By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Floyd Brown took to the podium, his mission to dispel any mistaken notion that the new, Bushified Republican Party didn‘t want them anywhere closer than three light years from the convention. “At this convention,” Brown began, “you’ll hear very little criticism of Bill Clinton. That‘s because that criticism has already been made, and it’s already sunk into the American people. Today, we honor two heroes who already accomplished” what the Republican nominee now didn‘t need to undertake. Bossie then added that “The conservative movement needed leaders like Dan Burton, Bob Barr and Jim Rogan.” Burton, he added affectionately, “never backs down, whether the fight is within his own party or outside it.”
Burton stepped forward to receive his plaque, and told his admirers why it was important for Bush to win and for the GOP to hold on to Congress. He began with some historic perspective: “The last time we held the White House and both houses of Congress was 1954, and ever since then we’ve seen the welfare state expand and people‘s lives change for the worse.” Then he got to the real reason a Republican victory is imperative: With Bush in the White House and he himself still chairing the committee, the pursuit of the Clintons need not -- perhaps, need never -- end. “If you want us to get to the bottom of these crimes and bring these people to justice,” he concluded, “allow me to continue as chairman, and don’t let Henry Waxman [the committee‘s ranking Democrat] take my job!”
III. Mild, then wild, in the streets
Like the Republicans, the protesters here in Philadelphia are mainly staying on message, but their message is very diffuse.
At one level, they are protesting against rising inequality, the persistence of poverty, the death penalty, the corporate-financial domination of the planet, and, as in Seattle, the commodification of fucking everything. But at another level, the message was a good deal more specific. It was handed to me by a college-age demonstrator, one of a number shouting support to friends, then being arrested for blocking an intersection. “We apologize for the inconvenience,” this unsigned manifesto began, “and know that this unexpected delay in your afternoon might appear as a malicious attack on the city and the Republicans. We need to convince you this is FAR from the truth.”
While corporations can spend millions for advertising, the document continued, “We have our bodies, a $20 budget at Home Depot and some moral convictions” -- chiefly, that “too much is controlled by too few.” This odd broadside concluded by proclaiming, “We speak in this forum because it is the only one you have put at our disposal. We hope it is not wasted.”
The demonstrators, while creative, were relatively few in number: Roughly 5,000 people participated in a mainstream, permitted march and rally on Sunday; roughly 2,000 in Monday’s welfare-rights and anti-poverty demonstration; and perhaps 2,000 in Tuesday‘s guerrilla street-corner sit-downs.
As of Wednesday morning, moreover, the cops clearly outnumber the protesters; they have been extremely tactically adept and, by the standards of police, relatively nonviolent. On Sunday and Monday, the police fell back to let unpermitted demonstrations proceed to their peaceable conclusions. Tuesday, when protestors went in big time for direct-action civil disobedience, was more confrontational on both sides, but no tear gas has been fired off anywhere in the city.
As in Seattle, the majority of demonstrators are middle-class, college-age kids, some clearly older, some still in high school. The spirit of Teamsters and Turtles isn’t dead yet: On Monday, there were kids demonstrating in Justice for Janitors T-shirts, lots of kids who said they‘d been active in campus anti-sweatshop campaigns, 30 high school students who belonged to the Young Philadelphia Friends -- all of whom cheered as a Teamsters Union truck rolled by, horn tooting loudly. Their subversive slogan of choice seemed to be “Hey, heyHo, ho Poverty has gotta go!”
The street theater was exceptionally good, particularly a group called “Billionaires for Bush (and Gore),” whose slogan was “Because inequality isn’t rising fast enough.” Decked out in top hats, tuxes and gowns, they performed period dances, they sang, they chanted (“Keep our profits healthyWelfare for the wealthy!”). When the larger group of demonstrators then moved down Broad Street, mothers and kids in strollers in the lead, the police decided to ignore the fact that this was an unpermitted march and, consulting constantly with the protesters‘ attorney, fell back, then, finally, escorted the marchers nearly all the way to the convention site.
Tuesday evolved into more of a running battle. Teams of kids roamed the city, sitting down and blocking key intersections, in many instances chaining themselves together. Police blocked them off on all sides so the sit-downs couldn’t expand. At the downtown intersection of Broad and Locust streets, police arrested the 30 protesters who refused to clear the intersection; these evolved into by-the-book civil-disobedience arrests, the cops escorting the kids who were willing to walk, dragging those who weren‘t.
Somehow, a large electric sign with constantly changing messages abruptly appeared on the steel beams of a high-rise under construction on the corner. Slightly off-kilter slogans -- for instance, “It is easy to get millions on every continent to pledge allegiance to eating and rising inequality” -- appeared one after another as the arrests proceeded.