Why we're protesting the DNC

Christian Wright, a member of the Alliance for Real Democracy in Denver, Colo., explains why they are protesting the Democratic National Convention.

Activists are preparing for a week of protests at the Democratic National Convention in DenverActivists are preparing for a week of protests at the Democratic National Convention in Denver

IN JUST a few weeks, the Democratic National Convention will be held in Denver, Colo., where I live. For the past few months leading up to it, I have been organizing with Alliance for Real Democracy (ARD), one of the local formations that is building what will be a week of protests, teach-ins and concerts at this event.

It has occurred to me that the reasons for protesting the Democratic Convention are not clear to everyone. As usual, much of the mainstream press coverage has centered around baseless allegations of "Seattle, '99-style" confrontations, and this hype has served well the purpose of burying the actual issues involved.

Local TV, the Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News have all vied for our attention with competing headlines, ranging from the benign to the absurd. But the general "theme" has been established as the "multimillion-dollar security appropriations" vs. "the masked specter of anarchism."

Readers pick up the news trying to figure out the war and high gas prices. Instead they get a billing for a politics-as-Pay-Per-View match up. Very rarely is it noted that all the protest groups involved have publicly stated that they are planning non-violent events.

Even rarer are the fundamental issues addressed. Is the Democratic Party an inept opposition that is out of touch with its constituency? Do citizens have a right to publicly assemble and present their gathered rulers the airs of their grievances? Is a country that welcomes debate and dissent, even when it is "civilly disobedient," preferable to a National Security State where all dissent as attacked for even existing as such?

So I have written this piece to clarify the issues involved.

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My reasons for protesting the Democratic National Convention, which are also the generally shared reasons why most in ARD are protesting, are to call this party to account for its record and to make sure that progressive, and specifically antiwar politics, are heard loud and clear.

In every election, all of us are told to vote Democrat because of how much worse Republicans are. It's as basic and ingrained as the colors of a stoplight. Whether it's done with bright eyes and high hopes, or with gritted teeth and muttered cynicism, almost the entire American left accepts the logic to some extent: If we want to end the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, if we want environmental justice, if we want to challenge the racist criminal justice system, if we want to support immigrant rights, if we want equality for the LGBT community, if we want to truly support a woman's right to choose, and if we want to build real progressive social movements in the United States, then, we're told, the first step is to get Democratic politicians into office.

The problem today with this argument is that Democrats have had a majority in Congress since the 2006 elections. Since then, they have taken an overwhelmingly antiwar, anti-Bush mandate, and used it to:

--Pass "non-binding" resolutions expressing "disagreement" with the Iraq war, while simultaneously voting for hundreds of billions more in funding for it.
--Declare that "Impeachment is off the table."
--Join Republicans to gut civil liberties and allow the government to spy on anyone, at any time, without a warrant.

On broader social justice issues, the record is just as lukewarm.

--Abortion remains unavailable in most counties in the United States and access to it continues to be restricted.
--Education today is more racially segregated and unequally funded than it was decades ago, and college itself is increasingly unaffordable.
--While productive industries crumble into recession and outsourcing, there is a "bipartisan" consensus on the need to expand both prison construction as well as military recruitment in schools.

Voting Democratic hasn't brought the rosy results that were promised. A lot of hopes were raised as the returns came in two Novembers ago, and what has (or more importantly, what hasn't) happened sense then has significantly changed the political landscape.

There is no more post-2004 "awe" of mythical "red state" domination. Farmers in Kansas aren't keeping the war going. Democratic votes in Congress are. The period of "wait and see" has come puttering to its inevitable end, and the leadership of the Democratic Party has failed to live up to the mandate of its voters. Even Barack Obama, whose early opposition to the war and community organizing background inspired many liberals to support him in the primaries, has lately lurched rightward on a wide range of issues (much to the concern of those to whom he owes his victory).

Tragically, many social movements have tended to demobilize in election years. For the antiwar movement, this was quite obvious in 2004, happened again in 2006, and is going on this year as well. The political effects of this have been to leave the movement, and most antiwar activists, confused, disorganized, demoralized and unsure of how to proceed.

This has occurred at a time when a confident, progressive voice in the streets has been more important (and conspicuously absent) than ever.

This is most clear today in the interaction between the war in Iraq and the new war on Immigrants. Very few people were concerned about immigration before 2006. But in that year, with the war going horribly, many Republicans found out they could still win elections by appealing to anti-immigrant phobias.

The way this rhetoric has been articulated since then would have been confined to far-right hate groups, and the extreme fringe of the Republicans, at any time before the war on terror. But now, with the acceptability of racial profiling, with a public already taught to view brown and foreign people as enemies first, racist language has found a new acceptability. As the economy slides into a war-related recession, millions of Americans are looking for someone to blame. The Republican Party offers to the outraged citizenry a sacrificial lamb.

Before the war on terror, America was contrasted as less nationally distrustful than Europe. Today the European far right is outdone by the Minutemen. Meanwhile hundreds die crossing a desert border every year, and families are destroyed as ICE raids workplaces. The legacy of the civil rights movement seems to be forgotten. Martin Luther King must be rolling over in his grave...

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MEANWHILE, IN Iraq over the past year and a half, exactly two major policy developments have occurred. The first is that George Bush is marketing a "surge" in troop levels as the solution to help stabilize things (under firm U.S. control). The second is that the Democratic Party has decided that possibly sending some troops home within 18 months is really the same thing as ending a war.

Among the many less reported developments are quite a few "inconvenient truths." One is the invisible (to the American media) crisis of over 4 million Iraqi refugees--almost none of whom have been granted asylum by the US. Another is the completely overwhelmed Veterans Administration that can't respond to the overload of physically and mentally wounded veterans.

A third is the continued corruption and ineptitude of the Iraqi government and military, which no one believes would be able to sustain itself without Americans propping it up. A fourth is the scam of "reconstruction" that costs billions of dollars, generates super-profits for American companies, yet does not actually reconstruct!

That's the short list.

Every country but ours has massive protests on the anniversary of the war, as citizens around the world pressure their governments to stand up to Bush's aggression. Yet we're supposed to rest?

The time has come for a conscious, fundamental break with the practice of political subservience to the Democratic Party. It is a failed strategy--to put party loyalty before political principle and to prioritize the insular smoke and mirrors of Beltway gimmickry above the local organization of affected communities.

If Democrats know they have our votes in their pocket without having to even promise us anything, they're going to be spending their time making promises to everyone else to get their votes too. The result is a political establishment that lurches ever rightward. The voices of the left, minorities, women, immigrants, veterans, students and pretty much anyone else who isn't independently wealthy or politically connected, are left out in the cold.

These are the costly lessons of recent experience. They teach us that unless we organize our own communities, keep our movements politically independent and actively pressure all politicians--whatever their party affiliation--no progressive agenda will be moving forward any time soon.

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THE ALLIANCE for Real Democracy is a coalition representing some of the most powerful voices from Colorado and the nation. Member groups include Iraq Veterans Against the War, Code Pink, United for Peace and Justice, Veterans for Peace, the Colorado Green Party, Students for a Democratic Society, Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center, the International Socialist Organization, Progressive Democrats of America, Jobs with Justice and many others.

But more importantly than what we accomplish at the DNC, ARD is a model. The fact that it can even exist, bringing together such diverse constituencies, is an imposing testament to just how deep the credibility gap of the Democrats has become.

But it is also an inspirational formation to be a part of. For example, its members not only tolerate--but welcome--debates on our attitude to the Democratic Party. I don't think I've ever been in a meeting where members of PDA, the Greens, anarchists and third-party socialists are all working collaboratively on something, and where there is (in spite of media and police-induced paranoia) such a general level of goodwill among people of diverse ideological backgrounds.

In my opinion, ARD's positive organizational environment is a direct result of the seriousness with which its members take their work. We are a nonpartisan organization. None of us are in ARD because we like long, endless meetings, or haggling with a wary city over permit details, or because we enjoy insurmountable fundraising challenges. There's certainly not a lot of NGO-political career advancement out there for people who are really good at protesting the Democrats!

I think ARD exists for the simple fact that we're tired of the war and people we know are getting killed. We're tired of watching what we were taught was the freest nation in the world descend into a national security state--where the government is above the people, and no one knows if anything they write or say is private anymore. We're tired of seeing racism and ignorance become acceptable.

I remember in 1999 after the Columbine shootings when the whole country was up in arms about the need to get counseling to the weird kids before they get so frustrated they try to resolve their problems with violence (I myself was sent by my school for such counseling). Today military recruiters are more often seen than college recruiters by a lot of kids. At least one Colorado high school has an Apache Helicopter mounted proudly on its front lawn. I can't think of a more fitting irony, or tragic confession, of just how upside down our country has become.

It's time to take it back. People's lives are more important than any election, or any politician's career. We're going to speak truth to power this August and judge the actions of all politicians by the same, "non-partisan" standards.

We hope you'll join us.