Mass protest at Democrat convention
Reality behind the American dream
PRESS COVERAGE of the US Democratic Party convention was dominated by the speeches of president Bill Clinton and presidential candidate Al Gore. But as Clinton was speaking, outside the convention the Los Angeles police unleashed a wave of violence against thousands of people protesting against global corporations.
We print an eyewitness account by JENNIFER BLEYER distributed through Los Angeles’s Independent Media Centre.
WHAT BEGAN as a peaceful, festive march through downtown Los Angeles became violent on Monday night as police officers shot high-pressure water and pepper spray pellets at protesters.
They later chased them down on horses while beating them with batons. The afternoon’s events began at Pershing Square, about half a mile from the Staples Centre, where thousands of people converged for a march organised by Global Exchange around the theme “Human Needs Not Corporate Greed”.
A variety of speakers roused the crowd with speeches on issues ranging from labour rights to the prison-industrial complex. The march resembled a joyous political parade, with anti-nuclear group Peace Action carrying three enormous missile balloons labelled “Star Wars Station New Arms Race”.
The local salsa band, East LA Sabor Factory, played on a flatbed truck and indigenous American dancers performed in beaded costumes along the route. The crowd swelled to several times its original size as waves of people showed up for a free concert by Rage Against the Machine.
They gathered in a paved lot only a few hundred yards from the Staples Centre which had been specially designated for protests.
With 15 foot high fences embedded in two-foot thick concrete barricades surrounding the entire perimeter of the Staples Centre, there seemed to be little possibility of the crowd posing a threat to the convention. The mood was generally one of joyous celebration and pointed, informed protest. By the time Rage Against the Machine played, the lot was full and onlookers estimated the crowd to be upwards of 50,000-making it the largest protest so far during the Democratic National Convention.
The band played about half a dozen songs to an exuberant crowd, with singer Zack de la Rocha, a well-known radical activist, shouting, “We have a right to oppose these motherfuckers.”
He directed everyone’s attention to the convention centre where thousands of delegates awaited speeches by Bill and Hillary Clinton. When the band finished playing, a series of speakers took the stage to express solidarity with the U’wa people of South America, Mumia Abu-Jamal, and the protesters in Philadelphia who have sat in jail since the Republican National Convention two weeks ago.
A group of people began clustering against the fence on the north side of the lot, facing directly toward the Staples Centre. Four rows of police officers stood in full riot gear holding batons, pepper spray guns and other tactical equipment.
A few people threw plastic water bottles over the fence, which popped on the ground and sprayed officers. The police opened fire at least five times on the protesters with pepper spray. They shot paint-gun pellets, rubber bullets and water from a high-pressure hose through holes in the fence.
The protesters remained steadfast, holding signs against the fence that called for Green Party candidate Ralph Nader’s inclusion in the presidential debates. The police intermittently attacked them through the fence. At one point, four young Mexican-American men were thrown up against the fence by a cluster of horses while the mounted police officers beat them repeatedly with batons.
Amid a torrent of screams, giant television screens on the exterior of the Staples Centre broadcast President Clinton delivering his address. “America is more confident, hopeful and just, more secure and free,” he said.
NEITHER Gore nor Republicancandidate George Bush will tackle the growing gap between rich and poor in the US. US economist Robert Pollin has given a damning verdict on the Democrats’ record in office, saying, “Gestures to the least well off have been slight and backhanded, while wages for the majority have either stagnated or declined. Wealth at the top, meanwhile, has exploded.”
He reveals that the US has greater levels of poverty and lower wages now than under President Nixon 30 years ago.
The US department of labour has predicted that the top ten prospects for job opportunities in the first five years of the millennium include cashiers, janitors and cleaners, retail salespeople, waiters and waitresses. Little wonder, then, that a recent poll revealed that some 55 percent of Americans think of themselves as working class.
NEARLY HALF a million workers in different unions were striking in protest at wages and conditions across the US last week. Some 8,000 telecom workers marched to Times Square in New York as part of their dispute over non-union labour and poor wages in the newly merged Verizon Communications company.
They began their strike last week, hitting the US’s largest local telephone operator, formed after Bell Atlantic and California GTE merged. The action has already hit repairs and installations amongst the firm’s 25 million customers.
The company refuses to recognise the Communications Workers of America union amongst the 85,000 workers in the wireless division. The union says that in Boston the firm has threatened to sack any worker for even mentioning the union’s name.
Ralph Nader visited the telecom strikers’ picket line and said that the Democrats and Republicans were both to blame for putting corporate interests above public interest. He was asked why other presidential candidates didn’t tour picket lines and replied, “George Bush on a picket line-are you kidding? He’s a corporate conglomerate walking around as a person.”
The telecom workers are joined on strike by 10,000 workers in United Airlines. The pilots, machinists and customer reps are in a dispute over overtime.
More blood on Bush’s hands
THE BRUTALITY of the US state and of George Bush were exposed again last week as two black men were executed on the same day in Texas. Bomani Iyapo Bandele (also known as Brian Roberson) lost his long fight against his conviction for burglary and murder. He was executed on Wednesday of last week.
The 36 year old was on death row for 14 years after signing a confession to the crimes. He had been interrogated by police for 14 hours and deprived of sleep. He campaigned to prove his innocence and be released from death row, saying, “Prior being sent to prison I had absolutely no idea that human beings were treated so cruelly. This is an experience that no human being should have to go through.”
The other victim of the US death penalty was Oliver Cruz, who was executed by lethal injection after George Bush refused to accept appeals that he was mentally disabled.
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