It started out like a swirling
cacophony of rat-a-tat-tats on our brain, wearing us down, making
us numb. Racial profiling, irradiated beef, bottled water, ozone
depletion, global warming, sweatshops, executions, have a frappuccino - the bovine growth hormone is on the house, limit habeas
corpus, expand Niketown, buy a politician, get some corporate
welfare, Dow is up, strip the rain forest, check out my new
Until finally, we've had enough.
call sounded last year, when 50,000 citizens took to the streets
in Seattle to shut down the World Trade Organization's round
of international trade negotiations.
This summer, building
on the groundswell of support displayed in Seattle, there will
be another political seismic shift as thousands of fed-up but
hopeful citizens demonstrate outside the Republican convention
in Philadelphia next week and at the Democrats' shindig in Los
Angeles August 14 through 17.
The protesters will be people
like you and me -- mothers, bus drivers, students, carpenters,
architects, lawyers and people of every color and age. We know
deep in our hearts that our governmental processes are broken
and that our way of life has been hijacked by corporations and
the politicians who serve as their hired thugs.
for some time now that something is terribly wrong -- that
the gap between rich and poor is growing, that many of us don't
have health insurance, retirement funds or pensions, that we're
grinding out 60- and 70-hour work weeks and there's still not
enough money to make the rent, feed the kids, pay the mortgage.
We've seen our schools crumble as more prisons are built.
We've seen our neighborhoods morph into generic clones, with
the same Blockbusters, Starbucks, Gaps and Wal-Marts.
Inside the convention halls, it will be business as usual. The same
fat-cat, corporate and industry donors will be at both the Democrat
and Republican conventions, stuffing politicians' pockets with
fistfuls of soft-money dollars, hedging their bets so it doesn't
matter who wins.
``The Democrats and Republicans are like
a two-headed monster,'' said Jason Mark, spokesman for Global
Exchange, which is organizing and training people to demonstrate
at the conventions. ``They may bicker and fight with each other,
but it's the same body and the same feet. We don't see any real
distinction separating them.''
Yes. Forget the Democrats
and Republicans. The real action won't be found inside the convention
halls. It's going to be outside, where the people will propose
a citizen's agenda of the issues that really count.
There will be teach-ins on genetically modified foods, marches against
sweatshop labor and global corporatization. There will be rallies
to end the death penalty and highlight the prison-industrial
complex, a Shadow Convention focusing on campaign finance reform,
the widening wage gap and the failed war on drugs. There will
be speeches on homeless issues and lack of universal health
insurance. People will shout and wave signs about environmental
destruction and demand support for working families. There will
be singing and theater, dance and democracy.
more challenging than stopping the war machine,'' said John
Sellers, director of the Ruckus Society, a 5-year-old Berkeley
organization that trains people in nonviolent civil disobedience.
``It's confronting an entire world view. We have had this corporate
consciousness descend on us that is hard to pierce through.
We have to show people that we can choose a different reality
than the one we have imposed on ourselves.''
Like the vast
majority of demonstrators, Ruckus-trained protesters are committed
to nonviolence, but it's possible that, as in Seattle, a handful
of really frustrated people could destroy Nike, Gap or Planet
Hollywood property. They may break windows in an empty store
or throw a trash can at an HMO office.
If that happens,
you will have to decide whether that kind of behavior falls
under your definition of violence.
Perhaps it's more violent
that some of our elderly choose between buying prescription
drugs and eating. That the federal government pumps $20 billion
a year into fossil-fuel subsidies. That women in Saipan live
behind barbed wire where they sew clothes 12 hours a day for
retailers like Gap, Wal-Mart, Sears, Tommy Hilfiger and The
Limited. Isn't it violent that nearly 25 percent of California
residents lack health insurance, and a quarter of the state's
children live in poverty? And isn't it violent that Gap CEO
Millard Drexler makes $60,000 an hour while Gap workers in Tehuacan,
Mexico, make 28 cents an hour?
It just depends on how you look at it.
At the core of this citizen-awakening are two
truths: Corporations have saturated every aspect of U.S. and
world culture, merging and putting profit before human needs.
And secondly, the government -- the very institution that is
supposed to protect us -- has forsaken us and is instead helping
the corporations pillage the Earth and her people.
Take the World Bank, for example. For every dollar the American government
contributes to the bank, American corporations receive $1.35
in procurement contracts, according to Treasury Department Secretary
Lawrence Summers, who told Congress in 1995 how companies profit
from World Bank loans. One of the Bank's current proposals is
to develop oil fields in the Central African nation of Chad,
by running more than 600 miles of pipeline out to the coast
at Cameroon. The environmental impact is expected to be devastating.
But profits will likely soar for Exxon, Mobil and Chevron, the
bank's major partners in the project.
Jia Ching Chen is
an organizer with Youth Action for Global Change, which focuses
on the U.S. role in driving corporate globalization and teaches
young people about institutions like the World Bank and the WTO.
Chen, 27, hopes the unconventional gatherings outside
the Democratic and Republican conventions will highlight the
growing gap between rich and poor, a schism he saw in his own
work as a former architect.
``I love architecture, but
it was too painful of a contrast to be detailing a house where
just for the windows, the owner was spending $250,000,'' Chen
said. ``You could buy a couple of houses in West Oakland for
that. I just didn't want to be involved in that kind of amassing
of personal, private wealth.''
Rose Braz will join Chen
and thousands of others at the demonstrations. Braz, an Oakland
criminal defense attorney and the program director for Critical
Resistance, a national organization working to end prison expansion,
and other activists have teamed with the Fresno NAACP in a lawsuit
challenging the construction of a $335 million, 5,000-bed maximum
security prison in Delano. ``There is something very wrong when
California is No. 1 in prison spending and 41st in the nation
for education spending,'' Braz said.
For Braz, Democrats
like Gov. Gray Davis and Bill Clinton share the same lock-em-up
mentality as their Republican predecessors. ``Who is more wicked?
Republican or Democrat? There really is no difference,'' she
said. ``Since Clinton and Davis have been in office, there have
been attacks on civil rights throughout the court system. And
to say it's better to elect Al Gore president so he can appoint
better Supreme Court justices just doesn't hold water. History
has shown that a Supreme Court nominated by a Democrat has not
made a difference.''
Braz has a point. The court's two
most consistently liberal justices -- John Paul Stevens and
David Souter -- were appointed, respectively, by Republicans
Gerald Ford and George Bush. On the other hand, Ruth Bader Ginsburg
and Stephen Breyer, both consistently pro-corporate, were appointed
This summer's protests will illustrate just
how far both parties have moved away from people's concerns,
Braz said. ``People are motivated by everything from the degradation
of the environment to sweatshops to prisons to come together
for so many different reasons as an alternative to both Democrats
It's going to be a hodgepodge of protests
because there is so much to protest about.
But to what
purpose? What will two weeks of marching, demonstrating, singing
and yelling accomplish, when all is said and done?
Well, remember slavery? Remember when women couldn't vote? Remember
when we didn't have even the most basic workers' rights? Remember
being forced to sit at the back of the bus? Remember the Vietnam
Marching, demonstrating, singing and yelling is the
way we've historically made change when our government stopped
In times of moral crisis, it's always been the
people who lead and the leaders who follow. It's been the emancipators,
the suffragettes, the protesters against child labor and inhumane
working conditions, those who marched and even died to stop
the war, to gain civil rights, to end apartheid.
Goldman wrote in 1909: ``When in the course of human development,
existing institutions prove inadequate to the needs of man,
when they serve merely to enslave, rob and oppress mankind,
the people have the eternal right to rebel against, and overthrow,
See you on the street.
Laura Hamburg is a free-lance writer who lives in Ukiah.
The following Web sites offer information
pertaining to the Republican and Democratic conventions.
-- www.thepartysover.org -- The Web site for the Philadelphia
Direct Action Group provides information on activities set for
the Republican National Convention; www.d2kla.org lists Los
-- www.democrats.org -- The Democratic
National Committee's Web site; www.speakout.com/dnc/ seeks feedback
for the party platform.
-- www.rnc.org -- The Republican
National Committee's Web site; www.rnc.org/policyfeedback/ seeks
feedback for the party platform.
The Republican National Convention
begins July 31 in Philadelphia; the Democratic National Convention
starts August 14 in Los Angeles. Here are some of the demonstrations
scheduled for both events.
July 30: Million
Billionaires March for Bush or Gore, a protest over corporate
takeover of electoral politics
July 31: March for economic human rights
July 31: Shadow Convention organized by Arianna
Huffington, focusing on issues not on GOP agenda: campaign finance
reform, the widening wage gap and the failed war on drugs
August 1: Protest against the criminal justice system
August 2: Demonstration in defense of women's reproductive rights
August 14: Human Needs Not Corporate
Greed, a mass march on the opening day of the convention
August 14: Shadow Convention hosted by Huffington throughout
August 16: March and rally against
mass incarceration, police brutality and the death penalty
August 17: Rally to stop sweatshops, promote a living wage,
assure immigrant rights and end global economic injustice