I’ll be the first to admit that I wish I was at the DNC. Not as a delegate, but to protest. I was at the past two DNCs in Denver and Boston for the very same reason. But before you jump to conclusions about me somehow supporting Romney or being a GOP operative, I’ll have you know that I also protested against the Republicans at their past two conventions.
There is a very long tradition in this country of demonstrations and protest at the party conventions, but I’ll just stick with the DNC. In 1964 a Black delegation led by the Black freedom fighter Fannie Lou Hamer from the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party went to the DNC in Atlantic City to challenge the all-white Democratic membership from their state. The many racists and Dixiecrats present, with the help of LBJ and J Edgar Hoover, effectively strong-armed them out of the convention.
The 1968 Chicago DNC saw a massive turnout from a range of groups and people from the New Left. Seeing no choice between the pro-war and bigoted presidential contenders, a counter convention was held just outside the DNC where Pigasus, an actual pig, was selected as the preferable candidate to southern bigot George Wallace, Richard Nixon and Hubert Humphrey.
The police and National Guard were deployed and incited a brutal riot. Even CBS reporter Dan Rather could not escape the violence as he was shown on national TV inside the convention center being beaten up, mid-interview, by DNC security guards. The Justice Department needed to clear the police of any wrongdoing for the riot and decided to round up eight radicals, in what later became the Chicago 8 trial, and charged them with an array of felonies and conspiracies. Black Panther Bobby Seale was gagged in court and local Black Panther Fred Hampton organized daily protests during the trial. Hampton’s life was violently cut short under the rule of Chicago’s Democratic mayor when the police and FBI assassinated him and Panther Mark Cook while they were asleep in their beds. Not discouraged by the violence in Chicago, demonstrations organized by the Left, progressives and independents have appeared at virtually every DNC since.
I protested at the DNC in Boston. It was an eye opening experience for me. We were all forced in a small cage where we could practice our First Amendment rights. Outside that cage and we were asking for trouble. I watched every day as hundreds and hundreds of Democrats passed the cage to gawk and stare. Only a small handful of delegates bothered to venture inside and made a statement that they were shocked that their political party had committed such an anti-democratic act. It was the first time I actually witnessed police brutality. Peaceful demonstrators and reporters alike were shoved and beaten by police. Just another typical year at the DNC.
There were major protests right before Obama was nominated at the 2008 DNC in Denver. A march of 1,000s walked five miles, accompanied by band members from Rage Against the Machine following their concert, and led by dozens of Iraq and Afghan War veterans from Iraq Veterans Against the War to pressure the Democrats to end the wars. Someone from Obama’s election team promised the veterans that Obama would talk with them in the future. I never heard of that meeting ever taking place, but I am certain it would not have changed the president’s mind in matters of war.
Four years later and there is a permanent military presence in Iraq’s military bases (as much as the government would like you to believe they ended that war), Afghanistan is still occupied after Obama escalated the war there with a bloody troop surge, US military might was expanded over Pakistan with the use of drones in what translates to low intensity warfare, Libya was invaded, Yemen was attacked in a secret war exposed by Wikileaks, and we are still waiting for those tactical air strikes over Iran Obama was advocating back when he was still a senator. Luckily for Obama, he was viewed as the peace candidate in 2008 and with his election the antiwar movement was effectively killed.
This year’s DNC saw another protest. The Occupy Movement, as promised, organized a demonstration called March on Wall Street South. Charlotte’s nickname is Wall Street South and I don’t find that the Democrats decided to have the convention there ironic in the slightest. After all, Obama’s campaign contributions for his 2008 election were the largest in US history. Wall Street firms funded him heavily and were delighted when Obama returned the favor and bailed out the big banks to the tune of $13 trillion at the expense of the working class and poor in this country. A small but spirited group of hundreds of demonstrators marched against the DNC gathering. One demonstration held was in support of whistleblower Bradley Manning who is suspected, much to the chagrin of both Bush and Obama, to have leaked evidence of war crimes and a trove of classified documents to Wikileaks. The Obama administration has, according to the UN, tortured Manning, placed him in solitary confinement and is attempting to sentence him to life in prison. Obama has been quite harsh in prosecuting whistleblowers, having gone after more than every president preceding him.
Another demonstration at the DNC brought to light a great injustice done by the Obama administration – the mass deportation of undocumented workers and their families at a level surpassing Bush’s anti-immigrant agenda. Ten undocumented immigrants were arrested in an act of civil disobedience to shed light to the status of immigrants in this country and Obama’s abysmal record on deportations. Occupy Utica members have seen Obama’s deportation policy painfully play out as it took Dominic Morgan away from his wife and six children around Easter. Although he has no criminal convictions, he sits in an ICE Detention Center in Batavia, awaiting a possible deportation to Jamaica while his family struggles to get by. Morgan joins millions of others in what has been called the “New Jim Crow” – the mass incarceration of Black and Latino people. While Obama may be the first Black president, he also is in power at a time when more Black people are incarcerated than were enslaved in the year 1850. This brings up the brutal reality that no matter who is elected, they must follow the dictates of Wall Street, the military and the prison-industrial complex.
So in the next several weeks I will be counting the days to that dreaded Election Day as Romney and Obama race to the bottom to out-right-wing each other. I will anxiously watch as well-meaning liberals that appose war and bailing out Wall Street, support immigrant rights and worker rights elect someone that was ushered in with the nodding approval of Wall Street, and has continued the anti-immigrant, anti-union, anti-environment, pro austerity, pro war and pro 1% agenda of his predecessors. I wish I could say something about the mess we are in, but a man I greatly admire can put it better than me. These are the words of Malcolm X speaking of Democrats back in his 1964 speech “The Ballot or the Bullet”:
“They’ve been down there four years. And all other legislation they’ve wanted to bring up they’ve brought it up and got it out of the way and now they bring up you. Now they bring up you. You put them first and they put you last. ‘Cause you’re a chump. A political chump. Any time you throw your weight behind a political party that controls two-thirds of the government and that party can’t keep the promise that it made to you during election time, and you’re dumb enough to walk around continuing to identifying yourself with that party…aw, I say, you been misled. You been had. You been took.” As the one year anniversary of the Occupy Movement approaches, it’s not too late for you to make a stand and pull out of the two party straightjacket and join us in the streets. If not, then, well, you been had.
Brendan Maslauskas Dunn