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As Democratic Convention Kicks Off, Massive Security Presence Clamps Down on Dissent in Denver

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The 2008 Democratic National Convention kicked off Monday at the Pepsi Center in downtown Denver. We play highlights of the speeches from the convention floor, and we take a look at the massive security presence in the streets of the city with Eileen Clancy of I-Witness Video, who has been closely monitoring the protests in the streets. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: The 2008 Democratic National Convention kicked off Monday at the Pepsi Center here in Denver. Nearly a hundred people were arrested in a protest about a mile from the convention site. Police fired tear gas and pepper bullets at demonstrators. Police say they were trying to break up a traffic disruption, but protesters say the officers confronted them unprovoked.

Inside the convention arena, delegates gathered for the opening night of the week-long event. Senator Barack Obama’s wife, Michelle Obama, was the headline speaker.

    MICHELLE OBAMA: And I stand here today at the crosscurrents of that history, knowing that my piece of the American dream is a blessing hard won by those who came before me, all of them driven by the same conviction that drove my dad to get up an hour early each day to painstakingly dress himself for work, the same conviction that drives the men and women I’ve met all across this country: people who work the day shift, then kiss their kids goodnight and head out for the night shift, without disappointment, without regret — see, that goodnight kiss is a reminder of everything they’re working for; the military families who say grace each night with an empty seat at the table; the servicemen — the servicemen and women who love this country so much, they leave those they love most to defend it; the young people across America serving our communities, teaching children, cleaning up neighborhoods, caring for the least among us each and every day; people like Hillary Clinton, who put those 18 million cracks in that glass ceiling so that our daughters and our sons can dream a little bigger and aim a little higher; people like Joe Biden, who has never forgotten where he came from and never stopped fighting for folks who work long hours and face long odds and need someone on their side again. All of us driven by the simple belief that the world as it is just won’t do, that we have an obligation to fight for the world as it should be.

    And that is the thread that connects our hearts. That is the thread that runs through my journey and Barack’s journey and so many other improbable journeys that have brought us here tonight, where the current of history meets this new tide of hope. And, you see, that is why I love this country.

AMY GOODMAN: The evening also featured a triumphant return for Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts. Kennedy has largely remained out of the public eye after being diagnosed with a brain tumor earlier this year.

    SEN. TED KENNEDY: Barack Obama will be a commander-in-chief who understands that young Americans in uniform must never be committed to a mistake.

    And this is the cause of my life — new hope that we will break the old gridlock and guarantee that every American — north, south, east, west, young, old — will have decent, quality healthcare as a fundamental right and not a privilege. We can meet these challenges with Barack Obama. Yes, we can, and finally, yes, we will.

    Barack Obama will close the book on the old politics of race and of gender and group against group and straight against gay. And Barack Obama will be a commander-in-chief who understands that young Americans in uniform must never be committed to a mistake, but always for a mission worthy of their bravery.

    We are told that Barack Obama believes too much in an America of high principle and bold endeavor, but when John Kennedy thought of going to the moon, he didn’t say, “It’s too far to get there. We shouldn’t even try.” Our people answered his call and rose to the challenge, and today an American flag still marks the surface of the moon. Yes, we are all Americans. This is what we do. We reach the moon. We scale the heights. I know it. I’ve seen it. I’ve lived it. And we can do it again.

AMY GOODMAN: Senator Ted Kennedy, speaking last night at the Democratic National Convention here in Denver, Colorado.

While Kennedy and Michelle Obama were given prime-time speaking slots, another prominent Democrat got a notable demotion. Former President Jimmy Carter was removed from Monday’s speakers list in what appeared to be a last-minute change. Instead, Carter was shown in a three-minute videotaped address focusing on his work around Hurricane Katrina. He and his wife were then brought out on the stage for a ninety-second ovation from the crowd. They waved to the crowd. The move immediately fueled speculation Carter is being sidelined for his outspoken criticism of the Bush administration and Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.

Also taking the stage was House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Pelosi had harsh words for presumptive Republican nominee John McCain.

    REP. NANCY PELOSI: Republicans say that John McCain has experience. We say John McCain has the experience of being wrong.

    On the failed Bush policies that have weakened our economy and taken us from the Clinton surpluses to reckless Bush deficits and on raising the minimum wage for millions of American workers, Barack Obama is right, and John McCain is wrong.

    On healthcare for ten million American children and on protecting Medicare, a bill so critical that Senator Ted Kennedy left his own medical treatment to cast the deciding vote, Barack Obama is right, and John McCain is wrong.

    On a future of American independence, investments in renewable and clean energy, and millions of good-paying clean jobs here in America, Barack Obama is right, and John McCain is wrong.

    And on the most important foreign policy decision of our time, the war in Iraq, a catastrophic mistake that has cost thousands of lives and over a trillion dollars, as well as weakened our standing in the world and weakened our capability to protect the American people, Barack Obama is right, and John McCain is wrong, very, very wrong.

AMY GOODMAN: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s evening speech came hours after she was confronted by members of the antiwar group Code Pink at a public speaking event here in Denver. Democracy Now! was there to cover it.

    REP. NANCY PELOSI: People said to me, “How did you go from the kitchen to the Congress? How did you go from being a homemaker to being the House Speaker?”

    UNIDENTIFIED: Row three, section four!

    CODE PINK PROTESTER: Nancy, you lied right to my face! You [inaudible].

    CODE PINK PROTESTER: [inaudible] do not torture! Women do not torture! Leaders do not torture!

    CODE PINK PROTESTERS: [singing] When we make peace, when we make peace, instead of war, instead of war, when we make peace instead of war, oh, how I want to be in that number, when we make peace instead of war. When we make peace, when we make peace, instead of war, instead of war, when we make peace instead of war…

    MEDEA BENJAMIN: And is it a public space?

    POLICE OFFICER: Well, it is, but —-

    MEDEA BENJAMIN: No buts. It’s a public space.

    POLICE OFFICER: I will have to double-check on that.

    MEDEA BENJAMIN: Thank you.

    POLICE OFFICER: And once I do, if it is a public space -—

    MEDEA BENJAMIN: We appreciate that.

    POLICE OFFICER: We — I’ll be back to talk with you. But if it ain’t, you guys are going to have to leave, OK?

    MEDEA BENJAMIN: Thank you very much.

    Yeah! Alright! Well, they told us to leave, and we said, “Why?” And they said, “Because we want you to.” And then we said, “Is it a public space?” And he kind of said, “I’m not sure.” So he’s going to check whether it’s a public space, because what we’ve found, just in the last two days, is they keep saying spaces are private when they’re not private. So, part of our work is to take back public spaces for the public.

    POLICE OFFICER: This is a public thoroughfare.


    POLICE OFFICER: But this is private property, so you’re going to have to leave.

    MEDEA BENJAMIN: Well, wait, I don’t get it. If it’s private property in a public space, then what I understand — and I’ve studied this a lot — is that you can’t block passage. You have to make sure people can get through. So if you want to tell us where we have to be so that we’re not blocking people, then I totally understand and respect that.

    POLICE OFFICER: At the very end of the corner, very end of the pavilion, or the other side here.

    MEDEA BENJAMIN: You know what? We’re almost done anyway. Just give us a chance. We’ll sing one or two more songs, and then we’ll leave.

    POLICE OFFICER: They want you to leave. So I’m going to have to ask you to leave.

    CODE PINK PROTESTER: There’s no law like that.

    MEDEA BENJAMIN: They want a lot of things. I want the war to end, you know, and I can’t get what I want, so we can’t all get what we want. But we can try sometimes. [inaudible] negotiated, two more songs.

    CODE PINK PROTESTERS: [singing] I sing for the mothers who have no voice, for their power, for their blood — mothers of soldiers at war, for their sorrow, for their love.

    MEDEA BENJAMIN: Stood up for our right to not only protest Nancy Pelosi, but to make public space public. We got our one song. Now, we get our last song. And which one are we going to do?

    CODE PINK PROTESTERS: [singing] Pelosi doesn’t speak for me. We shall not be moved, just like a tree, that’s standing by the water. We shall not be moved. Bring the soldiers home.

AMY GOODMAN: And those were members of the antiwar group Code Pink, featuring its founder, Medea Benjamin. They had interrupted House Speaker Nancy Pelosi being interviewed inside before more than a thousand women for a day that was called by the DNC “Unconventional Women.” Special thanks to Elizabeth Press for producing that report.

I’m joined now in studio by Eileen Clancy of I-Witness Video. She has been closely monitoring the protests in the streets. You haven’t so much been looking at Code Pink, Eileen, but yesterday, as the convention unfolded inside the Pepsi Center, a lot was bubbling outside. Talk about that protest and your concerns about the police.

EILEEN CLANCY: Well, what we saw last night was that people had planned to be out in the streets demonstrating, and the police obviously were aware it, because they were out in huge numbers. Some people have told me they think that the police outnumbered the demonstrators as much as two-to-one or more.

The police, in the last couple of days in Denver, have been carrying extraordinary array of armaments. The federal government gave Denver $50 million for security, and the police are wearing all spanking new uniforms and riot gear and carrying grenade launchers for teargas and things like that.

But one of the things we’ve seen that’s really troubling is that, well, last night, I have never seen so many police officers with so little identification. We have provided photographs of police officers not wearing appropriate identification and nameplates to the ACLU and the People’s Law Project here in Denver, and they are doing an investigation of it.

I even saw, I mean, police officers with — bicycle police officers with nunchucks, which is a lethal martial arts weapon, and they had them, and they were, you know, in their hands and ready to go last night.

One of the people from Rochester Indymedia told me that he saw essentially sort of a plume of smoke over the demonstrators that were boxed in by the police, so they were trapped. They were not allowed to leave. They were not given a dispersal order. One of our camera people spoke to a police officer, asked what type of gas, and they were told it was CS gas. This is the kind of thing — it’s quite dangerous, of course, to use on, you know, just the random members of the public. So it’s — there were ninety-one arrests at that location.

What we had seen for the prior couple of days is very few arrests but a tremendous amount of harassment: vehicles being stopped; identification being requested; searches being done on vehicles and people without consent; people thrown down on the ground in handcuffs, held for awhile and then let go.

And part of the problem is, when they just let them go like that, there’s no really record of who that police officer was, what the basis for the detention was. And, you know, you can’t even really sue. What the heck are you going to do? You don’t know who stopped you, almost. You don’t know what it was about. But it’s very intimidating. It’s very much harassment. In some cases — in one instance, at least, one group of people was told they were on a terrorist watch list. So those people — some of those people were detained, and some of those people have been arrested.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you about this piece we had in headlines about what’s happening in Minnesota, the group of video activists that say they’ve been detained and stripped of their video equipment a week ahead of the Republican convention. Members of the group Glass Bead Collective say they were stopped by three police cars as they rode their bikes in Minneapolis. The activists have been involved in grassroots media efforts to document protests and police crackdowns. They helped distribute video showing the police officer’s assault on a bicyclist in New York City last month, the video that has gotten more than a million hits on YouTube.

EILEEN CLANCY: Yes. We work closely with Glass Bead Collective, which is led by Vladimir Teichberg. I got a phone call late — very late last night. He said basically what happened is they had somebody coming in from New York. He’s in town doing advanced work to set up for the Republican convention. We’ll be joining them in a few days. We’re all there to monitor the policing of the demonstrations. And they were — they picked someone up, one of their group, at the airport. They rode in on a bus. They got on some bikes. And they had gear, fresh gear that they’d bought, new gear in New York.

So, when they were stopped, the police told them that it was in relationship to Homeland Security. They ran them, apparently, through various databases. They couldn’t maybe find anything in particular, they said. They frisked them. They had them lean over on the hoods of the police vehicles. They made them sit in the police car while all their belongings were searched.

And then they took two Macintosh laptop computers, several video cameras, one person’s personal clothing, notebooks and other just personal belongings. She also says that $100 is missing. And they left, basically, a sort of a receipt that didn’t indicate all the individual items. So, obviously, they’re trying to take away —-

These are local police officers. The fact that they were tracking this group at 2:00 in the morning on bicycles, and they had three police cars, I’m just going to say right here that there has to be federal involvement in this, because they’re monitoring people coming from New York City. These folks really have almost never been in Minnesota before, so there’s no reason for the Minneapolis police to be terribly concerned about them.

AMY GOODMAN: Have you been monitoring the fusion centers, both here in Denver, and is there one in St. Paul?

EILEEN CLANCY: There’s a fusion center in Colorado that serves that area and that apparently had been built up somewhat -— I mean, sorry, in Minnesota — that serves — that they will use during the convention and that they kind of built up specifically for this event.

AMY GOODMAN: And explain what a fusion center is.

EILEEN CLANCY: It’s basically where the federal law enforcement apparatus — and that would be the Secret Service and the FBI and the other ATF and those federal agencies — would share information with local police departments and other kind of state-level law enforcement. And so, they’re trying to capture a lot of information about a lot of folks. Often, you know, they use the word “terrorism,” you know, to describe people. That’s how they get, really, activists into those files. And there’s a specific — frankly, there’s a specific watch list that’s mostly used to track activists. It’s called VGTOF, the Violent Gang and Terrorist Information [Organization] File. And it’s very easy to get into.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, do you think that there has been new heightened level of surveillance with this latest news breaking by CBS4, reporting that at least four people are under arrest in connection with a possible plot to kill Barack Obama? They believe they’re connected to a white supremacist group, one, it’s described, having a swastika on him.

EILEEN CLANCY: Yeah. I wouldn’t think that the surveillance is related in any way to that incident, whatever that incident is about, because the Secret Service develops these plans — and they’re the lead agency in these type of events — eighteen months before. So, this type of harassment is very similar to what activists saw in New York City during the 2004 Republican convention. And the fact that they’re tracking people and tracking vehicles and somehow magically know who to find on the road, and so forth, to give them a hard time, especially people who really don’t have any history of arrest or even, you know, organizing large protests. It’s pretty clear to me that there’s federal involvement in this, and it’s got nothing to do with these other issues, which, of course, we hope that they resolve satisfactorily.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, you’re with I-Witness Video, which is key in 2004, especially in New York at the Republican convention. You’re involved in litigation right now. The City of New York is trying to get your videotape, which you collect from many different people on the streets. Just very briefly explain why you’re resisting giving that videotape over and how you’re organizing getting videotape here.

EILEEN CLANCY: So, what we’re saying is that the City of New York has —- had hundreds and hundreds of police tapes that they can use, that they don’t need our videotape. And they actually know what happened at those scenes. They know -—

AMY GOODMAN: This is back in 2004.

EILEEN CLANCY: This is back in 2004. They know they illegally arrested people. They really don’t need other facts in these situations.

AMY GOODMAN: Why do they need it now, four years later?

EILEEN CLANCY: Well, that’s a good question, and it’s a funny coincidence that it’s just happening — kind of disturbing our planning for these conventions that we’re kind of — this season that we’re kind of in at the moment.

AMY GOODMAN: So, they’re asking for it right before these conventions.

EILEEN CLANCY: And they’re also asking for our copies of police tapes. And they’ve said that the district attorney has lost a lot of video evidence. And so, we actually asked — we told the New York Times that this is what the court papers said. And the New York Times asked the Manhattan district attorney if they lost a lot of video evidence, and they said, “Heck, no.” So the district attorney’s office is actually going to be filing an affidavit in our subpoena battle, saying that they didn’t lose a lot of video evidence and that the City’s corporation counsel lawyer has gotten it wrong.

AMY GOODMAN: We’ll leave it there. Eileen Clancy, founding member of I-Witness Video.

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