Published on Thursday, July 6, 2000 in the Los Angeles Times
Organizers Of Convention Protests To Outline Plans Today
by Nicholas Riccardi
The activists who disrupted meetings of international agencies in
Seattle and Washington plan at least four mass marches, a candlelight
vigil and a bevy of other nonviolent acts during the Democratic National
Convention in August, according to leaders of the involved groups.
The groups are scheduled to discuss their plans during a news conference today in Washington, detailing their intentions to flood the streets of Los Angeles with protesters to draw attention to what they see as the corporate dominance of the economy, both globally and locally.
The plans mark what activists say is a logical shift in the focus of their protest, from the effects of esoteric global policies to domestic issues such as police brutality, welfare and gay rights.
"Whether you're looking at the global economy or the American political system, they're both being controlled by the same people," said Shawn McDougal, an organizer of the Los Angeles protests. "We need to make them accountable to the people."
Similar actions are scheduled for the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia.
Despite ambitious plans to draw thousands of demonstrators to each city, organizers of the effort stress that they expect their protests to be peaceful and highly coordinated. Although the Seattle demonstrations last year produced a violent clash in that city, there are no plans to damage property or to provoke any violent confrontations in Los Angeles, the organizers said.
That pledge is in marked contrast to warnings issuing lately from the Los Angeles Police Department. Officials there say they are committed to protecting peaceful marches and speech, but they irritated some City Council members last week when they showed a videotape of violent demonstrations and decried rogue groups of "anarchists" that they said were laying plans for the Los Angeles convention.
Protest organizers say it is police who are ratcheting up tension, and insist that they want to focus on their message: that the same forces are behind the devastation of the Colombian rain forest and the suffering of poor families in Compton.
In essence, what the demonstration organizers hope to do is link broad national and international themes with the nitty-gritty of local politics. That would broaden their coalition and expand their relevance in Los Angeles, where issues of transportation and police abuse are high on the local agenda.
It also provides another possible benefit for the organizers: Where
demonstrations against the World Trade Organization and the International
Monetary Fund have largely been the work of white activists, a richer mix
of themes may make the protests more attractive to a broader ethnic
spectrum of demonstrators.
Groups Allege Links to Corporations
The connections may at first seem nebulous--what exactly do the World Trade Organization and, say, California's latest crackdown on juvenile crime, one of the topics of expected protest, have in common?
The WTO, activists assert, is a pawn of giant corporations that want to boost their profits at the expense of the Third World.
And corporations such as Chevron bankrolled Proposition 21, which passed overwhelmingly at the polls this spring and made it easier for youths to be tried as adults for certain crimes. If convicted, the juveniles would go to state prisons such as San Quentin--where activists say inmates have done data processing for Chevron for minimum wage.
A Chevron spokesman scoffed at that argument, saying the company gave money to the effort to place the initiative on the ballot because of a request from then-Gov. Pete Wilson. "If the assertion is made that Chevron benefits from prison labor because of this example you've cited to me, that is ludicrous," said the spokesman, Fred Gorell.
There still will be plenty of talk about international issues when the Democrats are in town Aug. 14 through 17. But the still-evolving itinerary for protests leans heavily toward local issues such as police brutality and education, or global issues with Los Angeles implications, such as immigration.
Part of the reason for the shift is that demonstrators will be targeting a domestic event rather than the meetings of the pillars of the global economy--the WTO in Seattle last year and the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank in Washington this spring.
But the change in focus is also part of an attempt to broaden a movement that members acknowledge has been predominantly white and middle class.
"There is an activist koan that white people pick their issue and brown-skinned people have their issue picked for them," said John Sellers, director of the Ruckus Society, a roving boot-camp for protesters. "To have the luxury to look at this monster called globalization is an easy thing to do if you have the time and aren't worrying about racial profiling" and making ends meet.
Los Angeles organizers will be joined at the news conference today by their counterparts from Philadelphia, which will host the Republican National Convention two weeks before the Democrats come to Los Angeles and is also expected to be the site of numerous protests.
The venue--the National Press Club, where pillars of the establishment are more frequent guests than maverick leftists--demonstrates both the increasing interest in the activists and their high level of nationwide coordination.
Organizers in the two cities have been coordinating their plans since the spring. Both conventions will feature mass marches the Sunday before business begins, then "theme days" capped with mass marches during the convention itself. Neither convention has been overtly targeted for disruption by these organizers, in contrast to the protests in Seattle and Washington.
Los Angeles' protests are scheduled to kick off with a march in support of death row inmate Mumia Abu Jamal, a Philadelphia activist, journalist and convicted cop killer who supporters contend was framed.
On Monday, as the convention opens, the stated theme is broad--"Human Needs, not Corporate Greed." On Tuesday, the issues are to be racism, gay rights and any others covered by the slogan "An injury to one is an injury to all." Police brutality and the growth of prisons will be the subject of Wednesday protests.
And on Thursday, as the convention ends, activists are scheduled to focus on immigration and issues of global justice. A candlelight vigil is scheduled to coincide with the acceptance speech Thursday night of the expected Democratic presidential nominee, Al Gore.
It's challenging to itemize all the issues expected to come up in August protests. The Web page of the group coordinating the activism--D2kla.org--lists a total of 23 causes, plus "all forms of oppression that divide people worldwide."
In keeping with the decentralized philosophy of the new protest movement, organizers say they mainly want to create a framework in which a variety of groups can express their own issues.
But members of the coordinating group, dubbed the D2K Network, say there are unifying messages behind the wide range of causes.
"We each have our own particular causes," said activist Mary Kalyna. "But we are all in the same boat."
Kalyna's causes include gay rights and issues involving the disabled. She sees them as connecting with issues of globalization through government's refusal to pay people who care for the disabled a living wage and the allocation of public money to prison construction and the military instead of to increasing access.
A growing number of activists in the past year have been drawing such connections, but the focus so far has been on so-called "structural adjustment programs" and their effects on the Third World. The term refers to requirements by the International Monetary Fund that countries in need of loans privatize some state-owned industries and increase efficiencies.
But activists say the same dynamics occur in the U.S. and especially in Los Angeles. "What's happening to the bus system is like structural adjustment in the U.S.," said Ted Robertson of the Bus Riders Union, which plans to join in the August protests to voice its long-standing complaints that the Metropolitan Transportation Agency short-changes buses for rail construction backed by big business.
Other issues activists cite are welfare reform, immigration and the
increasing numbers of blacks and Latinos incarcerated in a growing number
of prisons--the so-called "prison-industrial complex"--all of which
activists see as methods to increase the supply of cheap labor available
Hoping to Expand Protest Coalition
In Seattle, unions opposed to jobs being shipped overseas, and environmentalists dressed as sea turtles protesting the toll of that work in the Third World, came together to form a memorable coalition. Those activists succeeded in shutting down the conference and electrifying the left, but the ensuing clashes with police angered many people and heightened anxiety about the events planned for this summer.
Activists are hoping to expand that coalition in Los Angeles.
"You will have labor, you will have the turtles and you will have welfare mothers--that's the new element," said Margaret Prescod, a veteran activist whose Los Angeles-based organization deals with mothers' issues.
The activists who have been coordinating the nationwide battle against globalization have been waiting for that new element--and the diversity it could bring--for some time.
In Washington, D.C., only a relatively small number of blacks joined protests against the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, even though the events occurred in a city with an African American majority.
After those April protests, activist Lisa Fithian attended a meeting of activists in Washington, D.C., planning protests at the conventions and realized that everyone there was white. This will be different in Los Angeles, she vowed.
But activists acknowledge that they have an uphill battle to get a truly representative mix of people on the streets.
They attribute that difficulty partly to the massive police presence expected at the convention. Prescod, who is black, spoke of the fear many African Americans have of merely seeing an officer while driving. "Your heart starts beating faster . . . and that's only one cop, not a wall" of them, she said.
Michael Zinzun, a longtime local activist against police brutality who is black, said that he has agreed to speak during the convention protests and that he agrees with organizers' analysis of how local and global issues are connected.
While expressing hope for getting police abuse issues out to a national audience, he had a reminder for the thousands of out-of-town protesters who are expected to descend on the city.
"They're going to come and they're going to go back, but I'm still going to be poor, and there's still going to be police brutality," Zinzun said. "I understand people's inspiration, but they should be inspired for the long haul and not just jump in the streets."
Copyright 2000 Los Angeles Times