Obama and McCain: Protect the convention demonstrators’ rights

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Aug 26, 2008 Obama and McCain: Protect the convention demonstrators’ rights

An August 26, 2008, video of demonstrators in Denver, including the police blocking the exit of hundreds of people on a city block (near the last third of the video), including plenty of non-demonstrators who just happened to be present. Where was the mainstream media when this was happening?

In recent years, no matter who runs for the Tweedledum/Tweedledee Democratic/Republican tickets, the presidential nomination conventions, campaign stops, and inaugural coronations are surrounded by assaults on the First Amendment right to demonstrate. (If you disagree with the brothers Tweedledum/Tweedledee reference, are Obama and McCain more materially the same than they are different? Yes, I am voting for Obama to have a less oppressive and less militaristic government than McCain would bring and maintain, but Obama will heavily support business as usual with the military-industrial-government complex; the failed and oppressive drug war that runs roughshod on the Constitution; the legalized murder of the capital punishment system; the oppressiveness of the PATRIOT Act, and countless other government assaults on civil liberties and democracy. Does the two-party-dominated system sufficiently support a truly democratic and just society? I think not.)

Typically, and currently in Denver, convention demonstrators are kept blocks away from the convention site, nullifying the very purpose of their demonstrations. The same is sure to happen at the Republican convention. Also typically, presidential coronations, I mean inaugurations, lately have been examples of Soviet-style clampdowns on protestors and well-choreographed sanitized inaugural parades.

Certainly official clampdowns on and intimidation of demonstrators in the United States go far beyond presidential politics. As I have witnessed firsthand,  police have a repeated habit of taking repeated close-up photos and videos of demonstrators at large demonstrations against presidential policies in Washington, D.C.; the police purport merely to be gathering evidence, but I have trouble believing that their actions are not also calculated to intimidate. During the April 16, 2000, weekend anti-World Bank/IMF protests, when I spent an entire Saturday defending arrested demonstrators at their bond hearings in the District of Columbia Superior Court, on my way to the nearby federal courthouse, I challenged a couple of police officers on an eerily mainly deserted street whether there was any purpose for their being dressed all in black with boots other than to intimidate; they did not answer. On the Friday late afternoon after the September 11, 2001, massacres, I saw military vehicles rolling down K Street a few blocks from my law school (granted, probably not intended to intimidate demonstrators, but a reminder of how much the United States is not safe from martial law government and martial law tactics). In the early Nineties on one of the many protest weekends — most weekends in Washington are booked with one or many demonstrations, running from tame flag-waving events to strong opposition to one or many government policies and actions — I saw a fatigue-wearing soldier on the street corner in front of the Treasury Department. During the September 2007 anti-Gulf War II demonstration in Lafayette Park, I saw cops not only at the ready to use force if ordered to do so, but also roaming in the crowd of peaceful demonstrators on the road that for years always has been closed to traffic in front of the presidential palace.

On July 14, 2008, I wrote about the public indifference — but likely complicity if not downright participation — ordinarily shown by presidential candidates and other high-profile politicians towards First Amendment violations against demonstrators protesting those politicians. Do McCain and Obama approve of such clampdowns? Will they voice their opinion on this matter, whatever are their opinions? Will they speak out for greater protection of demonstrators at their conventions, campaign stops, inauguration, and beyond? I am not holding my breath, including because their very discussion of the issue acknowledges the severe problem, and, in their silence, perhaps they hope the issue will stay off most voters’ radars. Do not let them do it. Jon Katz.

ADDENDUM: Thanks to a fellow listserv member for posting the above-displayed video.

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