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Commentary :: DNC : Organizing
Open Letter to NEasternU Journalist Who Got it Wrong
04 Aug 2004
A brief article appeared in the Northeastern University newspaper about the DNC protests. Surprisingly enough, factual information seemed to be conspicuously absent, so I wrote this letter in an attempt to set them straight. I don't know if they'll publish it or not, but I thought it might be of interest to others.
To the Editor (and the Northeastern Community):

I am writing in regard to the article in the DNC Edition of the NU News entitled "Protests Smaller Than Expected". I am not sure if those involved in writing this article meant to be deliberately misleading in their coverage of the rally/march on July 29, if they are misinformed, or if I am misinterpreting what was written. Regardless, I would like to call to your attention several things mentioned in the article that conflict with what I witnessed firsthand as a participant in the aforementioned rally, and to suggest that more care is taken in the future to accurately report events, regardless of the esteem in which one holds the participants.

I will quote the article for reference:

"... As the final day of the convention approached, protesters decided rallies would go on outside the convention in spite of the free speech zone, as an anti-war rally and other demonstrations were held on Canal Street, blocking the delegate entrance from that side.
In the first sign of possible uproar all week, a spontaneous protest broke out which resulted in a shoving match and the burning of cardboard figures of Bush and Kerry.

Police immediately broke through the crowd to put out the fire, and ultimately arrested the individual. Two others were arrested, one for assault and battery of a police officer. Names of the arrested were unavailable from police. ..."

- There were several events scheduled for the 29th. The event at which the effigy was burned was separate from the anti-war rally/vigil held later that afternoon. The event in question was a march co-sponsored by (according to the Green-Rainbow Party, the Black Anarchist Cross and Homes Not Jails. The permit holder for the march was the Bl(a)ck Tea Society, an ad-hoc coalition of antiauthoritarian and anti-war groups that came together to protest the DNC in general and various specific causes. The second gathering was sponsored by Kucinich for President and various other groups, and was promoted (on a flyer I received) as “Nonviolent Rally/Vigil: A Call to Democrats for Peace and Justice”. I just wanted to clear that up.
- When the march reached the “Soft Zone” outside of the Fleet Center around 3:00 PM, its participants (myself included) occupied the area at Causeway and Canal streets. People were chanting and talking and the atmosphere was positive, despite the legions of police (many in riot gear) and the uniformed soldiers peering down through their binoculars from their perches on the overpass surrounding the area. The fire was lit shortly after the marchers arrived, and I watched as people gathered around. At this point, the crowd consisted of mostly journalists who were trying to get shots of the fire and, I suspect, praying for a riot to ensue, given the lack of any “real news” out of the convention up to that point. HOWEVER…
- The police remained calm, non-confrontational and basically indifferent as people got up to throw various objects into the fire (a copy of the book Fortunate Son, an American flag and cardboard signs). I personally overheard an officer standing near me on the sidewalk say to his fellow officer, “Let them do whatever they want, they’re not hurting anyone.” Gradually, interest in the fire died down, and people turned their attention elsewhere. The embers were left smoldering on the street, but there still had not been any police/protester confrontations at this point.
- Everybody’s version of the events that ensued differs. The police say they grabbed a protester who was “allegedly in possession of an accelerant”. The “accelerant” in question was not even a “fake Molotov cocktail” (as so many intrepid journalists and commentators have speculated). The person in question was part of the “Pirates Against Bush” group, who dress up like pirates and engage in acts of street theater to draw attention to their views. What the police and the media thought was a poorly constructed replica of an explosive device, designed to frighten or intimidate, was actually meant to be a fake pirate’s hook. An officer (possibly two) grabbed the individual by his backpack as he was standing around, talking to his friends, and dragged him away. This incident is well-documented with pictures and video footage on
- Upon seeing this, the other protesters, in a show of solidarity, swarmed around the police and began chanting, “Let him go!” Several officers were trapped in the middle of the crowd, and while they deliberated their next action, the two lines of riot police stationed on the opposite end of the street began moving in towards the crowd.
- It is unclear how the “scuffle” between police and protesters that everyone agrees happened next began. One way or another, police and protesters began shoving each other, and several people were knocked to the ground. One girl was hit with a police baton. One officer claims to have been “sucker-punched” on the back of the head, but none of the video footage or photographs seem to corroborate his statement. Two more people were arrested at this point.
- After all of this, the crowd began to disperse a bit, and the marchers continued on to their destination (Boston Common). A police car, police helicopter, and dozens of motorcycle and bicycle police accompanied the march. Riot police stood in lines along the sidewalks of the route. We arrived at Boston Common without incident and proceeded to sit in front of a stage to listen to speeches on issues including alternative energy sources and the Israel-Palestine conflict.

It has been astonishing for me to see how so many people who witnessed an event can have so many different interpretations of it, depending on how the issue is framed. What astonishes me the most, however, is how generally negative the attitude towards those who participated in the march seems to be. It seems to me that political involvement and activism is supposed to be a good thing, but apparently, I’ve been wrong all this time. A lot of people think protesting/demonstrating is misguided or a waste of resources, but many of those same people seem to misunderstand the point. Protesters don’t go to a march or rally with the intention of changing the world with that one event. Their goal is to raise awareness of various issues and to promote dialogues on those issues between citizens, particularly those citizens who may never have thought to consider viewpoints not conveniently presented to them by the corporate media. The problem is, protesters are always portrayed in such a negative light that the issues at heart never have a chance to surface.

The next time a protest comes to town, rather than focusing on the spectacular elements of it, get to the heart of things. Find out why people are protesting – the vast majority of activists are explicitly nonviolent and passionate about their causes. They – we – are trying to tell you something. Most of us are frustrated with the general state of things and with the perceived apathy of the American people, so we take to the streets in the hopes that we will be heard. But the message never gets through the way it was intended – somewhere between the street ant the newspaper page, or the 11 o’clock news, the facts get skewed or disregarded, the issues become a non-issue, and the only story is that some stuff got burned and some kids antagonized the always peaceful and helpful police (note sarcasm). Stop and consider, just for a second, that perhaps those people who were out there had something meaningful to say.

Imagine, if you will, that you are sitting in a movie theater. Maybe you're finally getting a chance to see Spider Man 2. You're psyched. All of the sudden, you notice smoke, and realize that a small fire has begun in the corner of the theater and that it’s beginning to spread. Now, imagine that you stand up and start yelling, at the top of your lungs, “Fire! Fire!” only to have the other people in the audience start hissing at you to be quiet, to sit down, that you’re ruining the movie. This is the frustration that I, and many others, feel every time we stand up for something we believe in and are largely ignored or discredited by the general public (millions protested the Iraq war before it began, but their cries were disregarded). Protesters are not always peaceful, but the tendency of the American media to portray all protesters as wacky, “anarchist” pyromaniacs only serves to discredit those of us – the vast majority – who are out there because we are standing up for what we believe is right.

This work is in the public domain
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Re: You'd think with all the journalists covering the protests, one of them would have gotten it right.
04 Aug 2004
I feel the last paragraph sums up the piece very well. I am a new journalist, and I have always been fascinated at the lack of attention to certain issues, most especially the protests of the war in Iraq. The world today has an eerie similarity to the book "1984", as it seems that some people just want to skate through life, and not be bothered with anything seriouis.
Re: You'd think with all the journalists covering the protests, one of them would have gotten it right.
04 Aug 2004
I talked to a guy from Food Not Bombs, who said he saw a "corporate logo flag" being burned - you know, the US flag with the stars replaced by corporate logos.

So, I'm curious about the corporate press. They apparently mistook a Pirate Hook costume prop for a fake incendiary. And they apparently broadcast a flag Barbecue, but was it a real flag or a corporate-logo flag? (if there's any difference!)

One of my co-workers, fooled by the corporate spin, said the so-called fake incendiary was just as bad as carrying a plastic gun.
Re: You'd think with all the journalists covering the protests, one of them would have gotten it right.
04 Aug 2004
thanks for writing in a manner that is fair and considers what is known and what seemed unclear rather than drawing conclusions..
Re: You'd think with all the journalists covering the protests, one of them would have gotten it right.
04 Aug 2004
I think this is an excellent letter. The only clarification that I want to make is that the protester with the pirate hook was not in fact part of Pirates Against Bush, but rather a larger Pirate Bloc that was created two days prior with the purpose of dressing up for Thursday. Pirates Against Bush was there and involved, along with the Pirate Bloc from the RNC and other pirates.
Also, to Soupy Sales, I saw the corporate logo flag (from Unbrand America, part of Adbusters) there, but I am almost positive it is not the one that was burned. I could be wrong though.
Re: You'd think with all the journalists covering the protests, one of them would have gotten it right.
04 Aug 2004
thanks for the comments, everyone.. there is a video somewhere of the flag-burning, but when i saw it, i wasn't paying close enough attention to see if it was the real flag or not. i was walking next to a kid who had the corporate-logo flag on the way to the fleet center, so it's very likely that is what was burned. if that's so, then chalk one more up for the media for misreporting yet another aspect of what actually happened. cool.
Re: Open Letter to NEasternU Journalist Who Got it Wrong
07 Aug 2004
Whatever happened to the "old fashioned" way of journalism? Getting off your ass. Asking real questions, of those involved. Seeking the truth?
Until media can do it right?
Americans will be wary!