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What New York can learn from Raleigh

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New York City blew it. More than 15 months after Sept. 11, city officials had a chance to show the world that the Big Apple was once again a place where diversity of opinion was welcome and the First Amendment was respected.

Given the opportunity to host the city's largest anti-war demonstration in years, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the NYPD did all they could to try to keep the doves from coming to town. The strategy didn't work, as close to 500,000 people took to the streets Feb. 15 to oppose Washington's war plans.

Instead of providing organizers with a parade permit, Bloomberg unleashed riot-gear clad cops throughout midtown Manhattan to bash a few heads, and block thousands of people from getting to the far-too-small rally site near the United Nations. Scores of people hoping to be part of the historic event instead were met by police roadblocks at every corner. Even city buses were not allowed to pass.

Event coordinator Leslie Cagan said Bloomberg and the NYPD may have been following orders from higher ups in the federal government who were perhaps hoping to take some of the steam out of the peace movement.

"I actually think Washington may have had a hand in this," Cagan said Sunday.

Without a parade permit, fewer people might show up, "which makes us look like a smaller anti-war movement," Cagan said.

Contrast what happened in New York with the action taken by Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker. Told by police it was too late to get a permit to march in Raleigh, local peace activists contacted Meeker to see if his honor could cut through some red tape.

Meeker spoke to the city manager, who confirmed the parade permit "could be issued administratively," Meeker checked to be sure police could handle things, and the permit was issued at the eleventh hour.

"We're a state capital, and it's our obligation to allow our citizens to exercise their First Amendment rights," Meeker told The Independent. "My role wasn't all that great."

The mayor's role is being appreciated, says Meeker's Boylan Heights neighbors, Jim and Suzanna Stockwell, both among the organizers of the Raleigh demonstration that drew more than 5,000 people out despite the threat of rain to march against war.

The Stockwells said organizers are encouraging people to send thank you e-mails to Meeker.

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