Rise Up LA and Direct Action Network [DAN] conducted multiple trainings of protesters in media savvy and non violent protests at their MacArthur Park Convergence Center last week in preparation for this week's protests. The Convergence also conducted community outreach to the surrounding, predominately working class, immigrant community, located about a mile east of Staples Center, site of the Democratic National Convention [DNC]. DAN, which felt compelled to lock its doors at least one evening last week, and then to obtain a federal injunction, due to police harassment, has not encouraged its neighbors to join in civil disobedience which some DAN protesters are planning, for fear of the potential consequences of their arrest.
DAN organizers were reluctant to allow the press to view actual classes, but Garrick Ruiz, one of the media trainers said every Convergence demonstrator has been encouraged to learn how to convey their message to reporters. "We can't guarantee that journalists will only interview protest leaders. We teach our people to convey our message that both Democrats and Republicans are agents of the same racist, corporate-driven system that oppresses most of the world. We train how to control the interview as much as possible so that our points get across."
The target audience of this message is the DNC, Ruiz added, standing among a sea of artists working on puppets and posters on the Convergence's first floor. "While the power the Democrats wield may not be legitimate, they are in authority to change what we want changed. An example is [Vice President Al ] Gore's tight relationship with Occidental Petroleum, which is evicting U'wa tribe people from their Colombian homeland for oil drilling. As a stockholder and recipient of millions in Oxy campaign donations Gore could stop this."
So far no one from the DNC has bothered to reach out to the protesters, Ruiz added. Indeed, on August 9 the DNC refused to allow DAN protesters into its ARCO Center headquarters to present a list of demands.
Media classes continued at a pace of about 2 a day with attendance increasing rapidly as last weekend approached. Another trainer Loren Finklestein, a veteran of east coast protests, said she teaches how to make short, "sound bite" statements, "because the corporate press won't allow us much time to speak." "America is being bought by corporations", "need not greed" and "stop globalization" are some of the general slogans she encourages her students to remember when they may suddenly be confronted by camcorders and microphones this week. "We also train the various affinity groups how to quickly convey their specific issues," she added.
Meanwhile, Sara Seeds, one of several non-violent action trainers at the Convergence, said "We utilize role play and draw from dissenters past experiences to instruct everyone how to actively listen to protest opponents. This helps us to de-escalate tense confrontations with authorities and to defuse potential violence."
Brian Montes, a native of Los Angeles who has been part of community outreach teams, said MacArthur Park residents have been overwhelmingly positive during door to door walks last week. "Most understood our message against corporate greed. We speak to them about how global issues affect them locally, such as immigration policies. None expressed support of the Democrats or Republicans. We have not, however, encouraged our neighbors to join in the civil disobedience which many of us feel compelled to conduct. Many here lack legal resident papers or may be on probation and are the only source of income for large families, so the consequences of arrest could be much more severe than for many of us." In fact, Montes complained that police have actively surveilled the Convergence at 1919 West 7th Street, arbitrarily ticketing for jay walking and circling the block in squad cars. "One evening we locked our doors when it appeared the police might be about to storm in. They didn't, but they did question a parking lot attendant about us."
Indeed, the American Civil Liberties Union and National Lawyers Guild, which last month won a suit to allow protests in front of Staples Center, obtained an injunction last Friday for DAN against the City of Los Angeles prohibiting police or "health" inspectors from arbitrarily shutting down the Convergence or seizing puppets. ACLU attorney Dan Tokaji said, "We hope this sends a clear message to the police that they can't violate the Constitutional rights of protesters." [See related story by Marge Buckley.]
Protest headquarters in Philadelphia were raided during the GOP confab, with leaders arrested and held on bail up to on million dollars, and puppets seized as "weapons".