-- Rebecca Ewing can't figure out what the Republican National Committee
was thinking when it decided to hold the party's 2000 convention
in Philadelphia. "It's surprising that they're coming to Philadelphia,
really surprising. I guess they didn't know that people here are
this organized -- and this angry,'' says the volunteer with one
of America's most remarkable activist groups, ACT-UP Philadelphia.
ACT-UP is one of dozens of groups busily organizing to greet the
July 31-Aug. 3 GOP gathering with what promises to be some of the
most energized convention protests since Democrats gathered in Chicago
in 1968. Marches backed by labor unions, anti-poverty campaigners,
death penalty foes and supporters of national health care promise
to bring thousands of activists into the streets of Philadelphia,
and police fear that direct-action protests next week could rival
last fall's protests against the World Trade Organization in Seattle.
fact, Philly ACT-UP played a role in organizing both the Seattle
protests and this spring's A16 protests in Washington against the
World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. And now, amazingly
to the Philadelphia activists, the Grand Old Party is coming to
Philly ACT-UP's hometown.
Gov. George W. Bush and his Republican minions -- a group that includes
the GOP presidential candidate's pal "Tommy T,'' Wisconsin Gov.
Tommy Thompson -- have little experience with the sort of in-your-face
activism that Philly ACT-UP has perfected. The 12-year-old, all-volunteer
organization focuses on local, national and international concerns
in an all-fronts battle to guarantee that governments and corporations
put AIDS research and care ahead of profits.
"Gore Zaps'' -- raucous protests at Al Gore's Democratic primary
campaign stops -- forced the vice president to address U.S. policies
on distribution of AIDS drugs in Africa. This spring, Philly ACT-UP
brought the single largest contingent to the A16 protests in Washington,
and early in July it dispatched a delegation of eight activists
to organize protests at the international AIDS conference in South
ACT-UP rocks,'' says Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen's
Global Trade Watch. Wallach worked with the Philadelphia group to
help organize the Seattle protests; and Global Trade Watch and Philly
ACT-UP were close allies in the struggle against the Wall Street-sponsored
"NAFTA for Africa'' trade bill. "I wish every city had a group this
committed -- and this creative,'' Wallach says of Philly ACT-UP.
coming days, that commitment and creativity will be directed toward
upsetting George W. Bush's coronation. ACT-UP will bring major contingents
to a July 31 March for Economic Human Rights being organized by
the Kensington Welfare Rights Union and to a July 29 Ad Hoc Committee
to Defend Health Care march being organized by health care professionals
under the banner: "For Our Patients, Not for Profit.''
are just two of the dozens of marches, rallies and direct-action
protests designed to challenge the policies of Republicans, which
will be summed up in a platform drafted by Tommy Thompson and a
committee of party bigs. Though it is thick with feel-good rhetoric,
the Thompson platform maintains the militant right-wing economic
and social policies that have lost the party the last two presidential
Philly ACT-UP and other groups want to make sure Republicans know
that, while those policies may be popular with the party's corporate
givers, they don't have much appeal on the streets of Philadelphia.
make sure the crowds in the streets know what they're up against,
ACT-UP members are setting up teach-ins for dozens of local drug
and alcohol recovery, AIDS service and gay and lesbian youth groups.
"We're going to the people who have never shown up for a demonstration,''
Ewing says of the group's intensive grass-roots organizing. "We
provide them with background on the issues, talk about how to demonstrate
and about why it matters to be there.''
addition to marching, expect Philly ACT-UP to "zap'' Republicans
with high-profile interruptions of the politics of complacency.
"We won't let them rest easy,'' says Ewing, whose group invites
prospective members to "come kick butt with us.''
Copyright 2000 The Capital Times