As the Republicans and Democrats finalize their plans for the political conventions this summer in Philadelphia and Los Angeles, activists are in full swing with plans for the Un-Convention in the streets. Today we are going to look at the plans for the official conventions and the protests in the streets. [includes rush transcript]
- Rita Lewis, a spokesperson for the Democratic National Committee and a former adviser to President Clinton on political affairs.
- Franklin Siegel, a lawyer with the Center for Constitutional Rights.
- Amadee Braxton, an organizer with the Philadelphia Direct Action Group (PDAG) and member of the Black Radical Congress.
- Garrick Ruiz, an organizer with Rise Up–Direct Action Network Los Angeles.
AMY GOODMAN: Today we’re going to take a quick look at preparations for the Republican and Democratic conventions. But before we do this, if you listened to the top of the show, you heard the top headline, and I wanted to get a comment on it, since we do have a guest from Philadelphia with us.
A largely white mob of Philadelphia police officers caught on videotape by a news helicopter yesterday kicking and beating a black man. I have been seeing this repeated over and over again on the airwaves, the videotape of this beating, certainly reminiscent of the Rodney King beating that was also caught on videotape. The police commissioner of Philadelphia, John Timoney, who comes from the New York Police Department, said there are now three police investigations under way since yesterday, when this video came out on the airwaves. The mayor of Philadelphia has held a news conference, the police commissioner, etc.
We’re joined on the phone by Amadee Braxton, an organizer with the Philadelphia Direct Action Group and a member of the Black Radical Congress. What kind of response is this getting in Philadelphia, Amadee?
Well, I think, you know, the images are so reminiscent of the Rodney King incident, and, you know, it’s an outrageous image to see repeated over and over on television. You know, and I think, you know, some people are wary of using this one particular incident, you know, to act as if this is a special case, because I think that there are many incidents of police brutality that occur, you know, throughout the year on a regular basis in Philadelphia and other cities and, you know, certainly don’t get this much attention.
I know that in preparations for protests at the Republican National Convention, the issue of police brutality and the prison-industrial complex is one that you’re going to be dealing with. Can you talk about your preparations for the convention? That’s going to be beginning on July 31 to August 4.
Sure, well, just this past weekend, members of the Philadelphia Direct Action Group and also members of the Ruckus Society, which provides training in nonviolent civil disobedience tactics, joined together to provide a weekend-long training on techniques of nonviolent civil disobedience. And the participants in that training came from all up and down the East Coast and were a majority of people of color, poor people, people living with AIDS, that were learning these skills in preparation for any confrontations with the police. And we all learned how to de-escalate potentially violent situations when confronting the police and talked about different scenarios that we might be, you know, coming up against during that week of the convention.
In addition, the Philadelphia Direct Action Group is sponsoring a convergence site that I believe begins the week before, on July 24, so all during that week, this will be a place for people who are coming in from out of town to demonstrate, can get skills — some of the same skills we learned over this past weekend about nonviolent civil disobedience tactics, understanding your legal rights if you are taken into custody by the police, etc.
It’s interesting, the police in Pennsylvania — Philadelphia — are clearly preparing for this, as well. There’s a piece in the New York Daily News today that says Philadelphia police conducted a cloak-and-dagger surveillance of demonstrators at a May Day rally in New York on May 1st, which possibly violated a consent decree in 1985 designed to protect people’s privacy.
At the May 1st rally, undercover Philly cops snapped pictures of about twenty demonstrators dressed in black and covering their mouths with bandanas. The Philadelphia Police Chief, John Timoney, who was a high-level person in the New York Police Department before he went to Philadelphia, said it’s part of Philadelphia police strategy to identify troublemakers who have said they plan to attend the Republican National Convention.
Just before the program, I spoke with Franklin Siegel, who is with the Center for Constitutional Rights and was involved in crafting that 1985 consent decree, and asked him what he thought about this latest revelation of the Philadelphia police moving into New York to film protesters.
FRANKLIN SIEGEL: The New York police have been put out of the business of — or supposed to have been put out of the business of spying on lawful activities of citizens. And on May Day, when police from Philadelphia came to prepare for what they say are just orders at the Republican National Convention, they were there with the knowledge of the New York police and the hosting of the New York police, we believe. And basically the New York police are not supposed to be intervening in such matters, unless there is evidence of a crime taking place. It would be illegal. It would be a violation of the Hanshu order for the New York police to be hosting activities of the Philadelphia police, which are simply a dragnet of who’s at a demonstration who might come to Philadelphia who we’d like to identify in case something happens.
Franklin Siegel of the Center for Constitutional Rights. We want to go across the country to Los Angeles to see what’s happening at the Democratic — in preparations for the Democratic convention. We’re joined by Rita Lewis, who is a spokesperson for the Democratic National Committee, and she’s a former adviser to President Clinton for political affairs. Rita Lewis, from inside the convention, how are things shaping up?
You know, things are actually shaping up very, very well. I think things, Amy, have settled down tremendously from what we’ve seen in many months before. As all of you are aware — or as we’d like to have your audience know that Mayor Riordan, who is the mayor of Los Angeles, working in conjunction with the L.A. host committee, and, as you know, one of the president’s key advisers, Terry McAuliffe, has gone in as the senior chairman of the convention after Governor Romer took the position as the Superintendent of Schools in Los Angeles. And so, we believe that the money is there. The LA City Council has continued their significant commitment, and so it’s — we now have, I believe, all parties working in unison to move forward and put forth the best image for the Democratic Party and for Al Gore.
How is the fundraising going?
The fundraising has been going actually spectacular. Terry McAuliffe, who, you know, is just a superior fundraiser for this administration and for the Democratic Party and for the Vice President, working with Mayor Riordan, has come on board and, you know, in recent — in over several weeks, we’re beginning to — we’ve met our targets and beginning to exceed them.
How much have you raised?
You know, I’m not sure exactly what all total is. I know the financial obligation on the city is — will be providing about seven million, and that’s going to be going to transportation and security-related services. The host committee has been responsible for the remainder of the funds, with the cash requirement being over twenty million, and we believe in the end we’re going to have about ten million in in-kind services and goods.
Why does it cost that much? I mean, I know, just going to the websites, the top sponsors are Chevron Corporation, one of the largest headquartered in California, Ernst & Young. Why do you need $20 million to announce who is the Democratic presidential candidate?
You know, it’s really been interesting. One of the things that really, I think, people look at is that this is really an opportunity for a city to be showcased and for the Democratic Party to be showcased, and so you have an opportunity whereby if the city — when you have a city that will be receiving about 135 million economic impact, and so with all of the activities that go on, it turns out being a very big celebration for Democrat — for the administration that has just passed, and as well as for the selection of our new candidate.
Are you concerned about what these conventions look like to people who don’t have the kind of resources to sponsor these conventions, that they are large corporations that are making their contributions — some call campaign contributions “bribes” — to the parties so that they can affect legislation?
Well, you know, no one, whether it be Democratic Party or Republican Party, looks at the contributions that the corporations or individuals or companies made towards the parties’ conventions as any form of bribe whatsoever. This is just — this is an opportunity to celebrate in the Democratic Party, as well as in the Republican Party, and being able to put forth the image that America is going to see after the nominee comes out of the party, is what America is really going to be focused on.
As you very well know, Amy, by all indications, America has really not been paying attention, but after the end of each one of the conventions, you see a significant lift for both candidates, and we in the Democratic Party hope that happens — we look forward to that happening to our candidate.
Garrick Ruiz is also with us from Los Angeles, an organizer with Rise Up–Direct Action Network Los Angeles, a group of activists. Garrick held a news conference yesterday talking about your preparations for the Democratic National Convention.
Rita Lewis just mentioned the money that’s been raised also to deal with security. We were just talking about security in Philadelphia. What do you see shaping up in Los Angeles?
Well, we definitely have a lot of preparations going on. One of the things that I’d like to say about that money that was raised from the city is that originally when the Democratic National Convention had planned to come to Los Angeles, the commitment made to the City Council was that there would be no public funds for the convention, and then two weeks ago that was gone back on, and the committee asked for millions of dollars. I believe it was four million plus two million dollars in transportation funds, so six million total. And so, basically we saw the city of Los Angeles bail out this convention.
Another thing I’d just like to mention is that, you know, the convention organizers have talked a lot about showing the, you know, best face of Los Angeles, and one of the things we’d like to do is show the real face of Los Angeles, in terms of the people who are not going to be at this convention. You know, we live — I live in a city where fifty people control as much wealth as the bottom two million people, and those people aren’t going to be seen in sort of all these Democratic Party galas that are happening and the sort of staged antics inside the convention.
And one other thing to point out. We had our press conference right outside the Staples Center, which is where the convention is going to happen. It was actually inside a ten-block zone where the Los Angeles Police Department is going to be erecting a seventeen-foot-high fence, and within that ten-block area, only delegates, members of the media and police will be allowed inside. So basically we’re going to have a huge military encampment in the middle of Los Angeles, and that’s really what is going to be projected out to the public.
And what are your plans for outside?
There will be a large number of demonstrations going on throughout the four days of the convention and even leading up to it. The convention is from August 14th through the 17th. There will be a variety of marches on a variety of different issues, as well as more confrontational direct action and civil disobedience happening. We intend to have really a festival in Los Angeles. We want to show — we want to highlight what’s wrong with the Democratic Party, which is very similar to what’s wrong with the Republican Party, as we’ve seen them moving closer and closer together, but we also want to show the positives and what we want to see the world look like, as opposed to what it looks like right now.
Rita Lewis, that description of the security and the police, is this of concern to you?
You know, the party is very concerned about every American and all Americans in Los Angeles, not just about individuals who have the ability to come and attend this convention. In no way do we believe that this will be a military encampment, and we believe that the City Council made the right decision in keeping with the commitment and working with the citizens of Los Angeles to put forth, because of the significant economic impact that this convention will have on Los Angeles. We think it’s a priceless opportunity whereby LA will be put once again in the national spotlight and will be able to shine. And so —
Are you — let me ask this, because we’re wrapping up. Are you concerned that the police who will be enforcing security — it’s the very police department, the Los Angeles Police Department, that is under very serious scrutiny right now and investigations for police brutality and corruption?
You know, we are very sensitive, and we are — understand what has gone on in LA — I mean, what has gone on in Philadelphia. We see Mayor Street has taken a very strong stance in taking action along with his police department. We believe that Mayor Riordan is a — has been an activist mayor. He has a police chief that is very sensitive. The Democratic Party is working very closely with all law enforcement, as well as the Secret Service, and we believe we’re going to come out of this convention in a very positive light.
Well, on that note, we have to end the program. Thanks for being with us, Rita Lewis, spokesperson for the DNC, Garrick Ruiz of Rise Up–Direct Action Network, and Amadee Braxton of Philadelphia Direct Action Group.