The Democratic National Convention is going on in Denver, and I’m really not at all interested in what’s going on inside the convention center: it’s a bunch of people saying feel-good platitudes to get themselves elected, all studiously avoiding saying anything substantial that might annoy a voter. It’s much more interesting to see what’s going on outside the convention, where people are trying to make their real opinions heard. That is actually a bit troubling.
The Coalition of Secular Voters protested the interfaith alliance garbage. This demonstration went well, but was largely ignored, of course — the democratic leadership has their sights set on yet another faith-based political experience.
The primary reason that we chose to demonstrate at the Interfaith Gathering was because repeated appeals had been made to the organizers of the event to include a non-religious speaker among the Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Buddhist speakers, but all of these appeals were turned down. In addition, the organizer, Leah Daughtry stated, “Democrats have been, are and will continue to be people of faith – and this interfaith gathering is proof of that.”
Not only is this statement factually untrue, but it is also highly offensive to non-religious members of the Democratic Party, of which there were over 8 million in 2001, probably over 10 million now. A much more appropriate statement could have been, “the Democratic Party welcomes people of faith,” which should certainly be the case. Any major political party in America today should be inclusive of both religious and non-religious members.
What’s the harm, you might say. Well, here’s the harm: by prioritizing superstitious ignorance over evidence-based reality, the Democratic Party is sliding away from the positions that actually motivate my support.
What I found most interesting about the Interfaith Service is that the values of many of the speakers that were hosted at the service were at odds with the Democratic Party platform. One of the main speakers at the event, for example, stated that he was opposed to legalized abortion. I found it interesting that the Democratic Party would not host a non-religious speaker who may have fully agreed with every plank of the party platform but they were happy to host religious speakers who spoke in opposition to the party platform. To me this indicates that this religious outreach could have far reaching effects on the party, with changes to the party’s core positions. Other speakers spoke out in favor of school vouchers for religious private schools, etc. It is also notable that legislation in opposition to teaching evolution in public schools and in favor of allowing the teaching of “alternatives to evolution” has been sponsored and supported by religious Democrats in several states, including Texas, Florida, and Louisiana over the past year. Does all of this signify a significant shift within the Democratic party?
A party that kowtows to the conventions of the conservative religious is not a party that will get my vote.
Even worse, a party that acts in defiance of the principles of a free democratic state is anathema. Some demonstrations were not treated at all well. I got a letter from Nathan Acks that recounts his experiences…and it is not reassuring at all.
Last night at approximately 7:30pm I was arrested as part of a mass arrest at 15th & Court and charged with disrupting a permitted assembly and blocking public streets. A third charge – throwing rocks and missiles – was listed on my pre-printed ticket, but the crossed out.
At the time I was not protesting. I was acting as an observer for the People’s Law Project, and was dressed in a button shirt and a neon-green baseball cap stating that I was acting as a representative of the National Lawyers Guild. I followed the protestors out of Civic Center Park, but remained on the sidewalk until pushed by riot police into the street. At no time during the abortive march did any legal observer, or any marcher that I have spoken to, observe any destruction of property, any thrown objects, or ANY ORDER TO DISPERSE BY THE POLICE.
At some point during my visit to Gitmo on the Platte, the compact flash card I had been carrying that contained photographic documentation of the protest disappeared. This included pictures of the badges of some of the officers involved, images of a marcher OBEYING police orders being shot with pepper spray point-blank in the eyes while trying to retreat (when I was hauled away he was sitting with a street medic, and I could hear him sobbing again and again, “I can’t see…”), and photographs of a second protestor who was shot three times by what appeared to be three separate officers with bean-bag guns while KNEELING, motionless, 15 FEET AWAY, hands outstretched as if in prayer, and wearing nothing but a pair of POCKETLESS shorts.
The arresting police officers – Aurora PD – were uniformly assholes, but the officers from the sheriff’s department who handled us after we arrived at Gitmo on the Platte were professional and sometimes even courteous. However, I know that this was not an experience shared by everyone, and did notice a significant change in attitude when it became apparent that I was functioning as a representative of the National Lawyer’s Guild. My hat had been confiscated from me during the arrest, but one of the officers at the holding facility returned it to me shortly after I arrived. I wore it from that point forward.
At 10:53pm I had posted my own bond. At midnight myself and woman who was also arrested and had been able to make bond were released. We were the first two people to leave. I hitched a ride back with her friends, gave a video interview when I arrived back at the People’s Law Project offices, and helped man the phones for the rest of the night, fielding calls from arrestees and worried friends and relatives.
At least as of last night, those of us who had been released were returned to the world STILL WEARING THE ZIP CUFFS WE HAD BEEN ARRESTED IN. The police would cut out one of our hands, but leave the the remainder of the cuff on the other hand. When I left the PLP offices this morning at 10am, calls were coming in that folks being released from the courthouse were being hassled by police in riot gear – ON THE STEPS OF THE COURTHOUSE ITSELF – and that more police in riot gear were stopping individuals – some minors – in Civic Center Park and demanding to see photo ID and to be allowed to search any bags they were carrying. Many of these officers – including many who made the arrests last night – ARE NOT WEARING VISIBLE BADGES, or otherwise have their names and badge numbers obstructed. THIS IS ILLEGAL.
The way that the arrests were handled, the way that we were released still in zip cuffs, the way that bystanders are being hassled today, all represent a continuation of a pattern of intimidation that began before the convention and was already legally questionable. At least some police actions today have now fully crossed that line.
I will not be intimidated.
I’ve slept as much as I can, and am about to leave again, return to the streets, and again take up my position as legal observer. If I am arrested again, then so be it. I have the resources right now to overcome this – something that many others do not. And I have a job to do.
I almost closed my last e-mail with a saying from Frank Herbert’s Dune that has its roots in modern Arabic. I decided that doing so would make the letter too melodramatic (something that several of you commented on anyway), but today I have no qualms. If the explanation I have seen is correct, then it feels very appropriate. I say it now not for myself, but for those I was arrested with, those who stood up and sang as the riot police called in, and those who will also refuse to be intimidated and return to the streets today.
Long live the fighters!
Where is this country going? We seem to be on the road to mindlessness and tyranny. We are descending into madness.