BETWEEN THE LINES: Major demonstrations planned for GOP convention

When Republicans meet in Philadelphia this summer for the coronation of their presidential candidate George W. Bush, they will be met by tens of thousands of demonstrators not at all happy with the GOP or its platform. But the organizers of the demonstration, dubbed "Unity 2000," encountered many obstacles in securing city permits for a health care rally scheduled July 29 and multi-issue coalition rally on July 30.

The city of Philadelphia had originally wanted to restrict demonstrators to what opponents call "the protest pit" outside the convention center. Access to this area was to be allocated to small groups of demonstrators by lottery with a 50-minute time limit, a scheme critics called unconstitutional.

Many of the same groups that came together in Seattle last year to oppose the policies of the World Trade Organization, and to Washington D.C. in April to demonstrate against the IMF and World Bank are taking part in actions targeting the Republican gathering in Philadelphia and the Democrats' August convention in Los Angeles. This new coalition, which many observers believe forms the core of an emerging global movement for social and economic justice, are planning both legal activities and non-violent civil disobedience action at both party conventions.

Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with Michael Morrill, lead organizer with Unity 2000, who recounts the difficulties encountered in gaining the legal right to march against the Republicans, and explains the overall goals of the demonstration.

Michael Morrill: The city of Philadelphia, in order to attract the Republican National Convention, virtually sold the city -- or gave the city away, more accurately -- to the Republicans. It gave the Republicans right of first refusal to every venue that you can possibly imagine that is publicly owned, and secured agreements signed by companies and institutions that were privately owned. They were trying to get every downtown park, major street, auditorium, hotel, motel, restaurant, and convention center of any kind under control of the Republicans for the week prior to and the week during the convention.

To make a long story short, in order to get a permit to have any kind of legal demonstration, we had to sue the city and the Republican party in federal court. Once we did that, the city was reluctant to go to court because in the initial visit before a judge, the judge looked at the city and the Republican party and said, "You better come to a settlement pretty soon" -- giving an indication that if they ended up coming before him (again for) a trial, they were going to be in deep trouble.

This is the judge, that during the bicentennial of the Constitution, back in 1987, issued to Philadelphia the only permanent injunction to obey the First Amendment that any city in the country is under. The city of Philadelphia had banned all kinds of demonstrations during the bicentennial of the Constitution and the judge found that to be outrageous behavior, and placed the city under that permanent injunction. So the city knew they were in trouble and sat down with the Republicans and said, "We've got to work something out," and they did work something out.

They gave us virtually everything that we asked for, with the minor exception of having to change the parade route somewhat for our march and cutting the entire program by an hour. But in exchange for that, the city was forced to give us almost $100,000 worth of services that we otherwise would have had to pay for, including port-a-potties, stage building, sound system, clean up, EMS crews, water utilities, and other services. Even though we were forced to battle with the city and Republicans in federal court, we actually ended up benefitting by the whole process.

Between The Lines: What's the proximity of your legal demonstration, that you've now won the right to hold, in relation to the convention center?

Michael Morrill: Well, we had all along decided that we didn't want to try to confront the Republicans. In fact, we feel that they're best ignored. We're not going to change the minds or heart of anybody that's inside the convention center by having tens of thousands of people in the streets of Philadelphia. Our real audience, therefore, is not the Republicans, but the American public.

We've been told for so long that our progressive values -- whether it's being pro-choice, or pro-union, pro-workers' rights, or any of the things that are on the progressive side of things. We've been told for so long that we're not the majority, that what we really want to show people is that we are. We want to have a large, visible, positive demonstration that shows what the future of this country could be like. A demonstration that will include people from different races, people that are gay and straight, that will have people from the cities and the suburbs, and rural areas, environmentalists and labor all together, marching together with very different interests, but at the same time pulling together for a more just future.

So the fact that we're not going to be near the Republican convention is intentional. We chose to hold the demonstration the day before the convention, first of all, and we chose to do it miles away from where they'll be gathering to show that we're not just protesting the Republicans, but that the two-party dominant system is something that doesn't represent our views.

But there will be direct action on Monday, the 31st. A march will start at City Hall, and then will head down to the First Union Center on Broad Street, as far it can get before police stop them. The Direct Action group is planning a series of other kinds of nonviolent civil disobedience that have yet to be outlined.

But the combination is what will make this set of demonstrations effective and important. The ability of the people who haven't made a commitment yet to direct action needs to be protected, and that's what will happen on the July 29 and 30th (with the legally permitted marches).

To get more information about the July 29-30, 2000 GOP Convention demonstration in Philadelphia by calling (610) 478-7888 or visit their Web site at: http://www.unity2000.com.

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