Unless you see schools of salmon swimming up the Los Angeles River to spawn, don’t believe that L.A. in mid-August is going to be “another Seattle.” Despite Mayor Riordan’s raising the specter of riotous mobs, despite the D2K organizers’ invocation of the “spirit of Seattle,” this will be no rerun of the World Trade Organization protests. The qualitative difference is that there’s no effort, no intention to “shut down” the Democratic conclave.
Quantitatively, there won’t be — and no one ever expected — any 50,000 protesters. (Riordan’s 50,000 talk, says protest organizer Leone Hankey, seemed a calculated ploy to expand the LAPD’s budget.) It was only thanks to the ample treasuries of AFL-CIO unions, which underwrote travel costs and more for thousands of their rank and file, that anti-WTO crowds swelled to that size. This month, unions are helping to underwrite the convention, not its critics.
In the historic Teamster-Turtle alliance forged on the streets of Seattle, the labor contingent provided the environmentalists with a protective shell that shielded them, for the most part, from police batons and tear gas. With labor’s leadership on board the Gore bandwagon, there won’t be much official labor backing for the D2K street actions.
However, protesters won’t be working wholly without labor’s insulation, organizers say.
The most substantial presence will come from the Film and TV Action Committee (FTAC), the entertainment-worker coalition that marshaled 12,000 to 15,000 for last summer’s Hollywood rally against “runaway production,” causing job loss to Canada under the North American Free Trade Agreement. Though neither the NAFTA protest nor the D2K ones are sanctioned by the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), to which most workers in the industry belong, FTAC leader Brent Swift expects a turnout almost equaling the Hollywood event because “jobs are flooding across the border like Niagara.” With some support from the Teamsters, says Swift, FTAC will be out in force against NAFTA, the WTO and the China trade deal, on Sunday at the beach and in Monday’s marches, which target, among other things, downtown’s World Trade Center.
Mike Everett, a film electrician spearheading the D2K labor committee, reports endorsement of the week’s major events by a local of the Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical and Energy Workers International Union (PACE) and by several L.A. locals of public-employee unions — the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) — whose national bodies are shunning participation. Despite the don’t-embarrass-Gore stance of labor officialdom, union activists and organizers are likely to show up in large numbers at several protest events, says David Koff of Hotel Employees & Restaurant Employees Local 11 (HERE), which has planned its own protests targeting two nonunion hotels. A HERE rally at Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel, featuring Jesse Jackson and several Democratic stars, is scheduled for Sunday, August 13, at 5:30 p.m., ending just in time for D2K’s protest party on the sand near Santa Monica Pier.
In contrast to the almost all-white composition of Seattle’s WTO actions, L.A. demonstrators are likely to be a more diverse lot. Door-to-door outreach visits have been made to neighbors around the protest headquarters (or “convergence center”) in the Westlake district near MacArthur Park, a largely Hispanic area with a substantial Asian-American presence. Immigrant-rights agencies like the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA) have signed on as sponsors of the anti-sweatshop march on Thursday, August 17. They are likely to be joined by Hispanic and Asian immigrant workers from sweatshops around the downtown garment district. Mexican-American and Filipino student groups are also mobilizing. Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan chapters at UCLA and Cal State L.A. have formed their own “affinity groups” for street action and got the anti-sweatshop march endorsed by a statewide conference last weekend. From UCLA, says activist Gabriel Pérez, the African Student Union, Muslim Student Association, Asian-Pacific Coalition and several Latin American and Chicano groups will be joining in the week’s events. African-American activists from South-Central have been at the core of planning the Wednesday, August 16, march against police brutality, the “War on Drugs” and mass incarceration.
Last but not least, a detachment of Democratic delegates will dare to step outside the protection of the Staples bubble to join some of the protests. The Progressive Caucus, some 50 to 60 delegates rallying around points abandoned in the Gore platform — fair trade, Medicare for all, stopping the anti-missile defense scheme and protecting Social Security — will support that agenda on the streets as well as inside the hall.
Here is a brief rundown on some of the demonstrations, starting August 13th, planned for the week of the convention.
Early-bird protesters will be mobilizing at noon Sunday in Pershing Square against the execution of death-row prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal, the Philadelphia journalist and police-abuse activist whose trial for the killing of a Philly policeman has been widely condemned for tainted testimony and suppressed evidence. A march toward Staples Center follows at 4 p.m.
Conventioneers and counter-conventioneers move west Sunday evening. Democrats are staging a high-ticket fund-raiser on Santa Monica Pier. Hotel union organizers and local living-wage supporters will already be in the vicinity, massing at 5:30 p.m. outside Loews luxury hotel, where workers are asking for health-care coverage and an end to anti-union tactics. Activists gather at the Gap on the Santa Monica Promenade at 6 p.m. to target the alleged sweatshop conditions under which Gap and Banana Republic clothing is produced. Then, as counterpoint to the Democrats’ gala, a free, no-reservations-needed “people’s party” takes place on the beach south of the pier.
Monday action kicks off in the spirit of Seattle at 2 p.m. with an anti-globalization “Tour of Corporate Shame” from Pershing Square through the corporate canyons of the financial district and Bunker Hill.
This expedition returns to Pershing Square in time to join the first major D2K coalition event, the multi-issue Human Need, Not Corporate Greed rally at 4 p.m. Calling for a host of reforms, foreign and domestic, budgetary and environmental, activists march on Staples Center as the convention proceedings get under way. Among the colorful contingents slated to march are Billionaires for Bush (or Gore), satirically celebrating (in top hats and mink stoles) the coronation of one of their candidates. and the triumph of the plutocratic process.
Tuesday opens with a puppet procession in Pershing Square at 9 a.m. A noon rally against racism at MacArthur Park, organized by the Bus Riders Union, feeds into a march for civil rights heading back downtown. At 5 p.m. a rally to save Iraqi children by ending economic sanctions takes place across from Staples Center. Contract-related marches by United Teachers of Los Angeles and SEIU will also be held.
Wednesday afternoon is devoted to justice issues. A noon assembly in Pershing Square calls for rolling back policies that have put 2 million Americans behind bars, demands an end to police brutality and the militarization of the INS, and calls for freeing political prisoners and abolition of the death penalty. Protesters will march to LAPD’s Parker Center headquarters for a midafternoon rally .
Thursday actions start with a 2 p.m. event at the downtown Federal Building demanding an end to U.S. Navy bombings on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques. At 4 p.m. a “Global Economic Justice” march meets at Eighth and Santee streets to protest the fashion industry’s use of sweatshops.
A “candlelight convergence” winds up the week. With candles and flashlights, drums, horns or pots and pans, protesters greet Gore’s acceptance speech with their own raucous rejection ceremony. Then, for many it’s back to their community-organizing efforts; for others, back to apathy or despair; and for some, forward with Nader to November.