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A.N.S.W.E.R. Me This

What if they threw a convention and no protesters came?

By Chris Krohn

What if they called a major national demonstration and almost no one came? That was the case last week at the Democratic National Convention 2004 in Boston.

Everywhere you went--the Boston Common, Beacon Hill, Fleet Center, downtown--signs of an impending disaster were present. Thousands of heavily armed riot police, MPs, FBI, Secret Service, Transit Police, Parks Service Police, Massachusetts State Police and circling helicopters formed a ubiquitous armed camp easily outnumbering demonstrators.

The fact that such a disaster didn't come to pass is most likely due to the relative absence of street demonstrations. The planned demos against the Dems raised nary a whimper from protesters.

On Sunday, July 25, less than 1,500 marched from the Boston Common to the Fleet Center, site of the convention for the following four days. Security forces outnumbered protesters this day by more than 2 to 1. In fact, it was like this all week long. (And what were the "Transit Police" of all people doing with such big guns?) Usually at such leftish events, actual social causes far outnumber the police agencies present. But not in Boston, not during convention week 2004.

Per usual, there was a smorgasbord of progressive issues represented--the antiwar movement, universal health care, Palestinian rights, anti-racist and gay rights groups and more. But the numbers were down. Why?

International A.N.S.W.E.R organized the Sunday before-the-start-of-the-convention protest. A.N.S.W.E.R, probably the leading protest-organizing group in the country over the past two years, "is authoritarian," according to one 24-year-old protestor who wished to be identified only as "Matt." On Tuesday, Matt was sitting at a table for the Bl(A)ck Tea Society--"the 'A' stands for anti-authoritarian," he says--surrounded by other environmental and antiwar tables on Boston Common. Around 2,000 tourists, delegates, journalists and protesters were attending this Boston-Police-permitted event dubbed "The Really, Really Democratic Bazaar." It was similar to Earth Day in Santa Cruz, with displays of biodiesel vehicles, a table recruiting protesters to go to New York City in late August to protest the Republican Convention, someone passing out Falun Gong fliers and a large stage for music, the usual trappings for such an event. As a helicopter continued to circle overhead, at times drowning out the live music, several gathered in an open part of the Common to spell out the words, "Fuck You." No arrests were made, but there was lots of harassment from the Department of Homeland Security which had ultimate responsibility for convention security.

On Wednesday, the Bl(A)ck Tea Society held their own march. About 700 attended surrounded by double that number of police. Like the other convention protests, it was spirited, yet reserved. The contingents of so-called Black Block anarchist protesters, so infamously present in Seattle in 1999, were nowhere to be seen in the lock-down national security state that was Boston in 2004.

In fact, very few protesters had predicted large-scale events in Boston. There were many reasons why more protesters did not come, including a near-unanimous sense of "anybody but Bush" and scare tactics publicized by the Boston Police Department to ward off large protests. Furthermore, according to Bl(A)ck Tea Society's Matt, there was no possibility of a large coalition of activist groups coming together because of opposition by many to the tactics of International A.N.S.W.E.R.

"They're pushy," he said.

The main news at this convention was just how unified the Democrats, and even the protesters, are around the issue of sending George W. Bush back to Crawford, Texas. In addition, the extreme security presence--which predicted up to 2,500 arrests-- completely miscalculated the level of dissent. By Friday of last week, only five convention-related arrests had taken place.

One could say this was due to faulty intelligence gathering on the part of the police. Or maybe it was just the right security presence to thwart both demonstrators and potential terrorists alike.

The consensus on the part of demonstrators was that there would be large, massive protests in the Big Apple come August but the Democratic Convention had never been targeted by protesters. Strange nobody told Homeland Security.

Stay tuned--New York City is not far away. The police may still be able to use their $60 million Boston security arsenal yet.

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From the August 11-18, 2004 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

Copyright © Metro Publishing Inc. Maintained by Boulevards New Media.

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