dinsdag, augustus 31, 2004

New York, New York

According to New York Indymedia, Republican National Convention delegates have been mocked, taunted and harassed everywhere they go in New York - the theatre, bowling alleys, restaurants - and apparently not just by protesters, but by regular New Yorkers everywhere.

That makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside.

Not so warm and fuzzy has been the treatment of protesters by the police. As of this afternoon, on the fifth day of mass protests and direct action, almost 600 people had been arrested, most of whom had been involved in non-violent protest, and including many members of both the mainstream and independent media who where there simply reporting. Some 264 alone were arrested during Friday's 5000-strong Critical Mass bike protest.

The New York chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union is very concerned about the mass arrests and what has happened to those detained. The former head of the NY ACLU, Norman Siegel told Democracy Now radio today that arrestees are being denied access to lawyers, access to food and there apparently is also delayed access to medical attention, with many being held for more than twenty-four hours. The arrestees are being kept at an abandoned bus depot that a Transit Worker's Union official has said may still have significant asbestos problems.

United for Peace and Justice, one of the key national anti-war organising coalitions in the US, is reporting similar concerns about the depot.

"The building was formerly a garage for buses, and the conditions are appalling: the large holding pens are made of chain link fence with razor wire on top; each pen has only two portable toilets and very few benches; most people have to sleep on the floor; arrestees have gone for many hours without access to food, water, phones, or lawyers. The building most likely has asbestos and there are large areas where oil from the buses that used to be housed there has spilled. There is some question about whether the building has an operable fire-suppression system. On top of that, people are being held an unusually long amount of time before they are moved through the process and released."

The ACLU is particularly concerned that the mass arrests are being used as a way to prevent people from returning to protests and to deter others from joining protests. The ACLU is right to be worried, of course. Mass arrests of peaceful protesters, as veterans of global justice movement protests know - from Seattle to Genoa and beyond - are a tried-and-tested tactic of police for precisely that purpose.

All of this quickly disposes with the arguments of squishy liberals like pro-Afghan-war SDS veteran Todd Gitlin and John Passacantando, the executive director of Greenpeace USA, who, in an interview on Salon.com by perennial protest-worry-wart Michelle Goldberg and later in a debate with Naomi Klein on Democracy Now, denounced activists involved in direct action or civil disobedience. Gitlin and Pessacantando, and Norman Mailer as well, who made similar comments at a rally in Provincetown, Massachusetts, were worried that footage or articles about protesters being arrested would damage the movement in the eyes of Middle America.

But time after time, as we see in New York, no matter how peaceful activists are, police arrest, intimidate and attack them. Worries about how footage of naked lesbian protesters or giant puppets will play in Peoria miss the boat. Even if Gitlin and Passacantando are right that 'Middle America' will watch police brutality on TV and still side with the police, then, really, there is nothing, absolutely nothing we can do about it. The ball is in the police's court.

Ultimately, then, such admonishments by liberals of the more 'avant garde' protesters only serve to intimidate people from coming to protests and thus benefit our opponents. Gitlin and company would probably prefer that the protests didn't happen at all, lest they damage John Kerry's election prospects. Indeed, as Terry McAuliffe, chairperson of the Democratic National Committee, told reporters in a conference call last Monday: “Let me be crystal clear: I’d like to draw a line in the sand. We have nothing to do with the demonstrators. Absolutely nothing"


Of all the things that Michael Moore got right with Fahrenheit 9/11, the class argument within the film seems to have hit quite a cord with the normally class-ignorant US public.

From a report in the Village Voice about the half-a-million-strong march on Sunday:

"As they marched on Sunday, Vietnam veteran George McAnanama led them in cadence:

Bush and Cheney talk that talk

But we know they're chicken hawks.

If they think they're so damn right

Let these rich boys go and fight."

More warm-and-fuzzies.


Oh, oh, and those photos y'all've seen of people marching down New York's avenues with hundreds of cardboard coffins draped in American flags à la the photographs illicitly taken aboard the flights carrying back the real things from Iraq? Yeah, according to the Village Voice, that was all organised by film animator Michael de Seve, whose work includes the Beavis and Butt-head film.

Uh-huh-huh-huh. Neat.

Damn, I wish I were there.