DNC2RNC: Putting the "Move" Back in Movement
As you read this, protesters at this week's Democratic National Convention (DNC) in Boston are being cordoned off into confining, heavily-monitored "free speech zones.' Similarly, the organizers of next month's response to the Republican National Convention (RNC) have spent much of the summer negotiating with the city of New York in order to secure a legal place for the thousands of expected protesters to gather and make a statement. In both cities, activists are doing what they can to be make waves despite the kind of "post-Seattle' militarization that has become the norm at events like this.
So, what would happen, some students wondered recently, if they were to create our own free speech zone, instead? The group, who were attending Evergreen State College in Olympia, WA. at the time, may have been looking at a map and considering the 259 miles between Boston and New York. "What about all this?' They wondered.
For Adam Burger, 21, an organizer of Democracy Uprising!, the march scheduled to take participants from the DNC to the RNC, government-designated free speech zones are "a clear contradiction in terms.' Burger has been detained, harassed, intimidated and arrested numerous times, and he says he hopes to guarantee that this march will be different, bringing its participants mainly positive messages and experiences all along the route.
Democracy Uprising! kicks off July 29 in Boston at the Democratic National Convention, after which the group will weave down the Eastern seaboard to New York and the RNC. The plan is to arrive August 29, after spending a full 30 days on the road. The march's message is that real democracy doesn't just take place at conventions and in the voting booths, but rather through grassroots movements and individual communities.
Cory Fischer-Hoffman, another of the march's organizers and a 21-year-old student also attending Evergreen, sees the conventions and this year's election as emblematic of how political parties fail to address community needs. "Beyond picking a candidate every four years, there are other ways to participate in democracy, and that's how we intend change will be brought about,' she says.
Burger and Fischer-Hoffman are both members of the Next Step Collective, a mainly student-lead group out of Olympia, WA. that was inspired by the Root Cause March, held last November in Miami during the anti-Free Trade Agreement of the Americas protests. Fischer-Hoffman says she and her co-organizers saw the Root Cause march as an effective and proactive action that took the attention off the typical "police versus protestor' struggle, and instead raised community awareness and interest in the struggle against the FTAA.
Democracy Uprising! has been put together by coalitions and working groups of students, workers, farmers and community organizers. Fischer-Hoffman estimates that hundreds of people have helped out thus far, and by the end of the march, the number will be in the thousands. Even the route of the march itself was shaped by a call to participate put out through the internet and word of mouth.
The marchers will average about 10 miles a day. Throughout the course of the march, protestors will have their food, housing and medical care covered. The Seeds of Peace bio-diesel kitchen will follow the marchers, cooking up free meals all along the route. When the group stops at night, they'll have teach-ins, movie screenings, concerts, non-violent direct action training, story telling, workshops and community service projects planned. They'll also be working on urban gardens, public art projects, and other activities at night, hoping to reach out to each town that has given them a place to rest their weary feet. At the stop in New Britain, Connecticut, for example, community members have asked marchers for help with a variety of projects. There are also rest days built in to the schedule to allow marchers to not only participate in community work in Hartford and New Haven, Connecticut, but also to have some time away from each other.
Another thing that is important to the organizers is that the march is as accessible as possible . They expect to have marchers between the ages of six and 86 and they understand that people might only be able to join in for parts of the route. Originally, the march came about as a response to what organizers saw as the repressive police action at the FTAA protests in Miami. They learned that when police came out in such huge force, people who can't risk being arrested will choose not to make their voices heard. In extreme situations, everyone but the young and reckless tends to step back. Fischer-Hoffman explains that it is particularly important to provide "a safe space' for families.
Marcher Alex Baumann, a 22-year-old from Louisville, Kentucky, says he's marching to show viable alternatives to the oppressive systems he sees all around him. "It's drilled into our heads that the way we Americans live now is as good as it gets. I don't feel like people grasp why we're opposed to capitalism until they see a directly democratic alternative in action.
"Through freely exchanging skills, knowledge, ideas and food with the communities we visit during the march,' Baumann says he hopes to respond – through action – to the issues that many of the DNC and RNC protesters will be addressing on signs and banners.
Democracy Uprising! will officially start on July 30 at 10:00 a.m. The group is planning to leave from Boston Common, and will head south through the rest of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and on to New York City by the end of August. Organizers are still looking for housing, specifically in Southwestern Connecticut and the Bronx, New York. Food, financial assistance, medical practitioners and enthusiastic marchers are always welcome. For more information, check out www.dnc2rnc.org