Liberal Democracy in QuestionMulti Media

Police and Protesters at the Republican and Democratic Conventions

Every four years Congress gives each city hosting a major party convention $50 million dollars to protect the convention and police the protestors. They usually use it to bring in cops from across the country. In Cleveland I saw shoulder patches from the California, Florida, and South Carolina Highway patrols, as well as police from Michigan, Atlanta, Indiana, and all over Ohio. I counted 15 locales, and believe there were more than that. We were told that 500 Cleveland police and 2,800 police from elsewhere were keeping the protests peaceful. They slept in the dorms of the local colleges and were moved around in local school buses.

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Downtown Cleveland was carved up into security zones with heavy 8-foot fences surrounding buildings and numerous streets blocked to traffic. There were relatively few cars or buses because many local employers told their staff to stay home. It was still hard to get from point A to B because of the many blockades.

Philly was cop-lite. Only the members of the Pennsylvania State Police were added to the Philadelphia police. While their numbers waxed and waned, police presence in the street was no greater than in a normal protest. The only 8-foot fences were around the stadiums where the actual convention was held, and that was four miles from downtown. Locals told me that the inconvenience from the convention protests was trivial; it was much worse when the Pope was in town. Car traffic was normal.

If the planners had looked at history, they would have known that only in 2004 were there more protestors at the Republican Convention than that of the Democrats. Protestors are almost always from the left, who much prefer to complain about their kissing cousins than their actual opponents, regardless of which party is in power or what the issues are. More people will come from out-of-state to demonstrate at the Democratic Convention than at the Republican. The combination of the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the GOP’s choice of NYC for its quadrennial gathering is what made 2004 different.

In Cleveland organizing the marches rotated among the small left sectarian parties: Worker’s World, Freedom Road Socialist Organization and the Revolutionary Communist Party. I saw signs for several others, though they didn’t look like they were organizing anything. None of these marches had permits, but the police acted as though they did, stopping traffic when necessary while making sure that marchers didn’t get too close to the actual convention at the Quicken Loans Arena, aka the Q. Indeed, these were the friendliest police I have ever seen at a protest. They spoke with the various march leaders as though they were working for the tourist bureau.

Cleveland had more cops than protestors, which left them with little to do. Most of the time hundreds of cops stood around Cleveland’s Public Square keeping groups apart.

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They also guarded the small, lakefront municipal airport so no one could interfere with The Donald’s use of it for his private plane. It used some of its money to buy souvenir saddle pads for the police horses. Red with blue trim, they said “Mounted Police, RNC 2016 Cleveland.”

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Long ago the federal courts ruled that there had to be an official protest zone within sight and sound of the convention hall. In lawsuits before each convention the parties work out the time, place and manner details, or let the courts do it. Cleveland was a bit different in that the official protest zone was not within sight and sound of the Q. It was in the Public Square in downtown Cleveland, dominated by a gigantic Civil War monument.

It was a great place to protest, with plenty of space within view of people coming and going from the hotels. The biggest impediment was all those cops standing around looking for something to do. The biggest disruption came from four evangelical Christians carrying very large signs and a very loud bullhorn.

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Some of the leftie protestors got into a shouting match with them. They ignored the guys walking around with rifles slung over their shoulders to demonstrate their support for Ohio’s open carry law.

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The official protest zone in Philadelphia was in FDR park, across the street from the Wells Fargo Center (WFC). It was a nice, large park. But while it was technically within sight and sound of the WFC, the streets were bounded by the 8 foot fences and the busses carrying delegates came in the other side.

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Except for a few dozen police, no one saw or heard the protestors who didn’t go looking for them. I did that on Tuesday. While it should have been a five minute walk from the WFC, police directed me through large parking lots to get outside the security zone in order to do a gigantic U turn on local streets to go inside FDR park. It took about 20 minutes. That’s how I happened to be with the Berniers when Sen. Sanders moved to support Hillary by acclamation.

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The Berniers wanted to march on the WFC, but all they could do was hold their signs up against those iron fences where the only viewers were the cops on the other side making sure they didn’t knock down any fences. They hung out there for an hour or so until a major rain storm drove them away for the day.

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Convention cities also have unofficial protest zones. How hard the police try to control the use of these varies. In Cleveland this zone was at an entrance used by the press and some delegates about a block from the Q. It wasn’t big enough for a rally, but was a good place for people to stand with signs, or do a little street theater, and catch the attention of the thousands of people using that entrance to get to the search tents. Police sometimes pushed the sign carriers down the street, but didn’t push them out.

The unofficial protest zone in Philadelphia was around City Hall, usually on the shadiest side for that time of day. Marches began from there. On Sunday about five thousand people walked 4 miles to FDR park in 90 degree heat. While “Climate” was the purpose of this march, it was full of Berniers carrying dual use signs and t-shirts.

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This was true of the other actions that week. Protests about Berta Cáceres, immigration, healthcare, student debt and Black Lives Matter were heavily populated with Berniers proclaiming their loyalty to Bernie for President and their opposition to Hillary for anything (other than prison). They also denounced the DNC as “corrupt.”

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I didn’t see any signs in Cleveland denouncing the RNC, only Trump.

Berniers were present in both cities, though they were a much bigger presence in Philadelphia. Other groups were visibly present at both. The four Christians who brought their large signs to Cleveland were joined by a fifth in Philadelphia, where they were less successful in disrupting the various rallies. CodePink did flash actions at both, though I saw more of it in Cleveland. RCP’s troops doubled in Philadelphia. Marching around in military fashion with their distinctive t-shirts and chants makes them hard to miss.

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Support services for protestors were present at both conventions. Food not Bombs did a fine job of feeding them healthy vegan fare.

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Churches provided places to meet, sleep and just chill out. In Cleveland counter conventions were held in two black Baptist Churches. In Philadelphia they were held in the Arch Street Meeting House and the Friends Center. The Arch Street Methodist Church maintained an “Oasis for Activists” and other churches provided traveling activists sleeping space on floors.

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At the City Hall rallies I ran into three different groups of academics studying the protestors. This is new. Usually scholars study the delegates. They can do that at the convention or after it is over by getting the delegate lists and sending questionnaires to a random sample. News organizations used to conduct surveys of delegates before the conventions, but stopped doing that a couple conventions ago.

Michael Heaney of the University of Michigan brought 10-15 students to both conventions to ask protestors about their attitudes and backgrounds. LeeAnn Banazak brought a dozen students from Penn State to Philly to do a short survey on issues and the protesters’ feelings about the parties. She will follow up later with a longer one of those willing to give up their e-mail addresses. Both studies sample spaces and control for demographics later.

A different angle was taken by John Noakes of Arcadia U. working with Pat Gillham of Western Washington U. Their students are studying police/protestor interactions through observation, not surveys. They have identified eight different ways in which the police engage protestors; you can read about them when it is published.

I ran into a fourth study when I was walking down the hall in the Pennsylvania Convention Center (PCC). While many convention events in the PCC were open to the public, you have to go through a search, which eliminates casual observers. I was grabbed by a young woman from the University of Maryland in Baltimore County and handed a card explaining that this survey is being sponsored by the Congressional Black Caucus “to understand how delegates and attendees think about representation and citizen advocacy.” She didn’t know I was a ringer, having run studies like these myself. I answered her questions. Now I want to read the results!

Jo Freeman covered the conventions for SeniorWomen Web. Her stories were initially posted at www.seniorwomen.com

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