A few newspapers ago, I once worked with a colleague who grumbled every time he saw a posting in the calendar advertising a meeting of the local anarchist group. He fumed over these meetings defying the very point of classic, every-Molotov-cocktail-for-himself anarchy. What’s next, he complained, electing a secretary to take meeting minutes and a treasurer to collect dues?
These days in Denver, anti-government groups have been meeting at local coffeehouses, in parks, online, and more to plot their disruption of the Democratic National Convention. They’ve organized “self-defense training” at a mixed martial arts gym, workouts supposedly intended for defense instead of offense. They’ve been hanging around the courts, lobbying for their right to block delegates and throw the city into general chaos. A federal judge’s recent decision to restrict their access to the Pepsi Center, they say, violates their free speech.
With names such as Recreate 68 (what, re-create Nixon’s election?) and Unconventional Denver, joined by anti-authority stalwarts such as the Clandestine Insurgent Rebel Clown Army and Code Pink (promising to inline skate through traffic to block the way), the DNC protesters have long been up in arms about how they won’t be given free reign of the Mile High City. They’re already accusing the city of essentially planning to combat them with paramilitary tactics. Denver, for instance, has set aside a warehouse to hold detainees in case the protests turn into another Battle of Seattle; protest groups have already christened the facility “Gitmo on the Platte” (though I doubt it serves the orange chicken on which al-Qaeda suspects dine).
When I arrived in Denver a month ago, the controversy was stewing over protesters’ claims that the police were going to employ ray guns that would stun demonstrators and make them poop their pants. Then the City Council passed an ordinance prohibiting people from carrying around buckets of pee or “feces bombs” with nefarious intentions. Excrement has really dominated the pre-protest conversation.
“The intent of this ordinance is to try to smear protesters and make them look as if they are somehow criminal or somehow going to engage in some kind of gross conduct,” Glenn Spagnuolo, an organizer of Re-create 68, said at a hearing on the ordinance while accusing city officials of fear-mongering.
Another group called Tent State University wanted to camp out in City Park for four days; billed as “4 days of love and action,” the anti-war group wants to force the Democrats’ hand as they listen to punk music and Ralph Nader, as well as nominating their own “party-less youth ticket.” After running into several headaches with city officials and neighborhood residents, the group is relocating its protests to Cuernavaca Park near lower downtown. Residents are, of course, thrilled.
Unconventional Denver, meanwhile, is largely using the Internet so that “anarchists, witches, clowns, Iraq vets, artists, SDSers, radical queers, immigrants, Earth First!ers, rebel Democrats, parents, precarious workers and others” can make it known that “come August, the Democrats’ attempt at co-opting our energies and power will fall short as we make it clear that change will come from below not above, in the streets and not in their stadiums.”
With kerchiefs tied across their faces in true anarchist chic, the group offered to call off all DNC protests if Denver took its $50 million in federal security grants and gave it to the needy. Do real anarchists negotiate with the government? The irony was that they wanted the blackmail cash distributed through government programs to schools, health care, poverty programs, etc. Is there such a thing as anarchist welfare?
Poseurs, my anarchist onetime co-worker would grouse!
The DNC protesters are truly bipartisan, or anti-partisan: Similar plans are in the works for the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis-St. Paul the following week. But there seems to be a fresh sort of loathing for the Democrats who are seen as traitors to the anti-war cause. Whereas these types of demonstrators go to Republican events perpetually harboring hated for what the party platform, they’re massing in Denver to teach Democrats a lesson.
In what form, though, will that come? Proposals have ranged from blocking delegates’ hotels to “snake marches” impeding their entrance into the convention. Calls to action have ranged from guerrilla gardening and old-school anti-capitalist rallies to seeking “insurrectionary marching bands” (conversely, those with no musical skills are asked to bang on pots and pans like 3-year-olds). And I can’t wait to see what the insane clown posse will try.
Yet a recent YouTube video featured two puppets — “Cat with Bat” and “Beaver with Cleaver” — threatening the “disruption, subversion and total destruction” of the DNC (and, in a bat stroke of bipartisanship, the RNC), calling brethren to arms and breaking into violent protest shots that could have come from any number of G-8 or World Bank meetings.
By whatever name, the anti-government, anti-authority, anti-globalization protesters are always looking for that spotlight opportunity to get their rhetoric out, and riot gear and police barricades only add to their anti-authority euphoria.
It should be interesting to see what the Democratic Party Crashers will bring about — but one thing they shouldn’t bank on bringing about is “change.”