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The Boston S--storm: Report of DC Anti-War Network’s Trip to the Democratic National Convention in Boston, July 2004
by Jim Macdonald
Email: jsmacdonald (nospam) riseup.net
29 Jul 2004
A detailed report with introspection and analysis of DC Anti-War Network's trip to the Boston Social Forum and the Democratic National Convention 2004.
One day in June, I was searching the internet seeing if anything had been written about me in connection with the anti-war movement. After searching through a fair number of articles written by me or quoting me, I came upon a site that surprised me. The site, run by a company called ICI Companies, International Consultants and Investigations, Inc., had a page on terror alerts (see http://www.icicompanies.com/ICI_terror_alerts01.htm). There, I saw a meeting announcement that I had written for the DC Conventions Coalition, a network of organizations that I and others in the DC Anti-War Network (DAWN) had put together to protest the 2004 Democratic and Republican National Conventions. The mundane announcement listed our next meeting, my name and email, and the groups involved. Somehow, this innocent announcement ended up on a page entitled “Terror Alerts.” The people at ICI gave a title to our announcement. It said: “Boston: ‘S—storm’ in the making.”
I don’t know how a small group of DC activists planning public meetings for nonviolent protest in Boston became listed on a private company’s terror alert list, but I do know that they give us far too much credit. Organizing for Boston was a struggle right down to the end. Despite months of planning, only 25 DC activists made the trip with us to Boston. Buses became car pools, and I was profoundly discouraged by the fruits of our efforts. We didn’t aspire to be any kind of terror threat; all we aspired to do was to let the Democrats in Boston know that we in the anti-war movement were not happy with John Kerry’s support of the war in Iraq and with the pro-war platform written by the Democratic Party. In a year where “Anyone but Bush” is the winning argument for so many people even within our own group, many of us believed that at the very least we should express our resentment for the choices before us. “S—storm” my ass!
Yet, in the end, those of us from DC that went to Boston had an important time and even an effective time during our trip. While we discovered that the problems organizing for Boston were nationwide and that DC actually outperformed other cities in turnout, we had some surprising success that none of us anticipated in some of our actions. When coupled with the weekend Boston Social Forum prior to the Democratic National Convention (DNC), I doubt many of us regret going at all.
Here I will report on our trip to Boston, hoping that others still at the DNC will add their own accounts. We learned some lessons about the possibilities of action and about never selling yourself short. Even with low numbers, important actions are possible. In the face of so much injustice in our world, we must continue to remember that.
Day 1, Friday, July 23: “A Long Day from DC to Boston”
Lacking the numbers for a bus to Boston, we made due with Pete hurting van, and two other cars. Others in our group planned on traveling separately, many of them coming on Sunday evening. However, numbers or no, those of us who went believed very much in our mission to let the Democratic Party know that we in the anti-war movement are not happy with a party that has called for 40,000 more recruits to the military, that has called for a modernization of the military, which refuses to speak out against the war in Iraq, and which refuses to acknowledge that peace comes through social justice and not security. Among us was Paul the Peacewalker, a man blinded 17 years ago by Ku Klux Klan members during a demonstration in Georgia, who had pleaded with people, “Please come to Boston! Please come to Boston! If I can do it, with blindness and gangrene, you can do it.”
Few joined us on our cloudy and rainy drive to Boston whether for lack of resources, lack of time off, lack of interest in protesting the Democrats, sheer opposition to protesting the Democrats, or for myriad other reasons. Those few who joined us were a motley bunch. We had a naturalist (the politically correct way of calling someone a nudist) named Elijah (or as he also called himself, “Nature Boy”). There was Luke and his particular health needs (which included a special concoction of lemon yogurt). Of course, there was Paul. Then, there was Dave of “Bush mask” fame.
I drove Genevieve’s car all the way to Boston, along with Dave and Quinlan. Of the four, only Quinlan was someone I didn’t know very well. Genevieve is my beloved girlfriend, my driving force, who did so much to help me out with the organizing—you have no idea how difficult it is to arrange a car pool of even just 20 people until you try dealing with all the personalities and requests that people have. And, Dave is a great friend. On so many cold winter days, he would join Genevieve and I as we protested at the White House. Quinlan, here for the summer, is a bright young college student from Oberlin. We deeply enjoyed getting to know him as we drove to and from Boston.
The drive up was eventful in some respects. At the Joyce Kilmer Service Station in New Jersey, I called into WPFW, DC’s Pacifica Radio Station, to talk live on the air about our trip to Boston. The interview lasted a couple minutes, and I remember urging the people in the DC area to vote their conscience but regardless, to continue with social activism because no matter who wins the White House, we in the anti-war movement will have to deal with a pro-war President. Besides the interview, the first I had ever done for radio, we had heavy traffic that set us back for hours. Along the way, we looked for bumper stickers and noticed alarmingly few. However, we did see one that intrigued us. It read, “I’m hung like Einstein and smart as a horse.” These sorts of things lead to all kinds of silly conversations. We talked of how people in New Hampshire call people from Massachusetts “Massholes.” We started trying to imitate people from Maine; our car hopping with the phrase, “You can’t get there from here.” Then, we thought about the Boston Shitstorm. Genevieve dubbed us, “The Boston Shitstorm.” If the people at a private security firm were going to falsely accuse us of terrorism, then we should at least wear the name as some kind of badge of honor much like “Yankee Doodle” and “American Indian,” and things of that sort. Throughout the week, we continually joked about ourselves as being the Boston Shitstorm, and by Monday evening, the Shitstorm hit the proverbial fan, and the Democratic delegates took the brunt of it.
Eventually, we arrived at the home many of our friends stayed at in Canton, which is southwest of Boston. Without housing, this trip would have been impossible. While Genevieve and I were staying with Dave and while Quinlan was staying with a friend, many of the others had to stay with 50 people in a house. I wondered how 50 people could stay in a house, but when I saw how big it was, my worries went away. Our friends stayed with people from the Beehive Collective in Maine, who came on a bus powered by vegetable oil. In any event, eventually we dropped Quinlan off and made our way to Marblehead, where Dave’s relatives graciously allowed us to stay.
Little did we know that the home in Marblehead was right on the ocean on Peach’s Point and that there were multiple homes in this complex. Genevieve and I had expected to sleep in sleeping bags on the floor, but we found ourselves in a bed in a room to ourselves. I felt many pangs of guilt about how good she and I had it. Yet, in the end, one should be gracious with the gifts of friends, and I was so very thankful that Dave’s family allowed us to stay there. The shelter and sustenance were no small part in giving us the strength to protest.
We went to sleep wondering what our days might bring.
Day 2, Saturday, July 24: “Socializing at the Boston Social Forum”
The day began with heavy, heavy rain. I had to run to the car, mere feet from the house to get something, and came back drenched. In the course of a couple hours, more than 2 inches had fallen. The wind from the ocean made it seem like more. I wondered if we would ever leave our luxurious confines in such a downpour. It would have been easy to stay in this home, make a vacation of it, and enjoy friendly people. However, to use Paul’s words, we had a job to do.
That weekend, the big event in Boston was the Boston Social Forum at the University of Massachusetts. The social forum brought left-leaning activists of all types (anarchists, socialists, Communists, Greens, progressive Democrats) to a giant conference full of tables and workshops. Before the trip, I didn’t have a lot of interest in going to the social forum, if only because it seemed that they required a paid registration. Lacking funds, I tend to write such things off and prioritize. However, since most of our friends were going down to UMass, Genevieve and I thought we should do the same, as long as the rain let up enough for us to go back to the car.
Fortunately, the weather maps made it clear that the rain, contrary to appearances, would end. So, we made our way to Boston, starting at the Wonderland station (in Boston, called the “T”). On any road in the Boston area, you go by dozens of doughnut shops. On some blocks, you will find two Dunkin Doughnuts only to find another on the next block. It’s amazing the things one notices. In any event, we would have no doughnuts today, and there would be less and less rain.
The first thing I noticed as I approached the Boston Social Forum with a crowd of people coming from the shuttle bus was that we seemed to be moving around like a bunch of sheep. We move through halls, plod around not exactly thinking about where we are going. When you consider the irony that so many of us on the left think of ourselves as free thinkers, the thought gains more resonance. The thought of the ways we don’t think about our conformity struck me several times during the week. You’d see lots of anarchists who look pretty much the same. Perhaps, in the larger social scheme, each anarchist stuck out in her or his own world, but in a world of anarchists, the white and red t-shirts I wore made me feel just that much more like an individualist. Yet, sometimes I felt like I was going through the motions, just following the crowd in front of me.
The second thing I noticed was that my rather negative view on the situation was not shared by those I was overhearing. Excitedly, people were telling their friends that this was the greatest thing that they had ever seen. I have caught a big whiff of Washington cynicism, and I would hardly call what I saw the greatest thing I had ever seen, but the scent I caught here at the Social Forum was one of genuinely positive enthusiasm. As the day went on, I became more and more invigorated by what I was seeing.
The Social Forum itself was quite a hodgepodge of events on everything progressive under the sun, including the standard big names of the left. I’d peak my head in a room and see Dennis Kucinich on a panel. Then, around a corner, I’d walk by Daniel Ellsberg. Paul the Peacewalker found a workshop on peacewalking that he attended. To our amazement, some of the teachers knew who he was. Paul was our spiritual center, certainly the man who attracted the most interest (though Nature Boy came a close second), and throughout our time there people came up who knew Paul. Many had walked with him before. Paul is sick, is in fact dying, but the man still carries a heavy peace sign wherever he goes, and he continues to put every ounce of his being into peace.
Besides events on all things progressive, there were tables about all things progressive. Here is where I thought things were the most useful. While it is interesting to learn things at a teach-in—for instance, I learned a lot about the death penalty at one teach in—I think the real value of such events are the people you get to meet. I met an Asian man from California who worked with inner city youth on environmental projects. When I told him how sour I had become about the spirit in DC activism, he told me that in his experience he was finding just the opposite. He said that the house of cards that is American society is about to fall, and that people are hungry for new leaders and a new direction. In all his years of activism, he had never been more hopeful. The man told me that a few people can do a lot. The day was never bad from that moment on. I realized that there were others to meet, and so I met them. I met a man with an anti-death penalty group who had tried to save Steven Oken in Maryland. I also met a woman named Claryce with United for Justice with Peace (not to be confused with United for Peace and Justice). They are like the Boston version of the DC Anti-War Network, beginning at about the same time for about the same reasons. We exchanged information. All of this is the sort of thing that will build the movement over the long-term.
For our part, we helped pass out Proposition One flyers. Proposition One is the DC-based group that has worked for an end to nuclear weapons and have held vigil 24/7 outside the White House since 1981. It is because of seeing that vigil that I became an activist. I was happy that they had a chance to get the word out about their cause to some activists.
After spending the entire day at the Social Forum and learning about the wonders of vegetable oil-powered engines, we headed off to Cambridge where we ate Middle Eastern food. We had some problems with Luke, who needed to eat lemon yogurt, and that split our group up. However, those of us who stayed to eat had a great night of good food. Suzanne, Jay, and Matt even stayed long enough to see Billy Bragg perform.
The real reason we came to Boston would play out the next two days. The Boston Social Forum surprised me in how it energized me. In the meantime, I was enjoying our companions from DC, idiosyncrasies and all.
Day 3, Sunday, July 25: “Lots of Marches, Interviews, Anger and even hate in the air”
It seems like every day anymore I get woken up by my cell phone. Working on conventions planning has put me on that awful contraption so much that my bill last month puts me in some danger of not having a cell phone much longer. That’s quite okay because we need to find more solid ways of being connected. Too often we rely on technology to connect us, to move us hither and thither, to unite us in ways we have never been united before. In truth, these mediums of communication seem to have some very negative side effects. They keep us from the air, they keep us from the fields, and they keep us from direct contact with each other. So, as people interested in tickets to New York left a message on a phone call that woke me up on this morning connected to me in ways impossible for most generations of history, so many others stayed in their homes.
Today, we went to ANSWER’s anti-war rally on Boston Common, a rally that was originally billed as the national rally for Veterans for Peace, who were having their national conference the weekend of Boston. A large ANSWER anti-war rally used to draw tens of thousands of people. The last three I have been to have drawn 500, 1,500, and 1,500 respectively. In an age when the strength of a movement is measured by the size of the mass march, those numbers point toward trouble. Yet, I suspect they actually point toward trouble for that way of looking at success in building the movement. You cannot sustain a movement simply by calling a mass march, especially when the group calling that march is a notorious front group for the Stalinist Workers’ World Party.
Even so, we went and showed solidarity with others protesting the war and the Democratic Party that has done far too much to support it. On a sunny day in Boston Common, we rallied to angry speeches, which we and most others were not listening to, visited tables, purchased bumper stickers and t-shirts, and then marched. It’s all so formulaic, you know?
Today, though, we went on two marches. The second march was in Jamaica Plain with the Backbone Campaign, an organization founded to give a backbone to the Democratic Party. And, while the mood had a more melodic spirit and brought in some elements of the movement you don’t often get at ANSWER’s rallies, it was a mood that could not contain the irony that I shall describe further in this day’s narrative.
Even though the day consisted of two marches I found disappointing, the day had its highlights for me. While arriving at Boston Common from the “T”, I noticed another message on my cell phone. It was another message from DC about buses to New York. Whereas the first message was one hoping to help get the word out, this message was one a little more comical and a lot more hateful. The message said, “I am interested in your bus trip because I’d like to ride in a bus full of retards. You can call me back at 1-800-FUCK-YOU.” What a strange number. At least, the caller has a soft spot for the developmentally disabled. It was the first hate voice mail I had ever gotten, but I wasn’t all that bothered by it. Anyhow, soon after that message, a reporter from Mother Jones magazine conducted an extensive interview with me. Soon after, a story that features that interview was published on the internet.
For us as a group, the march itself was thoroughly uneventful until we neared the Fleet Center. The street by the Fleet Center had been the source of a dispute between ANSWER and the city. ANSWER won the right to march by the Fleet Center, but I doubt most in the crowd had much knowledge of the particulars of that fight. So, as we approached, it was a little disconcerting to see MPs on a bridge near the Fleet Center looking down on the crowd, at least one with an AK-47. Soon after that, we approached the street, and instead of a clear view of the Fleet Center was a large black steel fence, much like fences that many of us in DC saw in Lafayette Park during a peace mach in April 2003. The sight was horrible. Behind the fences were signs that said “Welcome to the Democratic National Convention.” Some welcome! Oh, the cages of democracy! Later, I saw pictures from press from inside the black fences; how lucky they must be to have access to the inside while peace protesters, PEACE protesters for crying out loud can’t get near this week’s symbol of the one political party in the United States that’s supposed to be the big tent that will include people on the left. Instead, we see police officers, MPs, and black fences.
So, on this fence, many demonstrators, including Jay and Genevieve, began banging rhythms on the fence. If they were going to put barricades in our way, barricades representing fear, then it gave me joy to witness people finding some soulful melody.
However, generally, there was a tremendous sense of outrage that came over the crowd, more outrage than I think many of the protesters expected. Soon, down the street I could hear Genevieve and others yelling through the fence, “Shame on the Democrats!” What real conversation is there in America? We are reduced to being caged like animals and our message trivialized. “Is there going to be violence?” “How big is the march?” “How many arrests?” However, the true shame is on us for allowing parties like the Democratic Party to set themselves up as alternatives while at the same time doing everything in their power to stop free expression. They are working to keep Ralph Nader off ballots in states like Arizona and Maryland, they are supporting war right in their platform, and have even dropped any mention of DC statehood from in it as well. The only argument they give in response is, “Well, don’t you think Bush is worse?” Yes, of course Bush is worse! But, how am I in good conscience going to give my vote to a party that supports state-sponsored murder and an assault on our civil liberties like we were witnessing right in front of our faces? Shame on the Democrats indeed!
Other highlights of that particular march included running into a die-in of anti-abortion activists. At first, I thought it was anti-war activists blocking a street. However, most people figured out what was going on quickly, and there were no incidents. Later, we ran into presidential candidate Vermin Supreme. You think I’m kidding, but the joke is on you. Truthfully, there is a man named Vermin Supreme, who was on the DC Democratic primary ballot for President of the United States. He called himself the friendly fascist and built his platform around dental hygiene. Well, there he was. In fact, the rest of our time in Boston, we ran into this comic character at least 6 times. Later that evening, waiting for the train, Vermin taunted the security through a bullhorn, saying, “If you see anyone who looks like me, please call security immediately!” Finally, a friendly fascist with a sense of humor who looks like a hippy with a plastic naked ass hanging off of him.
Paul the Peacewalker came along with us as well, and he attracted press like a magnet. Photo after photo I saw being taken of his gigantic peace sign. The man, as Genevieve could testify, walked extremely fast. This created problems for those of us leading him through the protest. He constantly bumped into people and nearly tripped several times. Later in Jamaica Plain, he actually fell on some stairs and required delicate medical attention due to his gangrene. The press who bothered to do more than take pictures of Paul found themselves curious about this man and his story. For his part, he was having a great time. In many ways, he was our symbol, our motivation.
While I was not witness to it, apparently Pete got into a shouting match twice with some of the ANSWER organizers, over injustices he perceived in the handling of some of their security with some people from Veterans for Peace. I do not have a good grasp of the details, but Pete says that they were on camera and that ANSWER called Pete a “provocateur.” For precise details of what happened, you will have to ask him.
When we left for Jamaica Plain, I saw a lot of MPs in the train station. The vision was so telling of the world we now lived, I thought I would take a picture. Before I could get it off, however, several of them moved toward me and warned me not to take a picture or that I would be arrested. I didn’t take the picture. They explained that there are no pictures allowed in subways because of homeland security. I’m not exactly sure how that kind of rabid surveillance is making anyone safer, but it sure is irritating. I figured, though, that they could not stop me from writing about the experience. Well, at least they cannot stop me yet.
The Jamaica Plain People’s Party was an attempt by progressives in the city to highlight neighborhoods and neighborhood issues. Throughout the week, the Kucinich campaign and other liberal groups held these neighborhood parties. The spirit was much more lighthearted and festive, but there were definitely problems that I noticed as well.
Speaking at the party was Dennis Kucinich, who spoke for only about 3 minutes before running off to Chinatown where some other DC people found themselves eating in the same restaurant, Green Party candidate David Cobb, and local people from the Jamaica Plain neighborhood. The outdoor party in a park with a small amphitheater was catered, but to our chagrin, most of the food contained meat.
The big highlight of the event was a non-permitted march (the liberals marched without permits while the anarchists had permits for their marches) with a 70 foot long backbone. The backbone, which made its way from Washington state, was erected by liberal Democrats who were upset by the lack of spine in the Democratic party. The organizers had been giving backbone awards to Democrats who had shown spine. For instance, DAWN helped in the planning to give Maxine Waters a backbone award for her stands on Haiti. Anyhow, some DAWN people, including Dave and Bob, helped carry this incredibly long backbone through the streets of Jamaica Plain.
Just as we were marching, a man from the Bl(a)ck Tea Society, the anarchist coalition that were the main organizers for protesting in Boston, came up to me, took the tape we had taken so far up to Boston Indymedia. Just as he was about to leave, he said, “You’re marching with the liberals, you know?” I said, “I know” and shrugged my shoulders. Just as I’d said that the march was held up because the police ordered the march to stop until they could get a police escort. My anarchist friend said to me, “We’d never let that stop us.”
Soon, we marched this fragile backbone along the sidewalks of Jamaica Plain. The police would not allow the marchers on the streets, and the backbone people awkwardly and comically obliged. I said aloud, “The backbone people need a backbone.” David Cobb was on the street looking puzzled at the 500 marchers. He told them to get in the streets, that they are our streets. Perhaps, and I know this will be controversial, the progressives inside the Democratic Party who think they can work from within to change the party had better take a look at themselves in the mirror. How can you tell the Democrats to stand on principle when you yourselves won’t stand on it? We had every right to take those streets; we should have done it instead of reduced to a silly puppet show inside the police state.
Eventually, tired of how long the march was taking, the Boston police told the marchers to get on the streets so that the march could finally and mercifully end.
Yet, despite the negative light I have given it here, there was a great energy in the crowd. The chants created a community spirit that brought strangers closer together. The cast of characters in this march as opposed to the earlier ANSWER march had a greater feel of irony and absurdity. Their heart was there, and one hopes that experiences like this will embolden them to do more over time.
Our day ended with a trip to Marblehead. Some of our friends spent the night out at parties. Most of us wondered what the convention would bring.
Day 4, Monday, July 26: “Finally, an Effective Action”
We woke up the next morning as early as we could. Today we had a long day ahead of us. We planned on joining the Bl(a)ck Tea Society in whatever they were planning and hoped to protest until late into the evening before driving back all night into DC. Today, now that the convention was starting, we wondered if anything dramatic might happen.
Before we left, I read a newspaper. The police union in Boston had settled at the last second with the city of Boston. The police union had threatened to picket the Fleet Center and other events scheduled for the delegates. Last week, things came to a head when the city and the courts forced an expedited arbitration hearing to settle the dispute. The union threatened to picket if forced into a contract, and many Democratic delegates vowed not to cross the picket lines. However, with the dispute settled, it was up to activists to make the point.
We took the “T” down to the Bl(a)ck Tea Society’s Convergence Center. The church, which looked far more like an office building than a church, served as headquarters for the organizers. Inside was a welcome center, a medic area, and a makeshift office for Boston Indymedia, where demonstrators could use the internet. Food Not Bombs served food both inside and outside across the street in Copley Square. The lounge area stunk like a locker room, and the hallways were filled with all the “Do”s and “Don’t”s of protesting. No pictures were allowed inside. It felt like we’d left one security culture for another. The smell of paranoia was in the air. Perhaps, some of us are so used to the police that we aren’t that afraid anymore. Or, perhaps, there’s just a tactical dispute about what to do about it. I tend to be open; they tend to be secretive. I believe too much in what I’m doing to stay silent or afraid of what might happen to me. Others choose to deal with the security differently.
From info we got at the Convergence Center, we headed to Boston Common for a rally and march. Earlier in the day, Mike McGuire of Baltimore’s Coalition Against Global Exploitation (CAGE), held a small protest at the free speech zone to draw attention to prisoner abuse. Most groups boycotted the free speech zone, but since it looked just like a prison, McGuire decided it was the best place to highlight prison abuse. The pictures I saw of it were very effective. The march we were now attending was organized by the anarchists. The rally was uneventful; the sun so harsh on Monday it was hard to pay attention.
The march itself had only about 100 people, about 15 of whom were from DC. It was an extremely long march that wound around for at least 6 miles, perhaps more. It was somewhat low in energy. The highlights included a march through the Newbury Street shopping district that featured chants like, “While you’re shopping, bombs are dropping! Because you’re shopping, bombs are dropping!” and “Are you hungry? Eat the rich! Are you horny? Fuck the rich! (but use a condom) Are you cold? Burn the rich!” Later, the police, which outnumbered demonstrators by 3 to 1 surrounded the march, although it was permitted. Occasionally, the police would detain a marcher. When the crowd called on them to let the captured person go, the police each time obliged. Later, there was a brief sit in to demonstrate the police’s refusal to allow bikes to get closer to the Fleet Center.
All-in-all, the march was a dull disappointment. It left many of us feeling low, not only about numbers, but also about the energy and purpose of what we were doing. It was my third march in 24 hours, and so it left me feeling tired, sore, and sunburnt. Besides, dressed in a white shirt that said, “They both suck” and featuring pictures of Kerry and Bush, I didn’t fit in with all the black and earth tone outfits. Because I looked different, though my politics was the same, I was greeted with a large amount of suspicion. This is the casualty of the world we live in.
At that point, I was nearly ready to drive home early. Thankfully, some in our group convinced us to go to a Palestinian rights rally in the free speech zone. I wanted to avoid the free speech zone, but I thought I should visit it once out of curiosity. This choice ended up changing the entire trip.
Before we got to the free speech zone, we rode the “T” with Paul and his giant peace sign. However, as we waited for another train, a woman started taking pictures. We noticed that because of the trouble I had had the day before taking pictures inside the subway. Then, she came out with some MPs. They told Paul that he couldn’t take his sign on the train because it’s a terrorist threat. We thought they were going to confiscate the peace sign, which he’d had for 20 years, but when they finally figured out the man was blind and sick, they became embarrassed. Finally, they showed us how we might walk to the free speech zone.
On our way to the zone, we ran into David Cobb again out on the streets talking with people. The only sign there was one that read, “Vote for Ralph Nader,” which was ironic. But, it wasn’t Nader; it was Cobb out there without security talking with no more than 15 or 20 people. We watched him for some time inspired by his anti-war, progressive message. He was quite a sight, a Presidential candidate, unscripted on the street talking about what he believes in. He answered the charge of the safe state strategy, which he said was largely untrue. Cobb is running wherever he can get on the ballot and is urging people in swing states to vote their conscience. However, he said, as someone who speaks the truth, he will admit that Bush is worse than Kerry. I took a little bit of video later of Cobb shaking the hand of Paul. It’s too bad that Kerry, Bush, and even Nader aren’t this accessible to the people out on the streets.
Finally, we arrived at the free speech zone, which is a monstrosity of justice. I do not exaggerate when I say the place looked like a prison. There were high black fences, above which were black netting. On top of the cage going across the top was large razor wire. The ground felt like crap. The place was small but desolate. Onstage, a couple of African Americans were doing hip hop about Palestine, and I could hear them apologize for being there, “This is ridiculous. I thought we were coming to a free speech area.” Most of the time the space was occupied by rightwing groups, like Operation Rescue. Even they must have been appalled. Behind the razor wire, fencing, and black mesh, one could read the sign on the Fleet Center, “Welcome to the Democratic National Convention.”
This was the low point. The rally wasn’t even particularly all that much about Palestine, at least the parts we heard. It was sad and disgusting.
Then, the high point came. We left the free speech zone to meet some of our friends who were about to leave in Pete’s van. Then, we noticed that these well-dressed people—they had to be delegates—were entering inside a black cage, which would lead them inside the Fleet Center. All day long we had seen delegates and had talked to some and subtly gave others our anti-war messages on the streets and in the trains. But, now they were entering in through security and were out in the open. Immediately, Dave and Genevieve ran to the fence and started shouting at each delegate as he or she entered.
They yelled things like, “Kerry is a war collaborator!” “No war collaborator can win the White House!” “Shame on the Democrats!” When many would laugh, we would yell, “People dying in Iraq is not a laughing matter!” “Your man Kerry voted for this war; it’s not funny!” Near the cage it was open. You could go right in the face of a delegate waiting in line and talk with them. There, voices were calmer than near the caged fence, but most delegates ignored us. Genevieve said that she was so frustrated she exclaimed, “I will never vote Democratic again because you people won’t even talk with me!” Finally, one did. Each delegate got an earful. Each knew that we were unhappy. Soon, the DC activists were joined by others. The few Democrats in the area, after some heated arguments, left the area. So, a sea of shouts by activists reigned down pleading with delegates to not sell out the anti-war cause polls showed those delegates believed in.
For hours, this continued. The press came for numerous interviews. Pacifica and Democracy Now interviewed Genevieve, though I don’t think they used the footage. Local news stations reported the scene. Democratic delegates had chagrined looks, angry looks, bemused looks, and very rarely sympathetic looks on their faces. They could not escape this Boston shitstorm. Thousands of delegates each heard it from people who hate Bush, who hate the Republicans, but who hate war and hypocrisy more. They heard the bitter disappointment that people had with the party. Though always a radical at heart, I used to believe in a reformist tactics, to vote and nudge change one step at a time. I even voted, I’m ashamed to admit, for Al Gore in 2000. I vow that I will not vote for John Kerry. After seeing the Democrats push through a pro war agenda, push through the Patriot Act (Gephardt himself introduced that to the House), call for greater security measures, and refuse to allow the people of this country their free speech rights in Boston, how can I in good conscience do that? They say a vote for Nader (or Cobb) is a vote for Bush, but that’s ridiculous. We have the power to change things. Not a single vote has been cast. If people voted their conscience, their power over us would be broken. A vote for Kerry is a vote for the Bush agenda; it’s a vote for free speech prisons, for greater assaults on civil liberties, and more war. Bush may push all those agendas more than Kerry, but we have candidates who stand for something better. Why won’t we come together and vote for those candidates? A vote for Kerry is a vote against breaking this cycle. Every four years, the other guy is going to be worse, but it’s this politics of fear that continues to produce the George Bush’s of this world. It has to stop. That’s what was continuing on the streets for hours. The faint voice of democracy was pleading with those who had the power to change things to stand up for something, to get a backbone and stand up for peace and justice.
Even if you are going to vote for Kerry, I find it hard to believe you wouldn’t have been appalled at the sight in Boston, at the behavior of the Democratic Party. We met almost no one who was enthusiastic about Kerry, though we met many who planned on voting for him anyhow. When all you can say is that the man is not Bush, how enthusiastic can you be?
One of the highlights of giving the delegates an earful was seeing DC Mayor Anthony Williams. Williams is a democrat who once hosted a fundraiser for a Republican congresswoman. Much more pernicious than that, his administration has pursued an aggressive policy of construction that has gentrified poor areas. He shut down the only public hospital in the city. Somehow, the DC delegation managed not to have enough power to keep statehood for DC on the Democratic platform, although similar language was there in support of Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories. I yelled out, “Mayor Williams! Mayor Williams!” Finally, we got his attention. Dave called him a traitor. Others accused him of selling DC down the river. I yelled at him about the public hospital. After he saw us, he walked smugly away. It’s the second time that day DC activists shouted him down. Activist Bork heckled him at an earlier event that day.
Since the delegates were approachable for hours, had people wanted to take direct action and stop the delegates from entering, a very small number could have chained themselves to the fence to create a significant problem. It is unfortunate how people become so scared of the security that they don’t realize the opportunities. People assume they won’t be anywhere near the Republican Convention in New York, but they simply do not know that. Direct action was possible. We decided it was more useful to give the Democrats an earful.
Finally, after hours, the Boston police figured out the security hole and brought pens to block off activists from delegates. By then, we were ready to go home having done the most important job I could imagine doing in Boston. I drove home all night on the adrenaline of those last hours. We departed with some doughnuts and made our way home.
To be honest, we didn’t want to leave. It seemed like Boston needed us.
Now, DC needs us. DC needs us to organize our anti-war movement, to mobilize this city for New York, to unite and let the Republicans know that their injustice is extremely shameful. We must get the numbers to New York, must find ways to take care of each other. We need help, though. We need your help with buying bus tickets, helping us find housing, getting the word out to all the neighborhoods in our region. This has to be huge and important, and it’s up to us.
Genevieve and Dave took charge of an opportunity to let the delegates know how we felt; we have to keep the faith and see that those opportunities already belong to all of us right now. Organizing is hard work. You are going to have people doing things you don’t agree with, people you find yourselves uncomfortable around, but what’s the alternative? The alternative is letting these corporate and militaristic villains get away with their crimes? We have to change this dynamic now. So, let’s put our egos aside and get to work.
So ends my report on Boston.
P. S. I want to thank all those who came with the Friday crew. Besides those mentioned, I want to mention Ann, of the Statehood Green Party, who was a fabulous help with Paul and a lot of fun to be around. I want to thank Pete and Suzanne for driving. Thanks to Luke in Boston for giving us housing and to Dave’s family in Marblehead for all their warm hospitality.
This work is in the public domain