Thousands of people waving pink slips will line Broadway for three miles, their jobless-in-America protest stretching from the site of the Republican National Convention (search) to Wall Street.

Near the Brooklyn Bridge, a mammoth red megaphone will amplify election-year opinions from a variety of people 24 hours a day.

While the Republicans meet at Madison Square Garden, America's biggest city will offer edgy spectacles in its streets, squares, parks and stages, featuring such people as Lauren Bacall (search), Robert Altman, Margaret Cho, Spike Lee (search), John Sayles, Marisa Tomei and Slick Rick.

On Saturday — two days before the GOP convention starts — the Imagine Festival of Arts, Issues and Ideas (search) comes alive with about 200 performances that organizers call a "response" to official party politics. The lively lineup has no official link to either party, but serves largely as counterprogramming to the convention nominating President Bush (search) for a second term.

"We're raising the level of public discourse above the soundbites of the politicians," said Chris Wangro, an executive producer of the festival that ends Sept. 2, along with the convention.

"We believe the political parties are dividing people to get votes, whether they're Republicans, Democrats, conservatives, liberals or whatever," said Wangro. "This is an opportunity for people to speak out on human issues — on jobs, health care, freedom of expression."

Venues throughout New York's five boroughs will host actors, musicians, painters, scientists, photographers, comedians, writers, poets, filmmakers, spiritual leaders — and just ordinary citizens.

There'll be singing, dancing, joking and even just standing and waving symbolic pink slips — for The Unemployment Line.

"The Bush team has done a terrible job with unemployment, and in New York, it's 30 percent higher than the national average," said Robert Lah, a 31-year-old Wall Street lawyer with a six-figure salary who was a registered Republican until four months ago, when he became a Democrat.

On Sept. 1 just after 8 a.m., Lah will join about 5,000 people filling Broadway sidewalks from 31st Street near the Garden to Wall Street. They'll raise the pink slips above their heads for 15 silent minutes, giving protesters with jobs time to get to work.

People for the American Way, a Washington-based organization running The Line, will make room for anyone who just shows up for the silent protest.

At least a third of the festival events are free, and tickets to the rest cost an average of $15.

On opening night, Korean-American comedian Margaret Cho is kicking off her "State of Emergency World Tour" at Harlem's Apollo Theater, delivering what she calls "a raw interpretation of what's happening daily in our ever-evolving or devolving state of the union."

The show has an extra, offstage bite to it: Cho's controversial, off-color lines were "banned" in Boston by hosts of a nightclub show linked to the Democratic convention who canceled her appearance.

"Bring It On!" — Democrat presidential nominee John Kerry's slogan — is the title of a show satirizing the Republicans in sketches and songs by writers including E.L. Doctorow, Calvin Trillin and Mary Gordon. It'll be presented on Sept. 2, the night of Bush's nomination speech, at Symphony Space on Broadway — along with a live broadcast of the convention.

"The Republicans wouldn't be in New York if it weren't for 9/11," said Trillin. "So for the convention, they'll try to turn a few acres of lower Manhattan — ground zero — into their New York."

The giant megaphone — the Freedom of Expression National Monument — will carry people's voices toward ground zero from Foley Square, a walk from the Brooklyn Bridge.

"We're all offering whatever gifts we have to the gods," said actress Kathleen Chalfant, who will star with Marisa Tomei in a Lincoln Center reading of Sophocles' Greek tragedy "Electra," followed by a discussion on violence, retribution and compassion.

Added Chalfant: "We all honestly believe that if we don't stop, or mediate, the direction in which our country is moving, there will be a disaster."