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Protests Are Just a TV Show for Delegates


The most liberal of the Democrats, especially the civil rights activists, are feeling a bit uneasy during their stay in Los Angeles. They don't like the feel of entering a convention hall through phalanxes of police. They don't like the sight of thousands of young people behind fences--"our people," one delegate called them--shouting angry slogans against the party.

"We ran into a bunch of them on the Metro," said Dave Garrity, 51, a self-described gay delegate from Portland, Maine. "They made some good points. But there's a lot of things they don't see."

For 15 minutes in the subway corridors under downtown, Garrity and a group of Maine delegates debated the young protesters about the Supreme Court, civil rights and "the industrial complex." Garrity told them to "go study some history." They told him to vote for Ralph Nader.

It was a rare moment. During these hot, heady days of marches and street battles, delegates and demonstrators have inhabited separate realities, kept apart by the security measures that have sealed off Staples Center. The delegates sit in air-conditioned buses and are waved past checkpoints by police--they hear the voices of the protesters as faint, muffled sounds in the distance.

"I've only seen it on TV," said Claude Baldree, a delegate from Livingston, Texas. In the first two days of the convention, he has not set eyes on a demonstrator, except for those he sees on the 11 o'clock news when gets back to his hotel.

What are they protesting? Baldree asks a reporter. "What's all the ruckus about?"

Joseph Elias, a 52-year-old delegate from Wilkes-Barre, Pa., saw the television reports too. They worried him because they looked like a replay, in miniature, of the melees outside the Democratic convention in Chicago in 1968.

"That was a disaster for the Democratic Party," said Elias, a large man who wore a straw hat covered with bright NEA stickers and Gore buttons. "That's something I learned from the '60s. Protest doesn't get you anywhere. You have to be in the process."

Asked about the demonstrations and the violence, Salvatore "Buddy" Scotto leaned back into his seat in the New York delegation and furrowed his brow with concern. He, too, has only seen the demonstrations on television, the images of a police cavalry charge and of officers firing "nonlethal" weapons at the crowd.

"I'm not happy about the way it's being handled," he said. "I hear the protesters are talking about the homeless. That's not something I've heard a lot about in the convention. They might not be the most popular people in the world, but I want to know what's bothering them."

Scotto has a vague intuition that many of the issues that anger the demonstrators are similar to the ones close to his heart in Brooklyn, where he runs a nonprofit community development agency--issues like gentrification and urban poverty.

"You hear a lot about how the Democratic Party has to swing to the middle," Scotto said. "I'm wondering if those people out there are some of the people we're leaving behind."

When Adele Andrade-Stadler, a California delegate, boarded a bus to leave Staples Center on Monday night, a Highway Patrol officer told the passengers not to get too close to the window. Rocks might be thrown at them. That was the first hint she had about the trouble outside the arena.

"It was nice to see the cops on bicycles," she said. "It was less threatening."

And what would she say to the protesters who see her and the other delegates as a part of the establishment, as "part of the problem and not the part of the solution?"

"There's been many a demonstration I've taken part in," she said, sounding a bit defensive. She rattled off a list of the protests she had attended during three decades of activism, everything from marches in support of Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers, to rallies against Ronald Reagan and the Nicaraguan Contras.

"There's a lot of grass-roots people out here in the stands," she said.

Eudaldo Baez Galib, head of the Puerto Rican delegation, counseled his companions to avoid the demonstrations, even the one scheduled this week to protest an issue near and dear to most Puerto Ricans--the movement to kick the U.S. Navy out of its base on the island of Vieques.

"They've spent too much money to get here. Each delegate is paying about $3,000 out of his own pocket," Galib said. "If it wasn't for all the security, we would go. But I don't want our delegates to risk losing out on the opportunity to participate in the convention because they get stuck in traffic."

And so while the Puerto Rican activists march through downtown Thursday, protesting "Yanqui imperialism," their brothers and sisters in the Puerto Rican delegation will sit in Staples Center, hoping to catch a glimpse of their compatriots later on TV.

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