Archive for the ‘A Walk in the Park: My Coverage of the 2008 DNC’ Category

“If there’s one thing I can guarantee, it’s: Don’t try and have fun in Denver, Colorado. Because if you do, the fuckwits in the Denver Police Department will gas your ass straight into the ground…” –William S. Burroughs

Denver was finally given the chance to show its stuff as a major city capable of hosting a world event. Hopefully those tired old rumors of Denver being a “cow town” are finally displaced. During this politically heightened week in Denver, history was made as the first bi-racial African American was nominated for president by the Democratic party. The mood was boisterous and celebratory in light of this historical moment and it was indeed a shining moment for the Mile High City as we showed the world that we can get political (and that it doesn’t snow 11 months out of the year).

Denver has a history of large crowds clashing with the police and getting gassed. Most of these events have been sports-team-victory-related, such as the 1996 Stanley Cup victory by the inaugural Colorado Avalanche, or the back-to-back Super Bowl victories in ’97 and ’98 by the Denver Broncos. During those events, over a quarter of a million people flooded the streets of downtown Denver wreaking havok in their revelry, and sadly forcing those pussycats in the Denver Police Dept. to break out the ol’ tear gas. The Democratic National Convention was no sporting event however, and despite the overwhelming surge of people “dancin’ in the streets,” the revelry remained gregarious.
What a week it’s been trying to live amongst all of these cops and crazies and tree-hugging hippie types. Much to the relief and surprise of the planners of this event, the angry and befuddled masses kept the discourse civil and left the cops with nothing to do; well, there was a bizarre donut shortage during the week, but I say: “A happy cop is good for everyone,” and for the most part, the Denver police were a bunch of sweethearts (there was that little incident on Monday, the 25th when police gassed a group of protesters that strayed from their designated zone, but more on that later).
Now that the dust has settled, I have had some time to ponder a concept that came up during the DNC that I want to address. As I reported before, the protest movement during the DNC was well under the anticipated numbers and for the most part lacked substance. The groups were mostly fringe and precipitous and thankfully non-violent. But was this due to mere sloth, or was it due to the overall aura of police intimidation?
The police presence in Denver was mighty to behold. It seemed that there was a group of heavily armed cops on every street corner. As I walked through Civic Park in the dapple of late summer sunshine, I noticed that there were typically more cops than protesters. Some civil rights activists complained that the need for so many police personnel was unjustified and oppressive and had deterred many individuals from coming out to speak their mind.
I was able to obtain a training manual used by the police that explains certain “illegal” protest methods. Such methods include handcuffing two or more protester’s wrists together inside of a metal tube, erecting tall tripod-like structures for a protester to perch atop of, and other radical methods of demonstrating. While I’m sure that these methods amount to a headache for law enforcement, how have they become illegal?
The U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights provides its citizens the right to free speech and assembly. It does not specify which acts of protesting are legal or illegal. The point of protesting is to affect change through civil disobedience usually against a tyranny. Protesting is usually the result of a person or group feeling marginalized by a more dominant group who tends to have a more influential forum. The protesters set out to thrust their beliefs into the public eye through means that are attention-grabbing, unorthodox, and sometimes shocking. How can the oppressed gain exposure if their methods are reduced to de-sensitized conventionality? What ever happened to the ’60’s? Remember the Buddhists who set themselves on fire? Talk about radical. Some of the methods used by innovative activists during the Vietnam War would, today, be rendered as terrorism.
Ever since September 11, 2001, Americans have had a greater awareness for the need for heightened security. This holds true especially for Barack Obama, who is certainly a marked man. I was relieved to see that he was well protected during this event. The simple fact that I heard the “A” word already being discussed (assassination), shows me that there are still too many backwards-thinking bigots around to safely let our guard down. But where do we draw the line? How much of our civil liberties, including the right to adequately protest, are we willing to give up for this so-called security?
Demonstrators in Denver certainly got a dose of the new climate of fear and security. Larger groups were herded along designated parade routes and “free-speech” zones. When they deviated from the route, or had planned unscheduled marches, they were met with swift and brutal police force, including an ostensibly excessive use of tear gas.. A close associate of mine put it to me like this: “Their right to protest wasn’t taken away, only their mobility.” This brought up a very disturbing idea. If dissent is largely controlled, how effective can it really be at affecting change? In this post 9/11 world, has conventional protesting become obsolete? Only time will tell…
PART II: Who Are These Protesters And What The Hell Do They Want?
Conventions and other political gatherings typically generate some kind of protest from some group or another, so in light of this year’s Democratic National Convention, I was curious as to who are these protesters and what are they protesting, anyway? Are they protesting the Democrats? Are they protesting the fact that the convention is being held in Denver? Protesting Hillary’s outing, or is it just that time of the month again?
In today’s political climate, there are certainly a lot of issues on the table to be addressed, such as the economy, the war in Iraq, whether a black man should be allowed to run the country, etc. Well, actually, Senator Barack Obama is technically bi-racial, so does that really count? I keep having these visions of thousands of racist political operatives descending upon the Pepsi Center in white robes and carrying a thick rope. Scary. Aside from the yahoos that were arrested Tuesday, for plotting to assassinate Obama (mainly because of his race), I hope that it is safe to say that the racialists are safely in the margins. Some issues seem more valid than others, so I decided to go out and interview some of the protesters to see what these protesters were about and if they were debating real issues.
Most of the groups seemed to be pretty warm to the idea of Barack Obama becoming president. Some were protesting to try to bring positive attention to areas mostly ignored by Obama and the Democrats, such as immigration reform and Veterans advocacy. Not all groups however, were singing the praises of the Democratic front-runner. Some groups, such as the Communist Party, were trying to bring awareness to the analogousness of the Democratic and Republican parties, and bring light to Obama’s entrenchment to the system.
The more I walked through the park, the more the event seemed like an orgy of weirdness. There were scattered groups of protesters ranging from marijuana advocates (they were all passed out in the grass surrounded by Twinkie wrappers), various war protesters, Jesus freaks, Jesus geeks, the Communist party, Ralph Nader supporters, the usual voting advocacy groups such as “Rock the Vote,” and of course, plenty of cops. One particularly strange group was promoting the idea of reproducing the Hispanic population to start an uprising.
One protester caught my eye as she held a modest cardboard sign that read: “Who Represents Me?” She was by herself and decided to demonstrate without the support of any group. She was protesting the lack of current representation based on the issues that were important to her, such as the divisions between the rich and poor and how influential rich politicians are. Even though she does not believe that she is represented, she still plans to vote.
Overall, the general mood was amiable enough. I only saw a few hecklers trying to rile up the crowd with bigoted slurs, but they were mostly ignored and the park was alive with conflicting ideas and agendas being reasonably discussed among groups. One thing that I did not see was a great unifying movement or idea to homogenize the crowds. Also, ostensibly, no overtly pro-Republican protesters.
It was pretty neat to walk through the park and see all of these ideas being exchanged in an open manner, and without police involvement. The protesters have mostly thinned out as the week has gone on, but the police force has remained ubiquitous. There is a major immigration march set for Thursday to end at Invesco Field where Obama is scheduled to give his acceptance speech. Many Denver Hispanic residents are disappointed at Obama’s failure to adequately address the immigration issue. The hope is that this gathering at the doorstep of who could potentially become our next president, will bring them into the spotlight so that Obama will have no other choice but to respond. Is the worst over or will there be an escalation during the last hurrah?COMING NEXT:


Where Have All The Cowboys Gone?

Having been somewhat of a Capitol Hill fixture over the last five years, I thought I would be in a relatively good position to get a feel for the Democratic National Convention (DNC). After this week, I won’t be living in the city anymore, so I decided to spend my last week as a City of Denver resident smelling out the aire of the Mile High City during this national security event and how it is impacting the city. Since most of the “action” would be taking place in and around Civic Park, I could easily maneuver my way into the crowds and get the scoop, hence the title, “A Walk in the Park.” In addition to my centrality to the protest movement, my job at Auraria Campus would ensure that I could be close to the security perimeter and perhaps get some close-ups of the event.

At the college campus I work at, classes have been suspended and has been turned into a sweeping security perimeter, allowing parking access for the odd 2,000 delegates, with a ramped-up security force ranging from local cops to F.B.I., C.I.A., and Secret Service. Buildings and classrooms are locked down, as they are essentially at the doorstep of the Pepsi Center where the convention is taking place.

As the event kicked off on Monday, the police and other security forces present were prepared for the worst. An estimated 20,000 protesters were expected to maul their way through the selected parade route ending up at the designated “free-speech zone,” or as some like to call it, the “Freedom Cage.” Despite the anticipation, however, the number of protest participants numbered around 2,000. Other marches have been scheduled, but are mostly sparse and un-unified.

Word around the street is that the protesters didn’t want to be confined to a “free speech zone,” and had, at the last minute, tried to organize a walk through the trendy 16th St. pedestrian mall where, incidentally, they would have made much more of an impact. Security was formidable, however, and failing to obtain a proper permit, the scant protesters were forced to say their piece (peace) on the sidewalks after the parade route was re-opened to traffic. This had the effect of disorganizing the main movement and leaving a residue of rag-tag protesters that gathered in Denver’s Civic Park.

So with all of this hype built around these protesters and beefed-up security, the question that I have is: Where have all the cowboys gone? Where are the gunslingers, the shoot-from-the-hipsters, the new revolutionaries that pledged their fidelity towards civil disobedience? From my view, it was a pretty disappointing day for the tour de force that protest organizers were hoping for. One force that was present, however, was the police presence. And they have given assurance that they will continue to remain a very solid presence throughout the event, which has some citizens wondering if the saturation of cops is justifiable. The question is, are these cops there to serve and protect, or to deter the public from engaging in protests, peaceful or otherwise?