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|August 28-September 3, 2008
Anti-everythingImagine just about anything that someone might protest. Guns, abortion, drug laws, torture, the Iraq war, the two-party system, even free speech itself was being questioned during the week of the Democratic National Convention. There were at least a handful of people in Denver protesting about any given issue while delegates and Democratic leaders were inside the Pepsi Center. From anti-abortion protesters and people preaching about Jesus to medical marijuana activists and anarchists, a versatile mix of agendas were represented.
Protests get violent, then mellow out at the DNC
by Dana Logan and Erica Grossman
But despite projections of 50,000-plus protesters during this historic week in Denver, actual turnout seemed extremely low. What we saw was more like hundreds of people than tens of thousands.
On the first night of the DNC — the night Michelle Obama stood behind the podium — we walked through Civic Center Park, between the County Courthouse and the Capital Building. We first arrived at about 6 p.m. to observe protest groups, and as we looked around the scene was surprisingly mellow.
Several small organizations banded in different areas of the park. Seemingly solitary protesters, who sported bandanas around the lower portion of their faces, walked throughout the area — some carrying signs. The riot police traveled throughout the area in groups of eight to 12. Little taunting or provocation took place.
At 6:45 p.m., we noticed several individuals (mostly those with bandana masks) running through the park toward the County Courthouse, located across Bannock Street. We followed.
That’s when the scene became violent.
Protesters began to flood Bannock Street while police officers demanded that everyone stay on the sidewalk. Because the police were fairly dispersed at this point, protesters and media (ourselves included) were able to easily infiltrate the street. As more police were called in, we were forced back to the sidewalk.
Protesters demanded everyone “Take back the streets.” The general outcry was over the fact that protesters should not be limited to confined areas in order to voice their First Amendment rights.
That idea — that the rights of free speech were being marginalized — is what brought Mark Valentine, a resident of Denver who claimed no allegiance to any particular protest group, to Civic Center Park that night.
“I don’t have a problem with the DNC. I have a problem with the way they’re handling it. The way the city is handling it is absolutely ridiculous,” said Valentine. “Last night was mainly about our freedom of speech,” he said the day after protesters attempted to take back the streets.
During the initial encounter, we witnessed three protesters getting sprayed by police with pepper spray.
At this point, protesters changed directions. People began crowding around the opposite end of the park, towards 15th Street, forcing traffic to a standstill. We followed at a running pace, darting in front of cars to keep up with the crowd.
Sirens were blaring as more police showed up.
By 7 p.m., we found ourselves huddled with hundreds of protesters, police, media and observers at the intersection of 15th and Cleveland streets. Swarms of police squads pounded through the streets, demanding that citizens stay confined to the sidewalks. Those that were non-compliant quickly formed a huddle in the street and were subsequently surrounded by police in the middle of 15th Street.
The crowd began screaming chants — everything from “They say, ‘Get back!’; We say, ‘Fight back!’” to the back-and-forth call, “What does a police state look like? This is what a police state looks like!”
Several citizens pushed up against the police and were pushed back. At least one individual spray painted the wall of a building that served the police in helping to contain activists with anarchy symbols and the phrases, “Kill a cop” and “Fuck a pig.”
The energy was extremely tense.
At several points, protesters provoked police to push back. This often resulted in many individuals running back toward the park in a frenzy.
Some of the surrounded street protesters were arrested. Those arrested were handcuffed with blue plastic cuffs, and taken behind police vans, out of sight.
Valentine and his girlfriend were among the first to be pulled out of that crowd to be arrested. He said that the police seemed to be disorganized in their communication — one officer telling him that he was being arrested and would be taken in, another saying they were letting him go. Ultimately, they each had a mug shot taken on the scene before being released. But about a hundred protesters were still surrounded.
The scene remained charged for hours. Many anti-police sentiments were shouted at the cops, who were armed in full riot gear — helmets with shield masks, bullet-proof vests, batons, pepper spray, plastic handcuffs and guns. Several carried rifles, which may have been loaded wit rubber bullets. At the intersection of Court and 15th streets, to which the standoff extended, at least 30 police were mounted on horses. The horses also wore protective eyewear.
The crowd eagerly yelled for the police to release the protesters who were still surrounded. At roughly 9 p.m., police cleared the way for demonstrators.
At this, massive applause, screams, whistles and fist pumping signified a victory for the activists. Those demonstrators who were released walked back through the crowd, en route to Civic Center Park, with their hands in the air and many pats on the back.
Around this time, we were able to talk to one of the protesters who had been surrounded.
Amanda Tipton, 27, of Denver, said that she had been pepper sprayed, and that her face had just stopped burning. She was in the street for part of the protest, but the police pushed everyone back onto the sidewalk.
“Toward the end, I think there was concern that we were all getting arrested because they started taking individuals away,” she said.
When asked if there might be a better way to get her message — that of anti-capitalism — across, she responded: “Unfortunately, I don’t think that there’s much of a better outlet. I wish that there were so there didn’t have to be so much violence — so many people getting pepper sprayed and getting arrested. But I don’t see another viable option for people our age and with our views to really get their opinions out there.”
A few minutes after speaking with Tipton, the excitement of victory felt by protesters was replaced with renewed tension as it became clear that police were still holding several demonstrators.
Though confined to the sidewalk, heated chants of “Let them go!” were shouted.
It became, essentially, a waiting game as the standoff between police and protesters continued, but with little provocation from either side. After about an hour, at about 10 p.m., people started to disperse, leaving the scene, two or three at a time.
Within about 20 minutes, the vibe had changed again. As protesters and those who were there just to observe continued to trickle out, many who remained on the scene began to idly chat. It was a sure sign things were calming down when we observed people starting to sit down.
Police remained positioned in a line on the edge of the sidewalk, but as the crowd thinned, so too did the line of police. A few at a time would leave the scene and the line of police would spread further apart, leaving larger and larger gaps between each officer.
When we left the scene at 11 p.m., many police and authority vehicles were gone. A handful of protesters and observers straggled up and down the sidewalk, though without the enthusiasm they had pursued only hours earlier.
Though we were unable to confirm an exact number of arrests made, sources put the count at between 90 and 100.
Eventually, everyone left the scene with the intention of showing up again the following day to continue what they came for — protesters to be heard, police to maintain order.
And while activists returned to Civic Center Park for the second day of the DNC, Tuesday was a relatively mild day for protesters and police.
Again, there was a relatively small crowd gathered, compared to predictions, and the protesters who were there, seemed disorganized.
There were a few people here and there supporting the same cause, but not one unified group of activists standing for the same principles.
Recreate ’68, who claimed to be the umbrella group that would unify the protesters at the DNC, had an information table with schedules of events and legal information, but little more.
Lisa Braxton, who was working Recreate ’68’s information booth, defended the T-shirt that the group was selling. The shirt had the words “Defend Denver” printed above a silhouetted image of a machine gun. When asked if that was a symbol of violence, she claimed that it was merely a symbol of resistance — not necessarily violent resistance.
“This is a picture of a machine gun. It’s not a real machine gun. If you want to see real guns, there are lots of folks around here in uniforms carrying real guns. All you’ll see on us is a T-shirt,” Braxton said.
Across the park, a group of anarchists huddled in a circle asking photographers not to take their picture. However, just as it was their right to be present on the public property, it is a photographer’s right to take photos on that same public property.
When one hobbyist photographer acted on that right, a small scuffle ensued between him and the group. Police were within 15 feet when the confrontation began, and it was quickly de-escalated, after which the anarchists walked over to a different section of the park.
In the mid-afternoon, a group of about 50 gathered in front of television crews with banners and signs claiming that “9/11 was an inside job!” One protester read a lengthy poem about a government conspiracy to take down the Twin Towers. The protest was peaceful.
All in all, the second day was quite mellow. And while, as this issue went to press, it was yet to be seen what the last two days of the DNC would hold for protesters and police, it seemed to be shaping up to be much less intense than was originally anticipated. Even so, we’re not going anywhere. We’ll be reporting on both the protests and the convention on our blog (boulderweeklydnc.blogspot.com) until the convention and the protests draw to a close on Thursday.
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Speaking of change…
GLBT event draws congressional support and a visit from Michelle Obama
by Pamela White
They’re here. They’re queer. And it seems that much of America has finally gotten used to it.
In what was a historical moment, multiple generations of bisexual and transgendered activists and delegates met Tuesday at a luncheon sponsored by Congressman Barney Frank and the Victory Fund to celebrate gains made by the LGBT community nationwide, receiving a visit from Michelle Obama, wife of Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama.
More than 650 delegates and special guests attended the event in the Sheraton Hotel’s Grand Ballroom, including Frank, D-Mass., Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc., and Jared Polis, the Democratic candidate for Colorado’s 2nd Congressional District.
Polis spoke about growing up with a great interest in business and politics, having volunteered for the Dukakis presidential campaign at age 13. He admitted that with his interest in politics came a fear that he would not be able to participate because of bigotry against gay people. Those fears were laid to rest earlier this month when Polis won the primary election, a victory he told the audience he owes to early gay-rights activists.
“I would not have been able to run for office or succeed in doing this without the groundwork that has been laid for the last couple of generations,” he said. “I would like those of you in the room who were part of our movement when it was difficult to be part of our movement — and you know what that means, when it was not a fancy dinner like this — I would like those of you who were there in that era to stand up so we can give you a round of applause.”
Polis told the audience that his sexual orientation seemed to make no difference to voters in his district. They were much more interested in the policies he would support regarding issues like the Iraq war, the economy and health care if he were in office.
“Sexual orientation should not get in the way of giving back to our country and working for the common good,” he said.
The highlight of the luncheon was a visit from Michelle Obama, who was welcomed with a standing ovation and a solid minute and a half of cheering and applause.
“I am honored and thrilled,” she said, visibly affected by the crowd’s enthusiasm. “What a welcome! I should stay here for the rest of the afternoon, just scrap the rest of the day.”
Obama spoke about her husband’s support for the Ryan White Care Act and his efforts to support equality for LGBT couples.
“We all know that our country’s journey toward equality is not finished yet,” she said, later adding, “Discrimination has no place in a nation founded on the promise of equality.”
Those who attended the luncheon commented as they left the room on the fact that even in 2000 a visit from a prospective First Lady to an LGBT group luncheon would have been unthinkable.
“It’s proof that things are changing,” said a gay delegate from Georgia.
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