[Hpn] Protests Set for Political Conventions

Coalition on Homelessness, SF coh@sfo.com
Sat, 29 Jul 2000 20:44:36 -0700


Thursday July 6 5:07 PM ET

Protests Set for Political Conventions

By Mark Egan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Organizers of protests aimed at disrupting the
Republican and Democratic Party conventions this summer promised on
Thursday to put thousands of people on the streets to demand a seismic
shift in American politics.

Those planning the protests in Philadelphia and Los Angeles told a news
conference that they hoped to rival the demonstrations last year in
Seattle, where 50,000 people curtailed international trade talks and
brought the city to a standstill.

Painting the political conventions as boring, dull and disconnected from
the people, organizers promised a historic event on the streets, saying
it was time to end politics as usual.

``The priorities of politics must be changed to human need, not
corporate greed,'' said Margaret Prescod, who is helping put together
the protest on the fringes of the Democratic convention in Los Angeles
from Aug. 14 to 17.

Charging that corporate money dictated the political agenda, the
planners said Americans wanted campaign finance reform, universal health
care, higher wages and stronger labor rights, a decrease in the number
of prisoners, an increase in the number of schools, improvements in
benefits for the poor and elderly, and a slew of other social changes.

In both Los Angeles and Philadelphia -- where the Republican Party will
meet from July 31 to Aug. 3 -- organizers are planning ``shadow
conventions'' at which alternative agendas will be discussed by as many
as 3,000 people.

Parodies Of Pageantry

These gatherings will also poke fun at the pomp and ceremony of the
official gatherings, at which Vice President Al Gore and Texas Gov.
George W. Bush will be anointed, respectively, as the Democratic and
Republican nominees for the U.S. presidential election on Nov. 7.

Thousands of demonstrators are planning to march on the streets, with or
without permits, organizers say. The protesters will come from a
spectrum of pressure groups that includes labor unions, students,
environmentalists and homeless people.

As well as holding peaceful marches, many plan to engage in civil
disobedience designed to disrupt the conventions by blocking streets and
traffic. Protesters cut short a gathering of the World Trade
Organization in Seattle last November and December and tried to do the
same to International Monetary Fund/World Bank meetings in Washington in
April.

Philadelphia is hoping to contain the protests by limiting them to
prescribed free-speech areas, but organizers made it clear they had no
intention of playing along.

``The city of Philadelphia offered us a cage somewhere near the
convention center for us to hold our protests in. That's not good
enough. They're our streets, our city, our country,'' John Hogan of the
Democratic Socialists of America said.

MONOPOLY OF BENEFITS?

Although America's economy is enjoying an unprecedented boom, protesters
complain that only the rich have benefited, while most Americans have
seen their standard of living fall as a result of corporate greed and an
increasingly global economy.

The planned protests will be something of a watershed for activists. The
Seattle and Washington demonstrations targeted globalization. Those
expected in Los Angeles and Philadelphia are to mark a major entrance
onto the domestic political scene.

Lisa Fithian, an activist for 25 years, erected a sample 14-foot fence
to illustrate the sort of barrier that she said Los Angeles police were
planning to use to create a buffer zone around the Democratic
convention.

``Is this what we want democracy to look like?'' she asked. ``I don't
think so.''

``Whether it's the city council, the Congress or the president, the
interests of the people are not being represented. It is the business
interests that are being promoted,'' Fithian said.

In both Philadelphia and Los Angeles, activists are setting up a network
of church halls, homeless shelters and accommodation at people's houses
to put up the thousands of people they expect from all over the country.
Most will pay their way there.

Indeed, unlike the party conventions, the protests are operating on a
shoestring budget. Philadelphia activists have started a $100,000 pledge
drive to meet their costs, while $60 million is being spent on the
Republican convention.

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Copyright  2000 Reuters Limited.
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