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Local Activists Prepare for Action and Reaction in L.A.


Thousand Oaks activist Theadora Davitt-Cornyn knows police are taking a hard line with protesters at the Democratic National Convention but wonders if they will really haul her away just for making a lot of noise.

"I'm a granny," she said sheepishly.

Maybe so, but Davitt-Cornyn, 60, is taking it to the streets with other county activists descending on Los Angeles to protest sweatshops, world trade agreements and the military budget.

On Thursday, Davitt-Cornyn will carry a big red banner as she and hundreds of others march through Los Angeles' garment district decrying unfair working conditions in both the U.S. and abroad.

"We have terrible sweatshop conditions in the garment district," said Davitt-Cornyn, who hopes to attend Harvard Divinity School soon. "They can't leave; it's like a prison in some places. This is all happening within walking distance of the convention."

Many activists are coming from the Ventura County Green Party, some are coming from Cal Lutheran University while others are making the trip alone.

All say they are uneasy about the tough talk coming from the LAPD, which has vowed not to tolerate the kind of vandalism and violence that marred the World Trade Organization conference in Seattle.

Stuart Bechman, 40, is taking no chances. The Simi Valley activist and computer consultant has been taking courses on how to reduce the effect of pepper spray and mitigate police pummeling.

On visits to the Convergence Center, a warehouse in Los Angeles where activism is being coordinated, he has learned that vinegar, baking soda and water can take some of the sting out of pepper spray. And lying in a fetal position and linking arms make it tougher for police to work them over one on one.

Cheri Mason, a registered nurse from Ventura, will be practicing what she calls "guerrilla medicine" during the protests, dispensing anti-tear gas elixirs, carrying gauze, sutures and a walkie-talkie. She will be wearing scrubs, backpack and tennis shoes.

Experienced protesters warned that police might go after her because of her walkie-talkie.

"I was listening to them and thought it was just mass paranoia, then they showed me the tapes from Seattle and Philadelphia," said Mason, who has protested everything from sanctions on Iraq to NATO's bombing of Kosovo. "I'm a nurse who used to work in an emergency room. We were taught to defuse, defuse, defuse. And the LAPD is not going to defuse, and I personally think that's wrong."

Mason, 38, said Ventura County is not a place where activism thrives.

"I'm one of six activists in Ventura," she laughed.

Davitt-Cornyn calls the Conejo Valley "a hotbed of social rest."

Bechman, the east county coordinator for the Green Party, thinks there are plenty of closet liberals in traditional conservative strongholds like Simi Valley and Thousand Oaks.

He plans to protest the encroachment of religion in government, the military budget and corporate intrusion into political campaigns.

He rejects global trade agreements, which he says have not raised the standard of living for working people and he refers to Democrats as "Republican lite."

Like other protesters, Bechman was once a Democrat and much of his anger comes from feelings of betrayal.

"We always knew the Republicans were our enemy," he said. "There is a higher sense of betrayal with the Democrats."

Mason agreed. She was once a Gore supporter and even bought his ecology book "Earth in the Balance." But after he supported world trade agreements and military interventions around the globe, Mason said she felt "personally betrayed by him."

Not everyone will be protesting. Some, like organic farmer Steven Sprinkel, will be educating.

Sprinkel, who owns Full Circle Farms in Ojai, will hold a "teach-in" this weekend at Fairfax High School in Los Angeles, talking about what he sees as the dangers of genetic engineering in agriculture and livestock.

"They are now bringing the test tube and laboratory out to the farm and it's not been proven safe," Sprinkel said. "Why can't we wait? Because all the corporations have spent billions in research and development and they have stockholders telling them to push, push, push."

The 50-year-old farmer said only Green Party candidate Ralph Nader and Reform Party candidate John Hagelin are talking about genetically-altered food.

Asked why they were protesting in such prosperous times, the activists said for many people in and out of the U.S. daily life still means grinding poverty and constant struggle.

Bechman said the U.S. squandered the chance to use its budget surplus to reduce hunger among children, cut back on defense spending and downgrade nuclear weapons.

He also sees creeping attempts by religious extremists to infiltrate government and schools.

At convention time, he worries clients might see him on television or in the newspaper and refuse to hire him again.

"But I feel easier in my soul trying to make a difference," he said. "I was quiet my whole life and I regret that."

Pamela Brubaker hasn't been quiet. The professor of Christian ethics at Cal Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks has a history of social activism.

She has protested outside department stores over clothing made by child labor. Brubaker will also be marching in the garment district as well as speaking at rallies during the convention.

"We don't want to hurt or discredit the Democrats," she said. "But we want it to be a party of working people and social justice."

She said she is only interested in nonviolent action.

"We have been insistent that this is not the time or place for civil disobedience," she said. "I hope the police will take this opportunity to show themselves at their best."

Davitt-Cornyn worries about police overreaction.

"I've done a lot of protests but this is the first time I've put myself on the line," she said. "It feels a bit like walking into the lion's den."

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