Convention Confrontation 2
In the Streets of Los Angeles
By Larry Everest
Revolutionary Worker #1068, August 27, 2000
The Democratic National Convention (DNC) in Los Angeles is over. And the people have shown so much heart, and so much righteous struggle has gone down, it's hard to know where to begin. The biggest battle of the week was the Rage Against the Machine/Ozomatli concert on Monday, August 14. Thousands of protesters mixed with thousands of Rage and Ozo fans, creating a beautiful festival of resistance that was brutally attacked and dispersed by the LAPD. But you could also start with 4,000 people setting things off on Sunday with a diverse and determined march focused on the demand to stop the execution of revolutionary journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal. And then there was the youth's response to the LAPD assault on the Monday concert-a powerful march on Wednesday against police brutality, where 3,500 fiercely took the streets, confronting and defying the LAPD all along the way.
The point is that for five days running, thousands of people-from college students from as far away as Maine and New Hampshire to proletarians from South Central and Pico Union-fought an inspiring battle. A battle full of imagination and heart, of determination and courage, for a brighter future and a better world. And they fought in the face of-and in defiance of-an ugly, massive and nonstop effort to intimidate, confine and suppress them by the media, politicians, and especially the armed forces of the state. There were confrontations with the police-big and small-every day.
This week was supposed to be a showcase for the rulers-a showcase for Al Gore's run to head the empire and for the wonders of American democracy in action. The DNC showcased American democracy all right. The so-called "people's representatives" were barricaded inside the Staples Center behind concrete highway dividers and steel chain link fences protected by hundreds of armed cops-while outside, those who dared to protest were clubbed, arrested, pepper-sprayed and shot with rubber bullets. The real show of the week was the growth of the struggle against the rotten system Gore wants to lead.
It was an intense and exhilarating week. It was the kind of week that makes your heart skip beats and brings a lump to your throat. The kind of week when time gets compressed and suddenly a hundred things are happening at once; when you're exhausted, but you want the pace to continue forever. The kind of week when the day-to-day grind of life under imperialism disappears, the system's power cracks, the people take the stage-and suddenly life looks like it could be a whole lot different. And when all was said and done, the people came out one hell of a lot better than the system. But let's get into it.
Sunday: Stop the Execution!
The march on Sunday to stop the execution of Mumia started the week off. No one, including our RW team, knew quite what to expect. The L.A. authorities and police had been yapping all week about how tough they were going to be. The weight of the police on the people in L.A. is always heavy, but this was something else. It seemed like they'd turned downtown L.A., where the protests were scheduled, into an armed camp, like there had just been a military coup. Armed sheriffs were stationed at all the downtown metro stops. Freeway ramps were blocked by highway patrol cars. Everywhere you turned, there were pigs on parade. And I must say, it was a diverse parade. There were pigs in cars, pigs in buses, pigs on bikes, pigs in helicopters, pigs on foot, pigs in vans, and pigs in pick-up trucks.
Even before the protests actually began, the Convergence Center-a four-story building a mile and a half west of downtown in the Pico Union area where many protests were being organized-was threatened. Then during the DNC week, it seemed like everywhere you turned, either a gang of cops was marching by in military formation, a helicopter was overhead, or a siren was wailing in the distance. People were spied on, harassed, and arrested for things like jaywalking. The LAPD sent undercover cops to infiltrate marches and meetings. And everyone knows how much cops hate Mumia and those who defend him.
But when we got to the rally site in Pershing Square, in the heart of downtown L.A., we knew things were going to be good. L.A. was in the midst of a heat wave, but thousands were already gathering for the march and rally organized by the L.A. Coalition to Stop the Execution of Mumia Abu-Jamal. There was breadth, and there was depth. A contingent of mainly Black and Latino youth from the Watts Committee Against Police Brutality was there, carrying their banner-"Watts is in the house 4 Mumia." The Watts Drum Corps pounded out the beat. Anti-globalization protesters, mainly white students, sat throughout the square. Black-clad anarchist youth were there in the hundreds. Refuse & Resist! had a contingent. Relatives of victims of police brutality working with the October 22nd Coalition turned out strong. We talked to people from northern and southern California, Washington, Oregon, Indiana, Colorado, Arizona, Kansas and Texas. And there were many more.
The speakers and performers reflected the growing numbers who are coming forward to stop Mumia's execution and fight for a new trial. Music was provided by East L.A. Sabor Factory, a group of Latino students; Atzlan Underground; and Leon Mobley. The dozens of speakers included actor Ed Asner, Mumia's son Mazi, Pam Africa of International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia, Mumia's lead attorney Leonard Weinglass, Brian Smith of the October 22nd Coalition, a youth from R&R's Philadelphia Freedom Summer, Jim Lafferty of the National Lawyers Guild, Media Benjamin of the Green Party, and Gloria La Riva of the International Action Center. Mumia sent a statement to the rally, and another was read from C. Clark Kissinger of Refuse and Resist! Joe Veale of the Revolutionary Communist Party gave a powerful and well-received speech, calling on people to "politically turn this whole country upside down and stop them from murdering our brother. History is calling on us to do this. The struggle of the people, for justice and for liberation and revolution is calling on us to do this... Revolutionaries must not be killed for their beliefs! The people must defend them!"
A member of the Youth Are the Future, We Demand a Better World Coalition helped set the tone: "Welcome all the veterans of Seattle, welcome all the veterans of DC, welcome all the youth of Philly, welcome to everybody who came out here today for one reason, and one reason only, to raise our voices to demand a new trial for Mumia Abu-Jamal. Stop the execution!... I want to make a pledge from all of us here with our fists in the air, that we will not let them kill Mumia Abu-Jamal." When we got ready to march, she rallied the crowd: "The youth are coming forward and we will not be intimidated! These are OUR streets!"
The march rolled out, and some 4,000 people filled the streets. This was a march the L.A. power structure vowed would never happen-what they got instead was the biggest Mumia demonstration ever in L.A. The Stolen Lives Wall, with the names of hundreds of those murdered by the police, was mounted on a truck that helped lead the march-and the wall made a big impact all week. The East L.A. Sabor Factory was on another truck, playing the whole way.
But the youth set the pace. The Youth Are the Future, We Demand a Better World contingent had been built up and down the West Coast, and several hundred joined-middle class and proletarian youth, fighters from the Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade, the Youth Student Network of October 22, R&R! and many others. Chants of "Mumia is fearless and so are we! We won't stop until he's free!" shot out. The youth would pause and create space in the march, then rush forward together-and like an ocean tide draw people into the surge. As the day went on, more and more youth had black "Free Mumia" bandannas tied across their faces, sharpening the edge. More chants went up: "Woop! Woop! That's the sound of the police! Ain't no peace until Mumia is released!"
The march was surrounded by hundreds of scowling cops from start to finish-blocking side streets and sidewalks, batons drawn, riot control guns at the ready-but people remained firm, determined, and defiant. The action made a profound impact. The national press was forced to cover it. At the rally outside Staples Center, the Rev. Jesse Jackson put in a surprise appearance and urged the crowd: "Free Mumia! Free all political prisoners! Stop the killing!" Many new youth were brought in contact with the fight to save Mumia. A militant and defiant tone was set for the whole week, and revolutionary politics were definitely in the mix. Five days later you still saw a lot of faces covered with Mumia bandannas.
Monday: "Fuck You, I Won't Do What You Tell Me!"
L.A.-and the "Battle of L.A. 2000" as some were calling it-got even hotter Monday. The day got rolling at 9 a.m. when some 2,000 people marched against Occidental Petroleum's rape of the lands of the indigenous U'wa in Colombia and to highlight the Democratic Party's complicity in the pillage. At one point, the cops attacked and divided the march, which was organized by Rise Up/Direct Action Network L.A. This was just a warm-up for what was to come later.
That afternoon protesters gathered in Pershing Square for a march to the DNC organized by the D2KLA Network. The theme was "human need, not corporate greed," and many had just come from a "tour of corporate shame" organized by Global Exchange, the Rainforest Action Network, and the Fair Trade Network. The RCP and RCYB contingent marched behind the Party flag and a beautiful banner declaring, "We Are Human Beings, We Demand a Better World! We Won't Accept Slavery in Any Form!" There was a contingent organized by the anti-imperialist Filipino group BAYAN. People from Libros Revolución carried a banner saying "Stop Imperialist Globalization" in English and Spanish. A big contingent from the Chicano student organization MEChA was in the march. The demonstration was a multi-colored affair-multi-colored people, multi-colored puppets, multi-colored clothing, and multi-colored attitudes. 7,000 poured into the streets in a festive mood. The evening was cooling off, we were together, and we were heading to hear Rage Against the Machine and Ozomatli.
The merging of bands that have a big following among the masses with anti-establishment demonstrators had the L.A. authorities uptight. There had been a battle to turn Rage's offer to play into reality. When the permit was granted, the LAPD complained that the crowd would be too large. Now the concert was on.
As the demonstration flooded into the protest area in front of the Staples Center, it was like the joining of two mighty rivers, protesters merging with thousands of Rage and Ozo fans already there. An empty city block was now packed-there had to be 15,000 people there. As Hillary and Bill Clinton were preparing to speak inside the Staples Center, the real heart, the real life, and the real action was with the people at the concert, right outside the Center. It was funny, I looked over at Staples, and the convention balcony was lined with people looking into the streets. One woman journalist told me she left the convention for the concert-it was too boring in there.
The whole scene fit. To the north were the gleaming corporate towers of some of the biggest imperialist corporations in the U.S.-Bank of America, Arco, MCI, UNOCAL-which seemed to be silently overseeing their representatives at Staples. To the west, a huge lot was filled with media trailers, satellite dishes, and TV antennae. The machinery of propaganda was in place, ready to beam the capitalist system's spin to the world. And the area reserved for the masses was surrounded on three sides by high chain link fence and on the other by concrete highway dividers. This "free speech" area felt like a big prison exercise yard. You felt trapped. And when the LAPD shut down and attacked the concert, we knew just why they had built it this way.
The LAPD, Democratic Party officials and the rest of the power structure never had any intention of allowing this powerful mix of social forces to come together. No intention of allowing a gathering that could take the whole week's struggle higher. No intention of allowing this concert to go on.
Rage came on at about 6:30, and it was just a great scene. Latino youth from the hard streets of L.A. mixed it up with middle class white people from Orange County and Ventura Beach. People were having a ball-dancing, singing, celebrating the music from the stage and the sweet rhythm of people daring to stand up, the harmony of coming together. Thousands sang along with Rage's "Fuck you, I won't do what you tell me to!"-and everybody knew who "you" was. It was a powerful and exciting mix of people-and something the ruling class was determined to shut down, permit or no permit, from jump. A little after 8, they pulled the plug and declared the whole event illegal.
People were outraged. Signs and a U.S. flag were burned near the fence. People started leaving the scene, but this wasn't enough for the LAPD-their intent was to assault and intimidate people and derail the growing spirit of opposition, the new connections between different sections of the people. As people left the square, we were rushed by police on horses, motorcycles, bikes and on foot, who were pushing and clubbing people. The bang, bang, bang of police shooting rubber bullets echoed through the night, as smoke from the firings obscured street lights. Hundreds were hit or injured-some deeply bruised or bloody from being shot at close range. Others were knocked down or trampled by the horses. Still, people resisted.
Meanwhile, the LAPD used the pretext of a phony "bomb-scare" to shut down the TV satellite link at the Independent Media Center (IMC)-preventing footage of the police assault from being broadcast. All week, the Center was a beehive of alternative print and video journalism-complete with computers, video cameras, fax machines, and a quickly assembled TV studio-some six blocks away from Staples. It had been organized to counter the imperialist media's distortion and censorship of the protests and get out the people's side of the story. But tonight the Free Speech Network's transmission to 4 million viewers and 43 cable access channels across the U.S. was shut down. The FSN replaced their broadcast with the LAPD's "help" line phone number, suggesting viewers call if they wondered what was happening. By the next day the LAPD had gotten so many calls it disconnected the line. The L.A. Free Press reported that this was the first time police have ever shut down a TV broadcast in the U.S. And throughout the week, we heard reports of the LAPD targeting journalists for assault, including some in the mainstream.
As all this was taking place, inside the Staples Center President Clinton was telling the convention and the world that "America is more confident, hopeful and just, more secure and free" than ever. Bourgeois democracy-the dictatorship of the imperialists-was on full display: they're free to brutalize and murder the world over, while the people aren't even allowed to hold a concert-or raise a flag-in protest. Guns and lies, more guns and more lies.
Wednesday: Stepping Up Against the Police Assault
The LAPD assault on the Rage concert was a major attack by the forces of imperialist order, aimed at crushing the spirit of the people and throwing ice cold water on the rest of the week's actions. We had a sense that very night from the way people continued to resist in the face of overwhelming force. Most were shocked and outraged by the LAPD's deliberate brutality. But they weren't giving up. One 16-year-old Latina from South Central told us, "This has been the best day of my life! This is my first demonstration I've ever been to. I have never felt so proud. This is embarrassing 'cause it sounds stupid, but all day long I felt myself starting to cry because my heart was so proud. We were so united-all races, all ages, all beliefs-we were like one. That's why the police attacked us. They can't stand to see that kind of unity, that kind of love. And when the police attacked us, we didn't back down. No one backed down."
The assault unleashed a storm of protest and criticism around the city. A press conference the next day attracted 100 people including dozens of activists who'd been gassed and shot, including people from the Youth Are the Future, We Demand a Better World Coalition, the ACLU, and State Senator Tom Hayden. A statement was read from Ozomatli and the Artists Network. Even Ariana Huffington, who organized a bourgeois "Shadow Convention" in the same building as the Media Center, showed up. It turned out that they too had been threatened with tear gas for the "crime" of trying to continue a panel in the street during the "bomb" scare. The speakers were clear: this was police abuse-not a provocation by protesters-from start to finish.
But the biggest test was Wednesday's march and rally "Against Mass Incarceration, Police Brutality, Death Penalty and to Free All Political Prisoners," which featured a youth march from police headquarters at the Parker Center to Staples organized by the Youth Are the Future, We Demand a Better World Coalition. What would the people do? How would the armed enforcers of oppression respond?
Around noon people gathered in Pershing Square. Relatives of those murdered by the police working with the October 22nd Coalition helped MC the rally, and their testimony set a deep tone for the whole day. Many put their experience in the context of the whole Stolen Lives Project, which has become a powerful weapon for exposing the epidemic of police murder. There were also speakers on behalf of Leonard Peltier, immigrant rights, and Mumia. Slam poet Saul Williams electrified many of the youth with a spoken word performance. Over a thousand people were in the Square, and more were coming as the rally went on.
The LAPD wouldn't let us leave until 2, but it just built our energy, anticipation, and numbers. Right before we left, Xochitl of the Youth Are the Future, We Demand a Better World Coalition took the mike and brought people together-strengthening spirits, determination, and unity for the march. Then at 2, over 2,600 surged into the streets toward Parker Center, filling the streets from curb to curb-2 blocks long and 40 abreast, drumming, shouting, chanting, and fearless in the face of the police state. "No Justice/No peace/No racist police!" People were sick of the LAPD's bullying brutality and it's efforts to pen us in, and wanted to hit back. "Whose streets? Our streets! Whose world? Our world!" 80 or 90% were youth-of all nationalities.
There was a tense scene at the Parker Center-where thousands of demonstrators faced off with hundreds of riot police, batons and rubber-bullet shotguns drawn, on all sides. But the people stood strong, unintimidated. Xochitl roused fighting spirits and set the stage for the youth march to Staples with a revolutionary salute to the courageous fighters in Philly and here in L.A., giving a special shout-out and welcome to the anarchist youth who had been under heavy attack in the press and on the streets all week. She linked the anti-DNC protests to the struggles of people the world over, and called out the cowardly attacks of the pigs. "Is it the Migra's world? Is it the muthafuckin' Democrats' world? Is it all these rich-ass racist corporations' world?... Hell no!
"Do they think they're going to scare us? Do they think we're going to back down? Do they think we're going to be scared and not come out? They're going to bring all their weapons, all their helmets-are we going to back down? Hell no! This is going to be an organized march. They say that this generation can't be organized. But we're going to have to get organized, because they're organized."
About 3:30 the march took off with the youth in command. More people joined-the march had swelled to over 3,000, and it was even more bold and unified. "We're fired up, we won't take it no more!" bounced between the buildings in Broadway's garment district, as workers looked down from eight and ten stories up, many waving the marchers on.
Hundreds of cops blocked intersections along the way, as battalions of 20 double-timed along the sidewalks, pushing bystanders out of the way, sometimes knocking them down. The cops claimed they were there to protect property, but their main objective was to keep the masses from joining the demonstrations. Throughout the week, if you didn't hook up with a demonstration at the beginning, it was literally impossible to get in along the way-the police had most entry and exit points sealed off.
People wouldn't let the march get drawn out-they kept it tight. After getting people back together, the youth charged forward. No one was into doing what the LAPD was telling us to do. The youth held brief rallies at intersections along the way to gather strength and drive home their demands.
The energy was high when we hit the intersection of Olympic and Figueroa, in front of the protest pit, and people stopped to rally and celebrate. Then, when the sound truck was being directed by the police out of the area, the cops started pushing and hitting people-even as people were trying to let the truck through. Some bean-bag rounds were fired at people, and a couple of goon squads marched into the intersection, dividing the marchers. But people didn't back down or back off. The police wanted everyone to file quietly into the protest pit, but people refused, and chants of "No cages!" went up. The youth held their ground for over an hour until the police backed off and left the intersection. Three TV stations carried the face-off live. The masses came back from Monday night's assault-fearless!
A few minutes into the people's celebration of the police back-down, the LAPD declared the action an illegal assembly and demanded that people either go into the protest pit or leave on the sidewalks. Once again people responded with defiance, refusing to submit or accept the terms of the enemy, and continued to confront the powers. Most just stayed in the streets, and before long a march began forming up, heading right back up Figueroa, away from the officially designed protest zone. The march grew to 1,200 or 1,500. People stayed tight, focused, and disciplined, past lines of cops, all the 10 blocks back to Pershing Square. The RCP flag and a Rise Up banner flew high. Anarchist youth marched, arms linked, and lots of other youth were into the flow.
At Pershing Square, the leaders of the Youth Are the Future Coalition summed up and turned the bullhorn over to the masses to speak out. Dozens of people stepped up, and the whole approach of putting things into the masses' hands really seemed to energize and unleash the youth. At first it wasn't clear whether the LAPD was going to allow the action to continue. Cops were massing at some of the entrances. But after a while, they stepped down and back onto the side streets. People talked and debated til about 8 p.m., and then left.
People were incredibly up. A sweet victory had been won. One youth told us that he couldn't believe that we'd been able to do what we did. A revolutionary spirit and orientation infused the march and the day, and I think we all got a deeper sense that many many youth are open to that. Xochitl summed up, "We made the pigs back down. And that shows the people have power, we can win. We have to build unity. We have to make revolution, and this is part of how we do it-the people uniting, struggling, being in the streets, and learning together."
A Wild and Wonderful Week for the People
Meetings, marches, rallies, confrontations-all kinds of struggle-took place throughout the week. On Sunday, over 500 people demonstrated against a Democratic Party fundraising party on the Santa Monica pier-100 youth scaled the pier to get in the delegates' faces, handing out funny money and shouting "shame!" Tuesday, there were demonstrations in support of youth and bus drivers and against sanctions on Iraq, as well as a Critical Mass bicycle ride that was attacked by the police. On Wednesday, there was a morning march and action at the Rampart police station. A group of suits calling themselves "Billionaires for Bush and Gore" showed up at various demonstrations, flashing phony $100 bills. A "kiss in" was organized by Queers & Allies. On Thursday, there were marches for working women, in opposition to the U.S. Navy in Vieques, and to save endangered wetlands. Several thousand marched against sweatshops and for immigrant rights, including many immigrant proletarians. People carried crosses for each person killed at the U.S.-Mexico border since the early '90s-500 all told! (The week before the DNC, the crosses were put in the front yard of a church, but police ordered them removed because they could supposedly be used as weapons!) The march ended at Staples for a concert featuring Michael Franti-and more tense confrontations with the LAPD.
As I was writing all this at the IMC late Thursday night-while Gore was telling the people, "I'll stand up for you"-I could hear sirens wailing outside, and every so often someone would break into the room with the latest announcement of confrontations or arrests. By week's end 200 had been arrested and 50 were still in jail.
After the street actions were done for the day, discussions went on deep into the night to sum up, plan, organize, and strategize. Dozens of youth hung out behind the Convergence Center every night, in the cool of evening, enjoying the intensity of the moment and the camaraderie. And throughout the week there was much struggle between different political views -some quite sharp-over what to do and how to push the struggle forward.
It was interesting to watch the LAPD operate. Sometimes one cop would order someone one way, then another one would shoot them with rubber bullets for doing as told. 71 Critical Mass bike riders were directed by police to ride through red lights and then arrested for reckless driving.
Usually the cops operated military-style-you could tell they'd been practicing their maneuvers. Their strategy was generally to fight battles of "quick decision"-to mass overwhelming force and to try and strike forcefully at the slightest sign the masses were going to take matters into their own hands. I saw three cops viciously jump on one demonstrator for the "crime" of accidentally brushing one of them with his sign. Instead of pre-emptive arrests, it was pre-emptive attacks and dispersal. Through it all, it was plain that the system's armed enforcers are deeply alienated from-and deeply fearful of-the masses of people. Thousands saw the brutal face of the imperialist state up close and personal. The chant "This is what a police state looks like!" spread by the day. And I kept thinking, it takes an army to defeat an army.
This week the LAPD had the firepower, and they didn't lose their grip on the city. But the people still won this round. From the barrios and ghettos deep in South Central, East L.A. and Pico Union, to even the many offices where the middle strata work downtown, the oppressed and exploited, and everyone else with a progressive bone in their bodies have been secretly if not openly rooting for the idealist and rebellious youth and not-so-young to upset and upstage the disgusting spectacle that unfolded first in Philly and then in L.A.
The week was a powerful confirmation and development of the "new movement" that hit the front pages in Seattle this past winter. These youth are living their lives to make a difference, and this past week proved it in so many ways-from their courage on the streets to the way they relate to each other. They refuse to accept the world as it is, and they refuse to stop fighting to change it.
This week the ruling class failed to limit this awakening consciousness and activism to what they define as acceptable. They failed to stop many proletarians from joining the battle. And they failed to keep revolutionary politics out of the mix.
Maybe a 17-year-old youth we ran into Monday night after the Rage concert said it best. His body was covered with welts from LAPD rubber bullets and his face was covered with a bandanna soaked in lemon juice to cut pepper gas. "This is great! Damn, I wish we could do this every day!"
Thanks to the RCP Los Angeles branch, our intrepid RW coverage team, the Youth Are the Future, We Demand a Better World Coalition, the Artists Network of Refuse &Resist!, the folks at the Independent Media Center, and everyone else we spoke to along the way for making this coverage possible.
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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