by Farheen Hakeem
It’s never been quite like this before.
There have been protests at political conventions before, even tens of thousands of protesters. But never before has the re-nomination of a sitting president been expected to draw more than one million Americans, as the Republican National Convention is expected to at the end of this month.
is appropriate, since this administration has broken new ground in many ways.
Never before has a president taken power under such controversial circumstances.
Never before has there been an inauguration in which a president had to forgo
the walk to the White House because protesters were pelting his limousine with
eggs. And never before has a president and vice president, when campaigning
heavily in a populous swing state like Minnesota, been forced to run a stealth
campaign, sneaking in and out quickly before word gets out that they have been
But Bush and vice president Dick Cheney are doing just that, having learned
not to let word spread through the Twin Cities that they are coming. Their recent
visits were announced only a day or two before the events themselves, instead
of the months of buildup expected from a visit from a national leader. Bush
and Cheney’s quick appearances accord them an opportunity to raise funds
and gives the media a chance to publicize the visits, but allows little time
for protesters to mobilize.
is not hasty planning. This is savvy planning. Tens of thousands of Minnesotans
protested the war, and even on a few hours notice, hundreds show up to protest
Bush and Cheney’s visits. Bush has been “un-welcomed” around
the world, wherever he goes, yet Minnesotans intimidate his staff.
“The Republican Party is a party for war and I want to protest their foreign
policy,” said Anh Pham of the 20-member Anti-War Committee. “The
so-called president stole the election, and he should not be ‘re-elected’
for a position he never was elected in the first place.”
Pham’s group is one of dozens that have organized, with volunteer energy
and little budget, massive peace demonstrations in the Twin Cities. They have
mobilized impromptu protests when Bush or a member of his administration comes
to town, until the most powerful leader in the world must work to avoid them.
Now, they are organizing buses to transport Minnesotans to the Republican National
Convention. If Bush will not come to them, they will go to him.
Republican convention has already earned a place in history for another reason,
its time and location: New York City, right before the anniversary of the September
“The original plan was to have the convention end on September 11, when
Bush would be nominated again,” said Cherrune Horazuk, a former New Yorker
who will attend the rallies there.
Horazuk believes New Yorkers are more likely to support the demonstrators than
the Republicans, since she said New Yorkers felt the impact of Republican policies
on September 11.
“If we continue (with Bush’s policies), there will be more retaliation
and attacks,” she said. “It will not be the military, but the people
that will be hurt.”
Erika Zurawski of the Anti-War Committee said a convention around Sept. 11 would
give Bush a political boost.
“It would remind people that the U.S is in supposed constant danger,”
she said. “The only way Bush is able to forward his policies on terror
is making the American public believe they are in constant danger of another
terrorist attack,” she said.
teacher Zeno Wood of Brooklyn said the administration wants to hold the convention
on September 11 in order to give the impression that Republicans are “honoring”
firefighters and police officers. The reality, according to Wood, is that officers
and firefighters are trying to get a contract with the city to get a pay raise,
benefits, pensions and healthcare.
“Most fire fighters and cops don’t make enough to live in New York
City,” Wood said. “They have been negotiating for two years, and
the city is trying to throw out these benefits that have been in effect for
the last 106 years.”
“They are shutting down firehouses because there is not enough money to
keep them open,” Wood said. “Yet the cost to the city for the RNC
is going to be outrageous. The Bush administration promised money to the city
of New York for prevention of terrorist attacks. But the city is not getting
more money, while we are more likely to get another attack.”
He adds that New Yorkers are looking forward to the protests, not to the convention.
“[The convention] will be a huge inconvenience to deal with traffic, checkpoints,
searches, and a slower commute,” Wood said. “More and more streets
will be shut down, S.W.A.T. teams will be in the subways, and it will make it
harder and harder for people to use public transportation.”
like New Yorkers, fear that increased police repression could create an atmosphere
of fear and chaos in the city. New York Police have already issued warnings
about an “Anarchy Threat to the City,” according to a police memo
quoted in the Daily News.
“In fact, we don’t know what the New York officials have planned,”
states Jared Cruz, another member of the Anti-War Committee. “We do know
what our rights are and that we are not going to be scared away from protesting.
That being said, we don’t expect anything like mass arrests or large-scale
police abuse in New York. In general, to this point, we have seen that the government
has not engaged in those kinds of tactics against the large anti-war demonstrations.
However, scare tactics are being used. Control tactics are being used. They
just won’t succeed.”
“The whole raising of the terror alert is ridiculous,” Horazuk said.
“It is raising a scenario for the more police repression.” He adds
that the boosted terror alert gave local police an excuse to not grant protesters
The National Council of Arab Americans (NCA) and other groups are filing a major
lawsuit in Federal District Court in New York City to support the right of assembly
in Central Park for all those who are expressing political opposition in the
days before and during the Republican National Convention.
have a right to speak out for their views anywhere, no less so because a big
money political party is in town,” Cruz said. “We don’t have
to get permission to do so either. There is no justification for taking away
the right to protest in these circumstances or any other.”
Cruz believed the city is trying to discourage people from demonstrating by
rejecting permits, proposing protest locations far away from the Republican
Convention, threatening to use barbed-wire “free speech zones” and
bringing in thousands of heavily armed and shielded “riot” police.
Other New York residents have been instructed to avoid the convention. According
to the New York Times, the management of a large housing co-op that is home
to many retired union activists is warning them to stock up on extra food and
water and stay inside during the Republican National Convention, advice that
some residents find disturbing and inappropriate. Memos placed at the doors
of the 2,820 apartments suggest that residents, most of whom are elderly, carry
identification at all times, skip deliveries during the convention, and “if
you must,” gives tips on where to exit the building.
Many antiwar activists do not predict violence or danger, and according to Mike
Whalen of Arise Bookstore, there is an easy way to avoid the potential of police
an open convention, and not put demonstrators out,” he said. “Let’s
have delegates walk through the protestors so that they can see others’
According to Horazuk, New Yorkers have had protests in the city for years on
various issues, and will not be affected by protesters. They will be affected
by the RNC, however, she says, “The continued tactics to create fear so
that they can take away our civil rights.”
Americans’ anger at Bush does not stem solely from the federal government’s
invasion of Iraq. Angel Buechner of the Welfare Rights Committee will rally
outside the convention because “it is important that people state their
political situation, not just about dumping Bush, but about right-wing politics
… it is good to voice the opinion of the urban poor.”
are losing our own freedom for a war in the name of freedom,” Marie Milsten
Fieder, vice president of local AFSCME 3800. She is also upset about the former
budget surplus, which was “destroyed for the war, and now we have the
same deficit we had nine years ago, all from Republicans.”
Debra Schlekewy, another member of the Anti-War Committee, states there are
many issues that people are upset about such as the environment, economy, foreign
policy and military spending. Jay Pond, Green Party candidate for U.S. Fifth
Congressional District of Minnesota, will take the bus to the convention to
promote a platform of wind energy, single payer health care and the creation
of a Department of Peace.
“The value of protesting is that unlike the Republicans and the multinationals,
we do not have a stake in the media,” said Pham. “And so, we do
not have the opportunity to make our voices heard unless we join in protest.
We have to get thousands of people together just to get recognized.”
cites the February 15, 2003 peace protest in Minneapolis as an example of biased
media coverage. The rally drew more than 10,000 Americans and blocked traffic
in downtown Minneapolis, yet the Star Tribune carried only a small article,
with no photos, deep inside the paper the next day. By contrast, the similarly-sized
pro-war rally, organized by the Clear Channel corporation, was given two pages
and several photos.
Many of the organizers of the convention protest are proud that so many Midwesterners
are taking part. Standefer said that New Yorkers are already strongly opposed
to current U.S. government policy, but “will be impressed that so many
of us have taken a 24-hour bus ride to be there.”
If New Yorkers are surprised, it may be because the peace movement has been
stereotyped as a movement of urban “blue states” opposing the Bush-supporting
“red states.” Welfare Rights Committee member Kim Defranco believes
this is false, and said she observed very different reactions in “red
“I was vacationing and visited some family members in working-class Canton,
Ohio, where 200,000 jobs at the Tempkin Corporation were lost after the Bush
had been elected,” she said. “Many of the people there were angry
that Bush did not do anything to stop the outsourcing of jobs. Bush had been
there to speak, and there were 200-300 protesters outside.”
were shouting ‘Shame on you’ and ‘Where are the veterans benefits?’”
to departing Republicans, Defranco said. “People felt that they were mislead
by the Bush Administration, and some shouted, ‘Have more babies, Bush
needs more soldiers!’”
impressive the protesters’ commitment, even some sympathetic people will
ask what purpose the protest serves. Horazuk said the turnout is not to influence
the delegates to the convention, but the rest of the world, seeing or hearing
about it on the news.
“I think it is critical to participate in the Republican National Convention
protest because people of the world are watching,” she said. “People
need to know that we as Americans, do not support Bush and his administration.”
Nor do the Americans leaving for New York believe they can solve our problems
merely by changing presidents. Standefer expresses interests of protesting the
presidential inauguration, regardless of who becomes president.
“Even if Kerry gets it [elected], it does not matter, the struggle will
be the same,” she said. “Sooner or later, we are going to have to
get on a bus no matter who is president, or stand on the corner and pass out
Nonetheless, every effort must start somewhere, and ousting Bush is a good start,
said Meredith Aby of the Anti-War Committee.
“It is crucial that as many people as possible say ‘no’ to
George W. Bush’s policies,” she said. “This will send a message
to both parties and the world that we expect a leader to make the world better,
rather than destroy it.” ||
For more information about the Republican NationConvention Protest, check
out the following websites:
The Anti-War Committee plans to leave Spirit of the Lakes Church
Saturday, August 28 at 8 a.m., protest all day Sunday, August 29th, and
return to the church Monday, August 30th. The Spirit of the Lake Church is located
at 2930 13th Ave S. in Minneapolis. If you are interested in participating in
this event, call the Anti-War Committee at 612-379-3899 or e-mail them at email@example.com.
The journey costs $145, and partial scholarships are available.