L.A.'s DMZ Squanders Golden Opportunity for Human Conversation
NewsForChange.com, August 16, 2000
I have spent a fair amount of my adult life having fun at the expense of my Marxist and left-liberal comrades, for their terrible science and economics, lack of humor and art, and sympathies for unsavory causes. Marxist writing has always made me retch ... until Mike Davis' "City of Quartz" -- a book of unscientific exaggeration, knee-jerk sloganeering but just fantastic descriptions and research showing how Los Angeles has become an apartheid-like military zone separating the gated rich from the criminalized poor.
Well, this week, above all, has been a Mike Davis week. The Staples Center is surrounded by an enormous security buffer zone, with cement barricades and tall barbed wire fencing, all guarded by at least 5,000 well-armed muscle-bound riot cops. This Korea-style separation is being paid for, at great expense, by the City of Los Angeles and federal election (so, directly, by the taxpayers).
Several thousand of these taxpayers have chosen this week to let Democrats and the media understand their displeasure at things, from Iraq policy to the criminal justice system to corporate greed. Above all, maybe, they are upset at having themselves and their views be totally cut off from American politics and government.
The Party of the People has responded by replacing those theoretical barriers with giant physical barricades, manned by cops who like to do things like chant "L-A-P-D" menacingly under their breath. At night, with Bunker Hill skyscrapers lit up all pastel pinks and blues, while the movie lights and helicopters circle around, it really feels like a surreal City of Quartz, pristine and clean, with the exception of some Protest Pit dirtbags who are barely being tolerated.
This has produced some odd, dislocated effects. Last night, for instance, as I walked out of the security gates at around 9:30, I was greeted by a scraggly gauntlet of around 100 protesters yelling at me about at least 25 different causes.
"Way to go! Way to bomb Iraq, pal!"
"Don't drive! Don't drive! Don't drive!"
"Vote your conscience! Vote Nader!"
After spending the entire day in the wretched asphalt heat, totally locked out of the corridors of power, the protesters' only chance to interact with the bemused delegates was this little manic spasm, which couldn't help but contribute to the caricaturization of the demonstrators as a bunch of scattered loonies.
"I don't even know what they're demonstrating about," Michigan delegate Bill Hanner told the L.A. Times. "I don't think they're doing a very good job of getting their message out, because we're very willing to listen."
"I've only seen it on TV," Texas delegate Claude Baldree added. "What's all the ruckus about?"
There are many unpleasant ironies in all of this, but the saddest of all may be the opportunity being wasted. Yesterday I saw several instances when the outsiders and insiders came face-to-face, and the results more often than not were electric.
At the Shadow Convention, down the street at the pleasingly un-airconditioned Patriotic Hall, a boisterous and sweaty crowd of the issue-oriented disaffected went positively bonkers when Democratic Congressman Charlie Rangel from Harlem ambled up to the podium and delivered a barn-burnder of a speech about America's racist drug laws.
"We all have to be held accountable, for not only what we have done, but ... for our silence when things were being done," said Rangel, speaking eloquently and without notes. "We don't all have to be from the same page of every thing and dream we believe in. But you can bet your life that you will not be going to any neighborhood, any family, any community, or any city, that I won't be standing up here with you, defending your right to speak out about the injustices that are happening to people, ESPECIALLY as relates to this so-called War against drugs. It has been a War against people. It has warehoused our young, it has denied us the opportunity to educate, it has forfeited the dreams and the aspirations of young people, it has allowed drugs to come into our community as a substitute for hope, this is UNacceptable, in ANY society, and it should be just OB-SCENE as it relates to the great United States!"
A bit later, Oregon state representative Jo Ann Bowman, another Democrat with Staples Center passes, came out with fire in her eyes and throat, speaking in a forceful tone rarely seen even at the protest podium on Pershing Square.
"It is time for to start electing people that represent our views. No more electing people that give you 15 to 30 second sound bites, you don't know what they stand for, you don't know if they're not going to be there for you in the fight, well if they are not going to be there SEND THEM HOME!"
"I'm so proud to be a part of the Shadow Convention, because I am here with the delegates down the street? They're not talking about the issues that real people care about. ... They're not talking about campaign finance reform. And by golly that's why I stay here with you, because you are my people!"
Another 20 seconds.
Sparks fly when the powerful address the powerless and express a bit of solidarity or just interest. Outside, I fell into a conversation with a young fella from my home town of Long Beach, talking about "the cops are basically just a fascist private military hired by the corporations" and whatnot. Interesting, how protesters seem to have as much simplified understanding of the power structure, as the power structure has of them.
Anyways, I told him I had to get back into the Convention. "Whoa! How'd you get in there?" he asked.
"Well, I'm sort of a member of the press," I explained. "Web site deal, progressive."
His eyes swelled with the new information.
"You mean, they actually let in media people like you! Right on, brother!"