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Make Nice 

The GOP goes gooey

Wednesday, Aug 2 2000
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Page 4 of 5

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.

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As Tuesday afternoon wore on, groups of kids sat down at more and more intersections, cops surrounded and arrested them, frustration and anger grew on both sides. Protesters smashed the windows of police cars and overturned dumpsters; the cops began to use their nightsticks. With dusk falling, cops and kids both converged on City Hall. Protesters in goats’ heads danced; cops advanced on horseback to force some demonstrators to retreat on one side of a large statue, some on the other, splitting the demonstration into two, more manageable groups. At which point, at the southwest corner of City Hall, several kids biked forward and, jumping off, slid their bikes at the horses‘ hooves, causing the horses to stumble and the officers to lose their balance. (Not something I’d recommend D2K do in L.A. unless they‘re willing to go up against PETA.)

After several days of protests, it begins to look as if the actions of the new movement that burst forth in Seattle are yielding diminishing returns. Thus far, the Philadelphia demonstrations are smaller than the A-16 demos in Washington, which were smaller than Seattle’s; they‘ve received less press than A-16, which received less press than Seattle’s.

The movement, moreover, is unsure of its own objectives and themes. Seattle had one tangible target (the WTO), one central message (financial and corporate globalism is undermining living standards and democracy), one achievable goal (shutting down the meeting). R2K and D2K have as their targets the conventions, but they have no clear, achievable goal: They don‘t aim to shut down the conventions, merely to disrupt enough of the normal flow of things within the host city to win attention for their causes. In Philadelphia so far, they’ve disrupted traffic, but they‘ve made no serious impact on delegates or the money men and lobbyists who are here to check up on their investments in various elected officials. (While the demonstrations were underway at City Hall, directly across the street at the Ritz-Carlton, Bush’s Team 100 -- his biggest donors and fund-raisers -- were going about their business largely oblivious of the commotion; the loudest sound in the lobby was a string quartet.)

As was also not the case in Seattle, this time around the protesters are demonstrating for a multiplicity of causes; in Los Angeles, 23 of them. Frederick the Great once remarked that to defend every place is to defend no place, and by the same token, 23 causes are the functional equivalent of none.

In short, this new movement against hyper-capitalism is already in a rut. Its goal cannot simply be to show up at every large symbolic conclave of capital to block the streets. The power of the powerful today is not impeded by slowing street traffic. The means of protest have only the vaguest connection to the end.

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