DEMOCRATIC CONVENTIONS PROTESTS REDEFINE MOVEMENT, END ON A HIGH NOTE
by Jim Smith L.A. Labor News
Five days of massive, spirited marches and rallies in the streets of Los Angeles were capped Thursday afternoon as several thousand Latinos, African-Americans, Asians and whites marched against sweatshops and for immigrant rights. At the same time, Democratic Party convention delegates were grinning-and-bearing another speech by their anointed leader, Albert Gore of Tennessee.
(Day-to-day reports, commentary, photos and videos of the Democratic Convention protests can be found on L.A. Labor News <www.LALabor.org>. The site can also be accessed through Znet at <www.zmag.org>.)
The march, began in the Garment District and made its way past downtown sweatshops along Broadway and 8th streets where garment workers waved and cheered as they poked their heads out of upper-story factory windows. At the rally site - which is across the street from the convention center and behind the "Berlin Wall," a blocks-long 13-foot-high concrete and chain link fence - they were joined by another large march, against U.S. Navy bombing on the island of Vieques in Puerto Rico. Both march included substantial numbers, perhaps a majority, of people of color.
The rally included a spirited and political performance by Michael Franti and Spearhead. Gore delegate Tom Hayden skipped the acceptance speech to attend the rally and concert. After the concert, several thousand rallied at the Twin Towers jail to show their support for the prisoners, including the nearly 200 protesters who had been arrested.
Building on the mass movement that exploded into the public consciousness last November in Seattle, this week's contribution from Los Angeles was significant and of lasting value. While the focus on corporate, or neoliberal, globalism is still at the heart of the movement, its impact and poor and working people - particularly those of color - was the major focus of many activities. Marches and rallies during the week focused on the prison-industial complex, abolishing the death penalty, justice for political prisoners including Mumia Abu-Jamal, police abuse, mass transit, sweatshops, immigration, women's rights, youth rights and against racism.
Nearly all protest event planners that I spoke with considered the week's activities an overwhelming success, with the exception of the ugly daily police violence.
RAMPANT POLICE VIOLENCE
Continuous violence against protesters, and bystanders, by the black-clad LAPD has written another chapter in the infamous history of one of the more notorious police forces in the country. An LAPD division, Ramparts, is already the scene of the largest police corruption scandal in U.S. history. Latino and African-American activists say the police tactics used during the protests are routine in their neighborhoods at all times.
Police fired rubber bullets at protesters on three of the five days of mass marches and rallies. Demonstrators and journalists were hit with clubs with little or no provocation. The ACLU has announced a suit against the LAPD because of its violence and harassment toward journalists. Noted community leaders were shot with rubber bullets and/or physically attached, including legal observer and East L.A. activist Antonio Rodriguez and Miguel Contreras, L.A. County Federation of Labor executive officer. Contreras, a Gore delegate who did not participate in the protests, said that in spite of identifying himself to police after leaving the convention hall, Monday night, he was hit hard across the chest with a billy club. He reported seeing an Asian couple, who were tourists, being roughed up by police at the same time.
There have been 198 arrests so far, although that figure may go higher. "We are getting dozens of reports of harassment of people trying to leave town," Adam Eidinger of the Midnight Special Law Collective told L.A. Labor News. Of the 198 arrests, only 38 people had any expectation they would be arrested, said Eidinger. Bails have been set as high at $10,000 to $75,000 for minor charges including reckless driving (bike riders), conspiracy to commit vandalism, and blocking an entrance. The mass arrests are at odds with an LAPD report that property damage has been so minimal they are not even keeping track of it.
Bicycle riders participating in a "Critical Mass" ride through downtown on Tuesday, an effort to show an alternative form of transportation in auto-clogged Los Angeles, were also victimized by police. After a pleasant 40-minute ride during which they were followed and escorted by LAPD officers on bikes, the more than 200 cyclists were surrounded by cops from several agencies. Most of the riders were able to escape but 70 were arrested, handcuffed and booked on reckless driving charges, which normally merits only a citation. Instead they were put in jail for 24 hours. The women were subjected to repeated body cavity searches by jailers.
Many believe the repression could have been much worse without aggressive legal pressure from the Midnight Special Law Collective and the National Lawyers Guild, and political pressure from L.A. Councilmember Jackie Goldberg, State Senator Tom Hayden, Assemblymember Gilbert Cedillo and others. The courts generally supported the protesters rights under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
The week of protests brought together activists from across the Los Angeles basin. Of the more than 200 organizations that endorsed and participated in the week's events, more than half were from L.A. Just as the WTO demonstrations last winter put U.S. working people and students on the map of world political struggle, the Democratic Convention protests will go a long way to changing the perception and reality of activism in Southern California. The Convention put the spotlight on Los Angeles, but the result was not the one that Mayor Richard Riordan and his corporate sponsors had intended.
After this week's success, our movement for democracy and against corporate control of our lives is well positioned to move from the streets of L.A. into campuses, communities and unions throughout the country.