Protesters are gearing up for the Democratic National Convention in Denver next month. Email lists are busier than ever. Activist bloggers are weighing in. Indymedia outlets regularly issue updates about upcoming plans. A number of protest groups have formed a coalition called "Re-create 68" to protest at the Convention (the name refers to the upheavals at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago 40 years ago). The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is objecting that the protesters will be confined to an area 700 feet from the Pepsi Center (where the convention will be held). As ACLU attorneys noted, "No human voice, or any other sound . . . can ever hope to reach a person at the entrance." Adding to the drama is a split within Re-create 68, which has led to the birth of yet another protest organization, this one called the Alliance for Real Democracy, a coalition of some 12 groups of mostly 20 and 30something activists. This splinter group, according to the Rocky Mountain News, "promises free concerts, art displays, classes for activists and a "massive" anti-war march during this summer's Democratic National Convention." All over, activists are girding for the protests.
In more ways than one, the upcoming protests are starting to resemble the upheavals of '68. Like the demonstrations four decades ago, today's militant activists are already confronting naysayers and critics. Commenting on Re-create 68, conservative Denver columnist and radio host Mike Rosen noted, "Glen Spagnuolo, Marxist revolutionary-in-chief, describes his group as representing minorities, anarchists, communists, socialists and radicals. He expects 25,000 people from across the country to join his Denver protest. So what? Whom do they represent? And why should anyone else care? Do the math: Twenty-five thousand people out of a population of more than 300 million is eight one-thousandths of 1 percent. That's less than one person out of 10,000 in the country. Even if it were a hundred times that number, what would it matter?"
Meantime, the Denver police are gearing up for action. Last month, you may recall, the Denver PD ordered 88 Mark IV launchers, "a less-lethal" weapon that fires a pepper spray-type substance. There are even rumors among activists that the powers-that-be will unleash a weapon -- according to Fox News reports (so you know it's trustworthy) -- that relies on "infrasound frequency that debilitates a person by making them defecate involuntarily."
Activists who insist on "Re-creating 68" ought to study the events of 1968 carefully. Times have changed. A lot. For one thing, the Vietnam War -- while supported by hawkish Republicans -- was really the creation of Cold War Liberals in the Democratic Party. So in 1968, militant street protests at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago made a great deal of sense.
Forty years later, in our post-Cold War, post-9/11 world, the chief architects of the dismal Iraq War are Republicans -- especially neocons. To be certain, there will be protests at the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis-St. Paul on September 1-4. But the more ambitious and militant protests are being planned for the Democratic convention. This is definitely a repeat of '68, when demonstrations were much larger and more dramatic at the Democratic National Convention than its Republican counterpart (who even remembers the '68 Republican Convention protests? -- they were pretty minuscule). Forty years ago, activists believed it was more important to target Democrats because Republicans were more set in their ways politically, less willing to change.
You see some of that same line of thinking at work today. Some of the protest organizations demonstrating in the streets of Denver next month will be pro-Barack Obama groups. But there are also some hardcore shit disturbers who are working to trigger dramatic clashes with authorities. The folks in this uber-militant wing are the ones who should be studying the events of 1968 more carefully. Violent street clashes between police and demonstrators during the Chicago convention (which, in fairness, were mostly the fault of the police -- although they were sometimes exacerbated by over-the-top protesters) only served to alienate the American public from protest.
Times have changed since 1968. Police brutality -- while still a problem -- has decreased significantly over the decades. More importantly, in today's America, dissent is not necessarily seen as a bad thing (as much as it was in 1968). According to a USA Today poll taken earlier this month, "Protesting U.S. policies you oppose is also patriotic, according to two-thirds of those polled."
There is still the same sense of urgency today as there was in '68. The Iraq War has been horrifying in its sheer destructiveness and Washington shows no signs of ending the occupation anytime soon. So we need voices of protest. But the upheavals of '68 teach us that street violence is not only abhorrent, it's impractical. It slows down the pace of change. It turns public opinion against protest. That's why undercover FBI agents who infiltrated the antiwar movement during the Vietnam War encouraged activists to embrace extremist violent tactics. They knew bloodshed in the streets would only hinder -- not advance -- the cause of change.
Before activists attempt to "Re-create 68," they first need to find out what about that period is worth preserving and what ought to be discarded.