"Whose Streets? Our Streets!!" A
Gen-X Correspondent Reports from the National Conventions
they ignore you. Then they laugh at you.
Then they fight you. Then you win."-Gandhi
Does It Take to Convince You to Become an Activist?
Thousands of people armed with puppets,
signs, camcorders and informed minds reclaimed the streets of
Philadelphia and Los Angeles this summer, in a historic confrontation
with police state tactics defending some strange status quo. Meanwhile,
the Republican National Convention (RNC) and the Democratic National
Convention (DNC) were busy making some history of their own. The
summer conventions were giant parties where legalized corporate
bribery danced incestuously with thinly veiled republicratic extortion.
While the Parties raged inside the convention halls, I was reporting
on the rage of thousands of people outside the walls of the halls.
What I witnessed on the streets was a new mass movement.
people of this movement stood together when Police, FBI, INS and
Secret Service officers used intimidation, physical abuse, illegal
search and seizure, fabrication of evidence, and prolonged detention
with unprecedented bails set for civil disobedience to silence
their voices of resistance. But mass movements don't silence easily
and only autocratic fools try to do it. (We have a government
of such fools these days it seems.)
growing movement extends way beyond the thousands in the streets
expressing their grievances. Parallel to the RNC and DNC, there
were well attended "Shadow Conventions," convened to
discuss issues glossed over or missed entirely by the politicians
during their orgy of glitter and parties. The Shadow Conventions
presented prominant speakers from both political parties, as well
as many other dissenting voices, who called out for campaign finance
reform, and against the War on Drugs ("a War on the American
People"), among other themes. From that podium, Wisconson
Democratic Senator Russ Feingold told the clearest truth of any
Democrat in LA that week: "We have devolved from a representative
democracy to a corporate democracy in this country. This is not
a system of one person one vote, or one delegate one vote, but
a system of one million dollars, one million votes. It is a system
of legalized bribery and legalized extortion."
course, all of this was ignored to death by the "major media."
those who journeyed to the conventions to exercise their right
to free speech, this movement includes an ever growing number
of the usual suspects; workers, students and independent thinkers
of all stripes. They're calling into question the big lie of so-called
"Economic Development" and "globalization" and they correctly
identify the flow of corporate capital as predatory, not service
based. It's no secret that both major parties subsidize corporate
welfare, giving "big business" free reign to pursue profits at
the expense of worker safety, public health, the environment and
the political integrity of the nation.
raised by these activists (and conspicuously not by corporate
journalists) include universal health insurance, strict environmental
regulation, an end to logging of public forests, meaningful support
for civil liberties, progressive taxation, fair global trade deals,
campaign finance reform, mass public transportation, quality education
and day-care, reduced military spending, opposition to the prison
industrial complex and the death penalty, protection for workers
to form trade unions, small-scale farming, corporate control over
the media, and the world-wide AIDS crisis.
issues energize even the most pathetic apathetic voters this year.
Nader is the one politician running for president who speaks to
these issues. His Green Party campaign and the hundreds of thousands,
maybe millions, of people who support it are an indication of
the growing mass movement I saw in the streets this summer.
for the Republic??
Democrats for Democracy??
Gimme Some Truth
I drove from Ashland to Philadelphia, then back to Los Angeles,
following the Republican and Democratic National Conventions.
I am a reporter for the Independent Media Center (IMC), as I have
been since the World Trade Organization protests in Seattle last
November. The IMC is a web-based, democratic media outlet, providing
coverage of demonstrations and analysis of issues. I would describe
the IMC as a "just in time" kind of organization... staffers like
me stay in touch via the web, and convene based on the schedules
of the self-appointed masters of the world (WTO, IMF, World Bank,
et. al.). An autonomous Independent Media Center sprouts up for
each of the large convergence protests. In this case, we converged
on the conventions.
Philly IMC rented a large space in the center of the action during
the RNC. Within the Center were a daily newspaper, live-satellite
fed television, and two radio stations, plus eyewitness videography
and photography reporting activities on the street and inside
helped on the layout for the daily paper and monitored police
activity by night. By day I ran through the streets following
demonstrations and police with my camera, audio equipment and
notepad. Not much time for sleep. Speaking of being tired, I became
very tired of police and their tactics this summer. They often
exercised extra-legal authority only granted in fascist societies.
Many of them went out of their way to make the conflict personal,
to suppress the message of the demonstrators through intimidation
and instigation of violence. I'm sure it didn't help when their
commanders demanded they work long hours and armed them with the
latest in devices for "crowd control." By the way, you should
read up about these new toys: pepper pellets, sticky stingers,
and rubber bullets. You might meet one on the street someday.
Philadelphia, city officials denied all permit requests to demonstrate
during the Convention, a flagrant violation of Constitutionally
guaranteed free speech. A large and multifaceted Unity 2000 March
the Sunday prior to convention week was the last legal march.
Monday morning, the Kensington Welfare Rights Union hosted a four
and one half mile, single-file march. Led by homeless in wheelchairs,
thousands of women and men, some pushing children in strollers,
made a statement to the world about "Economic Human Rights."
under pressure by an enormous media presence, grudgingly tolerated
the "illegal" march, without mass arrests. No doubt,
busting the heads of women and children and people in wheelchairs
wouldn';t have played well on the 5:00 o'clock news. Not nearly
as well as "anarchists" or "pierced & dreadlocked
agitators" getting what they deserve.
things shifted in Philadelphia. Small acts of civil disobedience
disrupted business-as-usual in the City Center. Activists formed
human chains, blocking major intersections and one major interstate
on-ramp. Meanwhile, police with a sealed warrant raided a rented
studio in West Philadelphia, arresting 67 "Puppetistas."
Those arrested went to jail before their creations could be viewed
on the streets of Philadelphia. The giant puppets were then crushed
in a trash-compactor truck brought in by the police. During a
press conference in the week following, Police Commissioner John
Timoney publicly denied that personal property had been destroyed,
saying, "The only puppets in that studio were the 67 arrested."
That crack would have been funny if true, but in this case, the
only puppet was the one speaking.
All told, around 400 people were arrested in Philadelphia. Many
detainees came directly to the IMC at wee hours of the morning,
to document their stories inside. Released prisoners reported
that activists were held in groups of six to eleven per holding
cell, in a space designed for one person. Many reported that water
was unavailable in their cell for the first 24 hours. Some reported
seeing inmates restrained from their left wrist to their right
ankle for several days. Others said they requested medical services
and were denied. Most of those arrested were held in excess of
72 hours before arraignment, violating a Federal law requiring
arraignment in 48 hours.
activists chose solidarity and resisted this treatment by not
offering their names and fingerprints. All of the activists I
talked to reported incredible solidarity and high spirits behind
the bars of the Roundhouse jail, despite outrageous treatment
by the police.
were set from $10,000 to $1,000,000. John Sellers, who was held
for $1 million bail, was picked up by police while talking on
his cell phone, and charged with being armed with an "instrument
of crime." What was the crime, I wonder? "Communication
in the First Degree?" Sellers, of the Ruckus Society, is
an effective national trainer in non-violent civil disobedience.
His arrest and bail were obviously retaliatory . . . and Constitutionally
pre-emptive police destruction of colorful and playful tools of
dissent deprived demonstrators of their ability to educate through
street theater. It was a deliberate campaign by the police and
the politicians who pull their strings and the corporations who
pull the politicians'; strings to prevent demonstrators from getting
their message out to the public at large. I guess they learned
in Seattle that if they let the people in the streets clearly
state their case about the issues, it could galvanize a worldwide
response. They weren't about to let that happen again. As a result,
the Philadelphia demonstrations appeared random and unorganized.
All the networks, ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox, went along for the ride.
Their 30 second sound-bite style coverage characterized the Philly
demonstrations as chaotic.
In Los Angeles, two court rulings made the Democratic National
Convention protests more legal and they appeared more organized.
These rulings allowed for a "Protest Pit" near the Staples
Center, and helped protect the IMC Convergence Center from unwarranted
harassment by police.
court rulings didn't stop the Los Angeles Police Department from
harassing and intimidating protesters, journalists and city occupants.
The LAPD used brutal force to disperse crowds and punish unruly
demonstrators. These actions were visible even to the corporate
media; several journalists were hit with rubber bullets after
Monday night's "Rage Against the Machine" concert. One
journalist from Switzerland was featured on several corporate
media stations speaking about her injuries from police during
their "crowd dispersion" exercise after the concert.
LAPD commonly used the word "FUCK" to help explain just
how fast their orders were to be followed. This was not really
offensive to me, but many were shocked and frustrated by the lack
of respect they received from these public servants. A common
sight was the troop-like formations of 12 officers in full riot
gear marching and chanting, armed with loaded guns, tear gas canisters
and wooden batons. We're talking military culture here.
worked with the Los Angeles IMC in a room rented on the sixth
floor of the Patriotic Hall, two blocks from the Staples Center.
The Shadow Convention for Los Angeles was held on the first floor
of that same building.
the Center contained similar outlets to the Philly IMC, more established
small print media (LA Free Press, for example) also used the space.
The dynamics weren't the familiar collective decision-making,
but more like a traditional press room. The feeling in the LA
IMC was hectic, bustled, and confusing.
air was tense the afternoon of August 14, when police spotted
a VW Minivan that they claimed "matched the description"
of a van allegedly carrying a bomb. Police closed the parking
lot and alley around our building, detaining two radio pirates
from Austin, Texas. Police scanner monitors at Dispatch reported
the bomb squad would not come to the scene without more evidence.
"Crashing the Party," the live-feed satellite TV show,
could not broadcast from the IMC studios as planned. The Shadow
Convention was even evacuated for a few minutes. The bomb squad
during the DNC voiced concerns about Al Gore's involvement in
Occidental Petroleum, where he has $1 million invested. Occidental
is, of course, the company that plans to drill for oil in Colombia,
on the ancestral lands of the U'wa people-but, hey, who cares
about the U'wa, anyway? They don't contribute to Al's campaign.
Colombia is also the country that will receive a cool $1.3 billion
in foreign aid (read: attack helicopters, anti-insurgency military
training, civilian massacres, and spin control about "narco-
guerrillas. It's a new version of Viet Nam, only this time in
our hemisphere). . . We need to keep an eye on Colombia . . .
demonstrations focusing on the "criminal injustice system" and
police brutality filled streets August 16. On the march to Ramparts
Police Station, I accompanied Tom Hayden, of the Chicago Seven,
and Homees Unidos, a reforming gang asking for other gang members
in L.A. to put down their guns. The marches were heavily controlled
by LAPD, but organizers negotiated with police to keep confrontation
to a minimum. On the Ramparts March, seemingly undocumented immigrants
hid their identities with scarves covering their faces. People
came onto their porches and cheered as passers-by sang out solidarity
chants in Spanish and English. A disciplined signal of the left
arm rising helped to silence the crowd when things became tense
between activists and police.
Police officers arrested 26 non-violent protesters who sat on
the steps of the station to shed light on the legacy of corruption
and brutality from this station, and the INS's illegal detainment
of Homees Unidos Founder, Alex Sanchez.
The DNC was boring. In the few areas I could access inside the
convention, I'd see journalists, delegates, and "dot com"
advertisers socializing under poor lighting in freshly ironed
suits. The big boys, CNN, ABC, NBC, CBS, and Fox, had their little
sub station outside. They weren't slumming with the print, radio
or public broadcasting outfits.
afternoon, I was having a good time, riding a bicycle around taking
pictures of the Staples Center. Suddenly, I was surrounded by
12 male police officers, two wearing riot helmets. One officer
closed my bicycle tire between his legs while another asked to
see my "Official DNC Press Pass." The pass was clearly visible
around my neck, so I pointed to it. An officer forcefully pulled
on the passes around my neck. I crossed my arms on my chest and
told the officer I felt violated. A third officer yanked the passes
off of my neck, and inspected the IMC press passes closely. A
fourth officer demanded to see my driver's license. After telling
them that their intimidating manner made me uncomfortable, I told
them I did not have to show them my identification. I suggested
that they contact a DNC organizer. The first officer then began
to yank at my bag. Overwhelmed, I pulled out my Che Gueverra wallet
and showed him my Oregon Driver's License. Suddenly they were
all satisfied and became sickeningly friendly. But no amount of
"nice" from these guys could undo the tension of physical threat
and intimidation they had put on me. The drama felt real.
than an hour later, I witnessed a legally permitted Critical Mass
bicycle ride where police blockades forced riders to turn wrong
way onto a one way street. This was used as a pretext for arresting
some 70 riders, and impounding their bicycles. I returned to the
IMC with a heavy heart, defeated in my spirit by the authoritarian
force I'd witnessed. Then, while standing with the crowd in front
of Patriotic Hall, someone said that Ram Dass was in the basement
went to find him there, showered in his light-filled aura. I stood
in line, numb. When it was my turn, I started to say, "thank you
for coming," but tears escaped my eyes and my heart was too open
to speak. He could see me. Without any words, he placed my hand
on his heart and then his forehead. What a great friend he is.
He helped me to let go.
in a Dangerous Time
On the final day of the Democratic
National convention in Los Angeles, I put my press passes, camera,
and notepad away and marched shoulder to shoulder in solidarity
with immigrants through the Garment District in L.A., after a
lengthy tour through the city's sweatshops. Workers hung garments
from windows in the towering buildings above the street, chanting
and raising their fists in defiance. The day's marches converged
to a gathering in the Protest Pit near the Staples Center. There,
two women danced as though soaring on a huge stage, while two
more recited names of people killed by the INS at the militarized
a man led the people in a conscious prayer. The crowd clasped
hands and a chilling silence filled the air. We were empowered,
even if the paramilitary police lineups numbered 1:1 with activists.
The intention of the people held the space. Later, with the chattering
staccato of seven police helicopters monitoring us from 75 feet
above the crowd, the band Spearhead played and people danced together.
Joy and the tension of armed intimidation co-mingled in that surreal
the crowd moved with non-violent unity into the streets. Organizers
asked people to march to the jail where activists were being held.
The police blocked all the exits off and used profane language
to funnel the entire group into the march. Fear pounded through
my heart as I observed the circumference of control.
strength of that group marching to the jail came from an awakened
mass consciousness. Our unity was expressed through song, chant
and dance. The volume passing through tunnels rose to excruciating
levels. When left fists rose, silence hummed for fear of police
Does It Take?
This summer, in the streets of the convention cities, I met activists
who have taken a stand for social and economic justice. They have
made a commitment to the earth and to other living beings we share
the earth with. By stepping up in active compassion, they offer
each other strength, clarity, love, empathy and empowerment. I
have been moved by their vision and commitment.
message is "Pay Attention." If you look beyond the honeyed words
of the politicians, the corporations, and the institutions of
globalization (WTO, IMF, World Bank & others), you see policies
and actions that bring tremendous harm. The way things are now,
people all over the world suffer so that a few enjoy the luxuries
that come with class privilege. We can do it differently. We can
stand with people from diverse paths, leading to a oneness, right
here, right now, in the flesh.
Dyer is finishing an undergraduate degree in Journalism at Southern
Oregon University. She and other students from SOU have organized
a "Media Collective" with the intention to inform students and
community members through accurate and fair investigation. Contact
Kerul with suggestions or comments by eMail.
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