Redesigning the Protest Movement Convention: Some activists question whether mass demonstrations on a plethora of issues are best way to get messages out. By NICHOLAS RICCARDI, Times Staff Writer
The mass protest movement that exploded into public consciousness with the demonstrations against the World Trade Organization in Seattle last year may have hit a roadblock during the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, in the form of both the walls of police officers shadowing protesters' every move and the indifferent delegates walking past the multi-issue demonstrations.
Coupled with the cool response to protests at the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia earlier this month, some activists are rethinking how they will continue their fight against the corporate establishment.
"We may have seen the end to mass actions," said Olympia, Wash., activist David Taylor after a long, hot day of marching to and fro. "We got our message out in D.C. [during protests against the World Bank and International Monetary Fund], but here, nothing's getting out."
But many others proclaimed the week a success and a possible beacon for the future of a movement more diverse and integrated with local community concerns.
Some Los Angeles-based activists hope the week of peaceful mass marches fuels greater local activism.
"It's like a carnival, a circus that comes to town for a week and leaves," said Randy Jurado Ertll of CARACEN, a Central American immigrant activist group that helped organize Thursday's marches through the garment district. "We have to seize [the opportunity] now."
The WTO demonstrations last September, when 50,000 people shut down the organization's meetings to protest what they call its bias toward corporate control of global trade, inspired activists to plan mass protests during large public events. In Washington, D.C., a crowd tried to shut down IMF and World Bank meetings. There were marches in Ontario, Canada, where the Organization of American States met in June. Then there were the two biggest targets of what some organizers dubbed "The Summer of Resistance": the conventions in Philadelphia and Los Angeles.
Following the Seattle model, Los Angeles activists linked up with national organizers to plan the protests. They also worked with their counterparts in Philadelphia to arrange demonstrations that would diversify their largely white, middle-class movement by focusing on urban woes such as police brutality and poverty as well as environmental issues and global finance.
That led to less concentrated protests; activists held demonstrations against the Los Angeles Police Department, for immigrants rights and for greater educational opportunity. But it also pulled in a more diverse, local crowd than prior demonstrations.
"There's no unified message on the surface, but the sum total is people are [angry]," said organizer David Solnit, who saw the week as a model for future demonstrations.
But others said the protests lacked impact. Many delegates seemed baffled by the array of signs and complaints, as did some local activists.
But organizers said their issues all had a common theme: the exploitation of working people by corporations that control the political system. Part of the reason that did not get across, they said, was the media's focus on conflicts with police.
There were only a few tense incidents during the week, as organizers adhered to their pledge to refrain from violence. While some activists grumbled that more civil disobedience would grab greater attention, organizers said they wanted to allow members of the community to join them in the streets.
"You don't do [civil disobedience] just to do it," said organizer Lisa Fithian. "It's a tactic."
And by not overusing that tactic, she said, the demonstrations became historic.
"People in L.A. who've been here [for years] have never seen anything like this," said Fithian, a Los Angeles resident.
Joann Lo, local organizer of a gay rights march, said she was stunned by the hundreds who turned out for it and by the hundreds of riot police who surrounded the permitted procession as it arrived at Parker Center.
Now, she said, people are asking where the next demonstration will be.
Activists who trekked from Seattle to Washington to Philadelphia and then to Los Angeles are also looking for the next action.
There are discussions of demonstrations during the presidential debates. Still, Fithian said as she headed into a debriefing session Friday after a week of minimal sleep and maximum marching, "people need a little break on the mass mobilizations."
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Times staff writers Jessica Garrison, Greg Krikorian and Jeffrey L. Rabin contributed to this story.