I havent finished this or proofed it but I want to post what I have because there are other projects demanding my time and attention. Im posting this just in case there is anyone who might actually read it despite lack of an executive summary or conclusions… Pete
Last week I went up to Philadelphia to see what was going on around the Democratic National Convention. I was not a delegate or staff or a volunteer. I didn’t have any credentials to get into the convention at Wells Fargo Arena. I had a friend with a couch to sleep on and a car to get me there. I wasn’t joining with any particular group of protesters or pushing a particular agenda. I did grow my goatee out and plan to dress up as Uncle Sam as political art/theater to express some disappointment with the corporatization of the American political process. Unfortunately, Uncle Sam was unable to make an appearance due to the extreme heat and logistical issues of hauling heavy stilts around Philly during a major political event (parking, public trans, street closings, etc) So, without Uncle Sam, all I took was a camera to hide behind. Here are some observations and a few thoughts on the week. Maybe you’ll find something interesting.
In April I marched with Democracy Spring from Philadelphia to Washington DC and participated while thousands sat in at the Capitol to demand:
– Overturn Citizens United V FEC (2010) The Supreme Court case says corporations are people and money is speech so corporations can spend whatever they want, however they want on making sure their people are in elected office. We believe, “Money isn’t Speech and Corporations aren’t People”
– Restore Voting Rights- We believe in the American idea of a democracy where the concept of “one person, one vote” applies – The Supreme Court case Shelby County V Holder (2013) dismembered the voting rights act of 1965 and made it impossible to enforce the voting rights act without new action from congress.
– Pass legislation to support publicly funded campaigns. Publicly funded election campaigns without outside spending would make elections fair and express the will of the people.
– Hold hearings and confirm or deny the appointment of the next Justice of the Supreme Court. Justice Scalia died 13 Feb 2016. It is inappropriate for congress to refuse to do their jobs for a year to avoid seating or even discussing the president’s nominee for the Supreme Court.
These ideas all make sense to me. They are not partisan and seem like they should be common sense to anyone who believes people’s voices should be heard, and elected officials should represent the people.
Democracy Spring DNC Actions – Democracy Spring had several Direct Actions during the DNC to further the agenda of reform. They held training at 7pm every evening at Arch Street United Methodist Church, right in the middle of downtown to train new people and brief details for the following day’s actions.
Democracy Spring Action Training is consistent with their mission and core principles. They cover logistical, procedural and legal details but focus on listening and storytelling. Trainees participate in exercises where they practice “resonating” with each other. Each member of a small group will take a turn telling a story, usually the story of, “what brought you here to protest with Democracy Spring?” and other members of the group will practice listening. It is not active listening where you ask “clarifying” questions and drive the story externally, or sharing where you are just waiting for someone to finish so you can tell your own story, or advice where you try to find a problem to fix and show everyone how smart you are. It’s actually listening and telling the person, “I really felt like I was with you when you were talking about xxx” and leaving it at that. It’s a subtle difference but valuable. I think it’s a really good exercise because it showed me my tendencies to not actually listen and it gives people a chance to express themselves and be heard in a group they have chosen to be part of. It creates affinity with the group and within the group and helps people develop their own story of self so they can begin to articulate their own personal reasons for being involved with the group. It also makes people more prepared for the off chance that a reporter actually asks them what they are doing at an action or why they are there. I think it is a good model for preparing activists for action together and future actions together. It is also the basis for the dedicated core group of activists that will comprise their outreach and model for growth.
Some of the Democracy Spring Actions included:
– Monday – “thousands marched down to the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia and 51 courageous people scaled a police barricade and were arrested trying to deliver our demands to the DNC.” The barricade was a piece of three foot moveable fence, a symbolic barrier to demarcate the restricted area around the subway station for the delegates to use to enter the Convention. The protesters hopped over it and sat or laid down in symbolic defiance of the arbitrary and artificial barrier between the people’s voice and the Democratic Party. There was no violence or even blatant disregard of the law. There was a symbolic drawing of a line in the sand by the “authorities,” there was a symbolic crossing of the line by the “people” and there was a symbolic “detention and arrest” of the people by the authorities. Citations were issued and everyone went on about their business. The next day the symbolic three foot movable fence was replaced by expanding the double 10 foot chain link fences out to include the entirety of the “restricted area.”
– Tuesday – Democracy Spring met up with the Black Lives Matter march down Broad Street. The march got a bit of a late start. It began North of City Hall, marched to city hall for a rally, then continued south to FDR Park to protest just outside the DNC. Many of the Democracy Spring regulars had to abandon the march at city hall so they could attend the 7pm training for the next day. Some of them felt like they really missed out by not participating in the rest of the Black Lives Matter march as it met up with another march at FDR park and became the largest gathering/action of the convention.
– Wednesday – Democracy Spring protested at the Comcast building. Comcast was a major sponsor of the DNC in Philly and, by pouring money into the convention, is assumed to have more access to the candidates and powerful party personnel. They also are a major symbol of the consolidation of power by corporate elite. They control a major portion of the flow of information consumed by the American public. They choose the version of reality which they present trough their news programming and control people’s access to information through monopolizing control of the nation’s information infrastructure. While many people protested outside the Comcast building, several people entered the building and symbolically fastened themselves to a railing inside with zipties. Lots of police showed up quickly and arrested the protesters inside for trespassing and guarded the entrances to the building against further intrusion by people not on Comcast profit generating business.
– Thursday – The last day of the DNC, Democracy Spring held a 3 hour training for next steps. There were more than a hundred people who showed up and stayed the whole time. They covered the history of Democracy Spring, Theory of Change based on historical models, examples of non-violent actions and results. They talked over Democracy Spring’s objectives and principles as well as its structure and unity v/s autonomy. Finally they led some chants and songs and sent everyone out into the world to make it a better place or eat dinner and come back in an hour to join up with a Black Lives Matter protest…
Mon – tent city, Jill Stein,
Tues – Black Lives Matter, whites to the back, Bernie speech
Wed- constitution, GHWBush room at const center, veteran ID, end war protest, Democracy Spring Training, Greg Palast Movie, weird mob mentality in the middle of a movie, dramatic march with candles, riot gear helicopters and bicycle cops,
Thursday – Breakfast w Tim and Anita, next steps training, Little Rosa’s pizza, Dr Barber Speech, Hillary speech
Friday – stop in NJ to see the farm, road back to DC
I went to Philadelphia with my friend Anita who I marched with in April in the Democracy Spring March to DC to End Big Money in Politics and Restore Voter Rights. Anita works for an organization called Democracy Matters that sponsors chapters on college campuses around the US and encourages young people to be politically active and civically engaged. We decided not to go to Philly as part of a particular group so we could support multiple organizations and see what was going on without being tied to a specific agenda.
We got to Philly Monday afternoon and dropped off our cars at my friend’s house where we were staying. Our friend, Tim, who was also part of the April, Democracy Spring March picked us up and took us to get some water ice. On a hot day in Philly, there’s nothing better to take the edge off than some Italian Water Ice and John’s Water Ice is apparently the original and best… Tim is also happy to tell you where to get the best cheese steak in Philly but you better not suggest any of those tourist places or he might tell you where you can shove your cheese steak.
We went down to FDR Park across from Wells Fargo Arena where the DNC was happening. There was a giant stage with three jumbotrons and at least 50 porta-johns. There were signs that said no camping and lots of people and tents. The city and organizers set up misting stations and free bottles of water around the park for the people there. And there was a circus style tent with people all around and inside with a small stage and a person with a microphone. We asked around and were told that was were Jill Stein was supposed to speak shortly. We were confused as to why Jill Stein was speaking in a small tent when there was a giant stage with Jumbotrons right nearby. I wanted to hear Jill Stein speak but my companions and their ADD were averse to waiting for something without a guaranteed time and place so we wandered off to see where the people were protesting near the subway station that was cordoned off for credentialed DNC staff, volunteers, and delegates only. We got there in time to run into some of our good friends from Democracy Spring as they were just finishing up their first day’s action where they sat in at the subway station as close as they could get to the DNC to deliver their demands. We were hoping to hang out but they were busy recovering from the action, planning for the next move and preparing for the evening’s training for the next day’s actions. They were constantly busy the entire week of the DNC.
We started to head back to the car at that point on the other side of the park but we didn’t make it before the sky opened up and we were all soaked. We ran through the pouring rain back to the car and went to a diner to get some food and regroup. We decided to give up on downtown and Tim took us back to his place where we sat around in bath towels while Tim went to the coin-op laundry around the corner to dry our clothes. We watched Bernie Sanders on TV from the other side of town as he broke our hearts and endorsed Hillary Clinton for President.
Tuesday we had a plan to attend several rallies and marches but after chasing our tails for the first half of the day realized our plan was too ambitious. Us country folk failed to account for the time it takes to drive and find parking in the big city. We missed some events but we got to the beginning of the Black Lives Matter march. It started at Temple University where the organizers told everyone how Temple is trying to acquire the land with low income housing to build a new football stadium. They have already torn down low income apartments in the area for green space and plan to continue to gentrify the area with a $100 million stadium project which will further displace current residents. We marched south toward City Hall but had to turn back to move the car as we couldn’t park where we were after 4pm. We met the march again at City Hall where they held a rally and then continued to FDR Park and had the largest gathering of the week outside the convention. We were tired and went back to our hosts place to watch Bill Clinton give his History of Hillary speech on TV.
There are some people who don’t think that the Black Lives Matter movement is doing things “the right way.” I’ve heard people say, “They [BLM] are a bunch of activists, but they aren’t organizers. They don’t know what they are doing…” I didn’t feel that when I marched with them. They got started a little late but the message, the art, and the spirit seemed to be consistent and appropriate. I felt uncomfortable when they announced that all the white people should go to the back, but I respect that tradition within the movement and I think it makes a powerful statement. Sometimes people take it a little too far and are disrespectful to the apparently white folks who are allies but do not immediately get to the back but I think even that highlights the absurdity of sorting people by the color of their skin.
There were people with angry messages who failed to differentiate among police. You know, the few bad apples and the rest just trying to do a good job. It rang hard upon my ears to hear such angry messages about all police with so many police around. However, for a people who have all been lumped together for generations without the state authority apparatus able to differentiate between anyone of color, it seems completely appropriate. Black Lives Matter has the attention of the world right now. Black Lives Matter are the ones able to mobilize hundreds of thousands of people around the nation and around the world right now. They are the people who know the dirty underbelly of our system and the harm it does. If middle class white people think they can save the world with a few of their hippy friends without paying attention to or figuring out how to understand the current driving the Black Lives Matter movement, I think they are mistaken. Anyone who is progressive and wants a revolution in politics, this is where it will come from. Revolutions to end oppression are fought by the oppressed. If I learned one thing this week it’s that I need to pay more attention to what’s going on with Black Lives Matter if I want to be part of the revolution…
Wednesday – we went to see the Constitution and Bill of Rights in the George H.W. Bush Gallery at the National Constitution Center. There is a copy of the original constitution that they still aren’t sure how it was made but they know there were only 201 of them. We also dropped into a talk about Palestine and their lack of freedom at the hands of the Israeli state with the backing of the United States. We ducked out of the Palestine forum a little early to attend a rally to end the endless war. I wore my new Veterans for Peace shirt. Actually, I wore it all week. We found the square for the rally and there were only a few people there. It ended up being a Bob Dylan style singer with a guitar and probably 40 people total. We weren’t feeling it and left to go find some food before the Democracy Spring Training for the Thursday action. The Democracy Spring action training turned out to be the same training we had received for the actions in DC which made it feel strange to be mandatory again.
We left early from that so we could drive back down to FDR Park to see the new Greg Palast film, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy. http://www.gregpalast.com/ It’s a good film. He investigates the current efforts to suppress minority voters and does a great job of tracing the money and tactics back to the big donors and their think tanks. It is eye opening even for me who thought I already had my eyes open. I hope I can get a copy of the film and share it with people ahead of the election. I hope Greg Palast will release it soon so the message can get out there. Its really frustrating for me that people making these kinds of important films still have to recoup their expenses and make a living. So, this important information is controlled and must be paid for even though it needs to be out there in the public domain, disseminated to the widest possible audience. In our system, the way it is, this kind of work also has to generate revenue. If we had a more supportive system, investigators, artists, and other creative people could provide their services to the rest of us without having to worry about withholding important information from the public in order to pay the bills. The system that Greg Palast is investigating is the same system that locks him into this sort of not very efficient/useful business model.
Drama. So, somewhere in the middle of the film, there arose a ruckus. The film was showing in the park at the giant stage with three giant Jumbotrons. Someone decided to make an announcement in the middle of the film. They weren’t on the stage with a microphone but in the middle of the park using crowd mic, call and response to pass along information. A crowd started gathering around them because the movie was pretty loud and people were trying to figure out what this guy was shouting about. Eventually there was a pretty good crowd and the information that was reaching the edge of the crowd was jumbled at best or totally inflammatory at worst. The crowd was becoming agitated and the message seemed to be some combination of Bernie, assault, and delegate. It was very confusing if someone was saying that a Bernie delegate had been assaulted or that a delegate had assaulted Bernie or if there was any coherent information being disseminated at all. Eventually, one of the local organizers involved with the stage and Jumbotron program and line up from www.phill.fyi got up on stage with a real microphone and paused the movie to find out what was going on. It turned out that some Bernie delegate had gotten into a spat with a Hillary delegate. It was completely inconsequential and absolutely not worthy of interrupting the film screening. However, since the film was paused and 10 o’clock had rolled around, the organizer on stage with the microphone announced that they would be marching to the gate at the subway station for the convention with candles to hold a candle light vigil for Democracy. Political Theater. I’m all for the theater and the dramatic messages because that is the only way you’re going to transmit any information in a 10 second soundbite on the 11 o’clock “news” but I don’t understand why they needed to march away in the middle of a film. Greg Palast was actually there to talk about the film afterward and the vast majority of the crowd had wandered off. He and his team put a lot of time and resources into producing this film and were gracious enough to share it with this group in Philly before its even released but the organizers weren’t flexible enough to de-conflict a march that, as far as I could tell, didn’t have any significant outside constraints and could have slipped a bit on the schedule with almost zero consequences. This action confused and frustrated me and I haven’t received any information since then that makes it make any more sense than it did initially.