Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Ahmadinejad gets a New York welcome - Part 1

Thousands of Iranians have traveled to New York by chartered bus, plane, automobile, and bicycle to demonstrate against Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and support human rights in Iran.

Ahmadinejad arrived in the city last night, Tuesday, to attend the UN General Assembly and deliver a speech today, Wednesday, sometime after 5 PM. For weeks various groups have been planning events and protests to coincide with this visit. Where Is My Vote - New York Chapter is among many organizations which offered cheap transportation on chartered buses to New York ($30 round trip from Washington DC).

The welcome mat had already been pulled out from under Ahmadinejad last week when two venues where he was to speak abruptly canceled the events. On September 17, the New York Helmsley Hotel declared it would not host the president's banquet. Helmsley spokesman Howard Rubenstein said that the hotel was unaware that Ahmadinejad would be at the event and that the banquet hall had been rented months ago by an Iranian student organization. Subsequently, Gotham Hall also cancelled an engagement at which the Islamic Republic's president was to have appeared.

'No vacancy' for Ahmadinejad:

Despite a concerted telephone, fax, and e-mail campaign to get Ahmadinejad thrown out of the InterContinental Barclay, which reportedly had hotel staff up in arms, Ahmadinejad has apparently managed to managed to maintain his reservation at the plush hotel.

Since the start of the week, mobile billboards on trucks have been circling the UN neighborhood, denouncing human rights violations in Iran and attracting considerable attention:

Though the biggest protests will take place today and tomorrow, demonstrators kicked off the events last night at the corner of 47th Street and 2nd Avenue, near the UN building, with an art installation organized by Voices For Iran. Hundreds watched a video projected onto a living screen of white-clad people. The voices in the footage are of Iranians inside Iran and were collected especially for the installation. Roxana Saberi, the Iranian-American journalist who was detained in Iran months ago, was present at the event, according to Radio Farda.

The original footage that was used in the installtion:

The art installation with the 'living screen':

A group of cycling activists who had been pedaling from Toronto to New York since September 19 arrived to loud applause at the art installation just before the video was screened. They were members of CHRI (Cycling for Human Rights in Iran), a group that had delivered an Amnesty International petition to the Iranian embassy in Ottawa in July after another long bike ride from Toronto.

Footage of CHRI and Amnesty International activists just before their departure from Toronto, September 19:

The Iranian-Canadian cyclists organized a loop around Central Park, starting at Columbus Circle at 10:30 this morning, to bring their message to New Yorkers, before heading for the Iranian Mission at 40th Street and 3rd Avenue, where the first mass gathering of the day will take place at 12:30 PM. 'We all know Mr. Ahmadinejad will be addressing the UN on the 23rd of September,' the group explained on its FaceBook page. 'By cycling a all over New York City, we intend to draw attention to the widespread and systematic human rights abuses that have, and still continue to take place in Iran. We ask you to join us to show solidarity with the people of Iran and condemn the violation of human rights worldwide.'

The protesters in front of the Iranian Mission will walk north on 3rd Avenue up to 47th Street, then head east to the main rally site at 3 PM local. The main demonstration will take place from 4 PM outside the UN Building near 47th Street and 2nd Avenue and will last for the duration of Ahmadinejad's speech which will start at around 5 PM local.

(For part 2 please go here)