Democratic Convention '96: The Iron Fist After All
August 30, 1996 8:54 pm
September 13, 1996 10:38 pm
RE: DNC Repression From: VX
DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION '96: THE IRON FIST AFTER ALL
People around the world are familiar with the images from the
streets of Chicago 1968: the police viciously beating antiwar protesters -
along with journalists and anyone else coming within reach of their batons
- right outside the hall where the Democratic Party was holding its
Leading up to the 1996 Democratic National Convention (DNC),
government officials and the media worked overtime to exorcise the ghost
of 1968. The Chicago police, they said, was no longer the same force.
The 1996 version, they said, is younger, more multinational, includes more
women, and is "more respectful of civil rights"
Mayor Daley - son of the original Mayor Daley of 1968 - even
dropped by the "return to Chicago 1968-96" concert and rally held the day
before the DNC opened, which featured defendants from the Chicago 8
conspiracy trial, among others. He told the people they that though back
then, they might not have felt "welcome" in the city, they should feel
Behind this attempt to whitewash stigma of the 1968 police riot
was the reality of police-state Chicago. During DNC week, the city was
saturated with armed enforcers from 33 different government agencies and
private security forces - from the Secret Service to the Illinois State
police to thousands of local cops. High-tech military helicopters carried
out surveillance from the air. The area around United Center, the
convention site, was secured like a military zone - including parts of the
nearby Henry Horner Homes projects.
The city set up two official "protest pits" surrounded by fences
and conducted a lottery to pick one-hour slots for protest groups. Even a
federal judge ruled that this violated first amendment rights. But the
judge's "compromise" was to allow a handful of protesters to get closer to
the DNC delegates and pass out leaflets - while confined within what
looked like a metal cage.
The plan for "preventing a repeat of 1968" was to turn the city into an
armed camp. Protests would be surrounded with overwhelming force, though
stopping short of outright attacks especially when cameras were present.
All the while, the mainstream media incessantly chattered about how
"restrained" the police were.
That charade came to a close on Thursday, August 29 as the city
cracked down on protesters. 18 arrested. A night time police raid.
Activists beaten and gassed by police. Alternative media reporters swept
off the street, their equipment destroyed and stolen by police. Charges
against those arrested ranged from disorderly conduct to felony mob
action. By taking these steps, the authorities openly shredded their
carefully cultivated fairytale image of Chicago, while brutality, covert
operations and political railroads took center stage.
THE "FESTIVAL OF LIFE" ARRESTS
Thursday's crackdown began with the roundup of activists
associated with the Festival of Life. Based in Chicago's downtown Grant
Park, the Festival consisted of a week-long series of activities ranging
from concerts and rallies to marches.
Their vision, according to Festival organizer Rob McDonald, was to
have an "articulate critique of the American government" on issues that
are not being addressed in the media. Each day there was a particular
focus - against the government's war on drugs, against the destruction of
the environment, against the continued incarceration of political
prisoners in the U.S. The theme for Thursday's action was "peace," and
plans included a march through downtown Chicago.
Before the march could even get off the ground, four Festival
organizers and participants were picked off by police. Two, members of
the sound crew, were later released. The other two, organizers Rob
McDonald and Bonnie Tocwish, were held for charges.
One festival organizer, Michael Durschmid, was busted while he
participated in a vigil at a police station for those previously arrested.
Reverend Ron Schupp was grabbed leaving an afternoon press conference.
Ben Masel was the fifth charged.
The activists all face identical felony charges: two counts of
aggravated battery and and one count of mob action. Specifically, they
are all accused of striking one cop with a bottle, another with a fist,
and inciting demonstrators to break police lines, march on the street, and
toss objects at cops.
These actions are all alleged to have occurred at a protest held on
Tuesday, August 27th. That action was organized by the "Not on the Guest
List Coalition," and demanded freedom for Leonard Peltier and other
political prisoners, denounced police brutality and the racist/classist
"justice" system and called for an end to the death penalty.
The police waited two days after the Not On The Guest List!
protest to make their arrests. Why the delay? Rob McDonald of the
Festival of Life had one answer. The authorities arrested them on these
groundless charges to derail the peace march which was occuring the same
day that Clinton would be addressing the Convention.
McDonald also added that it is when groups are doing "coalition
building" - such as uniting across barriers of race - that they are
especially open to attack. He related how the Dunbar High School band -
its members all Black teens - was supposed to play in a Festival march
that focused on jobs in the community and opposition to the war on the
people. Though the teacher was originally all for it, the police brought
in two van loads of cops, put a great deal of pressure on the teacher, and
forced him to back out.
THE POLICE VS. THE PUPPETS
One of the plans for the Festival of Life march had been to link
up with another action that was taking place in the Wicker Park
neighborhood that day. Called the "Festival of the Oppressed", it was a
mix of performance art and street protest: a few hundred young people
parading through the streets with elaborate paper mache and wooden puppet
There was an enormous skeletal figure of the Pope. People
sporting police badges and wearing giant pig's heads. A real-life "Joe
Camel" - mouth stuffed with cigarettes - hacking and coughing while
pushing smokes. "Reporters" carried around oversize cardboard video
cameras that were labeled "EMPTY TV" and "SEE BS," and randomly
interviewed curious onlookers.
In the center of the march was a thirty-foot foot tower
representing corporate greed, being dragged by "consumers," "workers,"
"taxpayers" and "voters." Bringing up the rear in chains were the
casualties: "immigrants," minorities", "single moms." Toward the end of
the march, the tower was "stormed" and destroyed by its victims, leaving a
red fist and panels showing a new cooperative society.
No one observing could miss the contrast between the colorful
procession and the line of blue uniforms that surrounded the people. To
the left ran a wall of cops on horses. On the right a line of cops on
foot. Completing the box were dozens more police in the front and back,
their hands gripping billy clubs. The police were noticeably hostile and
openly intimidating. Unlike the image presented over the last few days,
this was not "officer friendly."
Though the cops didn't stop the march, they arrested over a dozen
people. The parade's traffic safety coordinator was one of those
targeted. Another was a marcher hurt after a police horse stepped on his
foot. Friends had put him in a van so he could ice his injury. The
police then stopped the van and arrested all the occupants. He was
dragged out, clubbed on his good leg, and kicked a number of times on his
injured foot. He was denied medical attention, insulted and interrogated.
During this ordeal, he would periodically black out from pain.
Six of those arrested at the Festival of Oppressed march were
members of CounterMedia, an alternative media coalition that had been
active during the entire week documenting the protests and issues
surrounding the DNC. It was clear that the police were making a conscious
effort to avoid having their actions caught on tape or film. A person
helping to dispatch reporting teams over a hand radio was grabbed and the
radio confiscated. Video cameras were broken and film was destroyed. A
van with a video crew was stopped, impounded and all equipment inside
seized. Occupants were told it would be checked out by the FBI. While in
jail, camera people were repeatedly questioned by the cops about
A CAMPAIGN OF HARASSMENT
The Festival of the Oppressed was one of a number of events
sponsored by Active Resistance (AR). AR organizers describe it as a ten
day "counter-convention" involving over 700 activists from throughout
North America and Europe taking on issues such as community organizing and
Among the many groups involved were the local Autonomous Zone, a
radical community center based on anarchist principles, and Seeds of
Peace, who do logistic support to anti-nuclear and ecological struggles.
Most of those attending the conference were young. Some were
experienced activists. Others just coming to learn. All were considered
a threat by the authorities.
From the beginning of the AR conference, it was the target of
police harassment. Police often slowly cruised by the two buildings used
for meetings and programs and repeatedly visited those sites. In one
incident, a uniformed cop attempted to enter one building under the guise
of investigating a burglary.
One incident was a thinly veiled threat to people's lives.
As two AR participants walked by a vehicle parked near an activity
site, the driver questioned them about being in the area, saying it was
dangerous since so many people are packing guns. He pulled out a weapon
of his own - said that he wasn't going to harm them - but suggested that
they and everyone else leave the area. "I know what you're doing here" he
THE RAID ON ACTIVE RESISTANCE
On the morning of Thursday, August 29th, CounterMedia held a press
conference detailing police attacks on their reporters on activists and on
Horner residents. A CounterMedia video cameraman arrested and his camera
seized while filming at a clinic under attack by anti-choice forces.
Another arrested while interviewing Horner children about their experience
with the police. Twice in one evening, a CounterMedia video team had their
van stopped and boarded by police while they were attempting to videotape
the "Cash the Check" demonstration near Horner Homes. Both the van and
video crew were searched.
Later that Thursday night - about the time that Clinton was making
his acceptance speech at the United Center - the police carried out a
gestapo-style raid on a building used for AR programs. Some people were
sitting out in the back of the building, which faces out onto railroad
tracks. Upwards of ten cops came running in.
They kicked a woman, sprayed her with pepper gas. Others were
grabbed and thrown to the ground. One woman asked if she could take her
three-year old child away from the area. The cops said no. All but one
of the cops had no badges or names plates visible - they claimed the
badges were "lost." The one with a badge kept his distance.
The cops showed no warrants. They gave no explanation for the
raid, except for a flimsy excuse. The railroad company, they claimed,
reported two individuals jumping onto a freight train. AR people deny this
ever happened. By the time the police left, they had ransacked people's
belongings, dumped out two large pots of food and seized radio equipment
and papers. According to one witness, the cops stated that the material
was "subversion against the United States government."
As police left, they sprayed another person in the face at point
blank range with pepper gas. Though he quickly fell to the ground,
police continued to spray him around his head, causing damage to one of
his eyes. After getting news of this attack, and noticing large numbers
of police gathering nearby, AR participants evacuated another building.
At a press conference called the following day, a member of the
National Lawyers Guild - who will be representing some of those arrested -
commented, "One of the most disturbing things was that this seems to be an
orchestrated effort on the part of the police and possibly the Secret
Service. It just makes you realize where our government's at right now.
And I think that's a really disturbing statement about the nature of
what's going on in this country, and what's going on with things like the
crime bill that passed in '93, the anti-terrorism bill that just passed -
this level of squashing dissent that's going on."
This news alert issued by CounterMedia, a coalition of political
organizations, media groups and individuals dedicated to providing
alternative coverage of the Democratic National Convention and community
struggle in Chicago.
1573 N. Milwaukee Ave., Box 517, Chicago, IL 60622
The Other Chicago web page: http://www.cpsr.cs.uchicago.edu/other-chicago/
CounterMedia web page http://www.cpsr.cs.uchicago.edu/countermedia/