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Boro groups join hands for convention protests

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Nationwide an anticipatory murmur has circulated among anti-war groups, which watched as several high-profile organizations squared off with Mayor Michael Bloomberg over where and how they will take their message of peace to the streets during the impending Republican National Convention.In large part those who hope to turn that murmur into a roar during the event, which will run from Aug. 30 to Sept. 2 at Madison Square Garden, are members of a patchwork of loosely affiliated, locally based anti-war groups such as Sunnyside Woodside Peace, Astorians for Peace, the West Queens Greens and the West Queens Independent Democratic Club.The groups have spearheaded western Queens' contribution to what planners say is to be a massive protest with more than 300,000 demonstrators expected to converge on New York. "We are hoping to mobilize the Queens communities from Flushing right up to the East River," said Ann Eagan of Sunnyside Woodside Peace, the local affiliate of the national group United for Peace and Justice.Demonstrators from Sunnyside Woodside Peace are slated to converge at the 46th Street subway station the morning of Aug. 29, carrying signs and bearing banners with slogans such as "Support our troops, bring them home now." They will meet with Astorians for Peace at Queensboro Plaza and then head to Manhattan, Eagan said in a Monday phone interview."We found that just by joining forces with all the various Queens peace groups it's not only a much larger group but it kind of boosts morale (to see) that there are people in the borough who are progressive," Astorians for Peace president Debbie Riga said. Riga founded the group on a lark in February 2003, when she rented a bus for $1,500 to travel to Washington for a protest and posted signs around the area. She said she got a stronger response than expected, drawing enough people to fill three buses. Since then the group of 100 or so has held or participated in 10 rallies.Protesters will be taking not just at the war in Iraq but at the Bush administration, as well. "This is against the Bush agenda," said Eagan, who has been active in politics for a good part of her life. "This is not just the war."Although some of the details of the planned protest are still nebulous, one thing is for certain, she said: The mayor's plan to push protesters off to the West Side Highway is a nonstarter for many."You couldn't be more marginalized," Eagan said of the West Side Highway site. "It's a long walk from Madison Square Garden, let alone all the way down to Chamber Street."Riga said the proposed West Side Highway site would be difficult for the elderly and disabled members of her diverse group.Nationally United for Peace and Justice, a grassroots coalition of anti-war groups, has taken the lead in organizing the expected protests outside the Republican convention, including putting together T-shirts and signs."We're also going to create our own," said Eagan, adding that a New York friend who now lives in New Hampshire would be returning home with an "Axis of Evil" poster, featuring among others President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.Eagan has pledged to offer people enough real estate in her one-bedroom apartment for three or four protesters and their sleeping bags."That's what people are asking for is for people to open their homes and provide some space," Eagan said."They are not gonna be at the four or five star properties where the Republicans will be," Riga said of most protesters' planned accommodations.Reach reporter James DeWeese by e-mail at news@timesledger.com, or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 157.

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