it with about 500 others in Central Park in 1980 during the Democratic National Convention.

A woman from Philadelphia is also planning to set up a “Bushville,” reminiscent of a “Hooverville” shantytown, Penley added.

Kay, known for having “pied” such figures as Daniel Moynihan, Phyllis Schlafley and G. Gordon Liddy, said, “I’m putting in for Central Park and for Tompkins Sq. Park. We did it in 1976 and 1980 and 1992 for the Democratic Conventions in Central Park. There’s no reason why the city should deny us now. If we’re denied a permit, like the protestors in 1968 in Chicago were, it may cause a problem; it may cause a riot. And I’m sure the Police Department and the Secret Service don’t want this to occur.”

In his opinion, East River Park isn’t a good option because, “it’s a little too far.”

They wouldn’t have campfires, but would use hibachis or Coleman stoves, Kay said.

Kay hasn’t hit anyone with a pie since ’92 and said it’s unlikely he’ll fling any Boston creams during the convention.

“I doubt it,” he said. “As far as I’m concerned these politicians are committing pie-a-cide — they’re putting the pie in their face.”

Told about the protestors’ plans to commandeer Tompkins Sq. Park, Harvey Epstein, Community Board 3’s chairperson, said there might be a conflict because he believed the second annual HOWL! festival will be using both Tompkins Sq. and East River Park the weekend of the R.N.C.

The Federation of East Village Artists, the organization that puts on HOWL!, did not provide an answer by press time as to what the dates of this year’s event will be. However, an unrelated Web site directory for film and TV producers, providing information on how to sign up for work opportunities with HOWL!, said the festival will be Aug. 20-29.

Asked how he thought board members might nevertheless react to the idea of an anti-Bush Woodstock in Tompkins Sq., Epstein said, “I’m sure there are some board members who would love it and some who would hate it. It’s going to be a little hectic in the city. It’ll be an interesting time to be in the city — or not to be in the city.”

However, the whole discussion may well be moot. Margaret Johnson, a Parks Department spokesperson, said they haven’t received any of the camping permit applications in question yet.

“Generally speaking, parks close at 1 a.m., and we do not permit anything for when a park is closed,” Johnson said. “I’m unaware of any recent exceptions to the rule. If and when we receive the permit application, we’ll review it.”

Johnson said that if hundreds of protestors want to assemble in Tompkins Sq. Park during the day, they’ll need a special events permit, which is required for any event in a park where more than 25 people are involved.

Told of the Parks spokesperson’s response, Kay said, “In the past we have done it and no one was arrested. Do they want a riot? They’re better off suspending the law, so people are able to use the park to sleep in.”

Kay wondered what the Police Department would have to say to the protestors’ camping plan. However, Detective Kevin Czartoryski, a police spokesperson, said it sounds like a Parks issue to him.

“We don’t issue permits where the Parks Department issues permits,” he said. “We’ve got time [to look at it] if it becomes an issue.”