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(en) US, Media, Putting NYC On the Map, Direct Action Groups Bring Tactic to RNC

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Tue, 4 May 2004 06:16:07 +0200 (CEST)


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Direct Action groups, building on the experiences of the WTO protests
in Seattle in 1999 and last year's anti-war actions in the San
Francisco Bay Area, are gearing up to let Republicans know they are not
welcome to celebrate their agenda in NYC this summer. So, the upcoming
Republican National Convention is not about the Republicans, say Mayor
Bloomberg and Ed Koch, whom Bloomberg picked recently to be the public
face of the convention. It's about celebrating New York, they insist.
Try telling that to the hundreds of direct action protesters – not
to mention the hundreds of thousands of more conventional activists
– who plan to flood the city starting Aug. 30.

“That’s a bunch of bullshit,” says Jamie Moran, a member of the New
York City-based direct action group rncnotwelcome.org. Moran and
other direct action protesters have been working for over a year to
make it abundantly clear, actually, that the convention is about the
Republicans and their agenda.

“If you really want to make a difference, you have to be out in the
street, being vocal, putting your body on the line,” says Eric
Laursen, a member of the New York City-based M27 Coalition, a direct
action group.

While those involved in direct action aren’t saying much about
specific plans for when President Bush, Tom Delay and Rick Santorum
are in midtown, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to realize
they aren’t going to go gentle into that good night.

If past actions are any indication, New Yorkers can expect to see
people sitting down in the middle of the street, blocking corporate
entrances or bridges or making the lives of visiting Republican
delegates a living hell.
As opposed to traditional protest marches or rallies, where
organizers obtain permits and coordinate with police, direct action
has its roots in anarchy and the idea of bringing about change by
instigating it yourself.

“You’re actually putting your foot in the door, saying we won’t
allow you to do this,” Laursen explains. “For example, actually
stopping the World Trade Organization meetings in Seattle a few
years ago.”

David Solnit, a member of the San Francisco-based Direct Action to
Stop the War, which plans to brings hundreds of people east to
protest the convention, says it’s “one of the most important
demonstrations ever. The entire planet is desperate to get George
Bush out of office.” The week of the convention, Solnit says, will
be “a mass confrontation between the American people and their
government.”

New York’s finest, of course, have a quick answer to that kind of
thinking. “Arrest ‘em. It’s simple,” says Paul Browne, the NYPD’s
deputy commissioner for public information. “They’re not going to be
able to do that in New York.”

Browne says that the department is prepared with specially trained
“arrest teams” to “isolate people who are breaking the law to allow
the rest of the demonstration to continue.”

While the legacy of Seattle lingers, direct actions in San Francisco
and Oakland, California last year might give a better indication of
what to expect this summer.

In response to the Iraq war, parts of San Francisco were shut down
last March when several groups of activists simultaneously sat down
in the street. Traffic snarled citywide and thousands of people
could not get to work; over two thousand people were arrested. A few
weeks later in Oakland, police shot rubber and wooden bullets at
peaceful direct action protesters and bystanders trying to block the
entrances to two shipping companies with ties to the war in Iraq.
Dozens were injured, and class action lawsuits have been filed. Both
cases received national media coverage and left direct action
activists emboldened.

New York, they say, is next.

“We want to put New York on the map,” Moran says. He stresses that
coordinating information for visiting protest groups is a major
function of rncnotwelcome.org. But like many New Yorkers he doesn’t
like the idea of President Bush’s agenda being celebrated here.

One way of getting that across, Moran says, is to “birddog”
delegates – where activists follow delegates throughout the city. Or
as Moran puts it, “making the stay for the delegate as uncomfortable
as possible.” To this end, rncnotwelcome.org has posted hotel
addresses on its website where delegates will stay.

The NYPD’s Browne says it's hard to comment on "birddogging" without
a speicific example. But he says the department’s size – 36,000
uniformed officers – and resources are up to the challenge. “We do
training all the time. We’ve seen what happened in other cities
where police were not prepared.”

Yet things could get complicated for the department if protesters
not associated with direct action groups decided to follow their
lead. That’s what happened in San Francisco last year, according to
Solnit. “A bunch of us organized some things, but it was really
20,000 Bay Area residents who said [the war in Iraq] was not okay.”

Perhaps more than anything, direct action protesters simply want
their concerns heard, and they’re not willing to take the normal
route of using marches on Fifth Avenue to air their views. Direct
action is an old tactic, they point out, spanning events such as the
Boston Tea Party, Gandhi’s 1930 salt march in India and the US civil
rights struggle.

“I would like people to know that there is a movement out there
rising up against the current establishment,” says Jim Macdonald, an
activist with the Washington D.C.-based DC Antiwar Network, who
plans to be in New York for the convention.

Macdonald says it’s important for the direct action movement to
conduct itself in ways that are not contradictory to the message.
Attacking a police officer is not their message. But “if you’re
blocking a bridge or causing some economic damage as Martin Luther
King did, I don’t see anything wrong with that.”

He admits, though, that it’s hard to keep different groups in line.
These are anarchists, after all, and pictures of masked men
destroying a Starbucks are not easy to forget.

The goal in New York this year, though, is concrete: letting the
Republicans know they can’t just waltz into midtown without
opposition. “There’s going to be a whole diversity of tactics and
we’re hoping the realm of possibilities is as wide as possible,”
says Shawn Ewald, a member of rncnotwelcome.org.

“If half a million people came here and marched and no one noticed,
that would be vastly more damaging than a few broken windows,” he
says.


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