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Six Weeks Before the Democratic Party Convention: Hot Time In Ye Old Town Tonight…

July 9, 2008

1. `Corn Fed White Boys’

An interesting time in Denver some six weeks before the national Democratic Party Convention in late August, an event which Mayor Hickenlooper has described as `the most significant political event in the city’s history’. Perhaps. I do know that a number of my friends abroad are watching our presidential contests closely and have expressed frustration that they cannot vote in the our presidential elections and that if they could vote – from the Middle East, Belgium, France and Spain, have made it clear, and repeatedly – that they’d support Barack Obama..

Still, Blackhawk helicopters – even I can recognize them – fly overhead doing `exercises’ and it is rumored by some people in the peace movement that lots to hold large numbers of arrestees are being put together – although city officials deny that such things are in the offing. But since it appears most of the security for the convention is directed by different federal agencies who essentially take over the direction of local police forces, the city officials might be in some ways out of the loop. Strange phone calls on my cell phone (and those of friends) are becoming more frequent – as are a fair amount of racist text messages that are also increasing in number.

A number of us, for all practical purposes `out of the loup’ so to speak of the hard core protest organizing, have been followed around by unsavory types in s.u.v.s carrying walkie talkies, many of whom turn out to be, in the poetic words of one of my friends, `corn fed white boys’ – either working directly for one of the myriad of intelligence agencies that have swarmed into town, or hired on by the new private firms – Blackwater Lite – to follow us around.

Another indication of what lies ahead happened yesterday, when Carol Kreck, a 60 year old demonstrator, family friend and former Denver Post crime reporter was given a citation for trespassing on public property where she was protesting the visit of John McCain in Denver. (for the video of the incident click here). Kreck’s sign read McCain=Bush. For this she was arrested by the Denver Police – at the request of McCain’s staff – and forced to leave the premises of the city owned Denver Convention Center. Bob Ewegen, Cold War Dem current columnist for the Post whose been known to tip a few – writes well but has long been something of an intellectual bully (never got over his stint in the Marines) especially where it concerns anything lef of center, had to add his two cents about Kreck in one of his columns letting the public know that Kreck is not just a `sweet little librarian’ but a `pretty tough customer’ – as if that should circumscribe her free speech rights.

If `they’ are following my narrowing circle of burnt out obsolete leftist friends (speaking only of myself of course) and arresting a gentle soul like Kreck exercizing her democratic rights, imagine the amount of attention that is being given to those actually organizing protest events in their different well worn ways (spies, infitrators, taps, provocateurs, etc.)

These unsavory snoops, spend alot of time hanging in the vicinity the American Friends Service Committe office – which I would imagine ranks up there along with Common Grounds Coffee Shop in NW Denver – as one of the most bugged pieces of real estate in the nation for the next six weeks. They have been noticed sitting slouched in their air conditioned cars, motors running, walkie talkie in hand, reporting to some higher authority of the comings and goings at AFSC. One of the these gentlemen was noticed by one of my friends, who in a pre-emtive peace strike, – and to the great dismay of the intelligence trainee involved – took down the good man’s license plate number. A check with the local motor vehicle bureau resulted in the response that `the license plate no doesn’t exist’….but perhaps it does all the same. In another similar incident, another friend noticed that someone – in another s.u.v. – appeared to be following her. An enterprising type, she pulled over, let the car pass and proceeded to follow it – once again to the dismay of its driver – to a Denver police parking lot.

2. Obama: Waltzing To The Center-Right?

I expect that, despite all the media attention to probably protest demonstrations, the main action here in Denver will take place within the confines of the Democratic Party Convention downtown. What is shaping up?

– the rank and file of the Democratic Party has become increasingly vocal on three issues: peace (particularly the war in Iraq and not bombing Iran), civil rights (dismantling the Patriot Act, Guantanamo – and firmly and unabashedly condemning the Bush Administration’s rampant use of torture), and the economy (the need for a national health care program, reigning in the rampant financial speculation which has jacked up oil prices and triggered the housing criris), etc. And the Democratic Party base – like the rest of the nation – has finally reached the tipping point. They are calling for a new agenda in clearer and more angry voices. They want the `change’ Obama has vaguely promised us. Here in Colorado (and nationwide) this energized rank and file is – if you’ll pardon my language – scaring the sh** out of the party’s old guard.

– on the other hand, much of the `party leadership’, its old guard and worn out corporately controlled structures, especially those centering around the Democratic Leadership Council – which has `led’ the Dems to two presidential defeats in the past 8 years that they should have won – are doing all in their power to dampen these hopes for change and to keep them more symbolic than real….And they have that great dedicated army of lobbyists behind them. This includes doing more or less what they did to Gore and Kerry in the past: forcing them to move to the center politically and abandon their more liberal or left base. And we begin to see on a number of issues, Obama appears to be caving to the Clinton camp (whose base among Colorado Democratic politicos is quite strong). Obama appears to have accepted this fatal approach and – beginning with his groveling speech before AIPAC giving away that which is not his to give away – Jerusalem – he has moved a number of notches to the right. He’s done this on other issues too, such as his support for the NSA spy bill (even Hillary voted against!). Tactical necessity to win elections and keep the Democratic Party `united’…or lack of political principle? Tune in… It could have serious repercussions on his campaign.

3. R-68 or…`Way Down Deep, It’s Shallow, Superficial To The Core, Beneath Their Surface There’s Just More Surface, And Beneath Even More’*

In any event, Obama’s recent waltz to the center or right, almost assures that there will be alot of people outside the convention hall demonstrating – not only against the Bush policies, but also against mainstream Democratic Party complicity and cooperation in both domestic and foreign policy.

Much of the media attention here in Colorado – and now nationally – has focused around the group `Recreate 68′ or simply known here as `R-68′. A group of diverse anarchists and activists from a variety of small but active social movements here in Denver, they in turn have shared close relations with of Colorado AIM and a growing core of anarchists based in a multimilliion dollar compound southeast of Denver described in a recent article in Westword, a local weekly.

What has stood out about R-68 has been its absence of a program or a social base- and while they seem to be quite skilled at drawing media attention – its core (social base and program) is hollow. `Way down deep they’re shallow’ as John Foster sings it. But what they lack in support from social forces they compensate for in rhetoric. Among its leaders and supporters are a few who would like to fashion themselves as `tough working class radical types’ who take pleasure in crucifying (mostly on the internet) anyone who disagrees with them. However, the tough talk masks a shallow essence. Some of the blog entries have become more and more shrill dovetailing nicely with R-68 overall decline in influence.

Lacking much of a social base, R-68 has been most attractive to others in more or less the same situation: radicals either a part of small groups or individuals looking for an outlet for their (growing) protest energies both homegrown and national many of whom have become disillusiioned or even embittered by the relationship and pretty quickly at that.

At best what R-68 offers the protest movement is experience at media events shorn of much content. Among them, admittedly, are some experienced and talented left organizers, some of whom I fear will be used for what they are worth and then discarded at the proper moment when their services are no longer needed, among these a few I used to consider friends. But if they cannot see through all this unfortunately, that is their problem.

4. Shaping The Message And All That Stuff.

In any event, in an attempt to monopolize the opposition and become a focal point of national and international opposition likely to show up here in Denver – and precisely because their base is so small and narrow – R-68 began their protest organizing for the convention earlier than pretty much any other group. They made in enthusiasm and organizing strategy what they lack in substance.

A number of goals emerged early on:

– to monopolize as many public permits for rallies and demonstrations in the city, especially near the city’s center, as early as possible so as to pressure national and international organizations to cooperate with them. in a like manner they hoped to monopolize as many internet sites as possible that might have anything to do with the Democratic Party Convention. (Both efforts failed at least in part)

– to monopolize the media attention and shape and control the message – both local and media – of the `opposition’ to the Democrats and become the voice of that opposition – coopting the imput of more broad based oppositional forces that might show up in Denver. (They have been somewhat more successful here, but the impression I get is that on this front too, things are unraveling.)

In these ways R-68 hoped to `shape the message’ of the opposition in such a way so that it would be their voice that dominates the voice of those left of the Democratic Party, that is that voice – as if there is one voice – especially theirs – that speaks for us all. I would expect that as a part of this effort, at some point at the proper moment, that they would cart out some bizarre political retrograde like Ward Churchill, with whom many of the R-68 people are in contact (and who has been – or so it seems – rather quiet of late).

4. Punching The Tar Baby

Inspite of all the above, had R-68 adopted a different approach, more open, democratic, flexible, even slightly reasonable and respectful of the people they hoped to use, R-68 very well might have been able to achieve some of their goals and attract some support, build some genuine (and interesting) alliances. There is indeed no crime in being small, nor in being (mostly) anarchists, or for that matter, from where I am sitting, radical. But then in whatever might have resulted – but won’t – they would have had to make some compromises on both their vision and the practical matter of the types of events to be held. They chose not to.

Since they are so small and basically irrelevant in the larger scheme of things, R-68 has had to try harder and spend a considerable amount of energy to try to `tame’ other groups and elements that were initially attracted to work with them. Their operation has been from the beginning `top down’ with virtually no breathing room for other ideas. A line comes down from `somewhere’. It should not be surprising that because of its brittleness in its style of work, a fair number of people who were first attracted to R-68 broke way and did so with a considerable amount of bitterness, mostly from what I can tell, because R-68’s `council of elders’ offered them no role for their ideas, political visions. Interesting how many young radicals who really were not in the least either frightened or even put off by R-68’s surface radicalism (indeed they were probably attracted to it), broke away and broke away angry and disillusioned.

One of these splits is the group that calls itself `Alliance For Real Democracy’, but this is only the last in a whole series of splits from R-68’s initial core, leaving them even more narrow and `politically pure’ (and irrelevant) than they were previously. And as their ship starts to waiver, as different people from local social movements pulled away from R-68, some softly, others less so, R-68 (or those close to it), sore losers that they have always been – have stepped up personal attacks on those that have questioned its priorities and authority. These are little more than the cries of a movement starting to implode because of its own problems and isolation more than anything else. I would expect that these tactics will only intensify as R-68’s base shrivels and it blames its woes on everyone else but themselves.

Of course something else is going on – an attempt to redirect the energies of those, in the Alliance for Real Democracy and other formations who are pulling away from R-68 – from organizing for the convention to `punching the tar baby’ as one friend put it…to divert their attention to endless squabbles and internet attacks on individuals. Petty nonsense that at first seemed to temporarily divert the attention of some, but from which many are now starting to recover. The best approach is simply to avoid the polemics at this point and get down to the business of organizing. And to those who do, all the more power to them!

5. Footnote

It is not only every intelligence agency and gonzo journalist that are coming to Denver now from the world round, but also many bigger national social justice and peace organizations. They are getting a feel for the place and how they will participate in the Convention activities be it from the inside or outside. They’ll be here and find their own ways of making their agenda’s known to the delegates inside the convention and to the broader world. I’d be surprised if R-68 has much to do with their activities.

* ..(the words from a song by John Foster)

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