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WHAT WE THINK
Republican convention organizers try to silence dissent
We're right to protest

August 20, 2004 | Page 3

AN ILLEGITIMATE war, followed by an illegitimate and bloody occupation--overseen by an illegitimate president. All the lies that the Bush administration peddled to justify its invasion of Iraq have unraveled--from the missing "weapons of mass destruction" to "democracy" for ordinary Iraqis.

Before the war even began, millions of people around the world protested Washington's rush to war. And we were right. Now, on August 29, hundreds of thousands of people are expected to march in New York City on the eve of the Republican National Convention to protest the war and occupation of Iraq and the rest of the Bush agenda.

As Republicans attempt to further the lie that they are bringing democracy around the world, convention organizers are doing everything in their power to silence dissenting voices at home. The FBI has been questioning activists across the country--and drawing up lists of people who it thinks may know about possible violence.

"The message I took from it," said Sarah Bardwell, an intern at a Denver antiwar group that was visited by six investigators, "was that they were trying to intimidate us into not going to any protests, and to let us know that, 'Hey, we're watching you.'"

The proponents of pre-emptive war on Iraq are carrying out a pre-emptive war on protesters at the Republican National Convention. City officials have pulled out all the stops to contain and control the protests.

After fighting the city for 11 months, United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ), one of the main national antiwar coalitions and chief organizer of the August 29 demonstration, agreed in July to a march route that would have taken protesters to the edge of Manhattan, along an unshaded highway in the August heat. But in the last several weeks, faced by growing pressure from activists and member organizations, UFPJ reversed itself--and had reopened the fight to win a permit for a rally in Central Park as Socialist Worker went to press.

An opinion poll last month showed that 75 percent of New Yorkers support the right of protesters to rally in Central Park, rejecting the city's excuse for refusing the permit--that demonstrators might harm the grass. The fight for our right to rally in Central Park is more than an argument over crushed grass.

The permit struggle is about beating back one of the central attacks from the right since September 11--that the "war on terror" justifies limitations on basic civil liberties. These attacks have come down hardest on Arabs and Muslims, but have had an impact on anyone trying to voice dissent.

One outrageous example was the peaceful antiwar protesters who gathered last year on the Oakland docks--and faced a hail of wooden bullets fired by police. Why? "You can make an easy kind of link that if you have a protest group protesting a war where the cause that's being fought against is international terrorism, you might have terrorism at that protest," explained Mike Van Winkle of the California Anti-Terrorism Information Center. "You can almost argue that a protest against that is a terrorist act."

At the massive February 15 demonstration before last year's invasion, antiwar protesters were allowed to rally on Fifth Avenue. But the NYPD made it nearly impossible for demonstrators to get to the event. Despite this, up to a million people turned out to oppose the war.

This year, antiwar protests have been much smaller--despite the unraveling of the Bush administration's case for war, the exposure of U.S. torture at Abu Ghraib prison, and growing discontent among U.S. soldiers themselves. Why hasn't the frustration and questioning of millions of people been matched by activism against the occupation?

One of the main reasons can be summed up in a name--John Kerry. In their single-minded quest to get rid of Bush in 2004, many antiwar activists have turned their attention away from organizing, and toward electing Kerry--even though Kerry was for the war, for the USA PATRIOT Act and for "finishing the job" in Iraq.

That's why, remarkably enough, the August 29 demonstration at the Republican convention will be the only major mobilization of the antiwar movement since protests to mark the one-year anniversary of the invasion in March. But for the Democratic Party establishment, even one major mobilization is one too many.

"There's an important message to get out here about how the Bush presidency has been bad for America and bad for New York," said Democratic National Committee spokesperson Jay Carson, commenting on plans for the demonstrations in New York. "It would be a shame if that message was drowned out by unruly protests."

Supporting John Kerry as the "lesser evil" means excusing him more and demanding less and less and less. And it means weakening the antiwar movement--by leaving the potential for building a mass opposition to Washington's war policies untapped, and tailoring activities to election considerations.

We can use the protests against the Republican convention as an opportunity to rebuild resistance to the Bush agenda, whoever promotes it--and to prepare for the struggles that lay ahead, no matter who wins in November.

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