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The Democratic Convention

Protest Watch

August 15, 2000

They come from New York City, Seattle, East Los Angeles, Santa Monica and, of course, Berkeley. When their voices blend it can be tough to figure out what they're saying. The following is a sample of the issues championed by those taking to the streets this week:

Anti-Globalization Movement

Many of the organizations fighting free trade and multinational corporations are clusters of mainly white, middle-class, professional activists who rely on position papers, street theater and organized civil disobedience to deliver their message.

San Francisco-based Global Exchange is in the vanguard of this movement, helping spearhead protests against the World Trade Organization in Seattle last year and organizing campaigns against American companies like the Gap that activists say benefit from sweatshop labor. United Students Against Sweatshops is a national network of college students that has pressured many universities into keeping clothes made in sweatshops out of their campus stores.

The anti-globalization movement has a local wing in the Southern California Fair Trade Network, a coalition built by protest veterans before the Seattle demonstrations. And members of Communist and Socialist parties, from old-timers with the Peace and Freedom Party in Los Angeles to the red-clad national Young Communist Brigade, will add their Marxist critiques.

Environmentalists

The U.S. environmental movement looks much like the anti-globalization movement that it spawned: middle-class, professional protesters who go to varying extremes to protect nature.

The Pacific Northwest is a hotbed, home to both professional forest activists and so-called green anarchists, who want to return society to a "primitive," natural state. Tactics range from lobbying and letter-writing to "tree sits" in redwoods that are about to be logged.

The San Francisco-based Rainforest Action Network is one of many environmental organizations closely allied with Global Exchange and other professional Bay Area activist groups. It opposes corporate exploitation in the Third World and has championed the case of the U'wa people in northeastern Colombia, who have threatened mass suicide if their land is used for oil exploration by Occidental Petroleum.

There are local issues in the mix. Friends of the Ballona Wetlands, toting puppets of the endangered frogs of that area, will demonstrate against the planned Playa Vista development, saying it will kill the frogs. Communities for a Better Environment, another Los Angeles-based group, concerned with inner-city pollution, is alarmed by reports of toxic waste at a local public housing project and by plans to build factories in densely populated southeast Los Angeles County.

Opponents of Prisons And Police Brutality

One theme of the Los Angeles protests is merging global and local issues. San Francisco-based Just Act tries to do that by making the case that the system that profits from globalization also profits from increased incarceration of minorities. The group, which mobilizes minority youths and others, cites the increasing number of private companies, such as Corrections Corp. of America, that build prisons for the United States' burgeoning inmate population.

Youth Organizing Communities is one group that has led marches of hundreds of urban high school students against get-tough crime legislation, such as the three-strikes law and the most recent, Proposition 21, which makes it far easier to try teenagers as adults. Activists insist these laws help spawn police corruption and brutality, which they hope to highlight on the LAPD's home turf.

Coalition Against Police Abuse has been based in South-Central Los Angeles for decades and alleges that the LAPD brutalizes minorities. Religious groups and youth activist organizations such as Refuse and Resist are leading a national campaign. They have championed the case of former radical journalist and convicted cop killer Mumia Abu-Jamal, on Pennsylvania's death row, whose supporters contend he was framed by police.

Generally, anti-police-abuse groups are less likely to engage in civil disobedience or street theater than their roving, professional counterparts in the environmental and anti-globalization movements. The same is true for members of immigrant rights groups, some of whom could not afford to be arrested.

Immigration Supporters

As befits the immigrant capital that will host their actions, protesters in Los Angeles hope to draw attention to immigration issues. They will carry wooden crosses to represent the hundreds of Mexicans who die crossing the U.S. border. They will march to sweatshops that they say exploit immigrant labor. They are also demanding amnesty for illegal immigrants, which would offer protection under labor laws, additional U.S. benefits and the right to unionize.

Local groups of Latino immigrants such as the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights, El Rescate and the Central American Resource Center are joining organized labor and environmental groups in demanding amnesty, as is the Korean Immigrant Workers Assn. Some of these groups have ties to elected officials and specialize in peaceful, legal marches and demonstrations.

Miscellaneous

Women's groups such as the national Every Mother Is a Working Mother network of mothers and grandmothers hope to draw attention to the plight of women in a global economy.

Women's groups and the Los Angeles Coalition to End Hunger and Homelessness will criticize welfare reform as part of a shift from family-friendly social programs to military spending. The Bus Riders Union uses street theater to make its point: that favoring rail transit reflects government bias against the poor.

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