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Views in brief

June 17, 2005 | Page 4

Drive to ban birth control
Corporate cash and cowards
The meaning of the EU vote

Shut out of Central Park

LAST YEAR, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the city Parks Department refused to issue a permit that would have enabled protesters to hold a rally in Central Park during the Republic National Convention. Now, Bloomberg and the Parks Department are looking to make it impossible for there to be a protest on the Great Lawn ever again, putting an end to a long history of the park hosting huge rallies.

This attack on civil liberties has come under the guise of protecting the grass--the same grounds that were used to deny the permit last year. The Parks Department proposal calls for the Great Lawn to only host six events per year, with maximum crowds of 50,000 people. Four of those would be taken by performances of the Metropolitan Opera and New York Symphony. To add insult to injury, the opening for the last two events would be limited to a four-week period at the end of August and early September each year.

"You have two choices," sneered Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe, in the lead up to the hearings. "You can have unlimited, large-scale events, or you can have nice grass, but you can't have both." Translation: We wouldn't want to mess up the pretty views of all those ridiculously expensive Central Park Drive penthouses. Dissent in New York is not worth the price if symphony and opera goers would have to endure the ghastly sight of bare patches of dirt.

The regulation would turn what has long been the largest gathering point in New York solely into the domain of the wealthy.

The Parks Department held hearings in mid-May, but it did not publicize the site until the last minute. As a result, the cepartment was able to pack the room with Upper East Siders anxious to "save the grass." But many activists also came at the behest of groups such as United for Peace and Justice, Not In Our Name and the New York Civil Liberties Union. Protesters also held a rally in the park the Thursday before the hearings.

There have never been limits on rallies at Central Park before. It has hosted political events, as well as concerts, where hundreds of thousands of people have attended, including the No Nukes Rally in 1982 when 600,000 came out. The grass has occasionally been destroyed, but it's always grown back.

Unfortunately, the hearings are not binding. The Parks Department is only accountable to itself, leaving the future of free speech in Central Park in Benepe's hands.

This attack is just the latest in an alarming string of moves emanating from Bloomberg's office to silence dissent in New York. In February 2003, the police department refused to issue a march permit for the antiwar rally that more than 500,000 people attended. The denial of the rally permit for the RNC protest followed in 2004.

And in addition to the attacks on Central Park, the city has made moves to curtail activism at two other long-time venues: Washington Square Park and Union Square. With almost no notice whatsoever and no public input, the city announced a plan to close Washington Square Park for renovations for two years. As part of the renovations, a stage that has often been used for rallies in the park will be wiped out. Moreover, the park will be gated in the future so that it can be closed at night and, likely, as the site of protests.

This is coming at the same time that the city has tried to limit protests at Union Square--which has long served as a center of dissent in New York. For decades, huge parades on International Workers Day would kick off at the park. More recently, it served as an impromptu gathering spot in the days following September 11, including a peace rally. It has also been the site of protests against the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and against the Republican National Convention.

We need to stand up and protect our right to protest in New York!
Petrino DiLeo, New York City

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Drive to ban birth control

MEMBERS OF the International Socialist Organization in Madison, Wis., have been involved in efforts to try to stop an attack on birth control access.

This attack began after University Health Services put out an advertisement before spring break for the emergency contraceptive pill. Republican state Rep. Daniel LeMahieu initiated the "University of Wisconsin (UW) Birth Control Ban" bill, which would ban health care providers at UW health care centers from advertising, prescribing or dispensing emergency birth control to adult female students, even to survivors of sexual assault.

This bill discriminates against women by only restricting access to female contraceptives. It is denying us from accessing a form of basic health care. It also interferes with patient-physician relationship and goes against medical ethics and patient protection laws by mandating a substandard level of health care for women. Moreover, it violates 40 years of Constitutional precedent, which guarantees birth control as a fundamental right.

We learned about this bill when we attended a teach-in on campus. After this event, we began working to create a broad-based coalition to fight against this bill.

Many of the efforts in feminist groups on campus or in the community have focused on attending committee hearings on this bill at the state capitol. Several of us attended one of these after a small picket held on May 26. Community members and students against the bill represented a majority in the audience at this hearing.

Despite this, we were treated rudely by the hearing chair and other committee members, all of whom, except for one, were in favor of this bill. We stayed at the hearing for nearly four hours, but it was still going on when we left; we had actually been there for over seven hours because they put four hearings before ours in order to delay dealing with us. Three members of our group testified against this bill in the legislative hearing.

Although I am certain that the members of the committee had their minds made up well before this hearing began, I think that there was some value to our presence there. For one, we demonstrated visible resistance, which had a noticeable effect on the comfort of the committee. Also, we gave more confidence to people on our side who were taking compromised stances on the issue. Beyond this, we rejected the framework of debate offered and put forth our own arguments to frame the issue on our terms.

There will be more hearings on this bill before it comes to a vote. Our goal is to build up a more solid base to our group that is fighting this. Additionally, as we grow in numbers and strength we plan on escalate our tactics.

I am confident that we can defeat this bill; however, this in itself is not a victory. There is vicious right-wing attack against a woman's right to control her own body as shown by the parental notification laws, waiting periods and the so-called Child Custody Protection Act.

This backwards group of ruling-class ideologues represents a very small percent of the population, but their efforts are having an impact. We must counter these anti-abortion bigots with unapologetic protest wherever they attempt to restrict our rights.
Terry Schmidt, Madison, Wis.

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Corporate cash and cowards

THERE IS only one fix for the Democratic Party that would bring an end to the me-too voting of Democratic politicians. That is to rid the party completely of corporate money.

Howard Dean raised $35 million in his run. If the party openly forswore corporation money, it is quite probable that the party could raise even more money than the Republicans. We are not going to vote for another neocon like Kerry. If this is not included in the by-laws, I see no reason for continuing my membership in the Democratic Party.

Corporate money makes cowards of us all, and I am not going to vote again for "Republican Lite." A new political party would have an excellent chance if it was not a single-issue party, e.g. Socialist, Green, etc. It has to be like the old People's Party.
John H. St. John, from the Internet

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The meaning of the EU vote

AS EUROPEAN countries solidify their view on the recent French and Dutch constitution votes, people around the globe are trying to decipher exactly what a "no" vote represents for these countries. Many are asking what the ultimate goal of the European Union (EU) is, and if this goal is in the best interest of the people of Europe.

Take the recent EU entry Poland, for example. Poland has seen a 5 percent growth rate in recent years since its entry into the EU. However, it's mostly from isolated foreign endeavors that are destroying the cultural antiquity of Poland.

Modern Americanized shopping malls now replace local bazaars; bright incandescently lit supermarkets (with all the Coke and potato chips you could possibly want) are pressuring local farm markets out of business; and high-end hotels and resorts have all but destroyed the future livelihood of small mountain towns such as Zakopane. The effects are endless.

The Polish working classes have also seen an unemployment rate continuously rise since the mid-1980s (as the government transitioned from communism to democratic capitalism) to a stable 20 percent. Social amenities such as health care and education have also deteriorated, and agricultural workers (agriculture has always been Poland's largest industry) have become displaced.

You have to take a larger, more holistic look at the EU (now and 50 years ago when it was developed to compete with large capitalistic regimes) in addition to whose interests it represents. Governments based around globalization and capitalization never benefit the majority working class and underclass, but instead help to accumulate capital for the vile corporations and wealthy individuals who "exploit to invest."

Many of the French and Dutch voters, along with several socialist groups, see the EU as nothing more than a perpetuation of Americanization, imperialism, globalization, capitalism and the worst of all, what I like to call "clone"-ialism. It is reassuring to know that there are people, groups, and even countries that see the world and life through different eyes.
Michael Hudson, Missoula, Mont.

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