But the Scruffy
the Democratic Convention, as at the Republican get-together a couple
of weeks ago, the only place you're likely to hear anything beyond
mild criticism of tactics in foreign policy is in the streets. Even
the "Shadow Convention," which touts its desire to deal
with issues the major parties won't address, with Arianna Huffington
as frontwoman, isn't talking about foreign policy, except peripherally
as it affects the drug war. The dialogue on the streets is not notably
sophisticated, but at least it is there.
bunch of signs in Pershing Square and in what are apparently slated
to be daily marches to the designated protest square at Staples
Center saying "Gore: Oxy Out of U'wa Land" doesn't say
it all about a consortium led by Occidental Petroleum drilling in
indigenous peoples' territory or about the suspicion that the U.S.
military aid to Colombia is really more about protecting Occidental
Petroleum's interest than about the drug war or the civil war, or
that the Gore family has been treated generously by Oxy since Armand
Hammer's days, or that Al Gore still owns Occidental stock. But
those signs at least raise the issue, which is more than the major
media or the conventional politicians will do.
IT TO THE STREETS
a certain extent the protesters may be right. A march on Monday
morning from Pershing Square (traditionally a free-speech location
in Los Angeles since the old days when people actually did get up
on soap boxes) to the protest location near Staples. It wasn't a
pre-approved march and there was a brief and mostly peaceful confrontation
with the police (who are omnipresent in downtown Los Angeles this
week, some in full riot gear, using hotel parking lots as staging
grounds, adding to the difficulty we ordinary folks without limousines
have getting around) that led to 10 arrests or so.
it wasn't only because of the arrests that a wire
service story laid out the issues revolving around the U'wa
land and US intervention the activists had been trying to bring
to public attention. But it is more than possible that if there
had not been arrests there would have been "no story."
Maybe not, because the official Democratic proceedings are so predictable
(aside from giddy speculation about whether Bill Clinton will continue
to overshadow Al Gore even after his "swan song" tonight)
that the protests in the streets are getting more attention than
they did in Philadelphia.
media organizations are trying to cover three, maybe four aspects
of the convention the official proceedings, the backroom murmurs
and rumors, the Shadow Convention, and the street protesters, in
approximately that order in part because that order reflects the
order of ease of coverage. So the protesters will manage to place
a few issues into mainstream news coverage, perhaps even get something
resembling a continuing dialogue going on one or two. The likelihood
is that would not happen without the protests, because most journalists
report what officials or newsmakers say rather than seeking out
stories or explicating issues.
spent a few hours with the protesters Sunday evening and some more
time on Monday morning. The official D2KLA coordinating committee
has resolved that the protests will be nonviolent, and for the most
part the activists are policing themselves. On Monday a few black-clad
young activists rushed the 12-foot chain-link fence that separates
the official protest site from the Staples Center proper and started
yelling at the cops.
few minutes later somebody produced an American flag "copy"
(one of those with corporate logos in the place of the stars) and
spread it out against the fence. Soon others produced lighters and
the flag was smoldering. The cops stayed cool (having passed through
their lines on the way from the convention media center I knew they
had plenty of back-up). Some mostly older demonstrators came over
and berated the black-clads for diverting attention from the real
issues (Mumia Abu Jamal, the racist death penalty, etc.) the speakers
were discussing from the podium. They were rewarded with an obscenity-laden
rant about how your generation blew it but our generation will really
sock it to the establishment. Or something like that.
are real questions and valid disagreements about tactics. If you're
delivering a radical message or a message the mainstream media are
not eager to communicate, is it necessary to do something outrageous
or even violent to get attention? A case could be made for the notion.
problem with street demonstrations is that not only is it difficult
to start a nuanced discussion, the incentive is to hype up the rhetoric
to the point that it's likely to turn off mainstream Americans.
At the street rallies I attended, there were not only hard-core
denunciations of evil corporations, but the kind of close-to-anti-Americanism
that has been the hard left's downfall. That crowd, in that street,
loved it when a speaker from Philadelphia MOVE called for revolution
and said, "We need to shut this M-F country down." But
it doesn't play well with most Americans.
SHADOW FOREIGN POLICY
"Shadow Convention" put on by shrewder people, seems to
have created more of a stir in Los Angeles than in Philadelphia,
and it is raising issues neither party wants to deal with seriously,
especially the drug war. While the drug war does have foreign policy
implications, especially in Colombia, some of which will probably
be discussed during Wednesday's session, the Shadows don't include
foreign policy directly in their program. One can understand that
the decision to focus on three issues, each of which already has
an organized constituency willing to put in some work and recruit
some volunteers, it's a shame foreign policy wasn't one of them.
for better or worse, that left foreign policy to the street demonstrators.
One wishes they had raised the issues more effectively, but I'm
glad they raised them at all.
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