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CONVENTION 2000 / THE DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION

Many Causes, Similar Passion

Rally against sweatshops highlights the final day of protests that focused on several issues. Most marchers say they accomplished their goals.

August 18, 2000|LOUIS SAHAGUN and JESSICA GARRISON | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

On their last day to steal the spotlight from the Democratic National Convention, activists representing a multitude of causes returned to the streets Thursday--and to the strange line dance with police that characterized a tense but mostly nonviolent week of protest.

"Si se puede"--"Yes we can"--chanted 2,500 marchers who made their way from the Garment District in downtown Los Angeles to Staples Center, arriving at a protest zone across from the arena just before Democratic nominee Al Gore delivered his acceptance speech.

As they marched in several demonstrations across the city--against sweatshops, against corporate influence in politics, against plans to develop the Ballona Creek wetlands area, among other causes--the protesters looked back on a hot, emotionally charged week and assessed whether their goals had been accomplished.

Among the last and most dramatic of the demonstrations was the sweatshop protest. After a rally in Santee Alley, the heart of the garment district, the protesters marched to Staples Center as cheering garment workers hung out the windows of seven- and eight-story buildings, waving their products--sweaters, socks, pants and T-shirts--and, occasionally, Mexican flags.

"I'm full of pain and anger when I see them at the windows," said Carlos Bautista, one of the marchers. "Just for looking out of the window, they will probably be fired or punished."

The demonstrators demanded a "living wage" and better conditions for the workers, mostly poorly paid immigrants who have made Los Angeles one of the leading centers of the garment industry in the United States.

"We need to address the gap between the rich and the poor," City Councilwoman Jackie Goldberg told the crowd. "There's more billionaires living in L.A. than any other city, yet people here are trying to live on $11,000 a year."

An industry spokeswoman, Ilse Metchek, executive director of the California Fashion Assn., said garment manufacturers can't pay more until consumers are willing to spend more--about $15 a garment--for domestically manufactured clothing.

As the protesters entered the intersection of Figueroa Street and Olympic Boulevard at the end of the march, husband-and-wife filmmakers Spike Jonze and Sofia Coppola went through the crowd filming everything in sight with a digital video camera. "This is pretty wild," a wide-eyed Jonze said.

In the intersection, a street preacher screamed through a bullhorn at the protesters: "You're fighting for nothing. You're all lost. Everything you're doing is in vain. You're a bunch of lost miserable souls."

A protester shot back: "Define the word 'lost.' "

One group of demonstrators got lost in earnest later as they made their way from Staples to the County Jail on Bauchet Street. As about 2,000 marchers drifted north on Figueroa Street to Cesar Chavez Avenue, three or four leaders argued about where they were going. "Whoever decided to go up this street was stupid," said Tim Parks, a lead coordinator of the march. "This march is totally spontaneous and unplanned."

It remained nonviolent, however, ending in a candlelight vigil at the jail, which the demonstrators ultimately found. No arrests were reported at any protest Thursday.

The demonstrations were among many that have engulfed downtown Los Angeles since Sunday. So varied were the causes that many observers, including Democratic delegates, said they were confused about what the demonstrators were demanding.

Most demonstrators declared Thursday that their goals had been accomplished, although some complained that their message had been given short shrift by the delegates and news media.

"It's been a success in terms of educating the public about our causes and increasing people's interest in direct action," said Aaron Wood, 26, of Seattle, at the sweatshop protest.

Some demonstrators, looking inward, said they found spiritual sustenance in the camaraderie and sense of mission that the protests gave them. Still others took stock of long, sweaty days locked in confrontation with police and were happy it was all over.

"I'm tired, man," said Randy Pena, 40, of East Los Angeles. "I really need a shower. After this is over I am going to sell out, buy some Nikes and date capitalist girls."

The Los Angeles Police Department deployed about 2,000 officers a day at the convention and surrounding protests, enough that most demonstrations took place against a backdrop of curb-to-curb police, dressed in full riot gear. Both police and demonstrators were, for the most part, restrained and peaceful--with exceptions on both sides.

Cmdr. David Kalish, the department spokesman, said he thought the week had been successful for nearly all involved.

"Generally, we are quite pleased," he said. "We had thousands of demonstrators participating, and . . . the vast majority were peaceful."

Kalish said he thought the LAPD had "shined" in its role, which he characterized as assisting the demonstrators in exercising their right to free speech. For police officers, he added,

State Sen. Tom Hayden (D-Los Angeles), marching in the sweatshop protest, said he thought the week had been a success but that questions remained about the LAPD's actions Monday evening, when police clashed with demonstrators after a Rage Against the Machine concert.

Hayden, who rose to national prominence as a protest leader at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, said the police response Monday "looked very much to me like a textbook case of oppression."

The final day of protests began outside the Citibank building near 5th and Flower streets with a demonstration against what protesters said was the undue influence of large financial institutions in the political process.

Later in the day, there were separate protests against the massive Playa Vista project proposed for the Ballona wetlands near Playa del Rey, and against Navy bombing exercises in Puerto Rico.

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