Sunday, August 24, 2008

Crashing the DNC/RNC Conventions

The RNC for many has become a symbol of everything the protesters believe is wrong with America. They are moved to action by all-too-familiar litany of injustices--the occupation of Iraq and beyond, class war and racism, sexism and homophobia, torture and repression, corporate power and the climate crisis, rising tuition and an economic bust that's hitting this generation hard. Yet what they have in common, beyond a penchant for ruckus and a loathing of the GOP, is a persistent belief in democracy from below, in the power of ordinary people to transform the conditions of life in this country and worldwide -- a power they believe must be exercised in the street, not just in the voting booth.

"Democracy is not waiting to vote once every four years. Democracy is getting out in the streets," says Sgt. Matthis Chiroux, a 24-year-old member of Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) who refused orders to deploy to Iraq this June and now plans to show up to the conventions with IVAW. "They [the politicians] are not gonna do it by themselves. We're gonna force their hand, because that is the nature of democracy."

The dissent at the Democratic National Convention -- though less "mass" than at the RNC, especially after the recent withdrawal of some national organizers -- is set to feature events like an open-air Festival of Democracy, a Restoring Democracy Parade and a base camp with free housing and medical care, organized by groups like Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), the Alliance for Real Democracy, the Recreate '68 Alliance and the immigrant coalition the We Are America DNC Alliance.

...questioning whether Obama and the Democrats are ever going to represent them: "The Democrats, they count on and expect our votes. We're saying, 'If you're not representing me, I don't have to vote for you. You need to start listening to the youth [and] the 65 percent of the people in this country who want the war to end.' "

Most determined of all are the anarchists and anti-authoritarians, as many of the youth activists describe themselves, including two of the most active groups preparing to crash the conventions: the RNC Welcoming Committee and the Unconventional Action network. Unconventional Denver organizer Clayton Dewey acknowledges that "the candidacy of Obama is a reflection of the public's desire for something different." But as an anarchist, he explains, "we believe that despite the rhetoric Obama uses, genuine change will always come from the bottom up, and that means countering the system as a whole."

"An anti-authoritarian vibe is what's going on," says Carina Souflee, an activist with Anarchist People of Color and the Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán (MEChA) at the University of Texas-Austin, who was radicalized by the immigration protests and is planning to be in the streets at the RNC. "People have learned that a top-down approach to things doesn't work."

To young radicals like Souflee and Dewey, the question remains one of democracy, and to them, democracy has very little to do with the 2008 presidential elections. "What we have in common is a desire to break the spell that elections have over the US left," says a member of the RNC Welcoming Committee who goes by the pseudonym 'Ann O'Nymity.' "Our message is one of direct participation in democracy, bypassing corrupt politicians who don't represent us but instead further corporate interests."

...opting instead to aim their dissent at the Republicans. "The RNC is a very easy target, because they are so visibly to blame for what's happening in this country," says Samantha Miller, who recently graduated UCLA and is now organizing members of DC SDS to bring the group's notorious Funk the War street parties to the RNC. "There's a whole lot more energy for the RNC than the DNC," she reports.

Thousands of youth from dozens of groups from across the country are coming together to blockade the Republican convention, using direct democracy not just as an end but as a means. Inspired by the Battle in Seattle and the global justice movement of the '90s, they are deploying a well-organized web of leaderless "affinity groups," "assemblies" and "spokescouncils."

... the whole world is still watching. "Our task today," says NYC SDS's Zahedi, "is to get to work organizing where we are, at our campuses, workplaces, and in our communities, while at the same time building links with people struggling all around the world."

For many, this push begins by showing ordinary people, and especially young, newly politicized people, their own power beyond Election Day. "We really need to find a way to engage the people who are excited, and really do think that Obama's gonna change something," says DC SDS's Miller. "We have to do a lot of popular education to say that it isn't politicians who make real change, it's the movements that politicians have to follow."

Source: The Nation

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