Michael Gould-Wartofsky

A 5-Step Guide to the Police Repression of Protest From Ferguson to Baltimore and Beyond

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SWAT Teams and Campus Spies? 7 Ways the Homeland Security State Has Taken Over Our Universities

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Who Will Crash the Democratic and Republican Conventions?

At some point during the upcoming Republican National Convention, delegates will look out the windows of the Xcel Energy Center, or down from swank hotels and grand old after-parties, and there, past the security fences and the legions of taser-toting police and private security guards, they will see the other America spilling into the streets of St. Paul, Minnesota.

That is, if the Republicans even make it that far. From September 1-4, the RNC will be besieged by a panoply of protesters -- including antiwar activists, Iraq War veterans, Hurricane Katrina survivors, immigrant workers, labor unionists, anarchists, environmentalists, feminists and queers. At the frontlines will be America's young dissidents who will walk out of class, lock down intersections and dance in the streets to "Funk the War."

The view from Denver at the Democratic National Convention at the end of August will look a little different. That's because in the age of Obama many of these same movements, so united against the RNC, are deeply conflicted over the Democrats and the party system itself -- perhaps none more so than the youth movement. At issue, say organizers across the country, is not only their relationship to the Obama campaign and the presidential elections but the very meaning of democracy in 2008. Is true democracy possible inside the party system and on the campaign trail? Or is democracy to be found and made by the people in the streets outside? Will the two ever meet?

Not if the conventioneers have their way. Uncredentialed activists are to be fenced off and kept away from the Pepsi Center in Denver by parking lots the size of football fields. The protesters descending on the RNC will be cordoned off into designated "free speech zones," guarded by thousands of police officers to the tune of $50 million at this "National Special Security Event."

The streets will also be haunted by the ghosts of conventions past, from the cracking of skulls at the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago to the pre-emptive arrest and detention of nearly 2,000 protesters at the 2004 Republican convention in New York City. Like their predecessors outside those arenas, this year's dissidents have come to see the party conventions, advertised as the ultimate showcases of American democracy, as exhibits A and B of the nation's deficit of democracy instead. And they cast themselves in opposition, as the keepers of the flame.

"It really will be a collision of opposites," says Minneapolis activist Katrina Plotz when asked about the RNC, which she is organizing against with the Coalition to March on the RNC and Stop the War. "A scripted and sanitized spectacle for a homogenous group of wealthy elites inside the convention hall versus a thriving, organic movement of the masses outside."

Perhaps the starkest contrast will be between the plutocrats of the Grand Old Party and the Poor People's Economic Human Rights Campaign, a coalition led by poor and homeless families fighting for the right to housing, healthcare, education and a living wage. They will be camped in a "Bushville," a tent city evoking the Depression, and setting out on the March for Our Lives. "It's to say to the whole country, 'We are here,'" says Minneapolis native Rickey Brunner, who, at 16, has become a spokesperson for the group. "We plan to show that this is a crisis, this is something that needs to be looked at with a little more urgency…. We don't have enough housing. We don't have enough healthcare. And it's killing the people."

The RNC for many has become a symbol of everything the protesters believe is wrong with America. They are moved to action by all-too-familiar litany of injustices--the occupation of Iraq and beyond, class war and racism, sexism and homophobia, torture and repression, corporate power and the climate crisis, rising tuition and an economic bust that's hitting this generation hard. Yet what they have in common, beyond a penchant for ruckus and a loathing of the GOP, is a persistent belief in democracy from below, in the power of ordinary people to transform the conditions of life in this country and worldwide -- a power they believe must be exercised in the street, not just in the voting booth.

"Democracy is not waiting to vote once every four years. Democracy is getting out in the streets," says Sgt. Matthis Chiroux, a 24-year-old member of Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) who refused orders to deploy to Iraq this June and now plans to show up to the conventions with IVAW. "They [the politicians] are not gonna do it by themselves. We're gonna force their hand, because that is the nature of democracy."

The dissent at the Democratic National Convention -- though less "mass" than at the RNC, especially after the recent withdrawal of some national organizers -- is set to feature events like an open-air Festival of Democracy, a Restoring Democracy Parade and a base camp with free housing and medical care, organized by groups like Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), the Alliance for Real Democracy, the Recreate '68 Alliance and the immigrant coalition the We Are America DNC Alliance.

Activists with these groups report getting the critical questions from their friends and peers about plans to protest Denver: "Especially now, with a candidate who talks a lot about hope and change, people talk about, 'Why do you need to protest?' " says Zoe Williams, a local organizer with Code Pink: Women for Peace and a spokesperson for the Alliance for Real Democracy. Her answer? "I think that we need to define what hope and change are. We need to decide what that means to us as a people."

Even among the activist crowd, there are those who hope the youth movement outside the convention will join with those inside to toast the "new era" they believe the Obama campaign represents -- as well as hold Obama accountable and engage the hundreds of thousands of newly politicized young people who have joined in the campaign. "For people who are disenfranchised by the system, some of them for the first time are being motivated into politics," says Rachel Haut, a member of SDS and labor activist at Queens College who is working on the 100 Days Campaign, intended to pressure the next President during his first 100 days in office. "We want to create a broad progressive movement that can invite these newly politicized people in. And we want to create a campaign that can take that beyond the voting booth."

Organizers like Haut feel the stirrings of a new youth movement, newly mainstreamed. Some say it's about the power of the stories that are told on the campaign--and about what stories will be told at the conventions. Madeline Gardner, an activist from the Twin Cities who now organizes with the Energy Action Coalition, sees a political opening for movements like hers: "The story Obama tells, about how we're gonna change this world by regular people taking action," she says, "creates more space for social movement organizing in a way we haven't had since the '60s. I would like to see the conventions and the protests around them take full advantage of that opportunity."

That sentiment is shared by Joshua Kahn Russell, an organizer with the Rainforest Action Network in the Bay Area who feels that the youth movement should "use both conventions to put forward a narrative that we are starting a new chapter in American history. … Our job is to be part of that progressive wave and to pull it to the left as much as we can."

Still, many in the youth movement are riding on a different wave, and they do not want to be swallowed up by the one depicted in Obama's campaign logo -- especially following what they see as his betrayals of the movement's values. Some of them are tired of being taken for granted, whether as young people or as people of color. "Because Obama's running, they think, 'We've got them, they're coming out, they're gonna support Obama no matter what,' " says Troy Nkrumah, a chair of the National Hip-Hop Political Convention in Las Vegas, which is convening this summer to forge a national agenda for the hip-hop generation. "Some of us aren't so sure that it's gonna make a difference."

Likewise, young people like Adam Jung, a farm boy from Missouri who is helping to organize the DNC tent city with Tent State University, are questioning whether Obama and the Democrats are ever going to represent them: "The Democrats, they count on and expect our votes. We're saying, 'If you're not representing me, I don't have to vote for you. You need to start listening to the youth [and] the 65 percent of the people in this country who want the war to end.' "

Most determined of all are the anarchists and anti-authoritarians, as many of the youth activists describe themselves, including two of the most active groups preparing to crash the conventions: the RNC Welcoming Committee and the Unconventional Action network. Unconventional Denver organizer Clayton Dewey acknowledges that "the candidacy of Obama is a reflection of the public's desire for something different." But as an anarchist, he explains, "we believe that despite the rhetoric Obama uses, genuine change will always come from the bottom up, and that means countering the system as a whole."

"An anti-authoritarian vibe is what's going on," says Carina Souflee, an activist with Anarchist People of Color and the Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán (MEChA) at the University of Texas-Austin, who was radicalized by the immigration protests and is planning to be in the streets at the RNC. "People have learned that a top-down approach to things doesn't work."

To young radicals like Souflee and Dewey, the question remains one of democracy, and to them, democracy has very little to do with the 2008 presidential elections. "What we have in common is a desire to break the spell that elections have over the US left," says a member of the RNC Welcoming Committee who goes by the pseudonym 'Ann O'Nymity.' "Our message is one of direct participation in democracy, bypassing corrupt politicians who don't represent us but instead further corporate interests."

Still, in the age of Obama, some in the youth movement are bypassing protests that directly confront the Democratic candidate and his party, opting instead to aim their dissent at the Republicans. "The RNC is a very easy target, because they are so visibly to blame for what's happening in this country," says Samantha Miller, who recently graduated UCLA and is now organizing members of DC SDS to bring the group's notorious Funk the War street parties to the RNC. "There's a whole lot more energy for the RNC than the DNC," she reports.

Thousands of youth from dozens of groups from across the country are coming together to blockade the Republican convention, using direct democracy not just as an end but as a means. Inspired by the Battle in Seattle and the global justice movement of the '90s, they are deploying a well-organized web of leaderless "affinity groups," "assemblies" and "spokescouncils."

Always the bete noire at a convention ("Anarchists Hot for Mayhem!" screamed a typical headline at the last RNC), this direct action wing of the youth movement has already sparked a media frenzy, along with an internal debate, over what tactics they will employ in the streets. Some activists are wary of the plans to blockade the convention. "I don't know what to make of shutting down the RNC," says Uruj Sheikh of New Jersey, who has worked with the War Resisters League and with the new SDS since its inception. "I'd like to see more of a consciousness raising thing. I don't want the left to be perceived as crazy."

Yet most activists in the Twin Cities agree that the likeliest scenario will be violence from those in blue, more than those in black: "We know that it is the police, not protesters or activists who will have the tasers, guns, rubber bullets, concussion grenades, chemical weapons, helicopters, the media spin machine and millions of dollars on their side," says the Welcoming Committee.

The same story can be heard over at the DNC protest headquarters. "We're just hoping that the Denver police don't recreate the violence that happened in Chicago [in '68]," says Glenn Spagnuolo of the Recreate '68 Alliance, "since they're the only ones capable of doing that."

The group's call to "Recreate '68" at the 2008 DNC has become a point of contention all its own, even among activists born decades after 1968 and bred amid a new world order. The collective memory of '68 -- not just of Chicago, but of the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy, of Black Power and women's liberation and youth revolts worldwide -- persists among this generation. But while some in the youth movement may look back on '68 as a usable past, as a memory of mass democracy they can mobilize and learn from, few activists see it as a moment to recreate. "It provides inspiration and an example of what can be possible," says Arya Zahedi of New York City SDS. "But it can also prove a disservice. If we just 'recreate '68,' we will be destined to also recreate its problems."

Not everyone is counting on the conventions, the campaigns and the protests. Not Senia Barragan, who helped found the new SDS at Brown University and in Providence: "That culture of activist summit hopping, I'm not really into that. I do think it is important to show a resistance to both parties. I just think that there are different ways that people go about doing that. And I hope we don't lose steam over this election. We've got a long way to go."

Already youth organizers are looking beyond September, even beyond November 4, 2008, and January 20, 2009. They are looking to the long haul, to the work of movement building, rooted in their communities but linked in solidarity with a global movement. For, they say, the whole world is still watching. "Our task today," says NYC SDS's Zahedi, "is to get to work organizing where we are, at our campuses, workplaces, and in our communities, while at the same time building links with people struggling all around the world."

For many, this push begins by showing ordinary people, and especially young, newly politicized people, their own power beyond Election Day. "We really need to find a way to engage the people who are excited, and really do think that Obama's gonna change something," says DC SDS's Miller. "We have to do a lot of popular education to say that it isn't politicians who make real change, it's the movements that politicians have to follow."

Seven Steps to a Homeland Security Campus

Consider the ultimate gift in a homeland security country: the iTaser, a weapon with its own MP3 player and earphones that can deliver a 50,000 volt electrical charge while you catch your favorite tunes. This new Taser, on display at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, will be available, reports Richard Wray of the British Guardian, in "red, pink and even leopard print designs." Anyone carrying the iTaser will be able to make what may be the first homeland-security fashion statement in any one of the 43 states where Tasers are legal. The company that makes the weapon, Taser International, has already sold 160,000 less-stylish versions to private individuals. According to founder and company CEO Rick Smith, "Personal protection can be both fashionable and functionable."

In November 2006, the Taser infamously broke into the news on campus when a student at the University of Florida, questioning Senator John Kerry harshly, was dragged off, Tased, and subdued by campus police. His plea, "Don't Tase me, Bro!," is now the stuff of bumper stickers, T-shirts, and cell phone ring tones. Thanks largely to him and the publicity the incident got, the New Oxford Dictionary made "Tase" one of its 2007 words of the year, the Yale Book of Quotations put it at the top of its yearly list of most memorable quotes, and the rest of us got a hint that something new might be happening in America's "ivory towers."

As Michael Gould-Wartofsky indicates below, that incident was just the tip of an enormous homeland-security presence on campus. Gould-Wartofsky's remarkable report -- a piece that the Nation Magazine and Tomdispatch.com are sharing -- offers real news about just how deeply the new homeland security state is settling into every aspect of our world. -- Tom Engelhardt, editor of TomDispatch

Repress U
How to Build a Homeland Security Campus in Seven Steps
By Michael Gould-Wartofsky

Free speech zones. Taser guns. Hidden cameras. Data mining. A new security curriculum. Private security contractors... Welcome to the new homeland security campus

From Harvard to UCLA, the ivory tower is fast becoming the latest watchtower in Fortress America. The terror warriors, having turned their attention to "violent radicalization and homegrown terrorism" -- as it was recently dubbed in a House of Representatives bill of the same name -- have set out to reconquer that traditional hotbed of radicalization, the university.

Building a homeland-security campus and bringing the university to heel is a seven-step mission:

1. Target dissidents: As the warfare state has triggered dissent, the campus has increasingly become a target gallery -- with student protesters in the crosshairs. The government's number one target? Peace and justice organizations.

From 2003 to 2007, an unknown number of them made it into the Pentagon's "Threat and Local Observation Notice" system (TALON), a secretive domestic spying program ostensibly designed to track direct "potential terrorist threats" to the Department of Defense itself. Last year, via Freedom of Information Act requests, the ACLU uncovered at least 186 specific TALON reports on "anti-military protests" in the U.S. -- some listed as "credible threats" -- from student groups at the University of California-Santa Cruz, State University of New York, Georgia State University, and New Mexico State University, among other campuses.

At more than a dozen universities and colleges, police officers now double as full-time FBI agents and, according to the Campus Law Enforcement Journal, serve on many of the nation's 100 Joint Terrorism Task Forces. These dual-purpose officer-agents have knocked on student activists' doors from North Carolina State to the University of Colorado and, in one case, interrogated an Iraqi-born professor at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst about his antiwar views.

FBI agents, or their campus stand-ins, don't have to do all the work themselves. Administrators often do it for them, setting up "free speech zones," which actually constrain speech, and punishing those who step outside them. Last year, protests were typically forced into "free assembly areas" at the University of Central Florida and Clemson University; while students at Hampton and Pace Universities faced expulsion for handing out antiwar flyers, aka "unauthorized materials."

2. Lock and load: Many campus police departments are morphing into heavily armed garrisons, equipped with a wide array of weaponry from Taser stun guns and pepper guns to shotguns and semiautomatic rifles. Lock-and-load policies that began in the 1990s under the rubric of "the war on crime" only escalated with the President's Global War on Terror. Each school shooting -- most recently the massacre at Virginia Tech -- just adds fuel to the armament flames.

Two-thirds of universities now arm their police, according to the Justice Department. Many of the guns being purchased were previously in the province of military units and SWAT teams. For instance, AR-15 rifles (similar to M-16s) are now in the arsenal of the University of Texas campus police. Last April, City University of New York bought dozens of semiautomatic handguns. Now, states like Nevada are even considering plans to allow university staff to pack heat in a "special reserve officer corps."

Most of the force used on campus these days, though, comes in "less lethal" form, such as the rubber bullets and pepper pellets increasingly used to contain student demonstrations. Then there is the ubiquitous Taser, the electroshock weapon recently ruled a "form of torture" by the UN. A Taser was used by UCLA police in November 2006 to deliver shock after shock to an Iranian-American student for failing to produce his ID at the Powell Library. Last September, a University of Florida student was Tased after asking pointed questions of Senator John Kerry at a public forum, his plea of "Don't Tase me, bro" becoming the stuff of pop folklore.

3. Keep an eye (or hundreds of them) focused on campus: Surveillance has become a boom industry nationally -- one that now reaches deep into the heart of the American campus. In fact, universities have witnessed explosive growth in the electronic surveillance of students, faculty, and campus workers. On ever more campuses, closed-circuit security cameras can track people's every move, often from hidden or undisclosed locations, sometimes even into classrooms.

The International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators reports that surveillance cameras have now found their way onto at least half of all colleges, their numbers on any given campus doubling, tripling, and in a few cases, rising tenfold since September 11, 2001. Such cameras have proliferated by the hundreds on private campuses, in particular. The University of Pennsylvania, for instance, has more than 400 watching over it, while Harvard and Brown have about 200 each.

Elsewhere, it can be tricky just to find out where the cameras are and what they're meant to be viewing. The University of Texas, for example, battled student journalists over disclosure and ultimately kept its cameras hidden. Sometimes, though, a camera's purpose seems obvious. Take the case of Hussein Hussein, a professor in the Department of Animal Biotechnology at the University of Nevada, Reno. In January 2005, the widely respected professor found a hidden camera redirected to monitor his office.

4. Mine student records: Student records have, in recent years, been opened up to all manner of data mining for purposes of investigation, recruitment, or just all-purpose tracking. From 2001 to 2006, in an operation code-named "Project Strike Back," the Department of Education teamed up with the FBI to scour the records of the 14 million students who applied for federal financial aid each year. The objective? "To identify potential people of interest," explained an FBI spokesperson cryptically, especially those linked to "potential terrorist activity."

Strike Back was quietly discontinued in June 2006, days after students at Northwestern University blew its cover. But just one month later, the Education Department's Commission on the Future of Higher Education, in a much-criticized preliminary report, recommended the creation of a federal "unit record" database that would track the activities and studies of college students nationwide. The Department's Institute of Education Sciences has developed a prototype for such a national database.

It's not a secret that the Pentagon, for its part, hopes to turn campuses into recruitment centers for its overstretched, overstressed forces. In fact, the Department of Defense (DoD) has built its own database for just this purpose. Known as Joint Advertising Market Research and Studies, this program now tracks 30 million young people, ages 16 to 25. According to a Pentagon spokesperson, the DoD has partnered with private marketing and data mining firms, which, in turn, sell the government reams of information on students and other potential recruits.

5. Track foreign-born students, keep the undocumented out: Under the auspices of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has been keeping close tabs on foreign students and their dependents through the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). As of October 2007, ICE reported that it was actively following 713,000 internationals on campuses, while keeping more than 4.7 million names in its database.

The database aims to amass and record information on foreign students throughout their stay inside the United States. SEVIS requires thick files on the students from the sponsoring schools, constantly updated with all academic, biographical, and employment records -- all of which will be shared with other government agencies. If students fall out of "status" at school -- or if the database thinks they have -- the Compliance Enforcement Unit of ICE goes into action.

ICE has also done its part to keep the homeland security campus purified of those not born in the homeland. The American Immigration Law Foundation estimates that only one in 20 undocumented immigrants who graduate high school goes on to enroll in a college. Many don't go because they cannot afford the tuition, but also because they have good reason to be afraid: ICE has deported a number of those who did make it to college, some before they could graduate.

6. Take over the curriculum, the classroom, and the laboratory: Needless to say, not every student is considered a homeland security threat. Quite the opposite. Many students and faculty members are seen as potential assets. To exploit these assets, the Department of Homeland Security has launched its own curriculum under its Office of University Programs (OUP), intended, it says, to "foster a homeland security culture within the academic community."

The record so far is impressive: DHS has doled out 439 federal fellowships and scholarships since 2003, providing full tuition to students who fit "within the homeland security research enterprise." Two hundred twenty-seven schools now offer degree or certificate programs in "homeland security," a curriculum that encompasses over 1,800 courses. Along with OUP, some of the key players in creating the homeland security classroom are the U.S. Northern Command (Northcom) and the Aerospace Defense Command, co-founders of the Homeland Security and Defense Education Consortium.

OUP has also partnered with researchers and laboratories to "align scientific results with homeland security priorities." In Fiscal Year 2008 alone, $4.9 billion in federal funding will go to homeland security-related research. Grants correspond with 16 research topics selected by DHS, based on presidential directives, legislation, and a smattering of scientific advice.

But wait, there's more: DHS has founded and funded six of its very own "Centers of Excellence," research facilities that span dozens of universities from coast to coast. The latest is a Center of Excellence for the Study of Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism, the funding for which cleared the House in October. The Center is mandated to assist a National Commission in combating those "adopting or promoting an extremist belief system... to advance political, religious or social change."

7. Privatize, privatize, privatize: Of course, homeland security is not just a department, nor is it simply a new network of surveillance and data mining -- it's big business. (According to USA Today, global homeland-security-style spending had already reached $59 billion a year in 2006, a six-fold increase over 2000.)

Not surprisingly, then, universities have, in recent years, established unprecedented private-sector partnerships with the corporations that have the most to gain from their research. The Department of Homeland Security's on-campus National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START), for instance, features Lockheed Martin on its advisory board. The Center for Food Protection and Defense relies on an industry working group that includes Wal-Mart and McDonald's offering "guidance and direction," according to its chair.

While vast sums of money are flowing in from these corporate sponsors, huge payments are also flowing out into "strategic supplier contracts" with private contractors, as universities permanently outsource security operations to big corporations like Securitas and AlliedBarton. Little of this money actually goes to those guarding the properties, who are often among the most underpaid workers at universities. Instead, it fills the corporate coffers of those with little accountability for conditions on campus.

Meanwhile, some universities have developed intimate relationships with private-security outfits like the notorious Blackwater. Last May, for example, the University of Illinois and its police training institute cut a deal with the firm to share their facilities and training programs with Blackwater operatives. Local journalists later revealed that the director of the campus program at the time was on the Blackwater payroll. In the age of hired education, such collaboration is apparently par for the course.

Following these seven steps over the past six years, the homeland security state and its constituents have come a long way in their drive to remake the American campus in the image of a compound on lockdown. Somewhere, inside the growing homeland security state that is our country, the next seven steps in the process are undoubtedly already being planned out.

Still, the rise of Repress U is not inevitable. The new homeland security campus has proven itself unable to shut out public scrutiny or stamp out resistance to its latest Orwellian advances. Sometimes, such opposition even yields a free-speech zone dismantled, or the Pentagon's TALON de-clawed, or a Project Strike Back struck down. A rising tide of student protest, led by groups like the new Students for a Democratic Society, has won free-speech victories and reined in repression from Pace and Hampton, where the University dropped its threats of expulsion, to UCLA, where Tasers will no longer be wielded against passive resisters.

Yet, if the tightening grip of the homeland security complex isn't loosened, the latest towers of higher education will be built not of ivory, but of Kevlar for the over-armored, over-armed campuses of America.

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