|DAYS OF PROTEST|
August 17, 2000
After a background report on the protests outside the Democratic National Convention, Ray Suarez talks with Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Il), a former protester himself, about the current protest culture.
Then, NewsHour historians discusses the effects of protests on politics.
JEFFREY KAYE: This morning's protests in downtown Los Angeles focused on corporate power. Demonstrators marched to a bank building. The comparatively light turnout was a contrast to yesterday's rallies and marches, which highlighted complaints about police brutality. The day ended with a tense confrontation between demonstrators and police just outside the convention hall. After negotiations and threats of arrest, the crowd dispersed.
Police conduct is only one of a smorgasbord of issues that brought out demonstrators in Los Angeles this week. Downtown streets in the city's normally crowded business district have been turned into a stage for mostly leftist protest groups, which are often on the fringes of American politics. Their messages ranged from threats to the world's indigenous peoples to environmental issues and the lack of adequate public transportation. Police arrested some 40 animal rights activists Tuesday afternoon as they tried to enter stores.
PROTESTERS: What do we want? Queer rights! When do we want it? Now!
JEFFREY KAYE: Gay activists demanded legalization of same sex marriages and increased funding for AIDS research. Not everyone in the streets was protesting the Democratic Party.
PROTESTERS: We are the union, the proud union.
JEFFREY KAYE: Many teachers who demonstrated for higher pay are supporting Al Gore for President.
DAY HIGUCHI, President, LA Teacher's Union: This is not against the Democratic Party or Al Gore or anything. In fact, I am a delegate. This is about the needs of public education in Los Angeles, and we're really in support of the Gore agenda to really invest in public education.
JEFFREY KAYE: Activists say there is a common thread to the array of issues on the agendas of those outside a convention hall named for an office supply chain: Opposition to corporate power and the influence of big business on public policy. Garrick Ruiz is one of the protest coordinators.
GARRICK RUIZ: What ties it all together are just basic issues of social justice and democracy. We want to be able to help to make the decisions which affect our lives, and under the current system we are not able to do that. The Democrats aren't representing us, the Republicans are not representing us.
JEFFREY KAYE: Protesters' tactics were as diverse as their issues. Cyclists for mass transit swarmed through downtown shadowed by cops on their own bikes.
PROTESTER: Okay. When you start hearing the music and the singing, start kissing.
JEFFREY KAYE: Gays and lesbians held a kiss-in -- while other activists used puppets and street theater to criticize corporate coziness with America's political parties.
PROTESTER: A majority of the people here believe the government's being co-opted. They believe that some of the foundation principles of the American government, which are based in direct democracy, the will of the people being able to override other influences.
|Getting the word out|
JEFFREY KAYE: To publicize their messages protesters set up their own media center, to get their word out on the Internet. Many protesters are suspicious of the mainstream media.
PROTESTERS (chanting): Everyone is watching! Everyone is watching!
JEFFREY KAYE: Anarchist youth in particular, say their story is not being told. Jeremy Louzao is an anarchist from Seattle.
JEREMY LOUZAO: I think history shows the corporate media misrepresents the facts on the way the world works, and it especially misrepresents the facts about social movements and working for change. So it makes sense that the anarchist movement or any social movement would be cynical about the corporate media, because as far as I can see the corporate media is usually just trying to get footage so they can destabilize and subvert our movements.
JEFFREY KAYE: Police kept close watch on the anarchists-- many clad in black and masked-- fearing they could be the most volatile. But as with many protest groups, idealism often gave way to pragmatism, and at times, even the anarchists stopped at the crosswalks. Protesters say their week of actions will culminate tonight with a noisy vigil outside the convention hall -- timed to coincide with Vice President Gore's acceptance speech.
|An interview with Bobby Rush|
JIM LEHRER: Ray Suarez on the convention floor has an interview with a Democratic congressman and delegate who began his public life as a protester. Ray.
RAY SUAREZ: Jim, in the late 60's, Bobby Rush, a returning army veteran, was active in the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, SNCC, and co- founder of the Illinois Black Panther Party. The issues that sent hundreds of thousands into the streets across the country, and etched the memory of the 1968 Democratic Convention into the collective memory of a generation, were clear targets: The Vietnam War and the draft, poverty and urban deprivation, environmental destruction. Today, Bobby Rush represents the South side of Chicago in the U.S. House of Representatives. Welcome to the program.
REP. BOBBY RUSH, (D-Il): Thank you so much, Ray.
RAY SUAREZ: Now, you saw the demonstrators when were you coming to and from the convention hall this week. What did you make of what you saw?
REP. BOBBY RUSH: Well, first of all, I think that they have a right to demonstrate. I really like the fact that these, that there is a movement of people who continue to demonstrate and that these individuals represent really to me the best that democracy can produce and does produce. So I like the fact they are demonstrating. They want to be included, their voices heard. I think that's appropriate. You know, as a protester myself, I certainly understand and can empathize with some of those individuals who are out there demonstrating today and who have been demonstrating all week.
|A laundry list of issues|
RAY SUAREZ: Did you see any problems with the way they were carried out, with the way the messages were delivered?
REP. BOBBY RUSH: Well, I see a problem in that it seems to be fairly superficial, excepting in cases. You know, it's not sustained. It's not community-based. They didn't originate out of a community effort. You know, Mumia Abu-Jamal is an exception; there are a few other exceptions. But, you know, in order to have a sustained demonstration, a sustained protest, in order to really make changes, you've got to get back into the neighborhoods, get back into the community. You just can't show up at these types of super media events and expect to get your message out, because America is not focusing in on it at that level.
Another problem that I see is that there is a whole array, a list of issues, so there is not a consistent message that is transmitted to the American people. And that causes a problem because of all these mixed messages. You've got everything from animal rights to various other kinds of protest movements out here. We just don't know all that exists. The American people don't know that it exists so they kind of dismiss it. And I think that because they dismiss it, they are not focusing in; they're not paying attention, and the American people are riled up, really what these demonstrations are about and some who are very, very important, some of the issues are very, very important - and also I believe that those who are really sincere about making change in this nation, they are not effective because they have all these mixed messages, these long, laundry lists of protest movements out there.
RAY SUAREZ: As an old organizer yourself, if they were to ask you for advice, what would you tell them?
REP. BOBBY RUSH: Keep it simple. Agree on one or two issues and focus on those issues. You know, even today we remember what we were protesting in the 60's. Anti-war movement, civil rights in the South, women's rights. We remember those things because of the fact that we focused on the single issue and progressives from all the across the country were able to unite around those particular specific issues. Right now, again, there is a laundry list. And frankly, I'm a person who is pretty well -- understand what's going on and knowledgeable about what's going on, but I can't tell you three issues that they are demonstrating about here at the convention.
RAY SUAREZ: Back then you were locked out. You weren't invited into the conventions, into the seats of power, but eventually you and many others changed the party from the inside. Could they do the same thing?
REP. BOBBY RUSH: Well, I think that some of them can, but I really believe that there is a place for it. I want to say that everybody don't need to be here. There needs to be an inside-outside existence and protest movement and progressive movement. Some of us who are in, we can work this system from within. But those on the outside need to keep the person on the outside in all of us. So there is a place for them, but I just think that it has to be more organized and it has to come out of - emerge out of a community-based effort. You know, it is so superficial right now.
RAY SUAREZ: So it can't just be a protest. It has to be a movement
REP. BOBBY RUSH: It's got to be a movement, and it's got to be organized, and it's got to be organized to not just appear before the television cameras and sound disruptive in front of television cameras and get media because you're disruptive; you've got to really go out and educate people about what your issues are and educate the American people and let them know what your issues are, and right now I think that's a failure. It's almost like it's an instant, pop-up movement that you're trying to create. You can't do that. You know, this is not an instant game. This is - it's a prolonged effort that you've got to undertake, and I think that those in the outside, some of those who are outside, many of those who are outside just don't get it.
RAY SUAREZ: Illinois Congressman Bobby Rush, thanks a lot.