Crashing the Party was Surprisingly Easy, Activists Say
Published on Saturday, September 4, 2004 by the San Francisco Chronicle
Crashing the Party was Surprisingly Easy, Activists Say
Convention floor passes snagged from friends of friends of friends
by Anna Badkhen
 

NEW YORK -- More than 10,000 New York City cops, high-tech weapons and 60 federal agencies kept terrorists from disturbing the Republican convention, but they couldn't stop a few activists from disrupting the events on the convention floor.

Whether they snagged a delegate pass, borrowed a media credential or posed as GOP volunteers, activists easily slipped through multiple ID checks and a metal detector at Madison Square Garden -- including two from the women-led peace group Code Pink who disrupted President Bush's speech Thursday night. Some who attended a tribute to first lady Laura Bush at a Manhattan hotel earlier in the week said security personnel didn't even check their bags.

Secret Service spokeswoman Ann Roman said she did not know how activists got the passes into the convention center. Roman said the activists were arrested because they made "threatening movements" aimed at convention delegates or "said threatening things" about the delegates.

"They were apparently causing a disruption," she said.

"Everyone attending the event is subject to thorough security screening. People who got onto the convention floor had proper credentials," she said.

But the credentials didn't have photos on them.

Said one convention official who asked not to be named: "I know we were much more aware of it once the week started. But when people start borrowing passes from the media, or getting them from a friend of a friend of a friend, I don't know, how do you stop that?"

The official added that the speakers were safe. "You couldn't have gotten a weapon in there. If you wanted to get at somebody, they'd have to try to get them with their bare hands. But by then the Secret Service would have taken them apart in two seconds."

Regardless, Medea Benjamin, the San Francisco co-founder of Code Pink, broke into a broad smile as she looked back at the busy week of anti-Bush protests. More than 1,700 demonstrators were swept up in a week of arrests civil liberties advocates have called "excessive and indiscriminate."

Despite being arrested twice in New York, once for unfurling an anti-war banner on the floor of the heavily-guarded convention center right in front of Vice President Dick Cheney, Benjamin said "all of it -- the arrests, coming here -- was absolutely worth it.

"Three days in a row Code Pink has infiltrated the Republican National Convention," she said. "It doesn't get any better than this."

On Wednesday night, Code Pink member Gael Murphy spent several hours on the grimy floor of the Pier 57 temporary detention facility for rushing the convention floor in pink lingerie.

The activists' point, Murphy said, was to show the world that some Americans oppose the Bush administration policies, particularly regarding the Iraq war. Saying they are frustrated that the media hasn't been grilling Bush hard enough, Murphy and other activists made a "tactical choice" to take extreme action.

"It's pretty absurd that the political discourse has come to a point where people have to strip down to a pink slip and be pummeled by four 300- pound goons to make a point," said Murphy, a longtime activist who has traveled several times to Iraq on peace missions.

"We are the ants," Benjamin said. "You don't see our work immediately, but we build and we build and we grow and we become so big you can't ignore us. "

Concerned that some protests might turn violent and fearing terrorist attacks on the convention, New York City and federal security authorities launched what critics called a pre-emptive strike policy, keeping large groups of protesters behind police barricades and arresting three times more demonstrators than during the infamously violent riots of Chicago's 1968 Democratic convention. As a result, demonstrators were largely segregated from Republican delegates.

"We haven't been close enough to protesters for them to bother us," said Bette Gorski , a delegate from Massachusetts.

But Ellen Barfield, a member of the War Resisters League from Baltimore, said, "The delegates just go: 'Ah, crazies,' but it's not designed to get to them."

No riots erupted during the demonstrations, and national television networks, which dedicated little prime-time coverage to the convention this week, largely ignored the peaceful protests.

Still, Andrea Buffa, an organizer from San Francisco, said she gave interviews to international media every day, showing "the international community the more positive face of the American people."

Other demonstrators paid a price for their activism -- like Barfield, who spent 18 hours in detention at Pier 57 in the former Manhattan bus garage. New York police authorities have been using the facility, dubbed "Guantanamo on the Hudson" by protesters, to hold the detained activists.

Barfield, who was arrested Tuesday during what she said was a peaceful protest, described sharing a 20-by-40-foot pen surrounded by chain-link fences inside Pier 57 with about 80 other women. Barfield said the only seating arrangements in the pen consisted of three benches that could accommodate only about 20 women at the same time, forcing the detainees to sleep on the floor covered with "years' accumulation of grime and diesel fuel."

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg defended the condition at the holding facility, saying it was "not supposed to be Club Med." On Thursday afternoon, a judge ordered the immediate release of the protesters, charging the city $1, 000 for any protester who remained behind bars after 5 p.m. Thursday.

Even some nonactivists found it was easy to get inside the convention.

San Francisco filmmaker Ryan Junell was in New York to film a documentary on the convention atmosphere to show in swing states. When he unexpectedly scored a ticket inside -- from his ex-college roommate's mother, a delegate -- he found himself watching Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's speech Tuesday and being handed a sign that said, "Girlyman for Arnold."

He's selling a photo of that moment on EBay to pay for court costs for a friend who got arrested during a protest outside the convention. The latest bid: $61.

Chronicle staff writer Joe Garofoli contributed to this report from San Francisco.

© San Francisco Chronicle

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