Democracy Now! correspondent Jeremy Scahill heads to the streets of Denver to report on day one of protests outside of the Democratic National Convention. He speaks to antiwar activist Cindy Sheehan, Green Party presidential candidate Cynthia McKinney, Vietnam veteran Ron Kovic, M1 of Dead Prez, Leslie Cagan of United for Peace and Justice and others. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org. Breaking with Convention, War, Peace and the Presidency. We’re broadcasting this week from Denver. We’ll be traveling from the streets to the suites to the convention floor. And while much of the attention will be focused on what’s happening inside the convention, we begin our coverage outside the heavily fortified gates of the Pepsi Center. Democracy Now! correspondent Jeremy Scahill filed this report.
JEREMY SCAHILL: The city of Denver has been converted to a massive monument celebrating Barack Obama. This weekend, some 4,000 delegates to the Democratic National Convention began flooding the city for the much-anticipated coronation of the man chosen by the Democrats to face John McCain in November. Some 15,000 journalists are here, as well.
The convention could be described as one big political NASCAR race, with corporate logos splashed on practically everything related to the big show. The total cost of the convention could well top $100 million. It is on track to be the most expensive political convention in US history.
Some $50 million has been allocated by the federal government to the city for security, and Denver is now home to a massive twenty-four-hour fusion center, where law enforcement agencies, from the US Secret Service and the FBI to the state and local police, monitor events inside the convention and on the streets.
And it is in the streets of Denver where the uninvited guests will find themselves this week. While the big party is underway in the Pepsi Center, the site of the DNC, the party crashers will be outside the fortified sports arena.
While convention delegates checked into their hotel rooms across the city, unpacked their free corporate-sponsored goodie bags and plotted out which parties to attend, a few thousand demonstrators marched and held rallies downtown. Crowds were smaller than past convention protests, but the dedicated demonstrators gathered in the streets to protest the continued funding of the Iraq war, threats to escalate the war in Afghanistan, and railed against the substantial corporate influence in politics.
Among the crowd, there were many national figures in the streets, like Cindy Sheehan, whose son Casey was killed in Iraq in 2004. She denounced the multimillion-dollar convention extravaganza.
CINDY SHEEHAN: Well, of course, it’s just a show. And the most telling thing to me about it was when — AT&T is one of the major sponsors of the Democratic National Convention. Right before Congress recessed for the break, they gave telecoms immunity and the administration immunity from warrantless wiretapping and spying on Americans. That’s a direct breach of the Fourth Amendment, our right to be private in our papers and, you know, possessions.
So, yeah, I think that the Democrats, especially in the past eight years of the Bush administration, have grown closer and closer and closer to the Republicans. They have not been an effective opposition party. And since Obama has become the presumptive nominee, every time the Republicans, like, pressure him on anything, he moves closer to them. And now we see in the polls where he’s tied with McCain, which to me is amazing. McCain, you know, in my opinion, is a doddering old fool. And if Obama put as much daylight between himself and McCain, he would be at least twenty points ahead.
CYNTHIA McKINNEY: Our country has been hijacked.
JEREMY SCAHILL: At the Recreate 68 rally outside the Capitol building, one of those to address the gathering was herself a delegate in conventions past, former US Congress member Cynthia McKinney. She’s now running against Barack Obama and the Democrats as the Green Party presidential candidate.
You used to be inside of these conventions. You would walk around. You would see the parties, the corporate sponsorship. What’s it like now to be on the outside and not going inside?
CYNTHIA McKINNEY: I’m free, in every sense of the word. I have liberated myself from the shackles of the two-party paradigm, and now I’m free to advocate the policies that I know the American people really want and that reflect their values. And it’s wonderful to be free.
JEREMY SCAHILL: Also on hand at the protest was Ward Churchill, a longtime American Indian Movement activist who was controversially fired by the University of Colorado. Churchill is a prominent figure in Colorado justice struggles, particularly around indigenous rights.
WARD CHURCHILL: You have the abomination happening in Denver, and I’m not being cute. Rush Limbaugh put in an “O” rather than the “A”; it is a straight-up “A” abomination, a charade that’s undertaken to perpetuate business as usual.
And if you’re going to oppose the occupation and the process of war that is engendered by occupation, you need to deal with the fact that the fundamental equation is right here. Every square inch of North America that’s constituted as United States is indigenous territory that’s been expropriated by armed force and is maintained in that situs of expropriation. And as long as you have that foundation to this country, that fundamental equation in place, then the kind of results that are being protested here are going to inevitably result.
JEREMY SCAHILL: While almost all of the hype in Denver this week centers around Barack Obama, there was concern among the demonstrators over the selection of Senator Joseph Biden as his running mate. Biden is the latest addition to a foreign policy team that’s comprised of some of the most hawkish Clinton-era officials. Biden himself was a key figure in authorizing the invasion of Iraq. Here’s Leslie Cagan of United for Peace and Justice.
LESLIE CAGAN: His record has not been great. We focus mostly on issues of war and peace, and he’s not been great. He’s been awful, actually. On Iraq, he was the one who came up with the idea, at least in this country — the one who came up with the idea of partitioning Iraq into three separate republics. First of all, why anybody in this country should even have a position like that, you know, doesn’t make any sense. But so, we’re concerned that — you know, that this doesn’t send a signal of a strong antiwar candidacy. So we’re concerned about that.
What it does, though, is it reminds us — it should be a wake-up call to people all around the country who are committed to ending the war in Iraq and bringing all the troops home that our work is far from over and that during these next several months, this election season, we need to be visible, we need to be at every campaign stop, not only for the presidency and the vice presidency, but for every congressional office. We need to be out there and visible and vocal as an antiwar movement, saying the war needs to end, it needs to end now, and all the troops need to come home, and the contractors, too.
ANN WRIGHT: Well, Ann Wright, a retired US Army colonel and US diplomat who resigned in opposition to the war in Iraq.
JEREMY SCAHILL: What’s your reaction to Obama choosing Biden? What message does this send?
ANN WRIGHT: Well, it sends that it’s — he’s a part of the old Democratic establishment, and he is — while he’s had a long history with foreign affairs, I mean, it’s not all — it’s not the type of foreign affairs that I want.
JEREMY SCAHILL: Obama seems to be pulling in all of these old-guard Democrats, all of the famed people from the Clinton era, the Madeleine Albrights, the Warren Christophers, Anthony Lake, Susan Rice. I mean, what does that say? Or what’s your analysis of — once again, we see progressive rhetoric, then he beats Hillary and takes in all of these people who are the old guard?
ANN WRIGHT: Well, you’ve exactly identified what’s happening, and that concerns us, because there are plenty of other voices that are out there that have a very different way of approaching a US foreign policy, that it’s a policy of the United States, not as a dominating imperial place, but as a place that is a member of the international community and conducts itself as such.
And we certainly know that during the Clinton administration, where all of these folks that you’ve identified, they were a part of the invasion and occupation of many, many countries. They committed breaches of international law in military operations that they conducted. And it does not give me a good feeling at all that Barack Obama is pulling in that same group. There are plenty of other foreign policy experts that are out there that have a different vision of what America ought to be and how — what America’s stature in the world should be and how we get to it from this tremendous hole that the Bush administration and the Democratic Congress has dug for us.
LARRY EVEREST: I’m Larry Everest. I’m the author of Oil, Power and Empire: Iraq and the US Global Agenda. It shows that despite the fact many people — “Oh, the economy is the issue. It’s all about the economy.” No, it’s not all about the economy. Objectively, with events in the Middle East, in Iraq, in Afghanistan, Pakistan, now Georgia, with Iran looming all over this, no matter who is in office, the ruling class of this country confronts these huge challenges and these explosive contradictions in trying to maintain and extend their grip on the world. So, in my view, Obama’s selection of Biden points to that, that in order to contend, you have to show — you’re basically auditioning to be commander-in-chief of the US empire.
JEREMY SCAHILL: Again, Green Party presidential candidate, Cynthia McKinney.
CYNTHIA McKINNEY: Well, you can’t get more inside the Beltway than Joseph Biden, so it looks like it’s going to be more of the same, and that’s truly unfortunate. But we understood that that’s where the Democratic Party was. It’s where it has been. It’s where it is today. And that’s why we have to have alternative parties and alternative voices. That’s why I’m here in Denver today.
JEREMY SCAHILL: On Monday night, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will officially open the Democratic National Convention. As she bangs the gavel, one of her fiercest critics will remain in the streets: Cindy Sheehan, who’s challenging Pelosi for her congressional seat in San Francisco in the fall.
CINDY SHEEHAN: In 2002, she was briefed on torture, and she sanctioned it. As a member of the leadership of the Democratic Party, she has been instrumental in funding the occupations, especially since she’s been Speaker. She could definitely withdraw funding from this. She has been instrumental in supporting the police-state fascism of the Bush regime. So she’s been very complicit in what’s going on. I believe that’s one of the reasons that impeachment’s off the table.
TOM HANKS: Hello, I’m Tom Hanks, and I want Barack Obama to be the next president of our country.
JEREMY SCAHILL: Perhaps more than any candidate in history, Barack Obama has seen an impressive array of celebrities line up to support him. Many of these figures are flying into Denver to cheer on Obama, as they have with high-profile advertisements.
The Brooklyn-based political hip-hop group dead prez was not among those artists invited inside to perform at the DNC, like Kanye West, Wyclef Jean and Black Eyed Peas. But the duo of M1 and stic.man is here in Denver performing at rallies and evening political gatherings. And they seemed right at home among the crowds in the Denver streets.
M1: Their political objectives are limited, and we know that they are surface, surface. We’re looking at a government who’s a paper tiger and someone who wants to participate in a paper democracy.
JEREMY SCAHILL: What do you make of this major embrace, as it seems, not just of hip-hop, but the whole entertainment industry, of the Obama camp?
STIC.MAN: It’s lack of understanding, the lack of political clarity, you know what I mean? And it’s marketing, you know what I mean? It’s like Barack is hot. He’s, you know —- he’s the [blank] right now, so throw him on your jacket, you know what I mean? And, you know, it ain’t really deep. It’s just people riding the wave, you know what I mean? And that’s what hip-hop is being used for, is, you know, to sell products, to sell [blank] to us, stuff [blank] down our throat that might not necessarily be good for us. So some of the hip-hop people, you know, who do hip-hop, and this is our culture, we have to speak from the vantage point of people who want real power. And hip-hop is part of that. Barack wouldn’t even be in the position he’s in without the support of hip-hop. You know, and we -—
JEREMY SCAHILL: So are you guys going to vote?
M1: Hell no.
STIC.MAN: Yeah, yeah, I’m going to vote.
M1: OK, cool.
JEREMY SCAHILL: Who are you going to vote for?
STIC.MAN: I mean, I’m voting with my art.
STIC.MAN: I’m voting with my participation in rallies like this. I’m voting — you know what I mean? — in raising my son, you know what I mean, to recognize the truth about this system. I’m voting in so many ways, I don’t even got time to go to the booth in November.
M1: I’m voting for Mumia Abu-Jamal. Free ’em all. Feel me.
JEREMY SCAHILL: Dead prez joined with the protesters as they defied orders not to march directly on the Pepsi Center. The procession was led by Vietnam vet Ron Kovic, whose life story was made into the movie Born on the Fourth of July. Kovic, who led the march in his wheelchair, and the others refused to go into the so-called free speech zone, a caged-in area that has become a common feature of these political conventions.
RON KOVIC: We’re going to the Pepsi Center. We’re going to sit down at the Pepsi Center. We’re going to cover the streets. We are opposed to this war. They will not take away our liberty. They will not take away our freedom of speech or our freedom of assembly. We are struggling this week in Denver and battling in this week in Denver not only to stop the war in Iraq, but we are fighting — we are fighting for democracy. This is not only an antiwar movement; this is becoming a democracy movement, as well.
I did not give three-quarters of my body in Vietnam in 1968, forty years ago, to be put inside of a cage. I’m going to speak. I’m going to raise my voice against this war, and I refuse to be silenced. And we refuse to be silenced. We’re growing stronger every day. This is going to become one of the most powerful antiwar movements in the history of this country.
PROTESTERS: We won’t be silenced! We won’t be silenced! We won’t be silenced!
JEREMY SCAHILL: Kovic and his allies blocked the media entrance to the Pepsi Center for about two hours on Sunday, effectively shutting it down. More protests are planned for each day of the convention.
PROTESTERS: We won’t be silenced! We won’t be silenced!
AMY GOODMAN: That report produced by Democracy Now! correspondent Jeremy Scahill and Jacquie Soohen of Big Noise Films.