rn> Leslie Cagan : “Philadelphia: Sunday, July 30th”


Richard Moore

Date: Mon, 31 Jul 2000 08:07:14 -0700
To: •••@••.•••,•••@••.•••
From: CyberBrook <•••@••.•••>
Subject: Philadelphia: Sunday, July 30th
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Sunday July 30, @11:32PM
                      Philadelphia: Sunday, July 30th

                      By Leslie Cagan

As the several thousand delegates to the Republican Party's
Nominating Convention were arriving in Philadelphia this
weekend, protests were already in full swing. There is too
much happening for me to report on it all, but the
Independent Media Center with its video, print, audio and
internet capabilities are already hard at work as they find
the ways to cover as much as possible. (You can check out
their web site at www.phillyimc.org) Here are some
observations from one protester.

But first a word about the setting. Philly is all prettied
up for the Republicans and the 15,000 media folks in town.
There is more red, white and blue bunting, more flags, more
signs and statues of elephants, and more displays welcoming
these folks than you can imagine.... enough to make you a
little nauseous. Lots of spanking clean people (these are
the Republicans) are checking into hotels as scores of folks
with various hair colors and body piercings are checking in
for housing arranged by the host committee of the Direct
Action organizers. Several worlds have gathered in the city
where George W. Bush will be crowned to lead the Republican

Mid-day on Saturday (July 29) the Ad Hoc Coalition for
Universal Health Care, a Philly based group headed by
doctors and other health care professionals, drew at last
3,000 people to a march and rally. A struggle with the
city's officials several months ago eventually led to their
securing a permit for the event. Even with the permit, this
event would be the first opportunity to see how the
Philadelphia Police would behave. Coming from New York City
where Mayor Guiliani and his Police Commissioner Howard
Safir pull out excessive numbers of police equipped with
riot gear and plastic handcuffs for virtually every
demonstration, regardless of size or character, I saw a
low-keyed, calm police presence. But my Philly friends said
there were unusually large numbers of officers assigned to
the protest, even if they were loaded down with riot gear
and the such.

The demonstration came off smoothly as we marched through
downtown Philly on a hot summer afternoon. The organizers
were pleased with the turn-out, lots of media folks where
there, and everything went well. While this will certainly
not be remembered as the most dynamic event of the week, it
was a good opening act.

Today, the very-hyped Unity 2000 march and rally took place.
For months, organizers proclaimed this would be the largest
of the events during the week, and history would be made
because it would be the largest protest ever at a nominating
convention. Unity 2000 had also fought for and won a permit.
Scheduled to kick-off at 10:30 this morning, people slowly
began gathering at about 9:30 am. I got to John F Kennedy
Boulevard - the assembly area - at 9:45 and was nervous
about the small numbers filling in between 16th and 20th
Streets. At 10:45 the march started moving out. More people
had arrived, but the numbers never climbed very high. My own
estimate is that about 10,000 participated and so it will
probably be the single largest event of the week, but
certainly not history-making.

The predominately white crowd came from a broad range of
movements as organizers had hoped. The lead delegation of
pro-choice activists was followed by marchers calling for an
end to the sanctions against Iraq, a new trial for Mumia
Abu-Jamal, an end to the death penalty, protection of the
environment, lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender rights, cuts
in military spending, defense of workers rights' here and
abroad, an end to sweatshops, the rights of people with
disabilities, universal health care and much more. Two of
the more prominent themes of the day were campaign finance
reform and getting big money out of elections, and an end to
globalization. While people marched with their own banners
and signs, it was clear that this was a gathering of people
who realize the importance of linking the broad range of
social justice and peace issues.

The oppressive heat of the day, and a poor sound system,
meant that many marchers did not stay for the four hour
rally, and, to be honest, I hardly listened to most of the
speeches. I was able to catch the Billionaires for Bush (or
Gore) who, in addition to their stage presentation, treated
us all to some very creative street theater. Organized by
folks at the Boston-based United for a Fair Economy, the
Billionaires made us laugh as they delivered a serious
message about the sad state of electoral politics in this
country. Other puppets, music, dance and other street
theater helped create a mood of both protest and fun, always
a great combination!

While Unity 2000 did not live up to the media hype or the
expectations of the organizers, it played an important role
in reminding us all that wherever we focus our activism, we
very much need to develop a movement that brings us closer
together if we are ever to be strong enough to win.

I left the rally site a little before 4 pm and headed to the
Independent Media Center. It was bustling with activity as
people were being sent out with tape records and video
equipment to capture the sounds and images of everything on
the streets. Someone announced that about 200 people had
marched to the Philadelphia District Attorney's office in
support of Mumia Abu-Jamal, and they were now boxed in by
police. I wanted to check it out, but had to leave soon for
a meeting. As it turned out, on my way to the meeting I
passed where this was all unfolding. Quickly finding a
parking spot, I went to check it out.

From what I could piece together, the International Action
Center had called for this march in a leaflet they were
distributing earlier in the day. People were supposed to
meet at 4 pm near the Unity 2000 rally site. I had gone by
the spot at that hour, but no one was there, so I just went
on my way. I don't know what happened to the IAC folks, but
apparently others had gathered and indeed took to the
streets, heading to the DA's office. At some point along
their march the police, with horses, helicopters and
bicycles (more on this in a moment) surrounded the group,
making it impossible for people to move. By the time I got
there, about 5:20, the scene was calm and the police were
very much in control. It was impossible to know how many of
the 150 or so people who were there were
demonstrators...there were scores of media folks, uniformed
and plainclothes cops and people like me...supportive but
not actually in the protest.

I noticed several people from the legal team negotiating
with the top cops on the scene, and soon after the police
brought in several arrest vehicles. People moved either on
to the side walk or just down the street and in a matter of
moments it was all over. While I was there it didn't look
like anyone was arrested, but I don't know what happened

What I found most striking was the quick, coordinated police
reaction. The months of preparation they had undergone was
being put to use, as they took control without beating or
spraying anyone. It is not yet clear how they will operate
the rest of the week, but so far they have managed to both
be relatively low-key and in control when they want to be.

Back to the bikes. Both yesterday and today I noticed squads
of police officers riding on bikes. But it wasn't until the
situation I just described when I realized the power to the
bike. The cops on the bikes have tremendous mobility and
speed as they travel the crowded streets of downtown
Philadelphia, able to get places much quicker than either
foot cops or those in cars. On top of that, the bikes then
become mobile barricades. In several places, rows of the
bike copes had dismounted and lined up with their bikes in
front of them, turning the seemingly friendly bike into a
coercive tool.

All of this is even more interesting in light of the
announcement last week that SEPTA, the public transportation
system in and around Philly, would not allow any bikes on
their trains this week, something that's usually okay. Word
had gone out on several listserves in the past few weeks
encouraging folks to bring their bikes to the protests and
the SEPTA announcement could not have been a more obvious
attempt to thwart that.

Tomorrow, the first major event without a permit - a march
for economic rights organized by the Kensington Welfare
Rights Union - takes place. I plan to be there and will send
a report on that, and other activities during the day. In
the meantime, let me leave you with a chant from the
Billionaires for Bush (or Gore): What do we want? More

Richard K Moore
Wexford, Ireland
Citizens for a Democratic Renaissance 
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