By JOANNA BAKER and MICHAEL SCHWARTZ
LOS ANGELES-According to the mainstream media, the recent protests in Los Angeles were mainly a battle between the police and violent “anarchists.” They set it up to make the people of L.A. feel like there were only two sides you could be on; you could be with the police who were there to protect the good citizens, or with the “anarchists” who wanted to destroy everything in their path.
They projected the recent protests in L.A. as simply the latest stop on a tour of radicals who have already visited Seattle, Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia.
But the media is not telling you the whole story. They do not explain why tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets; they just give updates as to the number of people arrested or the number of windows broken.
Make no mistake about it; a radicalization is occurring in this nation. Mass demonstrations have been occurring more often than you are being told. Tens of thousands have participated in demonstrations calling for the release of Mumia Abu-Jamal. Thousands of people have demonstrated against police brutality across the country-especially in New York, after the police murdered at least two innocent, unarmed citizens.
We have also seen sizable demonstrations against U.S. intervention in Iraq and more recently, in Yugoslavia. Even in L.A., which is not known for protests, thousands of janitors went on strike in April to expose their unjust working conditions and to demand a better wage so they could support their families. The point is, if you are feeling isolated in your discontent with the present system, you are not alone.
Long before the Democratic National Convention (DNC) began, the media was already slandering the protesters. The mayor of Los Angeles went on TV to tell people that “private property would be defended” and so would the “good people of L.A.”
In special news segments, protesters were being compared to “rioters,” and “an angry mob.” Reporters discussed what the police would do in the event of “chaos,” and they informed the public that they would “drench the troublemakers.” These reports were a clear attempt to create a climate of division and fear in order to diminish the number of people at the protests.
In order to “save” the city from the protesters, downtown L.A. was turned into a militarized zone. Stores were boarded up, army blackhawk helicopters flew overhead, thousands of LAPD in full riot gear lined the streets, and over 3000 National Guard troops were waiting in reserve.
The protesters were given an area to protest in across the street from the Staples Center, where the convention was to be held. The “protest pit”, as it was called, was a giant parking lot that was completely fortified on all sides. There were barbed wire fences over 20 feet high, concrete barricades, and hundreds of LAPD officers with all sorts of weapons waiting on the other side of the fences. This was the reality of our so-called “democracy.”
In the streets you could always find police guarding the property of some large corporation. This was an invaluable education for those who still wonder exactly who the police “protect and serve.”
The protests at the DNC started on Aug. 13 with a demonstration and march for Mumia Abu-Jamal, which was endorsed by Socialist Action. (See the story beginning on page 1.)
The Mumia action illustrated how crucial it is to have a peaceful mass demonstration rather than a small civil disobedience action. For example, as hard as they tried, the media could not avoid talking about Mumia. Since there was no violence, and no arrests, they were forced to tell the public the reason behind the demonstration.
Millions of people in Los Angeles who may have never heard of Mumia now know that thousands of people were willing to demonstrate in 95 degree heat for his release. The protest succeeded in putting a little doubt in their heads as to whether Mumia is guilty or not. This will make it even harder for those who wish to kill him to succeed with their plans. That is a victory for us, and for Mumia.
Police attack rally/concert
Monday, Aug. 14 was the first official day of the Democratic Party Convention as well as the beginning of police violence. Monday night was the most violent situation protesters faced, and also a clear representation of what the police are willing to do to people engaged in their right to assemble.
At 4 p.m., people gathered at Pershing Square and marched to the protest area in a demonstration against globalization. Over 10,000 people gathered near the Staples Center, hoping to hear a concert by Rage Against the Machine, some speakers, and then another concert by Ozomatli.
Accordingly, after the Rage concert, a few speakers addressed the crowd, including Delores Huerta of the United Farm Workers. In her speech, Huerta-a Democratic Party supporter-told the crowd that what they need is a “political revolution.” What they have to do, she said, is “register to vote” and “run for office.” Her message was not received warmly. The people there did not seem to believe that registering to vote would be the solution to their discontent.
Though the rally organizers had hoped for a peaceful gathering, the night did not go as planned. As people were dancing to the tunes of Ozomatli, they were halted abruptly by the voice of a police officer, who informed everyone that this had become an “illegal, unlawful assembly” and that everyone who did not clear the area within 15 minutes would be arrested.
Most of the people there did not have any idea why the march was declared illegal. It was not until later that night when we were watching the “news” that they told us, “a few protesters were throwing bottles and concrete blocks at the police.”
First of all, it is hard to imagine how someone besides Hulk Hogan could throw a concrete block over a fence that is 20 feet high. Second, it is hard to understand why, even if that were true, it would be a legitimate excuse for the police to attack 10,000 peaceful protesters.
In the confusion most people tried to leave since they were not looking for a confrontation with the police. Nevertheless, just as the police had threatened, at 8:15 p.m., they charged into the crowd on horses and began shooting rubber bullets indiscriminately and frantically into the fleeing protesters.
The police claim that they gave plenty of warning. They said that “those who wanted to leave had the chance to do so and those who wanted to stay also had the chance to do so.”
What the police and the mass media didn’t tell you was that the police had blocked off one of only two exits out of the protest pit. So, over 10,000 people were forced to try to escape through one narrow exit.
The authorities were also “kind” enough to close down the two metro stations nearest to the Staples Center. Thousands of people who had used public transportation to get to the rally had to walk up the streets past rampaging cops to the first open station, which was one mile away, back at Pershing Square.
Was it just a coincidence that the delegates from the convention were leaving around 8:30 that night?
Protest against police brutality
Tuesday’s protests were dominated by two marches. One was a civil rights march for women, gays, lesbians, and people with disabilities. The other was a protest for bicycle riders. During that march the police arrested over 40 protesters.
The people who were arrested were booked on a misdemeanor charge of obstructing the flow of traffic. This is ironic since the police had helped close down traffic for the protesters. They were then held in jail from Tuesday night until Thursday morning.
Twenty-five women who were arrested were kept in one cell for 18 hours. These harsh measures taken against people charged only with misdemeanors recalled the brutality used by the Philadelphia police just a few weeks prior. There, during the Republican Convention, some protesters who were in jail for misdemeanors faced beatings, humiliation, and bails set as high as $1 million.
On Wednesday, a huge protest took place against police brutality and the death penalty. Not surprisingly, there was a strong police presence at this march. The protesters first marched to a police station and then tried to march to the protest area. When they arrived they were told that their permit was invalid for their gathering.
The police cut off the protesters in the middle and attempted to keep them separated. However, the protesters regrouped and most of them marched back to Pershing Square. They held a spontaneous rally there; many different protesters were able to speak on an open microphone. The police attempts to intimidate these protesters and discourage them from gathering failed.
March through garment district
“The workers united will never be defeated,” was the chant of protesters on Thursday afternoon as they made their way through the garment district in Los Angeles. At about 4 p.m., thousands gathered on the corner of 8th and Santee St. to demand amnesty and better treatment for immigrants, as well as to demand a living wage for all workers.
This protest brought together thousands of workers, most of whom were super-exploited sweatshop laborers, who called for better working conditions, unionization, and higher wages.
The garment district is lined with factories, which look like old abandoned buildings. This area is only blocks away from the corporate skyscrapers that make up the Los Angeles skyline. The workers who filled the garment factories heard the protesters’ chants as they marched by. Every time they passed by a building, workers would squeeze out of the windows to clap, wave flags, and cheer them on.
These workers showed nothing but solidarity with the protesters. Those in the streets waved back, and called for the workers to come and join them, in order to demonstrate that all workers share a common struggle.
Though the march was focused mainly on the experiences of immigrant workers, the crowd was pleasantly sprinkled with laborers from all different fields and from many different unions. Some of the workers present were with the United Teachers of Los Angeles, university TAs who are affiliated with the United Auto Workers, workers from the Service Employees International Union, and even a man in the Graphic Communications International Union who came all the way from San Diego to show his support.
These workers were clearly aware of their common class position in society. They realized that in order to create change, and to make a better life for all workers, they cannot be divided by racial or gender lines.
The march proceeded to the protest site near the Staples Center and when the demonstrators arrived, they listened to a variety of speakers. They were then treated to another free concert; this one put on by Michael Franti. While Al Gore was giving his acceptance speech, thousands of people were gathered outside serving notice that this system does not represent their interests.
After the concert, the protesters agreed to march several miles to the “twin towers” county jail. Over 180 protesters had been arrested on previous days, and everyone wanted to show their support and solidarity with their brothers and sisters behind bars. They even organized their own security before they left the protest area. Over 100 people volunteered to help make sure it was a peaceful march.
Thousands of people then proceeded to walk down to the county jail. During the march we witnessed one person trying to start a fire in a trashcan. Immediately, people came over with bottles of water and extinguished the fire before it could grow. This illustrated that the majority of protesters wanted to keep the peace.
The first action at the jail was a moment of silence for the protesters locked up inside. After that there were a few speeches given, including one by a young man whose brother had recently been murdered by police officers.
When everyone was ready to leave, the police tried to provoke them in order to have an excuse to use violence. They surrounded the demonstrators and for almost an hour refused to let anyone leave or to answer any questions. A National Lawyer’s Guild representative rightfully called this act “passive provocation.”
But all the protesters remained calm. Some started chants of “set us free” and “let us go.” Finally, with no justification to keep the protesters encircled, the police had no choice but to let everyone go home. This was the last protest and it seemed the police were disappointed that they lost their chance to test out more of the weapons in their arsenal.
Neither Gore nor Nader
The Mumia demonstration on Sunday was the only event endorsed by Socialist Action. The demands of most of the other events were flawed at their core since they were centered upon reforming the system and holding Democratic and Republican politicians “accountable.”
Nevertheless, the fact that so many people turned out to protest the capitalist party that claims to represent “working families” and the “underprivileged” shows great potential.
Unfortunately, many of the principal leaders of the D2KLA coalition, who were the main organizers of the protests, assert that voting for Ralph Nader is the answer. They predict that even though he will not win the election, his campaign will “put pressure on the Democratic Party” to be more in tune with people’s needs.
This perspective was outlined by Nader himself, speaking on ABC-TV on Aug. 20: “What we want to try to do in this election and for after the election is make sure the Democratic party never again says to the soul of its party, the progressive voters, that they got nowhere to go.”
But the Democratic Party, as a capitalist party, has never represented the interests of “progressive voters” or of the working class as a whole.
The main L.A. protest organizers also believe that if someone like Nader became president, we could have a kinder, gentler society under capitalism. For example, the Direct Action Network, one of the major organizing groups, says on their website that they believe in “corporate accountability.”
But though Ralph Nader may desire more social programs that address some of the worse aspects of capitalism, he does not want to change the current system fundamentally in order to end wage slavery and implement real workers’ democracy.
The movement that is growing in this country cannot allow itself to be co-opted by the Democratic Party, the Green Party, or any party that tries to convince the exploited people of the world that their answer lies in some form of capitalism. This movement needs to be led in the right direction, and must not be willing to settle for a few crumbs.
It has been proven throughout history that the only way to achieve real change is not to ask the capitalists for a handout but to mobilize mass actions in the streets and workplaces.
The needs of the workers would be served in a real working-class party, one that is based on their unions and born out of the struggles of working people and the oppressed. It is this power that the ruling class is afraid of, and it is this power that the working class holds.