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Protestors at Convention Could Spoil Gore's Day

by Alan Elsner Friday, Jun. 09, 2000 at 10:24 AM

Mainstream article on how the convention protests will hurt the Dems more than the GOP

June 5, 2000

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Officials preparing for the August

Democratic national convention in Los Angeles are planning and

praying that protests against globalization do not steal the

spotlight from Vice President Al Gore.

Call it Gore's nightmare scenario. On the day he formally accepts

his party's presidential nomination and delivers his speech to

the nation, Gore does not want any attention focused on rowdy

demonstrators outside the convention hall.

The danger is there. Some of the same protesters who turned last

year's meeting of the World Trade Organization in Seattle into a

shambles and overshadowed a World Bank and International Monetary

Fund meeting in Washington earlier this year, are busy preparing

for both the Republican convention in Philadelphia and the

Democrats in Los Angeles.

The protesters, who are a loosely organized coalition of varied

interest groups, have a wide agenda which includes opposition to

global trade agreements and the power of multinational companies,

defense of the environment, promoting women's rights in the

industrialized and developing world and promoting workers' rights

to unionize.

"Both political parties make way for the exploitation of the

world by multinationals. The grab for profits has driven the

personal fortunes of a few to obscene levels," says the manifesto

of Unity 2000, one of the umbrella groups coordinating protests.

The Republican convention, which will take place July 31-Aug. 3,

is likely to be seen as a warmup for the real action at the

Democratic gathering two weeks later.

GREATER DANGER TO DEMOCRATS

The political danger to the Democrats seems greater since most of

the protesters come from the political left and from the labor

and environmental movements -- part of Gore's natural

constituency.

"If the Democrats are not prepared to win the communications war

with the protesters, the 'popularity bounce' their nominee

typically would enjoy following a convention will be lost,"

Steven Schlein, a crisis communications manager, wrote in a

recent Los Angeles Times article.

"There's no way all of the fuss out in the street won't damage

the morale of Democratic legislators and other office holders.

Emotions surely will range from guilt to outrage," said Schlein.

Without a bounce, Gore could find it tougher to overtake

Republican George W. Bush in the polls.

Convention planners are aware of the threat and have made plans,

in cooperation with the Los Angeles Police Department, which sent

officers to Seattle immediately after the WTO fiasco and to

Washington, D.C., during the World Bank protests to observe and

learn from mistakes made at those events.

GREAT REAL ESTATE

"We're anticipating protests and we have set aside a site for

them in a large parking lot right outside the convention center.

It's a great piece of real estate which gives them a lot of

access to delegates and the media," said Ben Austin,

communications director to the host committee.

"We have no intention of sticking the protesters out in Siberia.

We want to make sure they have a voice but they must also not

trample on the rights of others. As long as the protests stay

nonviolent, everything will work out," he said.

But if planners expect the protesters to confine themselves to a

parking lot, they are likely to be disappointed.

"We won't be locked in a box. We plan to go to the hotels where

delegates are staying or to their events wherever they are," said

Juliette Beck, an organizer of Global Exchange, planning protests

in Los Angeles.

"We don't plan to blockade delegates from the convention center.

But we will be doing direct action and we don't rule out civil

disobedience and there will be lots of it -- anything from

hanging banners from buildings to blockading hotels and risking

arrest where fund-raising events are happening," she said.

One Democratic official involved in convention planning said he

did not anticipate demonstrations on the scale either of Seattle

or Washington.

"Remember, in Seattle mainstream environmental and labor

organizations buttressed the protests and most of those

organizations have endorsed Gore and will not be taking part," he

said. "There's much more chance the demonstrators who do show up

will be seen as extremists."

Still, if the cameras veer outside the convention hall at Gore's

moment of triumph, that could be scant comfort for the vice

president and his supporters.

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