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  • Overkill: How the Pentagon Militarized the US Police Force

    Posted on November 1st, 2014 Administrator No comments

    By Ben Dangl

    Source: Toward Freedom

    August 19, 2014

    “Have no doubt, police in the United States are militarizing, and in many communities, particularly those of color, the message is being received loud and clear: ‘You are the enemy,’” writes Tom Nolan, who worked for 27 years in the Boston Police Department. “Many communities now look upon police as an occupying army, their streets more reminiscent of Baghdad or Kabul than a city in America.”

    This is no coincidence; much of the equipment used by police forces on the streets of America today is in fact directly from the US military.

    From a weaponization bonanza enabled by a little-known Pentagon program, to an escalation in SWAT team deployments, the militarization of the US police force poses an increasing threat to the American public, as recently exhibited in Ferguson, Missouri.

    Behind this militarization is the Pentagon’s “1033 program,” created in the National Defense Authorization Act for 1997, which enables the Defense Department to provide surplus military equipment at a highly reduced cost to local police departments. The program was expanded after 9/11, and has led to the distribution of $4.2 billion in equipment. Police departments across the country now utilize some 500 military aircraft, 93,763 assault weapons and 432 Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected military vehicles – which cost around $700,000 new, and are being sold to police departments for as low as $2,800.

    An example of the program cited by The Guardian pointed to a Richland County sheriff in South Carolina obtaining a tank with 360-degree rotating machine gun turrets. The tank was named “The Peacemaker.”

    Such unnecessary equipment is being utilized in cities and small towns across the country without sufficient oversight, proper training, or public input.

    Following the outcry over police violence in Ferguson, the Pentagon still maintains that the weapon-selling program is for the public good. As Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told Newsweek, “This is a useful program that allows for the reuse of military equipment that would otherwise be disposed of, that could be used by law enforcement agencies to serve their citizens.”

    However, rather than serving citizens, this militarization of the police force has contributed to unnecessary violence, primarily against people of color and under the pretext of the so-called war on drugs.

    In June of this year, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) released a comprehensive report entitled “War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing,” which concludes that the US police force has become “excessively militarized through the use of weapons and tactics designed for the battlefield” and that this alarming trend “unfairly impacts people of color and undermines individual liberties, and it has been allowed to happen in the absence of any meaningful public discussion.”

    While this escalation is ostensibly aimed at protecting the population from violent threats, the ACLU found that 62% of the SWAT raids examined were used to search for drugs, while only 7% were used for “for hostages, barricade, or active shooter scenarios.”

    The use of SWAT teams has been skyrocketing over the past 45 years, according to Professor Peter Kraska of Eastern Kentucky University’s School of Justice Studies. In the 1970s, they were used only a few hundred times a year; now they’re deployed about 50,000 times annually, Kraska estimates. In some cases, they’ve even been used to break up illegal poker games, unlicensed barber shops and under-age drinking. In the case of Jesus Llovera, a suspected organizer of cockfights in Maricopa County Arizona, in 2011 a SWAT team took over the man’s living room, and drove a tank into his yard, killing his dog and over 100 of his chickens.

    Highlighting the fact that this militarization is part of a wider assault of people of color in America, Alex Kane points out in Alternet that this violence is tied to the “war on undocumented immigrants.” Kane cites the ACLU’s report on Arizona’s infamously anti-immigrant sheriff Joe Arpaio, who, in addition to acquiring five armored vehicles and ten helicopters, has “a machine gun so powerful it could tear through buildings on multiple city blocks.”

    One step in the right direction following police violence in Ferguson would be to demilitarize the US police force. As an unnamed Ferguson resident recently told the BBC about his city’s police officers: “It’s power. They have the power, they feel we don’t. That’s why they do the things that they do. What they did to young Michael Brown, that’s unnecessary. That’s overkill.”


    Benjamin Dangl is a doctoral candidate in Latin American History at McGill University, and the author of the booksDancing with Dynamite: Social Movements and States in Latin America, and The Price of Fire: Resource Wars and Social Movements in Bolivia. He edits UpsideDownWorld.org, a website on activism and politics in Latin America, andTowardFreedom.com, a progressive perspective on world events. Twitter: @bendangl

  • Human Rights Violations in the Aftermath of Hurricane Katrina

    Posted on April 9th, 2009 Administrator No comments

    By Benjamin Dangl

    Tuesday, 06 December 2005

    Ann Fagan Ginger works at the Meiklejohn Civil Liberties Institute, an organization which seeks to promote social change by increasing the recognition and use of existing human rights and peace law at the local, national, and international levels. She is also the editor of the book, “Challenging U.S. Human Rights Violations Since 9/11.”

    In this interview Ginger discusses the human rights violations which took place in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and how her organization has worked to expose these violations.

    Benjamin Dangl: Please discuss the activities which took place during the Katrina rescue efforts which violated the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a treaty ratified by the United States in the 1990’s.

    Ann Fagan Ginger: Photographs of what happened on the Crescent City Connection Bridge show African Americans who were seeking to obey FEMA evacuation orders were forced back by the Gretna police department and city government and Louisiana Bridge security forces. One African American woman reported that someone shot over her head to keep her from crossing into Gretna the White, upper class neighborhood on the other side. No federal forces stopped these practices, although they were then in New Orleans.

    The media also reported two major groups who were left to die by federal and local authorities: prisoners in some detention facilities locked in their cells, and disabled seniors and hospital patients who were not given the priority help they needed before their homes and institutions were flooded.

    In recent years, the U.S. Government’s failure to continue funding work on old levees led to the dikes breaking, flooding regions where people with low incomes lived, especially African Americans. Immediately after Katrina hit, the authorities flooded regions where African American people lived, including the Ninth Ward in New Orleans. They did not flood regions where moneyed people lived, primarily whites.

    Many orders by FEMA were not racially discriminatory on their face, but everyone familiar with the facts knew they would have a disparate impact on people of color because the poverty rate in Black communities is much higher than in White communities. E.g., FEMA early ordered citizens to evacuate by car when thousands of African Americans had no cars. Then, when empty federally-ordered buses were driven in, they passed by Black citizens, including the elderly and disabled, walking by the side of the road, rather than picking them up and taking them to a safe, dray place.

    Later federal officials ordered citizens to get into buses leaving the area, without giving them time to find their children or parents or grandparents. They also were not told them destination and forbidding people from getting off before the only, final stop.

    FEMA also ordered thousands of government employees to the Gulf region, with no training in the unique Creole culture and habits of African American and Native American residents there, leading to media reports of vast looting by African Americans when this was not the case. And it led to the treatment of people in the coliseums not as equals but as poor people of color who could be denied the necessities of life: toilets, water, food, air conditioning, blankets, or trained social workers.

    This was intensified by imposing martial law and sending police and military forces to treat Katrina victims as prisoners, not as internally displaced persons suffering several emotional and spiritual trauma as they realized that their homes were lost forever.

    FEMA also immediately announced no-bid contracts with large, white-owned corporations not based in the Guld region, rather than encouraging contract applications by local, African American businesses.

    Enforcing the curfew unequally by arresting and event shooting at black residents for not obeying the curfew in Algiers, Louisiana while permitting white residents to ride around in pick up trucks, leaving the impression that David Duke and the KKK were active.

    Announcing confusing and contradictory requirements for people in need of cash assistance and financial relief and material support, and setting impossibly short deadlines to file applications for assistance for destroyed homes before people could possibly return to their homes and estimate the amount of damage.

    The most basic rights enunciated in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) is the right of every human being to life and to human dignity (preamble and Art. 10.1, 24.1 and 26). U.S. Government made a commitment to treat everyone under its jurisdiction without distinctions based on race, color, sex, language, national or social origin, property, birth or other status, in Art. 2.1, 3; 4.1 forbids such discrimination even in a national emergency. Art. 6.1 guarantees the inherent right to life. Art. 7 forbids degrading treatment. Art. 9.1 and 12 forbids depriving people of their liberty, e.g., to move about, except under procedures established by law. Art. 17 forbids interference with the privacy, family or home of every person. Art. 23.1 states the government’s commitment to protect the family as the fundamental group unit in society. Art. 24.1 is a commitment to equal protection for all, including minors.

    Many of these actions also violate the Convention on Elimination of Racial Discrimination and the Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which covers more than government treatment of prisoners and people in the criminal justice system.

    The most basic right enunciated in the ICCPR is the right of every human being to human dignity (preamble and Art. 10.1, 24.1 and 26). U.S. Government made a commitment to treat everyone under its jurisdiction without distinctions based on race, color, sex, language, national or social origin, property, birth or other status, in Art. 2.1, 3; 4.1 forbids such discrimination even in a national emergency. Art. 6.1 guarantees the inherent right to life. Art. 7 forbids degrading treatment. Art. 9.1 and 12 forbids depriving people of their liberty, e.g., to move about, except under procedures established by law. Art. 17 forbids interference with the privacy, family or home of every person. Art. 23.1 states the government’s commitment to protect the family as the fundamental group unit in society. Art. 24.1 is a commitment to equal protection for all, including minors.

    BD: What could be the ramifications for the US government if they are proven guilty of violating this treaty?

    AFG: The enforcement of UN treaties is not the same as the enforcement of state or federal statutes in the U.S. It might be compared to the system of stopping violations of Executive authority by the President or Commander-in-Chief, through defeat for re-election.

    UN human rights treaties are enforced by requiring each signatory nation to file periodic reports with the committee enforcing the treaty. The committee then lists the Issues it finds in the reports and conducts a public hearing with government officials from the reporting country, listening to their reports asking questions, and then issuing a report with a list of actions the nation should undertake before the next report.

    This has been called the Mobilization of Shame and requires Nongovernmental Organizations and the media from each nation to report on the periodic report when it is issued, and on the meetings with the UN committee when the report is discussed. While at first glance this may seem an ineffective method of enforcing a law, in fact it has worked, most notably in the case of the apartheid regime of South Africa, and in Australia, where all proposed new laws must now be checked to be sure they do not violate the UN human rights treaties ratified by Australia.

    The ramifications of U.S. actions, and refusals to act, are already extensive. People from many, many nations now openly state that they hate, and fear, the U.S. Government, and some are demanding that their governments cease having any friendly relations with the U.S. Americans traveling abroad are immediately aware of this hostility, and its cause.

    BD: What have you been doing to expose these violations?

    AFG: MCLI in 1995 convinced the Berkeley, CA City Council to submit a report to the U.S. State Department on what it was doing to enforce the ICCPR in its Commissions on Youth, Labor, Women, Police Misconduct, along with many other reports MCLI prepared from its files and contacts with other organizations. MCLI then submitted this “shadow” report directly to the UN Human Rights Committee at its meeting in New York, and sent a judge and two lawyers to meet with Committee members informally to discuss omissions in the U.S. official report.

    MCLI submitted similar shadow reports and sent representatives to the UN Committee Against Torture meeting in 2000 and to the UN Committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination for its 2001 meeting.

    In the face of the U.S. Government failing to file its 2d and 3d reports to the Human Rights Committee, and its many reports due to the CERD and CAT committees, and in light of human rights violations under the new PATRIOT Act and many executive orders and actions and inactions, MCLI prepared a massive book of 180 reports of 30 types of human rights violations by the U.S. Government since 9/11. This book, “Challenging U.S. Human Rights Violations Since 9/11,” was published by Prometheus Books in March 2005 and the Berkeley City Council voted to submit it to the three UN human rights committees.

    As a result, the UN Human Rights Committee emailed MCLI in August 2005, asking MCLI to submit facts on U.S. human rights violations as a result of the PATRIOT Act and in arresting people in Afghanistan and Iraq, and in their treatment in Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, etc.

    MCLI immediately contacted many NGOs with this message and submitted 74 relevant reports (of the 180). MCLI then sent Judge Claudia Morcom of the Wayne Country Circuit Court (ret.) to Geneva to make a presentation on this report to the Committee on Oct. 17, 2005.

    When the U.S. finally submitted its combined 2d and 3d reports on Oct. 24, 2005, MCLI immediately obtained a copy and started organizing NGOs to go over the report for inaccuracies and omissions of concern to the Committee. MCLI also started organizing NGOs to submit lists of Issues to the Committee, as it requested, by Dec. 28, 2005.

    The Committee has announced it will discuss these issues at its next meeting, in New York, on March 13, 2006. MCLI is therefore planning to send a representative to that meeting. And it is working with many other NGOs to present a large Briefing session with the Committee between March 21 and 23 so that the human rights issues not covered in the U.S. report, including Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, will be brought to the attention of the Committee and the U.S. public.

    MCLI also sent a representative to the Paris meeting of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers in June, 2005, and to the convention of the National Lawyers Guild in Portland in Oct. 2005 and to the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom Convention in San Francisco who raised issues on the importance of all nations submitting complete and accurate reports to the UN human rights committees, and got resolutions adopted. Then an MCLI representative went on a speaking tour, from Yale to the University of Michigan and to several radio and TV interviews and book signings.

    MCLI is also presenting Congressmember John Conyers and attorney Leonard Weinglass at a massive public meeting on The Fall of the Bush Empire and the Rise of Human Rights on Feb. 23, 2006, at the King Middle School Auditorium, 1781 Rose Street, Berkeley, CA.

    BD: What has the response been from the media, public, UN and the government regarding the violations?

    AFG: The response from the major media has been largely to ignore everything connected with the UN, except for criticisms by the Bush Administration and by people concerned about one, small UN unit violating rights in Haiti. However, local media has covered several book readings, and several internet media have picked up on this story.

    The public response seems to be growing rapidly, with more calls coming in and more requests for speakers and flyers and books. Scott Camil came across the book in a bookstore, bought a copy, read it and immediately started promoting the book among NGOs. He wrote to us: “I have been an activist for almost 35 years. When people ask me what they can do, I always say that the most important thing is to become educated on the issues and to understand their rights and responsibilities as citizens in our Democracy. … This book is like a gift from the heavens. It provides the citizens with everything they need to understand the law, their rights, the wholesale violation of those laws and rights and the information on what actions can be taken to rectify these crimes against us and the world.” He is a founding member of Vietnam Veterans Against the War, a defendant in the Gainesville 8 Conspiracy case, an executive committee member of Suvanne St. Johns Group Sierra Club, now touring with “Winter Soldier.”

    The UN response to the refusal of the U.S. Government to file reports under each of the three human rights treaties, and accounts of violations of the rights of prisoners at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, etc., led the UN Human Rights Commission to appoint a Special Rapporteur on human rights violations in the war on terror, and, after Katrina, to send the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty to the Gulf region to report.

    These actions led the U.S. Government finally to file its very tardy reports to the Human Rights and Torture Committees, and then to file a supplemental report dealing with Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, which it had earlier said need not be covered in the reports.

    BD: Why do you believe the treatment of Katrina victims violates the 14th Amendment equal protection clause?

    AFG: Virtually all of the activities described in paragraph 2 as violations of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) also violate the 14th Amendment equal protection clause. In 1868, the Congress and the several states voted to amend the United States Constitution to provide that no state “shall deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” And the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that this “equal protection clause” also must be obeyed by the U.S. federal government.

    BD: What kind of work has the National Lawyers Guild been doing around this topic?

    AFG: At its convention in Portland in October, 2005, the National Lawyers Guild passed two resolutions based on these events. The first calls on all Guild members and friends to study the facts and the law about the Katrina victims (described above), and to notify government officials at every level demanding a new policy for dealing with all future natural catastrophes and to stop all types of violations of human rights. The second calls on Guild members to study the U.S. Report to the UN Human Rights Committee,, to submit critiques of the report to its International Committee, and to attend the UN Committee meeting in New York. Since then the Guild has bee networking with other organizations leading up to the March 2006 meetings in NY.

    BD: What did the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty discover while touring New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina?

    AFG: The Independent Expert on Human Rights and Extreme Poverty of the Commission on Human Rights made a short, initial report after his mission to the United States (Oct. 23-Nov. 8, 2005) took him to Katrina victims in New Orleans and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Jackson and the Delta region, Mississippi, as well as to immigrant farm workers in Florida and impoverished whites in Appalachia, and homeless in New York City, and Washington, D.C.

    Arjun Sengupta found the case of the U.S. “particularly interesting” as “an apparent paradox: as the wealthiest country on earth, with higher per capita income levels than any other country,” the U.S. also has one of the highest levels of poverty among the rich industrialized nations. He reported that 37 million lived in poverty in 2004, 45.8 million were without health insurance coverage, and 38.2 million (including 13.9 million children) experienced food instability. These figures include 24.7 percent of African Americans, 21.9 percent of Hispanics, and only 8.6 percent of non-Hispanic Whites.

    “If the United States Government designed and implemented the policies according to the human rights standards much of the problem of poverty could be resolved,” he said. His final report will be submitted to the Commission in Spring 2006.

    BD: What do you hope is the outcome of your work on this issue?

    AFG: MCLI hopes that the work around Katrina, and the work with UN human rights committees will lead more and more people in the United States to realize that ratified UN treaties are part of the law of the U.S., that we are all part of the UN system of governance, that UN standards strengthen basic U.S. constitutional law, and that there are things each person can do to stop human rights abuses in the U.S. and by the U.S. all over the world. And MCLI hopes to draw into its work more and more young men and women growing up during U.S. military operations in many nations, and a decline in jobs in unionized industries with job security. MCLI hopes many will follow its proposal for new paths for action to restore democracy and peace to our country.

    For more information on the Meiklejohn Civil Liberties Institute, visit their website: http://www.mcli.org/

  • Staged Arrests Round Off Weekend of Anti-war Protests in DC

    Posted on April 9th, 2009 Administrator No comments

    Washington, DC; Sept. 27, 2005 – Hundreds of activists participated in a staged act of collective civil disobedience in front of the White House on Monday to protest the ongoing occupation of Iraq. The event closed a weekend of anti-war demonstrations, lobbying, teach-ins and concerts. US Park Police reported approximately 370 arrests at the event and charged participants with demonstrating without a permit.

    Around 1 p.m. on Monday, activists attempted to deliver one million reasons to end the war in Iraq from people all over the world to the White House. The delivery included notes such as “You can?t win minds with shock and awe” and “The war is making the US less safe contrary to the administration?s claims.” The messages had been collected through the website of the activist group Code Pink.

    Once, as expected, the guards at the White House gates refused the delivery, the planned civil disobedience began. Hundreds of activists marched to the sidewalk directly in front of the White House to initiate their unpermitted action. Many began to tie pieces of paper to the iron fence that surrounds the premises, each displaying the name of an American or Iraqi killed in the war.

    Police immediately asked everyone to leave the sidewalk, and ushered those who complied behind a police barricade. Chants broke out as the police continued to order the group to disperse, such as “Arrest Bush! Arrest Cheney!” and “Noble cause, my ass, G.W. Bush is running out of gas!”

    Protesters post names of US soldiers and Iraqis killed in Iraq

    Thousands of supporters watched on their side of the barricade, jeering police and offering cries of solidarity to those still refusing to move. More police arrived with plastic handcuffs and vans. In a swarm of cameras and shaking fists, Cindy Sheehan, the mother of a soldier killed in Iraq who made headlines with her summer protest at Bush?s ranch, was the first to be arrested.

    Men and women of diverse ages and ethnicities, veterans, students, grandparents and clergy participated in the protest. They regularly sang songs and chanted. Police distributed water among the group and arrested many of the elderly activists first.

    Reasons for protesting varied. Many participants had children killed in Iraq or Afghanistan and were demanding answers from President Bush. Others said that all other routes for social change had been exhausted.

    “When you vote, when you communicate with elected officials, when you protest, when you cannot deny things such as the Downing Street Memo ? what else is there to do?” said Nancy York from Fort Collins, referring to a British document many consider a smoking gun proving Washington manipulated the case for invading Iraq. “Nothing we?re doing has been enough. We have to go to greater extents against the war,” said the peace activist and environmentalist from Colorado as she waited on the sidewalk to be arrested.

    protesters prepare for arrest

    Beatrice Saldivar, whose nephew, Sergeant Daniel Torres, was killed in Iraq in February, said, “I was in Crawford, Texas for 26 days, asking Bush to meet with us so I could ask him why our children are dying in Iraq.” While sitting on a police barricade and waving a photo of her nephew high above her head she said, “The government keeps recycling our soldiers in Iraq. There is no noble cause.”

    Activist Gail Murphy explained that she “can?t sleep at night” for worry over the violence in Iraq.

    It took over three hours for police to complete the arrests. Sergeant Scott Fear of the US Park Police said approximately 370 people were arrested total and all of the activists were charged with demonstrating without a permit, with the exception of one person who was charged with crossing a police line. “Anyone could?ve left,” Fear explained to The NewStandard on Monday. “We gave them three warnings.”

    He said the arrestees would get a fifty-dollar fine and would all be released by later in the evening.

    At 2:44 p.m. a young man in a pink shirt threw his backpack over the White House fence, then jumped over the fence himself. He was immediately thrown to the ground, handcuffed and hauled away by six armed security officers who had been spread out across the lawn. His name and motivation for the act were not known by press time.

    a police officer stands over code pink activists

    Sgt. Fear said, “The secret service dealt with the person who jumped over the fence. I think he?ll be tried with unlawful entry.”

    Many of the participants had organized themselves into “affinity groups” before the event in order to support each other behind bars, a relatively new twist on a tactic usually meant for teamwork prior to or in order to avoid arrest.

    United For Peace and Justice (UFPJ), an anti-war coalition, organized the civil disobedience through its website, allowing people to sign up for the action with their phone numbers, emails and names in order to facilitate networking among groups before and after they arrived in Washington DC. UFPJ organizers set up workshops on legal issues and nonviolent action on Sunday and Monday for those who registered.

    protesters await arrest

    The coalition asked people to register so the group could offer participants legal support after being arrested. Jo, an organizer from Los Angeles with the activist group and UFPJ coalition affiliate, Code Pink, said anyone could have participated in the action, even if they had not registered. “People can do what they want, this is a peace weekend. All kinds of interrelated groups are participating in this.”

    UFPJ had contacted the police to alert them of their plans for civil disobedience. “When you do a nonviolent action it?s important to not be confrontational, so you want to be in a relationship with the cops,” said Jodi, an organizer with Code Pink. “The cops said they understood that if we?re peaceful, they?ll be peaceful.”

    But not everyone shares Jodi?s willingness to commune with the police. An activist who referred to himself as “Twin” said he did not participate in the civil disobedience in part because he did not like that UFPJ negotiated with the police before the action. “The focus of the action is so the media can see them. It comes off as a commercial event,” he said.

    In the park across the street from the White House, an activist called Pasco was also critical of Monday?s events. Pasco, who said he is helping open a homeless shelter in Omaha, Nebraska, told TNS those practicing civil disobedience should have directly confronted the institutions they were protesting, instead of simply sitting on the sidewalk.

    Bill Dobbs, a spokesperson for UFPJ, said: “Monday?s events were designed to project and amplify what we were doing here over the weekend. The civil disobedience is to bring the eyes of the world right to the gates of the White House.”

  • Diverse Anti-war Protests Largest in DC Since Vietnam

    Posted on April 9th, 2009 Administrator No comments

    By Benjamin Dangl and Brendan Coyne

    Washington, DC; Sept. 25, 2005 – Kicking off three days of actions aimed ultimately at pressuring the US government to pull troops out of Iraq, scores of protesters converged on Washington, DC yesterday for an all-day protest that included an array of speakers, a march past the White House and a concert that lasted well into the early morning hours. Estimates of the demonstration?s size ranged from 100,000 to 300,000 protesters.

    Participants from across the country spent long hours riding overnight on buses and in caravans to take part in the largest anti-war event the nation?s capitol has seen since the Vietnam War era. Groups began assembling on the Ellipse in front of the White House early yesterday.

    In preparation for the event, police blanketed the Ellipse, Federal Triangle and the grounds of the Washington Monument with a confusing maze of orange-plastic and wooden fences, closing many roads to both automobile and pedestrian traffic.

    protesters scaled structures for better visibility

    Billed by organizers as a rally and march to end the war on Iraq, a variety of groups and causes were represented both by speakers on the stage and in the crowd. Orators and demonstrators alike highlighted the interconnectedness of their causes, and it was clear that different issues had spurred people to attend the protest, though the message was overwhelmingly anti-war.

    ?Iraq has slipped onto the backburner and we felt compelled to do something.? –Laurie Sargent, musician, protester

    Ruiz Santiago, 21, a Bronx, New York native studying politics at City College in New York tied his family?s experience in Colombia to the Iraq war.

    “Colombia is being used, by companies and Bush?s friends, for money, just like Iraq,” he said. “The companies and the private military ? they all don?t care about the poor people in Colombia, they just let them die. It is, I think, worse in Iraq because nobody is in charge.”

    symbolic coffins represent the cost of war in American troops

    Santiago said this was the first time he visited Washington, and the second time he had participated in a protest, the first being the counter-convention during the Republican Party?s gathering in New York City last September. The enormity of that crowd and the variety of events and people participating there had inspired Santiago to become active in political causes, he said.

    The march, which was scheduled to begin at 12:30 p.m., did not step off until after 1 o?clock, due to the mass of participants. Shortly before 2 p.m., with marchers having made little forward progress, an event organizer told the crowd filling the Ellipse and lining Constitution Avenue that logistical problems at the front, owing to the number of people in attendance, was keeping the march from rolling.

    ?It?s great to come out and see the diversity of people, the diversity of ideas and the goodwill being represented here.? –Tim Thomas, union activist

    Saturday’s demonstrations were spearheaded by a pair of anti-war coalitions, International ANSWER and United for Peace and Justice, though local groups and unaffiliated activists from around the country pitched in to pull off the massive undertaking.

    Some demonstrators carried signs and banners addressing economic causes, such as advocating for the victims of Hurricane Katrina and tenants rights. A large contingent marched under the banner of US Labor Against War. The idea that the Bush administration?s military ventures are draining much-needed resources on the domestic front was well-represented.

    Joan from Baltimore, MD, who originally supported the Iraq war, was attending her first peace demonstration. “This hurricane put me over the edge,” she said. “Why are we using the troops in Iraq when we have enough to do in our own country?” She continued: “I thought Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. I thought they were a threat, but we had bad information.”


    Angela Kelly, who works with Student Peace Action Network, a DC-based group that organizes around anti-war and human rights issues, said, “A lot of students who are plugging into counter-recruitment efforts realize that it?s poor people that are being targeted by recruiters and forced into the military.” She added, “Katrina has brought a lot of economic justice and racial issues to the forefront?, and it adds fire to our movement.”

    Glen Sandberg, a long-time peace activist, organized a group to come from his home in Gulf Port, Mississippi, where much of the area was destroyed by Katrina. “The way Bush handled the Katrina disaster was another disaster,” he said.

    I hope people learned about things they didn?t know about before and gain a better sense of awareness and that people go home and do outreach and organizing work.? –Tatiana Lam, high-school student, activist

    Diane Spencer marched with the US Labor Against War contingent. “Seeing all these people today, this is great,” she said. “Maybe we?ll get somewhere out of this. Maybe all these diverse groups coming together means more than what we see in our own cities and towns,” Spencer added, noting that, at the very least, the size of national convergence should encourage local groups to be more active.

    labor marchers

    Spencer and her cohort Tim Thomas had traveled to Washington on one of two buses from Chicago chartered by three area unions, Service Employees International Union Locals 4 and 20 and United Auto Workers Local 550. Neither protester had previously been very involved in activism outside of union efforts, they said.

    “It?s great to come out and see the diversity of people, the diversity of ideas and the goodwill being represented here,” Thomas told The NewStandard. “After seeing and being a part of this, we?re definitely going to go back and do more anti-war and anti-Bush organizing locally. I think that with labor working with all these other groups to end this war and call the President to account, things can get done.”

    Kermit Leibensperger, who works two jobs as an electrician and teacher and has been an activist since 1967, is already looking toward the next protest, one he believes will allow people to participate wherever they live, instead of limiting action only to those who can travel for large protests in faraway cities. He is helping organize a nationwide “Rosa Parks Anniversary Strike” against poverty, racism and war on December 1.

    more marchers

    “If everyone came who wanted to come to this protest, there would be millions here today,” Leibensperger said.

    “Iraq has slipped onto the backburner and we felt compelled to do something,” said Laurie Sargent, a musician from New Hampshire who was part of “Testy Goyls,” a group of mothers, teachers and friends who had banded together for peace vigils and Democratic fundraisers in their home town to protest the Iraq war.

    “We had goose bumps all the way down on our trip to DC,” said Gail Erdos Belmon, also a member of the group.

    The Matriots, from Western Massachusetts, were dressed up in colorful wigs, clothing and jewelry. Group member Sarah Acker explained: “We?re mothers and feminists and we didn?t raise our children to be killed in a war. We want to bring the mother-woman balance to the male-dominated world.”

    The slogan of group, painted on a large sign they carried, declared, “We want for the world what mothers want for their kids.”

    Tatiana Lam is a high-school student and anti-war organizer who does counter recruitment work in schools. “I hope people learned about things they didn?t know about before,” she said, “and gain a better sense of awareness and that people go home and do outreach and organizing work.”

    Along the March route, two members of the National War Tax Resisters Coordinating Committee stood in front of the Internal Revenue Service calling on people to stop supporting the US war machine.

    “Watch your pockets, folks, you?re passing the IRS,” Daniel Woodham, of Greensboro, North Carolina, called as marchers neared the end of the route. He and a colleague, Rob Randall, both of Brunswick, Georgia, handed out flyers directing people to a website with detailed information on war-tax resistance.

    A handful of counter-protesters showed up along the route, but they were barely noticeable among the throngs of anti-war activists. Jeremiah Baldwin, of the Open Air Gospel Ministry in Jacksonville, Florida said, “We support the war and the troops and freedom in Iraq, freedom for women to vote? we?re Christians and we stand up for Jesus, too.”

    Mobilization for Global Justice, an organization of activists demanding an end to the World Bank and IMF?s economic policies, organized a feeder march from Dupont Circle under the banner, “Another World is Under Construction.” The feeder march, scheduled to leave Dupont circle at 12:30, met up with the main anti-war demonstration later in the afternoon.

    Participants made the connection between the Iraq war and the policies of the World Bank and the IMF, which are actively involved in transforming modern Iraq. Virginia Setsheti of the Anti-Privatization Forum in South Africa told InterPress Service, “It is not just about war. It is about how many people die around the world because of unfair policies and actions ? a large part of which are economic. ”

    still more marchers

    Law enforcement officials declined to provide official crowd estimates but DC Police Chief Charles Ramsey noted that organizers had probably met their goal of attracting 100,000 people to the event. Organizers put the number at about 300,000. The spread-out nature of the demonstration made a crowd estimate difficult.

    Today, organizers planned interfaith services, town hall-style meetings, workshops and vigils. With politicians scheduled to be working in the nation?s capitol Monday, groups are planning non-violent direct action and lobbying.

  • Member of Worker-Run Factory in Argentina Was Kidnapped, Tortured

    Posted on April 9th, 2009 Administrator No comments

    by Benjamin Dangl


    Zanon ceramics factory, one of the most prominent of the recuperated, worker-run factories in Argentina, was taken over by workers in 2001 and since then has been economically successful as a cooperative. However, as a major symbol of Argentina’s recuperated factory movement, (over 200 such cooperatives exist in the country), it has been a target for right-wing hostility. Workers at the factory have received death threats and have been violently oppressed during protests. Recently, this intimidation escalated: a woman who works at Zanon was kidnapped and tortured by a group workers believe is linked to the local government.

    In the afternoon on March 4th in Neuquen, a city outside Buenos Aires, the woman (whose name has not been released) was leaving the factory when a group of people forced her into a green Falcon car, the same type of vehicle used during Argentina’s dictatorship in the seventies to kidnap and torture “leftists”. The group in the car began to insult her and said they knew where she lived, where her family worked and where her daughter plays after school. Then they began to cut her with a knife, taunting her by saying things like “cut her more so that the blood will flow in Zanon…” After cutting her arms and face they threw her out of the car and said they were going to go after her daughter next.

    The woman called the workers at Zanon and the police. Police surrounded her house to protect her family throughout the night. By morning, however, there was only one policeman on guard. At 9 am one of her kidnappers returned through the back door and repeated what he had done to her in the car: insulting her and cutting her with a knife. When the man left, the one policeman who was on guard said he did not hear or see anything.

    “This is one of many things that have happened to Zanon workers. Last year, Pepe, a Zanon worker was seriously injured in the eyes with pellets from police during a protest,” said Esteban Magnani, author of “El Cambio Silencioso” (“The Silent Change”), a book about worker cooperatives in Argentina. “In Neuquen you have Jorge Sobisch, a right wing governor who wants to be the new Carlos Menem (president of Argentina during the nineties who enacted numerous neoliberal policies which many believe greatly contributed to the country’s economic crisis). Sobisch wants to show how tough he is, so he is trying to get rid of Zanon.” The governor recently declared he will run for president in the next elections.

    “The police are related to this because they didn’t protect the woman so that the kidnapper was able to return,” Maganani continued. “No one officially knows who conducted the kidnapping, but most people are pretty sure those involved in it are related to the local government…Zanon is very politicized and famous, which is bad for a governor who wants to be seen as a right wing savior. Sobisch feels the need to crack down now, because the longer he waits, the more powerful Zanon becomes.”

    At a press conference held by Zanon workers regarding the kidnapping, Alejandro Lopez, the general secretary of Neuquen ceramic workers, said, “The police have not helped Zanon…nothing goes on in Neuquen without the consent of the local government.”

    “Neuquen is not an island,” Lopez continued. “What happened there has happened elsewhere. Subway workers (a strong union group which recently went on a city wide strike) have been threatened and are under constant surveillance. Student groups have also been threatened.”

    Hundreds of people were in attendance at the press conference, which was held in the worker-run Hotel Bauen in Buenos Aires. The mood at the conference was somber. The memory of the dictatorship’s killings and torture still weighs heavy in the hearts and minds of Argentines. This kidnapping was a harsh reminder that after years of fighting against such horrendous acts, they still do occur.

    Hebe Bonafini is a member of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, a group of women whose sons and daughters were “disappeared” during the military dictatorship. For decades the women have been fighting for social justice, human rights and answers regarding the whereabouts of their children. “We cannot permit this to happen,” Bonafini said, referring the kidnapping. “The government needs to intervene in this now. I called the Ministry of the Interior and he knows all about this. He just needs to do something.”

    “Kirchner and Sobisch are enemies,” Magnani said. “Kirchner wants to be the leftist leader and Sobisch wants to be on the right. One of Kirchner’s flags is human rights. Now with this kidnapping and the continued threats, Kirchner shouldn’t have any excuse to not do something about this.”

    Protests regarding the kidnapping and intimidation have taken place in Neuquen and Buenos Aires and various political, human rights, student and activist groups have gathered in solidarity to fight for justice and to prevent such brutal acts from happening again.

    To sign a petition in support of Zanon workers, go to www.petitiononline.com/zanon/petition/html For more information on Zanon check out: www.labase.org.

  • An Interview with Leslie Cagan

    Posted on April 9th, 2009 Administrator No comments

    Conducted by Benjamin Dangl and Andrew Kennis


    Upside Down World

    Leslie Cagan is the national coordinator of the anti-war coalition United For Peace and Justice, (www.UnitedForPeace.org) which has been one of the main organizers of anti-war rallies since before the Iraq war began. We spoke with her on August 30th, the day after the UFPJ-organized march which drew an estimated 500,000 people to protest the Republican National Convention and the Bush agenda.

    In the interview she talks about the August 29th UFPJ march, civil disobedience and where the peace movement might be headed if John Kerry is elected this November.

    BD: What are your thoughts on yesterday’s protest?

    We’re all thrilled by it. It was an outpouring of people to say no to the Bush agenda. People came from every neighborhood in the city, people came from cities and towns all around the country. Our estimate was at least 500,000 people marched past Madison Square Garden delivering their messages, obviously the Iraqi war and occupation was a major issue, but many other issues came out yesterday as we wanted them to. And through that all, the one clear and strong message, we believe, came through and this we say no to the Bush agenda.

    BD: Were there any problems with the police once it got started?

    Yesterday, I must say the police handled themselves very well. And I hope that’s true for the rest of the week from here on out. But my experience and the reports we got from different people was that the police actually behaved very well.

    AK: What do you think about this march (Poor People’s Campaign for Economic Human Rights), considering them undertaking civil disobedience, as opposed to yesterday’s march, under your coalition, deciding not to do that and not protest the decision on central park?

    Well we certainly did protest the decision around Central Park, we worked very hard on that issue. We decided not to do that yesterday. We support civil disobedience, there is a long and honored history in this country of civil disobedience, obviously Martin Luther King Jr. and the movement he led is obviously the strongest example that everybody knows. But many movements have used civil disobedience as a legitimate tactic and it’s still a legitimate tactic just as permitted marches or rallies are legitimate tactics. I think the issues with organizers are, what tactics are going to work for the message you are trying to deliver, are the people you are bringing ready to engage in that tactic. There are tactical considerations that go into deciding which vehicle you are going to use for your particular protest. But there is nothing inherently better or worse about any given tactic.

    BD: As far as keeping the momentum going do you see the momentum after Kerry wins – he is not necessarily an anti-war president–do you see the same kind of momentum going after he is elected or do you see it dwindling?

    I think probably right after the election, there could very well be either because Bush or Kerry wins, a little bit of falling off. If Bush wins people could feel demoralized, if Kerry wins some people will think our work is over. But I think very quickly people will regroup and realize certainly that if Bush wins our movement has to keep going. But also if Kerry wins I think people will realize that we have to keep pushing him, we would like to not have to organize a demonstration saying we say no to the Kerry agenda, but if we have to in a year or two or whatever down the road, if we need to organize that kind of demonstration we will. The point is we are a movement about the issues, and if the issues aren’t being resolved by one president or another one, we are going to be out there. This movement is alive, it’s strong, it’s dynamic, it’s creative and it’s not going away.

    AK: Do you have a sense that after a year or two things might really change under Kerry, seems like you expect that they won’t

    I clearly think there is a difference between Bush and Kerry on quite a number of issues, especially on quite a number of social issues here in this country. On the war, Kerry has not been good, so we have to push him. My feeling, personally, I am not speaking for the coalition now because we don’t have a position on this–we need to get rid of Bush, that’s the first thing we need to do, we just need to take him and his whole crowd of criminals – and the crimes are not only committed in Iraq, they are committed every day in this country when people go homeless, and people go hungry and people don’t have health care, those are crimes against humanity. So we need to get rid of that whole bunch, and then we need to put the pressure on the new bunch that comes in. Kerry is not automatically all of a sudden going to be an anti-war president; we have to push him to that.

    AK: Do you think there is a little more danger that Kerry might have, in a kind of ironic twist, more cushion because of the support he has from the anti-war crowd and maybe in a weird turn of events–that could prolong the occupation?

    I don’t have a crystal ball but I guess that could happen, but I just think that what yesterday showed again, is that how deep and widespread the anti-war sentiment is. And I don’t think that sentiment goes away overnight. People know that this war was based on a pack of lies. People know, better information isn’t going to beat that out of people’s heads. Our job of course as organizers is to help keep that momentum going. You know we call it a movement for a reason, it has its ebbs and flows, sometimes it was stronger sometimes it was weaker, we move in and out. So there may be a time when it looks like we are a little weaker. But I think we are not going away. The other thing is that when you get a big mobilization, you see the strength of the movement, but the work of this movement goes on every single day. People are having educational forums, people are having vigils, people are lobbying their elected officials, people are writing letters to the editor, people are organizing shipments of humanitarian aid to Iraq or whatever. People keep on doing all kinds of things every single day and it doesn’t always make it into the news. That’s what the heart and soul of the movement is and that’s not going to go away. We now have in UFPJ almost 900 groups, we have done virtually no outreach, no outreach encouraging people to join our coalition. People have found us and said, we’re a group in Atlanta, or we’re a group in Bangore, Maine or whatever, we want to be a part of a national movement, can we join the coalition. That’s phenomenal.

    BD: Do you think a lot of the people that were at the march yesterday will go home now and be motivated to do more? Do you think they will keep on working beyond the march?

    The energy, the spirit and commitment of yesterday–people are going to take that home with them. People are going to back into their neighborhoods, back to their workplaces, their schools, their religious centers, wherever, and they are going to keep doing that organizing. And that’s what’s most important, one of the most important things is of course on any demonstration you want to send a clear message, that happened. The second thing you want to do is re-energize and keep the movement going. And I think that has happened not only yesterday but through this week of activities.

  • Arrestees, Lawyers, Medics Condemn Conditions of RNC Protest Detention

    Posted on April 9th, 2009 Administrator No comments

    by Benjamin Dangl


    The NewStandard

    Over the past week, police have arrested around 1,900 people in events related to demonstrations and direct actions against the Republican National Convention. The vast majority of those arrests were made during indiscriminate sweeps that literally netted protesters and bystanders alike.

    Authorities have reportedly held the majority of the arrestees at Pier 57, an unsanitary, chemical-ridden automobile garage facility reorganized for use as a temporary detention center during the Convention.

    Despite official police department claims that no one is being held at the facility for more than eight hours, many of the arrestees have been incarcerated there for over 40 hours, up to 24 hours of that at Pier 57, in conditions lawyers and medics have described as “unhealthy” and “inhumane.” In other cases, detainees have “disappeared” into the system altogether, their families and lawyers finding no trace of them for two days or more.

    According to Bob Perry, the Legislative Director of the New York Civil Liberties Union: “Pier 57 is a warehouse building used to store industrial vehicles. Oil grease, transmission fluid and other toxic agents are all over the floors. People have had to sleep on the floors.”

    Attorney Katya Kamisaruk has visited people held in the makeshift detention center, which she described in detail: “Pier 57 has a concrete floor with a layer of sediment that is an inch thick of compacted chemicals… We won’t know what [the substance] is until it is too late, or what the long term [health] effects are.”

    First aid providers and arrestees report that exposure to substances in the facility has resulted in severe rashes and respiratory problems.

    “A high number of people have respiratory disturbances, are congested, have had trouble breathing, sore throats, wheezing, and asthmatics that have been in respiratory distress,” said Sami Alloy, 22, a volunteer medic and certified wilderness first responder from Portland, Oregon, who has been providing arrestees with medical help as they are released. “They are coming out with chemical burns, rashes, covered in this stuff that is hard to remove.”

    In a statement issued to the press, Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly referred to claims of unsafe and unsanitary conditions at the Pier 57 facility as “exaggerated,” calling them “outright falsehoods.” He also said, “The longest anyone has been detained waiting further processing is 8 hours.” The statement pointed out that air quality had been tested during the week, but made no mention of the condition of the facility’s floors.

    According to Alloy, some people in the detention center requiring medical attention have not been receiving it. “People have had a lot of head injuries from the police bashing their faces into the concrete, a lot of wrist injuries, and in one case broken bones. These are people that aren’t getting treatment [inside the holding facility].”

    Alloy continued: “There are also people who are getting denied their medication… schizophrenics, people that have mental illnesses that have been going into disturbed states of psychosis because they haven’t been able to get access to their medication. We have also been seeing a high number of handcuff injuries — with nerve pain in their wrists, hands and fingers, people that have lost sensation in their fingers — being too tight and a lot of bruising and swelling of the wrists.”

    The handcuffs most commonly in use by the police department this week are known as “flex cuffs.” They are made of heavy plastic and cinch down on the detainee’s wrists.

    Ace Allen is a medic from Oneonta, NY who treated RNC arrestees as they were released and has researched aftercare procedures for handcuff injury patients. “These flex cuffs were really damaging people’s hands,” Allen said. “I’d love to see them outlawed. They cut off circulation. They dig into your hands, and [they] only lock one-way. They don’t become looser. They are used as a torture device.”

    According to Kamisaruk, the arrestees have been penned in chain-link fences crested with razor wire. Various caged areas that are roughly ten by fifteen feet hold up to 40 people each. She and others are calling the arrangement “Guantanamo on the Hudson,” drawing a comparison between the conditions at Pier 57 and the infamous US detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba where hundreds of foreign prisoners have been held for over two years in restrictive lock-down, without access to lawyers.

    Kamisaruk works with the National Lawyers Guild, a consortium of legal activists who take on social movements-related cases, and is a member of the Just Cause Law Collective in California, which specializes in cases of police misconduct.

    Outside Central Booking, where most detainees were transferred for post-Pier 57 processing, several people who had been recently released spoke to The NewStandard about conditions inside the facility.

    Sebastian Licht said he was out celebrating his 22nd birthday, not protesting, when police arrested him. While at Pier 57, his skin reacted heavily to the chemicals on the floor.

    “I had welts all over me. My legs were swelling up and I had blisters on my feet and hands.” Licht said he had to plead to the police for hours before receiving any medical attention.

    Andrew Gunn, 24, a radio engineer from New York, who has been involved in activism since 1999, said: “The ground had oil on it, my hands were filthy. There were not enough benches for everyone to sit. People had to sit down if they wanted to rest.” Gunn said some of his friends acquired rashes and welts from the chemicals on the floor.

    Other arrestees spoke of the police moving them regularly to prevent anyone from being able to sleep. Others described being fed only two apples and one sandwich over a period of 24 hours. In order to procure sufficient water from police, some reported having to yell and shake the cages in which they were penned.

    For others, the suffering began even before they arrived at Pier 57. Aden Cheney-Lynch, 22, is a student who has been involved in activism for two years and is a member of the peace activist organization in New Hampshire called the World Fellowship Organization. Like many others, he was held for over 40 hours.

    When Lynch was arrested, he said, police forced him to the ground. While laying on his chest, waiting to be arrested, Lynch said he informed officers of a medical condition only to be struck by one in response. “I made it clear to the policeman that I was epileptic,” he said, “and that I was very sensitive, and he interrupted me by kicking me in the mouth.”

    “And then there were metal batons being smacked on the ground next to my ear,” Lynch added.

    “From there we stayed three hours in a bus while people next to me — I mean I felt lucky, because I still had my teeth,” Lynch continued. “There was a guy who was part of the press, just taking pictures — he got his face smacked to the ground, his camera broken. They broke his two front teeth. Another man was in there — his eyes were just covered with blood. His head had been smacked into the ground, and there was no medical attention being given whatsoever, even though we were asking for it.”

    Lynch continued to describe cases he directly witnessed en route to and inside the detention center. “There was also a man throwing up in the back of the bus because he [had previously] had his large intestine removed and he was being dehydrated,” he said. “They gave him small bits of water. When he asked for medical attention, they didn’t give it to him, and he kept puking.”

    Asked about the chemicals on the ground at Pier 57, Lynch said: “I needed sleep, we all needed sleep, but especially me because I could have a seizure. But I did everything I could to avoid putting my face and body on this floor. The smell was making my eyes burn, my skin was burning. I developed severe pounding headaches. It was in the air, it was all around us. It was horrible.”

    Another National Lawyer’s Guild attorney, Simone Levine, said she had received reports from detainees who suffered from pre-existing conditions — including heart ailments and, in one case, a man whose intestine had been removed — as well as people with injuries ranging from knocked-out teeth to brain hemorrhages. “They were calling in complaining that they weren’t getting medical attention.”

    Yetta Kurland, another attorney with the National Lawyers Guild, said the Legal Aid had brought a motion before State Supreme Court Judge, demanding the release of detainees held by police for over 24 hours. “The judge signed it immediately,” Kurland said, “but then the city appealed and we spent a good part of today fighting that in court.”

    In the end, the city was ordered to release around 500 detainees by Thursday morning, or be fined $1000 per day, per detainee for contempt, based on a legal guideline that says anyone detained for a minor violation must be released or arraigned within 24 hours.

    “When the city defied that initial order, the judge fined the city $1000 for each person that was not released by 5 p.m. on Thursday,” Levine said. “There were roughly 300 people that the city was charged for.”

    For its part, the police department says the sheer volumes of arrests it made, including 1,100 on Tuesday alone, have congested the processing system. Critics point out that, in the weeks leading up to the Convention, the city and police department had repeatedly told the media they were “fully prepared” to accommodate and respond to demonstrations in an orderly fashion.

    According to Kamisaruk, a group of at least 20 people engaged in a fast to protest the conditions of their detention and demanding to speak with a prosecutor. “They got what they wanted, everything came together at once; the [court order], the publicity… it was all very sudden. They started to be released [Thursday] afternoon. It worked out well.”

    Most of the arrestees have been charged with crimes such as blocking traffic, disorderly conduct, marching without a permit and obstructing government administration. Kamisaruk said she expects most arrestees to see their cases adjourned.

    Attorneys are quick to point out that, under other circumstances, it would be unlikely that detainees caught in this week’s sweeps would have served as much time in jail after conviction on such charges as they have already spent in pretrial detention.

    Lawyers involved in defending protesters and bystanders caught in this week’s pre-emptive sweeps have vowed to pursue lawsuits and other legal action in the coming weeks and months.

    However, legal initiatives taken in response to remarkably similar acts of preemptive repression over the past five years, in cities such as Washington, Philadelphia, Seattle and New York itself have been slow-moving, and after the past week’s events, protesters cannot help but question whether previous legal efforts caused law enforcement officials to so much as hesitate this time around.

    For more Info. on Pier 57, click here

    © 2004 The NewStandard. See reprint policy.

  • Anti-RNC Demos Continue, Addressing Labor Issues, War, Media

    Posted on April 9th, 2009 Administrator No comments

    by Benjamin Dangl, Amanda Luker, Andrew Kennis


    The NewStandard

    Though it has been almost a week since demonstrations against the RNC began in New York City, the protests show no sign of abating. Among the many rallies held today were demonstrations by organized labor, an event put on by the National Organization for Women, and a march against the corporate media.
    A Long Line to Highlight an Even Bigger Problem

    Shortly after a third day of the Republican National Convention dawned in New York City, several thousand people formed a symbolic unemployment line, which reportedly stretched more than three miles from Wall Street to Madison Square Garden along Broadway.

    Demonstrators held oversized “pink slips” that read in bold print: “The next pink slip might be yours.” The demonstration lasted just eighteen minutes during the 8:00 hour. Organizers say almost 8,000 people participated this morning in the three-mile long line, intended to represent the 8.1 million unemployed Americans presently seeking jobs.

    One participant named Josh told Reuters, “We’re here to demonstrate that never in America’s history since the Great Depression has there been such a consecutive loss of jobs as we’ve seen in the last four years.”

    Washington-based nonprofit People For the American Way, a progressive advocacy organization, put the event together, with support from labor and other organizations.

    Pickets Against Bush

    In lower Manhattan, a daily picket line walked by workers for the last four months turned its focus to the RNC as well.

    Union members gather for two hours every morning at the intersection of Broad St. and Exchange to vent their anger at construction work being done by poorly compensated, non-union workers. But, with the Republican National Convention in town this week, the regular rally took a different if related focus.

    “We’re here, we’re defending the middle class,” Elfren Reinaldo Torres, an organizer with the Sheet Metal Workers’ International Association Local 28, told the crowd of about 200-250 people. “Without the unions there’d be no middle class, there’s no doubt about it. The other party wants rich and poor, that’s it. They’d be happy if we were all making minimum wage at Walmart.”

    According to Torres, steamfitters, electricians, plumbers, iron workers and others attend the daily picket, which is organized by the Building and Construction Trades Council of New York and Vicinity. Torres says they plan to continue protesting until Brooklyn developer Shaya Boymelgreen, in charge of the construction on the 40-story building at 15 Broad Street, relents and allows the union to organize all the workers on the project.

    Dennis Lynch, of the Ornamental Iron Workers Local 580, said the Republicans who have descended upon Manhattan this week “should of never come” to New York. “These are the same guys who are always union-busting.”

    Labor Day Rally

    Later in the day, thousands of union members flooded the streets south of the Convention center for a large labor rally. By 4 p.m., several blocks along 8th Avenue were densely packed with pro-union and anti-Bush demonstrators, most in union garb.

    Police set up wooden and metal barricades at each intersection, which kept participants from merging with those occupying other blocks. In effect, each block was a separate rally spot, complete with large screens showing images from the stage every two blocks south from 27th St., and giant speakers at the corner of each block.

    “That’s been the policy for the last several years,” said Michael Hom, a member of Transportation Workers Union local 100. “They separate the blocks and build a maze out of gates at the entrance.”

    Hom also complained about the rally itself. “I’ve never seen people speak so softly,” he said. “It’s as if we’re in church.”

    New Jersey Communication Workers of America organizer Anne Luck said she was happy with the rally, though the heavy police presence and barriers seemed unnecessary. As for the Republican National Convention being held in New York City, Luck said it should have never happened.

    “It is so important to get Bush out of office,” Luck said. “And all these people here, and plenty of others who aren’t, know it.”

    Dennis O’Neill, an antiwar activist and member of the American Postal Workers Union, said this election is more important than any, even those in the Vietnam Era, which he lived through. O’Neill expects that labor will vote in larger numbers than the general population, and most of those votes will be cast for Kerry. But he worries that all the effort expended to elect Kerry may hurt other movements after the election, should Kerry win.

    “I think that labor’s anger toward Bush will be heard,” O’Neill said. “But it’s important not to dissolve the momentum and action of other movements entirely into the ‘elect Kerry’ campaign. We’re going to be keeping Kerry honest once he’s elected. I think a general labor rally should be scheduled for the Saturday or Sunday directly after the election, no matter who wins.”

    Numerous labor union contingents attended the rally including: Communications Workers of America; the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers; Service Employees International Union; Unite HERE!; Teamsters; United Federation of Teachers; Utility Workers; the Association of Federal, State, County and Municipal Employees; the Hotel and Motel Trades Council; and many others.

    ‘March on the Media’

    This evening about a thousand people gathered in front of the CBS building on Avenue of the Americas and 52nd St. for the beginning of a “March on the Media.”

    Sponsored by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, Paper Tiger TV, mediavillain.org and others, the march roved around to several corporate media buildings in Midtown Manhattan. Demonstrators rallied outside giants CBS, CNN, and FOX.

    Sheehan Grant, 30, who is a student at New York University, said, “I’m here specifically this evening at the media protest because I feel the media has a long reach as far as the most effective means to reach people, but it is framed in a way in which dissent is being hindered.”

    Dave Robinson, 45, a musician from New York, said: “Corporate media is completely complicit with the craziness that is going on. There is the war in Iraq. The media had no problem swallowing the bullshit of the WMDs, the ties between Al-Qaeda.”

    He continued: “The media is very much to blame for giving Bush a free pass after the 2000 elections. I don’t know who rolled over more, the media or the Democrats.”

    Alicia Lacher, a 58 year-old unemployed New Yorker, was carrying a sign that bore the logo of CNN on one side and on the other side read “All Strike For Living Wage.” She explained her sign and participation in the march: “Nobody is talking about living wage. The media isn’t covering this at all.”

    Ellie Ommani, 59, from Westchester County, said: “I came to this one because the media is a complete tool of the White House. It is not an independent media. People are sick and tired of hearing the same old coverage on the television. The media basically exists just to sell commodities. We came to tell the corporate media that we want the airwaves back because they belong to us.

    The more immediate relevance of their criticism was not lost on the demonstrators, either. Many expressed the belief that coverage of the numerous protests outside the RNC over the previous several days, or the lack of such coverage, exemplified their concern.

    “The media coverage of the RNC protests is not surprising,” Ommani said. “It goes along with a lot of the things about traffic and delays and putting this in an economic perspective and trying to get people to feel sort of adversarial about protesters as an economic hindrance or time hindrance when this is in fact the sole mode of dissent we have during the course of this week, and it hasn’t been covered at all, except the sensational parts.”

    ‘Eyes Wide Open’

    Throughout the week Union Square has been a main gathering point for demonstrators, media and police. Today proved no different.

    The American Friends Service Committee brought its “Eyes Wide Open” display to the park, setting out 978 military boots, one for each US service member killed in Iraq, and 1,000 ‘civilian shoes’ to represent the 11,000-16,000 civilians the group says have died since the US-led invasion of that country last year.

    AFSC member Rowena Daly said the exhibit, which has been touring the country for several months, would be reassembled at Washington Square on Thursday.

    Donna Albanese, a New York resident browsing the memorial, said she was returning from St. Marks Church, where people were reading the names of all the people, military and civilian, who have died in Afghanistan and Iraq.

    “It’s the same as the Vietnam era,” commented Albanese, whose shirt is festooned with antiwar, anti-Bush and pro-Kerry buttons. “The people who are gung-ho about war, I don’t care about them. But the kids who didn’t really want to go to war, my heart goes out to them. And even more to all the Iraqis, especially the children, who have died as a result of this war and occupation. I resent the way the Republicans are using my city and the way they use 9/11.”

    Albanese expressed happiness with the various protests against the RNC, including the more confrontational actions of the previous day. “I think it’s a beautiful thing, these people risking arrest and standing up for what they believe,” she said. “That’s true patriotism. God bless all those people who are willing to do that.”

    © 2004 The NewStandard. See reprint policy.

  • Civil Disobedience Turns to Rebellion in Face of Police Repression

    Posted on April 9th, 2009 Administrator No comments

    by Benjamin Dangl, Amanda Luker, Andrew Kennis and Brendan Coyne


    The NewStandard

    Thousands participated in organized civil disobedience and spontaneous protests in still another day of demonstrations surrounding the Republican National Convention in New York City. Today’s actions, loosely coordinated and spread throughout Manhattan, were met by a massive and intolerant police force. Police arrested hundreds of nonviolent protesters in what one civil rights lawyer dubbed a clear policy of “pre-emption.”

    A decentralized conglomeration of groups, calling itself A31, planned many of today’s protests and said they intended to engage in nonviolent “direct action” and other forms of peaceful protest to call attention to the casualties of war and war profiteering, protest the corporate media’s role in disinformation, and generally interfere with the visits of RNC delegates.

    Near the World Trade Center site in lower Manhattan, a group of protesters was detained by the police as they set out to march toward the Convention Center. Those remaining participated in a “die in” to symbolize war casualties before being arrested themselves. Farther uptown, protesters held a “Fox News Shut-Up-a-thon” outside the right wing news network’s building. In uptown Manhattan people angered over a Republican delegates visit to an auction of Johnny Cash paraphernalia held a lively protest. And in various other rallies and protests, activists blocked traffic and heckled delegates.

    In all, police spokesperson Jennara Everleth told The NewStandard the department arrested 1,100 people Tuesday. The majority of arrests occurred during mass round-ups that failed to distinguish between protesters engaging in civil disobedience, other demonstrators, disinterested bystanders, media and legal observers. Since protest began last week, police say, over 1,700 arrests have been made in connection with anti-RNC protests, mostly for disorderly conduct and obstructing government administration, both misdemeanors.

    The National Lawyers Guild and the American Civil Liberties Union, both of which have deployed legal observers to the demonstrations this week, have condemned police conduct.

    Former New York Civil Liberties Union President Norman Siegel, who acted as an observer today, said he believed the police were engaging in “pre-emptive arrest,” which he said is unconstitutional and illegal. “This is a very Orwellian doctrine with huge legal implications. Never has it been legitimate for the police to arrest people for merely thinking about committing civil disobedience or who appear like they are going to engage in civil disobedience.”
    Antiwar March and ‘Die-in’

    By 3 p.m. several hundred people had gathered at the former site of the September 11 World Trade Center attacks. Most of the demonstrators were associated with national antiwar groups School of the Americas Watch and the War Resisters League.

    Among the 100 or so police officers who assembled nearby, many wore no badges or individual identification, their shirts bearing only the NYPD insignia and the letters TARU, for Technical Assistance and Response Unit. When Marie Kullman, an SOA Watch member, noted the officers’ lack of identification, she remarked, “I know what to expect now.”

    Greg Harvey, an accountant wearing a business suit who said he works near the WTC site, approached wearing a wide-eyed expression. Asked why he was there he replied that curiosity had gotten the better of him. “I’m pleased with this,” he said. “‘I would like to see more people protest. And I’m very impressed with the diversity.”

    As the planned marching time of 4 p.m. approached, Matt Dallisio of the War Resisters League began organizing protesters into columns. “We’re well within our legal right to free speech,” he said. “As long as people follow the laws, walking two-by-two and crossing with the light, we shouldn’t have a problem.”

    Right before the march began, a police officer who addressed the crowd confirmed Dallisio’s assumption, encouraging demonstrators to remain on the sidewalk in two orderly columns.

    But as the first marchers began walking, police halted them in the middle of the street when a traffic light turned against them. While several protesters were attempting to make it back onto the sidewalk, police arrested two of them and then promptly surrounded and began arresting the bunched-up group behind them, whom the police had ordered to halt. The only explanation offered by police was that the marchers had violated contrary instructions by blocking the sidewalk. In all, police arrested about 200 demonstrators in the incident.

    In a press release issued later in the day, the New York chapter of the ACLU condemned the police tactic, which it referred to as “bait and switch.” According to the NYCLU, Bill Perkins, a city council member who negotiated with police during the demonstration, called the tactic a deliberate “set-up” on the part of police.

    After the arrests, Eric LeCompte, SOA Watch communications director, announced the decision by some to march anyway, using a different route. “The plan here is to bring the memory of Ground Zero, the memory of our lost loved ones, to the warmongers at Madison Square garden,” LeCompte said before adding a warning that participants would be risking arrest.

    “We’re trying to do what we’re allowed to do,” said Kate Gondall of New York City, one of the two women who led the resumed procession.

    Many walking or driving by honked and waved at the marchers, who now numbered around 220 strong. A few bystanders attempted to badger the demonstrators, though none of the marchers took the bait.

    At the intersection of Broadway and 25th St., an officer with a megaphone stepped in front of the line and halted the march.

    At that moment, 54 members of the procession walked into the street and began to perform a planned “die-in” demonstration. The activists laid down in the streets in symbolic representation of those killed in the war against Iraq. After about five minutes, police surrounded and arrested the demonstrators, whose comrades cheered them on from the sidewalk.

    LeCompte was pleased with the demonstration. “I have to say that I’m amazed by this action,” he said. “I really feel this turned out well. It was terrible the way this started off, with police illegally arresting over 200 people. But this is but one way to let people know what the Bush administration’s foreign policy is doing here and across the world. These people who participated in the die-in are true heroes.”
    The FOX News ‘Shut-Up-A-Thon’

    At 4:00 p.m. protesters gathered in front of the FOX News building, which towers above the Avenue of the Americas in Midtown Manhattan. Protesters hurled slogans like “The more you watch, the less you know” at the building.

    Numbering in the hundreds, the protesters’ ranks were swelled by passersby who joined in the demonstration.

    “I’m tired of the lies the media puts out, and FOX news is the worst,” said Queens, NY resident Jamel Jackson, a nurse currently on disability. “It’s total propaganda. I think American people need to be treated with respect.”

    Peter Gilbert, 26, from Raleigh, NC, commented, “One thing that’s good about [the FOX protest] is that is raises the consciousness of the people that it isn’t just the President; it’s also the media.”

    Mackenzie Macker, 27, works at a group home for people with mental disabilities in Utica, New York. “There are a few different things going on today, but this seemed to be the most interesting,” he said. “Most people have been mislead by FOX News, which is dragging the political spectrum to the right.”

    At one point, protesters hung an inflatable Bush doll from a noose above the crowd, and police, numbering about 100, spent most of the time pushing the protesters off of the sidewalk, ostensibly to clear the way for pedestrians.
    Defending the Legacy of Johnny Cash

    In a continuation of the tactical theme of stalking GOP delegates to the various daytime events set up for their visit to the Big Apple, roughly 400 activists answered a call to protest the Republican Party’s “cooptation” of the image of country singer Johnny Cash, who died last year at age 71. Protestors heckled delegates who attended a showing of Cash’s possessions, which have been placed on the block at the elite auction house, Sotheby’s in Uptown Manhattan.

    Guitarists strummed Johnny Cash favorites while the crowd of demonstrators, most of whom wore black in homage to the music legend, sang along. Songs were interspersed with lively chants, among them: “Welcome to New York, now go the fuck home.”

    John McCarthy, a Metro worker from Brooklyn, expressed outrage at what demonstrators considered the Republicans’ use of Cash’s image and possessions. “I am a working class person so I can identify with him,” McCarthy said. “He stood up for the poor and native Americans. Now the man’s dead and the Republicans are using his name for something he would be very much against. Cash would be against the current war in Iraq, the economic problems in the US, and the US exploitation of the third world.”

    In reality, according to recent press reports, it appears even Cash’s own family is unaware of his political affiliation, if he held any. Cash’s family approved the event but distanced itself from supporting either party.
    The March to Nowhere

    More than 100 people began a protest march with no specific theme from the New York Public Library, heading toward Madison Square Garden to protest the convention itself. Numerous bystanders joined the event just before police surrounded the procession, wrapped its participants in the orange, fence-like netting they have employed on numerous occasions since Sunday, and arrested several dozen demonstrators.

    Literature handed out by members of a group called the True Security collective, which appeared to play a leading role in the demonstration, stated the groups’ reason for engaging in civil disobedience was to “emphatically and nonviolently withdraw our consent from the Bush administration.” The collective expresses an alternate view of “security” to that articulated by the GOP, which includes meeting “the basic needs of life for food, water, shelter, health care, community, a thriving environment, education, opportunity for meaningful work and pleasure.”

    When one demonstrator with a foreign accent asked why police had rendered the sidewalk off limits to protesters, an officer identified as Sergeant Owen responded, “Look, if you don’t fucking like it, why don’t you go back to where you came from?”

    Christine Washburn, 23, came upon the demonstration after leaving her job at J.P. Morgan. “I was heading out of work and I saw this and I knew I had to join it,” Washburn said, adding that was trying to obtain a political button to wear. “It’s quite simple: if you’re for democracy and peace, you are going to be against Bush.”

    Among an estimated 40-50 others, police arrested Dan Myers, a 43 year-old New Yorker. While he was being taken into custody, he told The NewStandard, “I didn’t do anything except engage in peaceful protest.”
    Playing ‘Hardball’ with MSNBC’s Chris Mathews

    By 7:00 p.m., protesters converged on Madison Square Garden, the site of the GOP Convention, coming from all directions. At the same time, hundreds of people were trying to get shop or get to the train on their way home from work, causing significant confusion and dense crowds at Broadway and 34th Street.

    Around the corner, a large crowd of protesters gathered to yell at delegates gathered to watch an outdoor taping of the MSNBC show, Hardball with Chris Matthews.

    At one point, a protester wearing an Abu Ghraib-style mask rushed the stage, but police tackled him and pulled him off camera.

    By 8 p.m., police corralled the crowd onto the sidewalk with pens, and officers were walking into the dense crowd to break it up, threatening people with arrest.

    There was some resistance by activists as police asked people to disperse. Many yelled remarks such as, “You’re breaking up our protest; we have a right to protest.” Tensions with the police escalated as the crowd chanted at delegates passing by and police continued to try to break up the unruly gathering exacerbated by repeated encounters with unforgiving police personnel throughout the evening.
    Rally and Civil Disobedience at Herald Square

    At around 8:30 p.m., eleven people wearing black hoods sat in the street and linked their arms to block traffic, which included buses headed to the convention. The intersection was immediately filled with police and media. Chris from Austin Texas, one of the protesters blocking traffic, said: “I am doing this in solidarity with poor people in America who cannot have their voice heard. It is the responsibility of people with privilege to take risks and make sure that we can have justice in this country.” When asked why he used this tactic, he said, “We are disrupting business as usual at the GOP convention.” He said his group was not a part of a specific organization.

    Another participant, a young woman who declined to give her name, said: “[W]e were standing on the sidewalks out there trying to give a message to the Republicans. [The police] split our groups, and so we wanted to stop the buses because they won’t let us give our message any other way.”

    Bob, from Austin Texas said: “We want to stop the delegates from getting to Madison Square Garden. We’re blocking a bus of delegates right now. The reasons for this action are varied, but primarily while there is bloodshed going on in the streets of Iraq we can’t allow the GOP Convention to run roughshod over the city of NY and the US the way it has.”

    When police arrested the eleven activists, the crowd that had gathered was outraged. Nervous police pushed protesters and pressed metal pens against the crowd. Tensions escalated on both sides. When another 200 protesters showed up, the climate shifted among the attendant police units.

    Police began to push the crowd back onto 35th St. toward the East Side of the city. Some 1000 protesters headed down that street followed by police in riot gear. While the impromptu march gained momentum, police on foot and on scooters surrounded the demonstrators and then rushed into the group.

    The result was mayhem. Two groups of roughly 150 were trapped between the fence of scooters and the walls of the buildings on the side of the street. Within seconds, police began throwing activists and bystanders onto the sidewalk and handcuffed them, some clearly hitting their heads.

    Police arrested legal observers as well as bystanders leaving a nearby restaurant.

    As police lifted handcuffed people by the arms and carried them into a truck, legal observers attempted to gather names and phone numbers of the approximately 150 arrestees. One observer called to an arrested protester kneeling on the ground, “I called your mom, she’s behind you!”

    The cuffed girl was happily surprised. “No way! Tell her I was trapped and didn’t try to get arrested.”

    Protesters who remained free became outraged at the police. Many of them sputtered insults at every officer who passed by.

    As the arrests were taking place, John Gan from Baltimore, MD said: “My feelings as far as what we’ve been witnessing over the last couple of days in New York is that there is no right to peaceably assemble in the city. We can’t just stand here and express ourselves.”

    Asked how he felt about the evenings mass arrests, officer Deputy Burns remarked: “They were blocking the street. They were asked to leave and didn’t. I have no feeling about it. There’s no feeling involved.”

    Linda Milazo, a writer from Los Angeles and a member of the women’s antiwar group called Code Pink, said of the day’s events: “It’s what happens when there is a nation at risk because of a president who shouldn’t be in office. It’s what happens when a nation begins to hate each other and to fall apart from within because it’s not getting any love from the people that are running it. And it is being turned against itself as the rest of the world gets together to gang up on us because they hate us too. So we’re hating each other and we’re being hated. This is what George Bush has given us. No love, no support. Just a lot of dysfunction.”
    Unending Protest

    Late in the evening, in and around Union Square, police officers isolated groups of people marching or gathered on sidewalks, surrounded them, and began making seemingly random mass arrests. Witnesses estimated as many as 300 people were caught up in the procedure, repeated again and again in the area. After 10:00 p.m., the streets were far from quiet. Police were everywhere and several blocks had been shut down. There were many people conducting spontaneous mini-marches along portions of the street.

    © 2004 The NewStandard. See reprint policy.

  • Protestors Greet Start of GOP Convention with Poor People’s Marches

    Posted on April 9th, 2009 Administrator No comments

    by Benjamin Dangl, Amanda Luker, Andrew Kennis


    The NewStandard

    As the first day of the Republican National Convention commenced today at Madison Square Garden in New York City, opponents of the Bush administration and the Republican agenda continued to march in the streets.

    Today’s two major demonstrations highlighted poverty, hunger and homelessness and what organizers said was politicians’ failure to address the struggles of America’s most vulnerable. The second march, which lacked a demonstration permit, ended in the arrests of several people under unclear circumstances.

    “Our city has unique problems that need to be addressed,” said Jean Rice, an organizer with the Still We Rise Coalition, sponsor of the day’s first march, which kicked of at midday from Union Square and traveled to an area near Madison Square Garden. “Our job base has been eradicated; our free educational system has been taken away. The present people at the bottom of New York social strata have no hope for jobs, no hope for education, but they are going to be stuck at the bottom.”

    Another large demonstration began in the late afternoon at the United Nations Union with speakers calling for international human rights monitors to observe conditions in the US.

    Throughout the day, protesters cited crises in housing, health care, jobs, wages, AIDS, immigration policy and other concerns directly affecting low-income members of society as reasons they were taking to the streets.

    Unlike yesterday’s massive United for Peace and Justice march, which, for the most part, calmly meandered its way through Midtown Manhattan streets, today’s demonstrations bore a bit more edge.

    “Yesterday’s [march] was encouraging from the standpoint of Middle America because there were a lot of different kinds of people represented,” explained Roy Zimmerman, a musician from Los Angeles. “Today is kind of the ‘usual suspects’ and that’s why it has more of an edge to it. It’s hard to say which kind of a rally would have more of an effect on public consciousness or public policy.”

    “Still We Rise”

    At the Still We Rise march, in which 5,000 people participated, a woman named Santana said she was at the march to represent the Coalition for the Homeless, a national advocacy group that helps people in homeless shelters find suitable housing and protects the rights of the homeless. Santana herself works at a women’s shelter in New York.

    “The Republican party has not signed an act to continue Section 8 funding as a subsidy for people to afford housing,” she said, “and without that funding going into effect many families are housed in substandard shelters all around the city.”

    She continued: “This is a poor people’s march. People are saying we did not elect this president, his agenda is not our agenda… So we are representing ourselves.”

    As explained by James Lewis, the Still We Rise coalition is made up of over 50 grassroots organizations, mostly from New York City, that have come together to amplify the voices of poor people. Lewis is also a member of Harlem Operation Take Back, a tenant advocacy organization fighting the negative effects of gentrification in the historically black, traditionally poor but culturally rich Northern Manhattan neighborhood.

    Still We Rise organizers said they are working to register 100,000 voters for the upcoming election.

    The anti-Bush sentiment expressed in the protestors’ sign and speeches, however, did not necessarily translate into enthusiasm for the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate, John Kerry.

    Still We Rise organizer Jean Rice said, “Neither party has addressed hunger and homelessness, which was identified by the National Conference of Mayors as a major domestic crisis.”

    Steve Ekverg, from Burlington, VT, who collects unemployment, carried an enormous black sign with neon letters that said, “Elect Ralph Nader.” A few people came by Ekverg, heckling him with comments like, “I like Ralph, but not this year.”

    “I get a lot of support and I get a lot of dissention,” Ekverg said. “They think Kerry is going to be a difference from Bush and give us peace when Kerry has outright said that he is going to escalate the war in Iraq. They are so filled with hysteria and emotion that they can’t think straight.”

    “I’m marching because a lot of people don’t have homes and I’m one of them,” said Raymond B., 46, who strips and waxes floors for a living. From Brooklyn, Raymond says he has been homeless for a year and a half and is marching with the Coalition for the Homeless. “If I can help families and children have homes, then I can feel like I’m accomplishing something.”

    Raymond said he will not be voting this year. “Why?” he asked rhetorically. “They’re just going to do what they want anyway.”

    “March for Our Lives”

    The second anti-poverty event of the day started at 4:00 p.m. in a small park near the United Nations. In gearing up for the march, organizers said they intended to march up to the doors of the Convention and serve George Bush with an arrest warrant for crimes against humanity. Speakers at the rally called attention to loss of housing, jobs, food security and health care, saying the deprivation of each constitutes human rights abuses in the United States. They called on the Organization of American States to send human rights observers to the US to monitor these abuses.

    Organizers did not obtain a permit for the march, which also numbered about 5,000 participants.

    Sherry Larson-Beville, an elderly woman who came all the way from Oakland, California to attend the march, said her participation in the afternoon protest was a continuation of the earlier Still We Rise coalition action, a response echoed by many of the protesters.

    Larson-Beville said: “It’s important to be here with like-minded people that care passionately about people that are homeless, jobless without medical care, without education. There are a whole bunch of issues that are being represented at this march. I thought this would be a great place to come and be with people and to march for the people that have the smallest voice in this country.”

    The march was part of the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign (PPEHRC), an effort by over 100 groups from across the nation to call attention to poverty as a human rights violation.

    Tim Dowlin, an eight year organizer with the Kensington Welfare Rights Union, a major sponsor of the march and a member of the PPEHRC, said the goal of the coalition is to “unify as many grassroots anti-poverty organizations as possible, so we can build an organized mass movement that can act together doing everything from educational activities like reality tours to marches and even direct actions, such as abandoned housing takeovers and welfare office sit-ins.”

    Another group in attendance was the Immokalee Migrant Agricultural Workers, who are undocumented immigrants largely from Mexico and Central America. They have been struggling for years against low wages and exploitative labor conditions in the tomato fields of Immokalee, Florida.

    Immokalee worker Gerardo Reyes Chavez, 25, said: “We’re all in the same struggle as we’re all poor people. Maybe it’s harder for us people who don’t have papers in the fields, but the small differences don’t matter because if we all come here together and are united, we’ll all be stronger.”

    After the rally, a procession started to assemble at one of the corners of the small park. A number of elderly people, three of them in wheel chairs, and several baby strollers with toddlers squirming in excited anticipation led the procession behind a banner reading “March for Our Lives, Stop the War at Home.”

    One of the elderly people at the front of the march was Barbara Moore, who traveled all the way from Chicago to attend the protest. Asked why she was willing to risk arrest by participating in a non-permitted march, Moore simply responded from her wheel chair, “Well, we need more low-income and public housing, so I’m here to support that!”

    When the procession edged out of the park, heading west, the police simply moved out of the way and even escorted the un-permitted demonstration, taking out two lanes of traffic for the demonstration.

    Police Sergeant Codiglia, a commander from the Manhattan South Borough Patrol, was on hand to explain the decision. “Sometimes you just have to be a human being first, and you just have to do the right thing and common sense prevails,” Codiglia said. He added, “The fact that they were obviously going to do a peaceful march led to the decision, you have to take all of these un-permitted marches on a case-by-case basis and this was the appropriate call to make for this demonstration.”

    As the crowd slowly moved down 2nd Avenue, protesters boisterously shouted, “Money for housing, not for war” while police flanked the march with an exaggerated presence including dozens of scooters manned by officers and many police vans behind the march.

    Jeremy Flannery, a writer from Ohio, said he felt that the police presence at the march seemed “like a takeover.” Flannery said: “I have never seen police with M-16s before. That’s pretty damn scary that they feel the need for that.”

    The march continued down 2nd Avenue all the way from 47th street to 23rd street, finally turning west toward the convention center. From the time that the un-permitted march received the go-ahead from the police as well as being escorted by them, few expected a confrontation to occur.

    However, as the march started veering north toward the Convention center, the police suddenly divided the demonstration into two as undercover officers on scooters and motorcycles drove right into the middle of the protest. Chaos ensued as people attempted to jump over police barricades. There were eyewitness reports of injuries and an unknown number of people were arrested. Details were sketchy at press time.

    Click here for more articles by Dangl

    © 2004 The NewStandard. See reprint policy.