I Will Not Be Herded

by Eli Beckerman

August 2, 2004   


(Swans - August 2, 2004)  "Welcome to Boston!" I shouted to my mom, who was visiting for some pre-convention work in her role as a canvasser for the Democratic National Committee. As I welcomed her, I smiled and gestured to the 20 or so Military Police and Federal Protective Service officers standing outside the Park Street "T" Station, standing right on the Freedom Trail. Welcome to Boston, indeed.

In all, over $60 million (1) was spent on security for the Democratic National Convention (DNC), the first such convention since the attacks of September 11th. As protestors, we were told that the security was there to protect us as well as to prevent disruption to the DNC. And as protestors, it was clear that they were not there to protect us. Participating in some of the anti-authoritarian events put together by the coalition group called the Bl(A)ck Tea Society, we were made to feel like outlaws by choosing to speak creatively.

The "Free Speech" Zone (FSZ) that was erected near the convention was a blatant attack on our fundamental rights as citizens to protest. While liberals are fierce in their criticism of Bush's distancing himself from dissent by penning his detractors in FSZs out-of-sight from wherever he appears, there were not many standing out against the Democrats' own challenge to the First Amendment rights of protestors. The Cage did not go unchallenged, however. The National Lawyers' Guild and American Civil Liberties Union held a press conference in the cage, and members of the Green-Rainbow Party of Massachusetts staged a reading of the Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights and went so far as to cut away chunks of the fence with bolt cutters.

Similarly creepy was the awesome police and military presence (2) that accompanied the marches sponsored by the Anarchist Black Cross, Homes Not Jails, and the Green-Rainbow Party. Taking a stand against the free-speech repression, these marches on the first and last days of the DNC refused to be corralled into the protest pens. Instead, they rallied on Canal Street, in direct view of the Fleet Center, unwilling to be set up for the pre-emptive arrests of the Miami Model of militarized policing. Even still, after someone lit an effigy of Bush/Kerry, all bets were off. Surprisingly the police hardly responded. After a while, the state police storm troopers made a move to block off their fortress gates. After that, Boston Police started going after individual protestors without any provocation. One anarchist pirate was dragged off because his papier-mâché pirate hook looked like a Molotov cocktail, and the FBI reports of protestors prepared to throw Molotov cocktails at media trucks (3) must have gotten the police a bit paranoid. While the police exhibited some brutal force and let loose on about a dozen protestors, it was clear that they were avoiding a big showdown. Their intimidation tactics had already kept our numbers to four or five hundred, and the convention was in no jeopardy of disruption.

While I was terrified to show up for the Thursday march, because of all the threatening and intimidating shows of force that the unprecedented security forces were making known, I refused to be silenced. Though mass false arrests have been a tactic increasingly exploited by police forces dealing with large protests, the security forces made it known they were planning for widespread arrests. Additionally, they flexed their muscle on TV, with one officer bragging about his pepper spray rifle and how the protestors would flee once they got a whiff of the stuff. The problem with the notion of "fleeing" was that they were demanding that protestors assemble in a completely fenced in and even barbed-wired cage -- 1935 Germany, anyone? Thus, although I was scared, I was so outraged that I felt the urgency to stand up against the corporate duopoly, to stand up against the creeping fascism; and I spent my day marching in the heat with several hundred people who would not sit down in the face of the Empire's fear-mongering. My sign read "I Will Not Be Herded. I Will Be Heard." And it felt ridiculous, seeing as how hundreds upon hundreds of police and federal officers were boxing us in everywhere. Motorcycle cops buzzed behind us, helicopters buzzed overhead, and bike cops buzzed right through. Storm troopers marched with us or stood guard in front of buildings requiring special "protection." And all the while, my message -- that John Kerry supports this creeping fascism and the American Empire just as much as does George Bush -- was lost in the frenzy.

Of course, standing up in the first place was important. And a new tactic of decentralized resistance was incubated. But the Democrats, with a very controlled and well-organized convention, got out the message they prayed to get out -- that they are unified and determined to beat Bush by rising above the fray. Unfortunately, the unsustainable status quo and American hegemony were not loudly challenged this week.

Democrats 1. Democracy 0.

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Notes and Resources

1.  Boston rolls out $60 million security plan, by Brian Long, CNN.com, July 25, 2004 http://www.cnn.com/2004/ALLPOLITICS/07/25/dems.security/  (back)

2.  Whatever happened to the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878? Here's an excerpt:
"From and after the passage of this act it shall not be lawful to employ any part of the Army of the United States, as a posse comitatus, or otherwise, for the purpose of executing the laws, except in such cases and under such circumstances as such employment of said force may be expressly authorized by the Constitution or by act of Congress; and no money appropriated by this act shall be used to pay any of the expenses incurred in the employment of any troops in violation of this section And any person willfully violating the provisions of this section shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor and on conviction thereof shall be punished by fine not exceeding ten thousand dollars or imprisonment not exceeding two years or by both such fine and imprisonment."
Some photos of the military presence:

http://tsl.bu.edu/photo/photo.pml?DNC-Boston/20040729/41098CBF  (back)

3.  "Eight fighter jets added to growing security," by Brian MacQuarrie and Bryan Bender, The Boston Globe, July 24, 2004 http://www.boston.com/news/politics/conventions/articles/2004/07/24/8_fighter_jets_added_to_growing_security/  (back)


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Eli Beckerman is a Green Party activist.

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Published August 2, 2004
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