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Commentary: Protests Belong in Queens

Saturday, May 21, 2005

As we all know, the politics of New York City often boil down to three words: location, location, location. But WNYC’s Brian Lehrer wants to know why it’s the same few locations everyone keeps fighting about.

Brian: Ask any opponent of the West Stadium what the alternative is and they usually have the same ready answer: Flushing. West Side Stadium opponents know all the charms of Flushing, whether or not they’ve ever been there. It’s right next to Shea, there’s plenty of space, the land is cheaper and the community actually wants the stadium there. Besides, why does everything have to be in Manhattan? It’s good for the city to have jobs and business districts spread throughout the five boroughs. And Flushing’s not Podunk, you know. Three major highways converge there, in addition to Northern Boulevard, the number 7 train and the LIRR Port Washington Line. Plus there’s plenty of parking and the wide open space of Flushing Meadows Park for pre-game tailgating.

But no, says the Mayor, Flushing is lovely this time of year, but it’s not Manhattan. Those conventions and their money want to be in Manhattan, walking distance from Times Square. Otherwise, they might just go to somewhere like Boston.

This week, for once, the local political class was not obsessed with the West Side Stadium. They were distracted by The Great Lawn of Central Park. The Mayor wants to limit events there to a maximum of 50,000 people and limit the number of large events to six a year, to preserve the grass. No more Simon and Garfunkels, no more world class political demonstrations. The New York Civil Liberties Union is taking the mayor to court for denying potential protesters the right to show their strength.

But the Mayor has a ready answer: Flushing. That’s where he told the protesters to gather when he denied them a Great Lawn permit during the Republican Convention. And that’s where he’s saying to go now. And what’s wrong with Flushing? It’s got those wide open spaces where concertgoers can spread out their blankets, and protesters can chant slogans to their heart’s content. Besides, why does everything have to be in Manhattan? And Flushing’s not Podunk, you know. And you know the rest. But protesters want to be ten blocks from the symbolic center of the universe, not ten miles from it.

Funny thing is, some of the loudest proponents of a stadium for Flushing also feel the most marginalized by having big protests relegated to there. And the Mayor thinks Flushing is the middle of somewhere for their favorite causes, but it’s the middle of nowhere for his.

So allow me to propose a deal: Let’s do both things in Flushing, and have everyone declare victory. And let’s declare Queens the center of the universe instead of Times Square. Take a look around Flushing and you’ll realize it is.

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