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LOCAL News :: Miscellaneous

A Chicagoan's Report from the DNC

Including . . .
This Is What Kerry’s Democracy Looks Like
“Kerry / Edwards: For a Stronger America”
A Protest Report Card: Who Was Here, Who Was Not
DNC Protest Balance Sheet
Closing Comic Relief: The Radical Cheerleaders
Click on image for a larger version

BOSTON—An intimidating police presence and the political cowardice of many on the left to take on the Democrats during an election year have depressed attendance at protests this week outside of the Democratic National Convention. Fortunately, this hasn't completely neutered the impact of those activists who did come to protest Kerry & Co.

First off, the city's business and political establishment did their best to peddle tales of "Day After Tomorrow" chaos, stampeding half of the city's residents to clear out "on vacation" according to mainstream press estimates. As a result, while there have been some convention-related road and mass transit closures, these have been more than balanced out by roads virtually void of congestion and unusually easy street parking throughout most of the downtown area.

A smothering police presence, surveillance cameras and hovering police helicopters dominate downtown life this week. The police message was best conveyed by last Saturday's Boston Herald front page headline, next to a picture of an armored personnel carrier -- "Cops' warning to troublemakers: MAKE MY DNC." The Chicago Sun-Times on a bad day looks like a quality paper next to the Herald, but this time the Herald got the story right.

Most activists have taken the heavy-handed police activity in stride, responding with creativity rather than stolidly marching to the cops' tune. When a police chopper repeatedly buzzed yesterday's anarchist-led "Really Really Democratic Bazaar" on the Boston Common, hovering ever lower, purposely drowning out speakers and music, about 100 activists spread their bodies out on the lawn to spell out, unbleeped, "F - - - You" to our defenders of democracy in the air.

This Is What Kerry’s Democracy Looks Like
(and you thought his support of the PATRIOT Act would be as low as he would go)

Even though some had permits for it, left of center protesters almost universally boycotted the noxious "protest pit" near the Fleet Center convention hall. To those of us familiar with previous pits, this one made them look like freedom zones by comparison. The only left wing protesters I know of who availed themselves of the DNC’s "hospitality" were pro-Palestinian demonstrators and two groups of civil liberties protesters (, You couldn't really blame them. After all, local and national law enforcement has kindly provided all the protest props and puppets we could ask for. Behind the rolls of concertina wire, mesh fencing and state troopers in their black armored gear, this is just what I imagined Gaza looks like -– an open air prison.

According to some Kucinich supporters I talked to, "free" speech also was at a premium inside the hall. Those of us who have experienced Richard M. Daley’s democratic policing of anti-war protesters would have felt right at home. For "security" purposes, delegates were forbidden to bring in any signs, whatsoever, of their own. But don’t worry, DNC hacks were happy to provide you with pre-printed "Kerry/Edwards," "Obama" or whatever signs once you’re inside the door.

As a delegate, want to voice your opinion about the occupation of Iraq? Tough. What to break the DNC’s silence about equal marriage rights for Lesbian and Gay people? Tough. Take a Kerry/Edwards sign and shut up. To her credit, Medea Benjamin briefly unfurled a "Stop the Occupation of Iraq" banner during Teresa Heinz Kerry’s speech Tuesday night, before she was quickly escorted away in handcuffs (she was later released, see

To their shame, the 255 openly Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered delegates and speakers have muzzled their criticism of Kerry’s opposition to equal marriage rights. While Kerry says he opposes the anti-gay Federal Marriage Amendment, he loudly announced his support for an anti-gay amendment to Massachusetts' constitution after the state's supreme court ordered equal marriage rights to begin on May 17th. In other words, Kerry supports the destruction of equal marriage rights in the one state where we've won them, but then he has the chutzpah to pose as a "friend" of gay people.

The self-censorship and misrepresentation of our community by gay Democrats is particularly disgusting when you consider that the issue of equal marriage rights polled as the number one issue of concern within the LGBT community as far back as the year 2000. The press coverage and activism of the past year has if anything greatly accentuated that. Protesters with put the gay Democrats' feet to the fire with a protest outside their reception for the delegates on Monday night (see,,,

"Kerry / Edwards: For a Stronger America"

The syrupy sweet slogan with its ominous undertones is by far the most common placard carried by smiling Kerryites. I imagine that most of the rest of the world is just THRILLED that Kerry promises to bring them a stronger America. As if 40,000 more troops to Iraq wasn't bad enough.

But what of its domestic corollary? Fortunately, as of this writing, police repression at the DNC has not approached anything like that experienced by activists attending the Miami anti-FTAA protests, but nor has it been entirely absent. Anarchist activists in many parts of the country, including several who hadn’t even planned on coming to Boston, have had visits from the FBI attempting to pump them and relatives for information (on some of the harassment by the FBI “Joint Terrorism Task Force” in Denver, Lawrence, Topeka, Kansas City, Columbia, Fort Collins, Kirksville and St. Louis, see and

The well-publicized DNCtoRNC protest ( and, scheduled to take off from Boston on Friday, had its supplies bus raided by the police, who unceremoniously hauled off four propone tanks the group planned on using to cook food for its participants. The bus was not parked anywhere near the Fleet Center, nor were organizers planning on bringing it near there. Did police have a warrant? Did they give a receipt for the confiscated property? Are they going to financially compensate the organizers? Inquiring minds want to know, but don't hold your breath.

Known arrests thus far have been few in number but potentially serious: On Sunday, a man described by fellow demonstrators as appearing to be of Middle Eastern dissent was snatched by cops from the middle of an anti-war protest and dragged away in front of numerous witnesses ( At press time I had no word of his identity or whereabouts.

A Chicago activist and some of his comrades from other cities were stopped by police during the week before the convention. The driver of the car was arrested for driving on an expired license, and our Chicago friend was nicked with a felony concealed weapons charge for allegedly having a small mace protector on his key chain. Fortunately he is out on only $40 bail, but the "random" traffic stop and the threat of arrest while out on bail during the convention week were clearly aimed at sending a message of intimidation. Boston IMC has received/witnessed another report of an unprovoked arrest outside of the convergence center as well

For the most part, the cops have confined themselves to "showing the flag" and sending a message of intimidation. A small example: 15 minutes before our equal marriage rights protest in front of a nightclub on a small, otherwise deserted street next to Fenway Park, almost two dozen police vehicles of varying descriptions barreled past us with lights flashing and sirens screaming. It was a small side street. They weren't going anywhere, except probably to nearby marshalling area just out of sight. The point was to "send a message" to protesters.

While their active services have been only sporadically required, the ubiquitous presence of legal observers from the National Lawyers Guild ( and people from the Boston Area Liberation Medics (BALM) Squad ( perhaps has helped reign in some of the more zealous policing. In a model of nonsectarianism that many other organizations would do well to emulate, they have posted themselves to left-of-center protests of all descriptions.

A Protest Report Card: Who Was Here, Who Was Not

Many have remarked at the smaller than expected crowds at the protests. While this was in part a result of the intense pre-event propaganda about how unlivable cops would make the city for both protesters and residents, the main reason for the less-than-stellar turnout was the political failings of many organizations which fancy themselves to be "leaders" of the anti-war movement.

First the good news. Various varieties of anarchists have been well represented this week, and kudos go to their Black Tea Society ( who took the lead in setting up the protests' convergence center and organizing some of the most important actions this week, such as tomorrow’s final convention day coronation protest and Tuesday’s very inventive "Really REALLY Democratic Bazaar."

Billed as "a free open-air market to celebrate our alternative practices and visions for a better world," I was skeptical about the Bazaar at first. Given the vagueness of the concept, this could be either really really good, or really REALLY bad. Fortunately the former prevailed, and a great deal of creativity was on display from numerous organizations parked out on the Boston Commons. A few examples:

* was in the house with t-shirts featuring new takes on old slogans, like "god bless iraq," produced just weeks before the U.S. invasion. Their "globalize intifada" shirt was designed to help keep sniveling liberals off your back by causing them to cross the street when they saw you walking down the sidewalk.

* The Backbone Campaign ( featured a huge, articulated puppet of a spine measuring about 40 feet in length, powered by 20 volunteers. Each "vertebra" was labeled with a political issue. Backbone’s stated mission is "to recognize public officials for their willingness to take principled progressive stands at politically lonely moments and to demand greater strength and visionary leadership." I told one of their organizers that I thought that they’d have better luck finding WMD's in Iraq than finding such politicians, but we parted amiably, agreeing to disagree.

* The "Stop the Wall" Campaign ( publicized Israel's West Bank land grab by building a section of the wall on the Commons. Given Kerry’s blank check for every murderous policy of Ariel Sharon, the Wall was a great way to counter much of the peace movement’s blind spot for all things Palestinian. As part of a nationwide tour, the Wall will be coming to Chicago August 13 & 14.

* The beehive design collective ( out of Machias, Maine had the most fabulously political tapestries, the best one dissecting the role of the various political actors, appropriately represented as insects, in "Plan Colombia." I would kill kill kill to have the money, and wall space, to have this.

The other big organization with a respectable showing was the A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition (, whose anti-war, multi-issue march on Sunday was the biggest event so far, drawing about 3,000 people. A myriad of smaller left organizations joined this and the many other events during the course of the week.

Rounding out the organizations getting A's for service to the movement, especially for us bumbling out-of-towners, Boston Indy Media ( had a free of charge, fully equipped media center for us Jimmy Olsons. Thanks guys!

Now the bad news. When a major presidential candidate calls for ESCALATING a war abroad with 40k MORE troops than the other guy, you'd think a group billing itself as the nation's largest anti-war coalition would mobilize big-time against this person who is, at least on paper, the greater evil. When the colleagues in his party are the most active ones preparing a new military draft, you'd think an anti-war coalition would sit up and take notice. But no. From what I could tell, United for Peace & Justice was invisible on the streets of Boston this week. I'm told they were holding "house parties" and going inside the Fleet Center to cajole the delegates. But neither action is a protest, they're cop-outs – especially considering the smothering censorship practiced within the convention hall. Given UFPJ member organizations' numerous ties to lower level Democratic Party officials and dependence on liberal funding, this cop out was surprising only for its breathtaking completeness.

Further to the left, you’d expect folks to at least go through the motions of opposing the second party of capitalism. But in some cases, no. There’s the ISO, which bills itself as the largest revolutionary organization on the left and talks a good game about taking on the Democrats for their warmongering, etc. But lately they’ve consistently come up short when it comes to actually getting out into the streets and protesting them, activity which their members variously deride as "sectarian" or "ultra-leftist." Come on guys, you flooded the Boston Social Forum talk shop with dozens of members the preceding weekend, but from your local branch, you couldn't spare even one lousy paper seller for the demos all week long?!? Shameless. Being "revolutionary" is much more than tough talk. It means taking actions that sometimes make you unpopular with the liberals.

More comments on the week’s turnout can be found here ( and

DNC Protest Balance Sheet

Anyone who was here, participated in the protests and kept their eyes open will probably tell you that they learned a lot. For one, they learned who their true friends are, and who has real integrity, based on who sticks with you when the going is rough. Police repression and intimidation, while in evidence, wasn't what kept most experienced activists away. It was political cowardice. It was a fear of directly confronting the Anybody But Bush crowd. Those who stood up and were counted this week should be proud of themselves.

In the near-term, groups can no doubt garner more popularity on the left by muting their criticisms of the Democrats, whose hangers-on have pumped out mountains of propaganda hinting about impending fascism, etc etc if Bush gets elected. The problem is that taking such a stance cedes the political independence and hence power of our movement.

It has been precisely when that independence has been at its zenith that our movement has been its most powerful. For example, following the Bush Iraq War resolution in the fall of 2002, the overwhelming majority of our movement was depressed because all of our faxes, phone calls and letters to Congress had failed to stop them from stabbing us in the back and passing the damn thing. After a few months of being in a funk, the anti-war movement reemerged on a new basis, one more inclined to dismiss Democratic sophistry (not to mention Bush’s) and forge on independently of both parties. This is how we managed to contribute to the largest day of demonstrations the world has ever seen: February 15, 2003. When the March 20, 2003 demo of some 15,000 people marched down Lake Shore Drive, it was because people in our movement were disgusted enough with the politicians of BOTH parties that they were prepared to at least temporarily reject them both and take matters into their own hands.

For the last several months, though, there has been a conscious attempt to pimp the anti-war movement for the Democratic Party. Suck up the energy, such up the votes, deliver it to the Dem's, and give in return? Nothing. Kucinich's campaign, like Jesse Jackson's several times before it, has taken a more circuitous route to the same goal. Run a primary candidate far to the left and let him / her get the base riled up . . . and then later announce their endorsement of the status quo candidate and deliver up their votes there.

What we do today is critical to preserving the political integrity of the anti-war movement, an integrity that can either be destroyed by delivery into the hands of the corrupt Kerry campaign, or one which can be preserved and strengthened, and thus better positioned to take on the next president, whether it’s Bush at the top of the marquee, or Kerry, who’s pledged to pursue the same basic pro-war policies as his predecessor.

We may not have protested in the numbers we would have liked, but everyone who did participate should congratulate themselves on the service they did for our movement. You helped to preserve our movement's independence from the cesspool of Democratic Party politics so that we can fight more effectively another day.

Closing Comic Relief: The Radical Cheerleaders

And now, to close out on a light, but nonetheless, very political note, here’s one of the many inventive chants heard from the Radical Cheerleaders this weekend! This particular RA group is known as the Syracuse (NY) System Shakers, who composed the piece. Thanks folks!

Anyone, but Bush and Cheney,
When the Dems are just as zany,
Why do, the Democrats make us wary?
Just look at, the record of John F. Kerry!:

More troops in Iraq
Supporting the PATRIOT Act
Pro Life, Pro War
Who the f--- are you voting for?

You hypocrites, enough of it.
The Democrats, are full of sh--.
Peekaboo, we see thru you,
Your votes have made you guilty too.

You voted for NAFTA
We know what you're afta
And what becomes of all your power?
A burning earth, no benefits,
10 cents an hour.

YOUUU hypocrite, enough of it!
The Democrats are full of sh--!
Peekaboo, we see thru you.
Your votes have made you guilty too!!



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