by Ted Manna
American Reporter Correspondent
January 25, 2008
FREE SPEECH REBELS READY TO ROCK IN DENVER AT 2008 DNC
DENVER, Jan. 25, 2008 -- "Anyone here from the Police Department, FBI, Homeland Security, Secret Service or any other law enforcement organization?"
A naive question, perhaps. A hundred years ago, miners holding a protest meeting in Trinidad, Colo., would have known who the police, informers, or company enforcers were. They were the ones who were better fed, whose kids had shoes, whose wives probably had bacon for the frying pan. The men from the Ludlow Mine had good cause to worry.
Are similar fears justified today?
Organizers at ReCreate '68, a coalition of free-speech advocates including the ACLU and the National Lawyers Guild, just assume they are being watched and try to protect themselves from prying eyes the best they can, hence the admonition at the start of their Community Consulata last week. Although they allowed the American Reporter to stay, they forbid cameras.
The wild, wild West was both forged and tamed with violence. The turn-of-the-century coal miners in the Southern Colorado mining town of Trinidad wanted to be heard. too, but the price they paid was legendary. Even today, the memory of the bloodshed resonates among those who learned of it in school or read about in the newspapers.
Mine owner John D. Rockefeller persuaded the President and Colorado's governor to send in the militia to "maintain order." On April, 20, 1914, he got the Ludlow Massacre. Eleven children and two women burned to death when the National Guard torched the strikers' tent city. Machine guns cut down five strikers, an 11-year-old boy and an 18-year-old passerby in a drama that makes the current film "There Will Be Blood" look positively idyllic.
But this year, convention protestors fear for the worst, perhaps without the bloodshed but with all the tactics of intiomidation just short of it. They remember wire cages in Boston and "Little Gitmo" in New York City, and the trampling of protestors by mounted officers in Los Angeles in 2000. Host cities have been coughing up blood, too, in the form of large settlements paid out to litigious protestors injured by police.
The City of Los Angeles paid out $5,000,000 to protestors hurt at the Democratic National Cobnvention in 2000. In Boston in 29004, te security bill alone was $28 million, and the city had to wait two years to get repaid by Congress; New York City was promised $50 million but ended up with tens of millions more when Congress raised the appropriation after the fact.
A record 1,800 protestors were arrested in New York, and police paid out more than $230,000 in contempt fines for refusing to release some of them, and at least $611,000 in brutality claims. Early this month, at least $25,000 each went to the National Association of Arab Americans and the anti-war ANSWER Coalition, who sued after the city's refusal to grant them a 2004 convention-week rally permit for Central Park's Great Lawn. Some 80 New York lawsuits that could be far more costly are still pending, and some $690,000 has been paid out so far.
"If the Denver effort costs the full $50 million [Congress has appropriated], it would mean a 27.3 percent increase in next year's $183 million police and 911 budget simply to secure the city for that one week," Denver Post political writer Chuck Plunkeett wrote last September.
The Saturday afternoon protest meeting at the Four Winds, a Native American Crisis Center based in a historic former church in the shadow of downtown Denver, made this "boomer" proud. Young people, a smattering of older citizens, came from all parts of the country and world, still willing to make their voices heard.
Scared but deadly serious about getting their message out during the high-profile Aug. 25-28 Democratic National Convention, when, as they love to say, "the whole world is watching." There is a palpable, pervasive belief that, indeed, there will be blood. The Denver Police Department is not known for its restraint.
"I still have a scar from when a Denver sheriff elbowed me in the nose during our last demonstration," fumed Glen Spagnuolo, head of R-68's organizing committee. "Then they kept me in a cell for 36 hours on a misdemeanor charge usually bonded out in two hours."
They believe the city and the DNC only pay lip service to the concept of free speech. They believe the authorities will do anything to present a favorable impression to the world. They believe they will have to forcefully defend themselves against police violence. They know they will need legal representation after arrests.
Tuesday's City Council meeting didn't help. After winning some concessions from the city regarding permitting for parades and use of city venues during "extraordinary events" like the DNC, R-'68 failed to persuade the city that freedom of speech is more important than granting precedence to competing claims for space for the popular "Taste of Colorado" event, scheduled to start the day after the convention.
Protest organizers say that last year's not-so-gentle mass arrests and incarcerations during the Columbus Day Parade were a tune up for dealing with demonstrators during this year's Convention, claiming deputies were told by Mayor John Hickenlooper to "teach the demonstrators a lesson," they said.
The city council last August shelved a vote on a "proclamation" supporting free speech and prohibiting police brutality toward demonstrators; some say it bowed to pressure from DNC officials.
The rumor persists that DNC Host Committee Pres. Elbra Wedgeworth, a former councilwoman, persuaded council members that passing that proclamation, modeled after similar documents adopted by New York City and Boston for their conventions, would hamstring her efforts to raise the cash to pay for the big show.
"We didn't need any persuading," scoffed City Councilman Charlie Brown. "It was advocated by 'lefties' mouthing off about their first Amendment rights. They wanted to tell the police force how to control crowds.
"They can use our parks to trash our country, but they can't trash our parks. They have to behave."
Councilman Rick Garcia, a delegate to both the 2004 Boston and 2000 Los Angeles Democratic conventions, plans to re-introduce the proclamation resolution with different wording this year. "[DNC Host Committee CEO] Mike Dino said there was no concern about that proclamation. He assured us there was no indication of any impact on convention funds.
"Don't believe we are not walking the walk. The city has conceded significantly. Folks can safely protest and assemble during one of the biggest global events ever."
Mark Cohen, a 62-year-old political science professor and one of R-"68's founders, claims the city and the DNC have been disingenuous when it comes to information about security arrangements during the convention, expected to bring 35,000 delegates and a $160 million boost to the economy, according to DNC press releases. He points to numerous instances where the official line is at odds with actual intentions.
"They say they want Denver to be a model city for First Amendment rights," Cohen pointed out. "But then they don't vote on that proclamation. The city attorney's office sent a letter to the ACLU making sure we understood that the city has the final say on demonstrations.
"They say they don't know where the exclusion zone will be, yet Leah Daughtry ( DNC CEO) said at the media walk-through last November that parking would be available at Auraria College campus, which she said will be out of the zone. How does she know?"
R-'68 will sue if the city denies them a permit. More than that, Spagnuolo shrugs his shoulders. "Any violence will be from the Denver Police."
The worst example of our own government's reaction to protest occurred 40 years ago at the Democratic Convention in Chicago, widely accepted as a "police riot." A sadistic level of violence was perpetrated on mostly young, white students and bystanders alike, as millions of the "silent majority" watched in horror, doomed the Democratic Party and paved the way for the emergence of the conservative right.
The right to strike in Colorado was paid in blood. The price to protest in Denver?
"We are going to find out," Spagnuolo promised.