Every year at this time, New Yorkers -- especially those of us who live or work in Midtown East -- have to endure major inconveniences during General Assembly Week at the UN.
New Yorkers are used to traffic, congested sidewalks and the seemingly constant shrill of sirens from police, fire and EMS vehicles. It's just part of living in this wonderful city that we love.
But it all ramps up during General Assembly Week. First Avenue and the cross streets in the east 40's have become parking lots. East 44th Street has barricades, police and bomb-sniffing dogs checking vehicles heading East toward the UN. This area is always a great melting pot with people of all ethnicities and in a dazzling variety of dress, but this week, it's even more so.
When I went out before at lunchtime, Second Avenue was barricaded, with police standing by as all kinds of quiet, peaceful protests and messages are displayed to passersby. Each block seems to have a different group holding signs about something, almost all of which seem obscure and unknown to most of us here.
As crazy as it seems now, once the big heads of state begin arriving and shuttling from their hotels and embassies to the UN a block from my office, traffic will grind to a standstill. It even impacts pedestrians, who often have to wait several minutes to cross a street as official caravans with foreign delegations drive past, preceded and followed by police cars and big SUVs with dark windows, with lights flashing. The streets and crosswalks get temporarily closed by police as they pass.
Poeple throughout the world will be seeing stories with the dateline UNITED NATIONS, New York, and photos from General Assembly proceedings will be beamed globally on TV.
The United Nations is far short of what its founders had hoped for some 65 years ago. There's a lot of talk and a lot of foot-dragging. Important things often get vetoed by a Security Council member nation, which tends to render the organization toothless at times when teeth are needed.
With all its faults, however, I believe it still serves an important purpose. It's a place where nations, who often have very different and opposing interests, can sit down across from each other and hash it out, raising voices sometimes, but not raising arms. Even then, the diplomacy doesn't always stop the fighting or the abuses of power or the denials of personal freedoms around the world.
But sometimes it does. And the annual meeting here in New York puts the world's focus on not only the differences and disagreements, but also on the honest attempts to find ways toward peace and dignity. And for those fleeting times when it does work, the UN is worth it after all.