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
"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
"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
"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.