DNC: Where are the protesters?
Vail, CO Colorado
DENVER, Colorado ” What if they gave a protest and almost nobody came?
Some are asking that question in Denver, where months of anticipation of mass protests during the Democratic National Convention have led ” so far ” to scattered scrimmages with police, a bit more than 100 arrests and, in some cases, rallies where police officers have outnumbered demonstrators.
That could change with an anti-war concert by Rage Against the Machine on Wednesday and a planned march afterward. Still, organizers had loftier goals: Crowds of 5,000, 10,000, even 25,000 would descend on Denver to draw attention to issues ranging from the war in Iraq to fuel prices to marijuana prohibition.
Authorities prepared for them. Denver police called in a uniformed force of about 1,000 additional officers from around the metro area and even horse patrols from out of state. The federal presence has been nothing short of overwhelming.
But on Sunday, organizers of the No More Occupation march ” with a permit for as many as 25,000 people ” drew a crowd of 1,000. A march later that day was expected to draw 20,000 people. About 40 showed up.
By Monday, city officials decided to reopen some streets that had been closed for the parades because of low attendance. A temporary arrestee processing site, capable of handling about 60 people per hour, has processed about 135 total over three days.
“They’re looking pretty bored,” City Councilwoman Marcia Johnson said of law enforcement as she watched a crowd of about 70 at the Denver Mint for a protest expected to draw 1,000 people.
“You look at these police, and SWAT teams in their SUVs, and you wonder, ‘Wow, why are they doing all that?'” said Jaladah Aslam, a delegate from Youngstown, Ohio. “But it’s OK. They’re not bothering us. I guess with the congressional delegations and other dignitaries in town, you’re going to need that kind of security.”
Some organizers blame what they call an intimidating police presence throughout downtown ” helmets with face shields at the ready, orange-handled guns that fire balls filled with pepper spray-like substances, and rifles resembling black pipes that fire non-lethal projectiles about the size of a half dollar. Even police horses have face shields on them.
But others have a different explanation for the low turnouts: the cost of getting to Denver.
Aside from Colorado Springs, the nearest major city to the convention is Albuquerque, N.M., a six-hour drive and 335 miles away. To the west: Salt Lake City, 380 miles. To the east: Kansas City, 550 miles. Cheyenne, Wyo., is 100 miles north. None is the hotbed of radicalism needed to fuel the type of protests called for by groups such as the Recreate 68 Alliance or Tent State University.
“Not to mention, of course, especially with the price of air fare and everything, getting out to Denver is an expensive proposition,” said Stephen Zunes, a political and international studies professor at the University of San Francisco who spoke at an anti-war rally at Civic Center Park on Tuesday.
“If this were on the eastern seaboard, there would be a lot more people.”
Dana Fisher, a sociology professor at Columbia University, studied the thousands of protesters who descended on New York for the Republican National Convention in 2004. Fisher found that most drove no more than four hours to get there.
Generating large protests means mobilizing young people ” and they’ve grown up during a Bush administration where protesting hasn’t brought about change, Fisher argued.
“This isn’t the civil rights movement, this is not the anti-war movement against Vietnam, and this is not the environmental movement of the 1970s, where people came out and policies got changed,” she said. “All they see is people getting arrested and people standing out in the streets and nothing happening.”
Nicole Lee of the anti-Bush administration group The World Can’t Wait agrees.
Lee’s organization recruited at various demonstrations across the country in hopes of bringing hundreds to Denver. They arrived with about 60 people.
“I think if people think they could make a difference, they’d pay for a ticket,” said Lee, of Los Angeles. “There’s demoralization among a lot of people who marched a few years ago in millions around the world. At that time, Feb. 15, 2003, people had hoped they would be listened to and Bush would not invade Iraq.”
For Jean Stevens of Code Pink, a women’s anti-war group, passions for protesting run higher heading to St. Paul, where the Republican National Convention convenes next week. Fifty members of Code Pink are in Denver; she expects about 150 in St. Paul.
“I think more activists have more of a bone to pick with the Republicans,” Stevens said.