Friday, August 06, 2004

Escape From New York

The Republican National Convention is just three weeks away, and it promises to be the biggest political spectacle this country has seen in years. No, not because Arnold is speaking, or anything going on inside Madison Square Garden for that matter, but because of what will be taking place outside the convention. This year's RNC will be the scene of the largest political protest in the United States since the 1968 Chicago DNC riots.

For the first time in history, the Republican Party will hold its convention in New York City. Normally considered "enemy" territory for repubs, the choice was obvious for this administration that continues to capitalize on 9/11 for political gain. This transparent basis for choosing New York hasn't been lost on its citizens, either. Some activists and protestors have had this convention circled on their calendars for years, and early estimates have placed the total number of protestors at over one million.

Unlike Chicago in 1968, with thousands of random street protests and outbreaks of violence, this year's protest has seen unprecedented organization and planning. United for Peace & Justice is an organization formed in 2002 whose sole purpose is coordinating anti-Bush protests, in particular the 2004 RNC convention. Over 800 organizations around the US will be participating in the NYC protests, and the UPJ covers everything from securing city protest permits to scheduling bus trips into the city for protestors around the country.

But as the organization of protesting has gotten more advanced, this year's level of law enforcement has kept pace. Bushy is known to travel worldwide in so-called "security bubbles", sort of like travelling green zones. You'd better believe that New York City at the end of August is going to be one huge "bubble" (i.e. shitstorm). This may produce some of the least American imagery ever taken place inside the states: concrete roadblocks on downtown streets, police checkpoints to verify people's "papers", movable barricades supported with heavy weapons, bizarre police car "swarms", an estimated 40,000 police & law enforcement personnel - many with machine guns, helicoptors flying overhead. Lockdown. Full details (a must read!) ....

In addition, the police dept. has taken a lesson from the Department of Homeland Security, and issued its own type of "terror warnings" :
Such words are meant to encourage some sections of the protesters to "distance" themselves from more militant and confrontational forces--and to set up justification for police brutality against those who refuse to stay within the bound of allowable protest as defined by those in authority. Dropping such items into the media is an attempt by the authorities to set the terms in advance for police tactics like charging into protests--permitted or not--to "extract" and arrest demonstrators. The NYPD has specially trained squads--made up of nine cops each and led by a sergeant--to move into crowds of protesters and single out specific people for arrests.

Protestors now must apply for special permits to protest (many have been denied), and then are given isolated "freedom zones" (fenced-in city blocks, or "pits") that are miles away from the convention. Needless to say, many activists have taken to protesting the permits themselves. Here's a preliminary description of expected protest activites (expecting 1,000 arrests per day).....

What does it say about an administration, when it needs to shutdown and suppress the civil liberties of its people wherever it goes, all for the purpose of maintaining the "democratic process"? As well organized and thought out as both the protests and law enforcement are for this year's events, all the ingredients are there for something to go wrong. Angry protestors, paranoid law enforcement, vietnam-style divisive political beliefs, all taking place in the busiest city in the country (is there anything less settling for an American than seeing their own city being controlled by machine gun wielding troops?) . It will be interesting to see if all this gets as much news coverage as anything Arnold has to say.