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Denver: Protestors’ big plans

Sara Burnett
Rocky Mountain News
Vail, CO Colorado
Barry Gutierrez/The Rocky Mountain NewsRon Lewis transmits live to his Web site as members of We Are Change Colorado hand out DVDs of a movie that disputes the findings of the official 911 Report on the 16th Street Mall.
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DENVER, Colorado ” Dozens of protest groups are planning a full schedule of classes, concerts, marches and other actions during the Democratic National Convention, hoping to capture the world’s attention and recruit a new crop of activists.

They are both energized and organized, and most insist they are not looking for trouble.

“We are completely peaceful,” said Rob Weiland, a 37-year-old courier from Denver and member of the group We Are Change Colorado. “We follow the ideals of Ghandi.”



The organization will be videotaping other groups and police during the DNC, scheduled for Aug. 25 to 28.

They’ll post the videos on YouTube or the group’s Web site, so the public may see what’s happening without the filter of mainstream media, Weiland said.

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If any protest groups are provoking police, he added, “our cameras will be on them.”

The Alliance for Real Democracy, a coalition of 18 groups, is planning a week of classes in City Park, on topics such as non-violence and how to organize a demonstration. A concert with Denver band the Flobots also is in the works.

The large-scale effort is being planned by six or seven different committees, focusing on areas such as fundraising, promotions and working with city officials, said member Duke Austin.



“This is on a much bigger scale than anything we’ve done so far, so it requires additional organizing,” said Austin, a 33-year-old Ph.D. candidate at the University of Colorado who leads the group Students for Peace and Justice.

“I think it will be an incredible learning experience for everybody there,” he added.

Police, meanwhile, are doing some preparing of their own.

By the time the convention starts, most officers working the DNC will have completed at least 30 hours of special training, Mayor John Hickenlooper said. It includes how to diffuse problems, so nonviolent situations don’t escalate.

While the majority of protesters don’t want to break the law, the city is readying for “some bad characters,” Hickenlooper said.

Denver received a $50 million federal grant for security that will be used for personnel and equipment.

The city won’t say what type of equipment it’s buying with the money.

But a local company announced last month it had sold Denver 88 guns that fire a pepper spray-like substance instead of bullets for use during the DNC. The weapons may be used to incapacitate people, stop riots or disperse crowds.

Those purchases worry Ben Yager, 23, of Unconventional Denver, a local offshoot of the national group Unconventional Action.

The group is often mentioned as one most likely to cause problems for police during the DNC.

Its approach is one of direct action, such as blocking access to corporate-funded parties or blocking delegates from leaving their hotels to go to the convention and vote.

The activities could land members in jail, the group’s Web site acknowledges. But the site also states that if people are arrested, they’re expected to be released in time to join a caravan to the Republican National Convention in Minnesota.

Asked if the group was planning violence in Denver, Yager said, “Absolutely not.”

“We’re preparing for the police to be violent,” he said, adding that the equipment purchased by police is likely to be used first on groups like his.

The group held a camp in the mountains last weekend, where it readied for the DNC.

The group won’t discuss details of the camp, but Yager said among the topics was how to protect oneself from police, and how to “do it in a way that won’t get you sent to jail.”

Protesters who do end up behind bars will have some allies.

Today at the University of Denver, the People’s Law Project will train attorneys who are volunteering to represent people who believe their First Amendment rights are violated during the DNC.

The group encouraged any activists or other members of the community to attend a noon lunch on free speech rights.


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