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Commentary: NY's Finest Hour?

Sunday, August 29, 2004

ANCHOR: Delegates are arriving, New Yorkers are leaving, protests have already begun. WNYC's Brian Lehrer says forget the fear and loathing. This could be one of New York's finest hours.


Brian: Most of the coverage that previewed convention week has been about fear, confrontation and the fate of the grass on the Great Lawn.

But let's turn it around.

Assuming for the moment that Al Quaeda is not going to blow us all up next week, New York could be the site of one of the great displays of democracy in the history of the world.

Think about it: At a global turning point, the party that's in power comes to the city of Ground Zero to make its case to the nation that it deserves four more years. Thousands of protesters also show up to passionately disagree. With so many events planned inside the convention and out, Manhattan is transformed into a kind of free speech theme park.

From the most radical right wing delegate on the convention floor to the biggest left wing anarchist on the street, rarely if ever before has such a diverse array of the politically engaged been gathered at one time and in one place and with so many people actually listening to their messages.

And the place is not just anywhere. It's New York. That means more than the usual bombast and earnest pleading you'd probably hear in Washington. It means music, theater, fun! - a festival of sights, sounds, ideas and activities from the tongue-in-cheek Million Billionaires March to the We Can Do Better Stroller Brigade to the Axis of Eve hundred-woman panty flash. Any city could wind up with such things. But really, what other city would?

Oh, and not everyone who lives here has fled. Consider this caller to my weekday talk show, Roslyn from Chelsea.

TAPE: I'm 82 years old, tried to do things for the world when I was young, and I'm excited about this being in my neighborhood. It makes me feel connected to our city, country, government and the world.

Brian: Granted, this is the ideal. Things could go horribly wrong: Terrorism. Violence by some fringy protesters or police. The media could choose to ignore the mosaic of ideas and just focus on the horse race and protester-police relations.

But it could also go right. So let's begin the week with one eye on the dangers, but the other eye on the distinct possibility that this will be just the display of freedom that America is supposed to be about.

Anchor: WNYC's Brian Lehrer. You can hear his convention specials all this week at 10am and 7pm.

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