Where There's Pols, There's Pyres

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The reluctance of the TV networks to give them anything but a few hours says it all — America's presidential conventions have become safe, scripted and sanitized.

And boring.

But the cameras are still there, and with cameras come protesters. From all along the political spectrum, activists agree on one thing: that thousands of journalists and a plethora of politicians equals an ideal environment to voice their grievances.

Put that together with a resurgence in political protest — most recently manifested in large scale at last year's WTO meeting in Seattle — and the kind of get-the-word-out connectivity made possible by the Internet, and you have potential for at least an echo of the goings-on that accompanied the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago.

With that in mind, city officials in Philadelphia, where the GOP convention runs from July 31 to August 4, and Los Angeles, where the Democrats are holding court August 14-17, are hoping to minimize any unwelcome distractions.

Both cities have taken a no-nonsense approach. Officials are trying to confine protests to certain areas and are denying permits for some marches; in Los Angeles, Mayor Richard Riordan has used strong rhetoric to warn protesters against bad behavior. "The police will get tough when confronted with lawlessness," he says.

Here's TIME.com's guide to the upcoming protest season:

What to expect in Philadelphia at the Republican National Convention (July 29-August 4 at the First Union Center)


Demonstrators are being confined to an area dubbed the "protest pit," a move that has brought complaints about restrictions on free speech. Tension with local authorities also has arisen over revelations — denied at first — that the police had been using plainclothes officers to photograph potential protesters. Activists are also up in arms over a raid by the city's licensing and inspection office of a building where protesters were manufacturing signage. Officials are also still feeling the aftershocks of the videotaped beating by police of carjacking suspect Thomas Jones on July 12, an incident that brought unwelcome press attention.

Who'll Be There:

Unity 2000 Rally (Sunday, July 30): Rally and protest by more than 200 organizations, centered around criticism of parties' reliance on corporate contributions. Includes representatives from the National Organization of Women, Philadelphia AFL/CIO, United Steel Workers of America, Democratic Socialists of America, United for a Fair Economy, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Physicians for a National Health Program.

Quote: "The goal is really not to protest against the Republicans but to speak against the issues we care about... We're doing everything we can to make sure there is no violence." — lead organizer of Unity2000 Michael Morrill

On the lighter side: The demonstration, expected to be the largest of the convention, will also include a group called Billionaires for Bush (which will morph into Billionaires for Gore in Los Angeles). Among the floats, look for one featuring a mud pit with people dressed like George W. Bush and Al Gore wrestling.

The Ad Hoc Committee to Defend Healthcare (Saturday, July 29): Demonstration by medical professionals, labor unions and other activists in support of universal health care.

March for Economic Human Rights (Monday, July 31): Activists from throughout the country will march — permit or not, they say — to demand what they assert are their economic human rights.

Philadelphia Direct Action Group (Tuesday, August 1): Focusing on what it calls the "criminal injustice system," the organization will demonstrate against the "criminalization of people of color and youth" and capital punishment, specifically the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal, who is on death row for the 1981 murder of a Philadelphia policeman.

Silent March 2000: Americans Against Gun Violence (Saturday, July 29): The organization says it hopes to have 30,000 pairs of shoes to symbolize what it says is the number of people killed every year by gun violence.

Quote: "We want people to see what carnage is being caused day in and day out... we hope it gets across that this is horrific, it is preventable, and that it's the responsibility of people in government to deal with.... The shoes are eloquent, it's chilling, it's tremendously sad to reflect upon what these people could have done, where they could have walked. The notion of people's shoes some how reflecting their lives and their path is very powerful, and there are way too many of them." —Ellen Freudenheim, cofounder and director of Silent March 2000

Second Amendment Sisters (Saturday, July 29): Anti-gun-control group says it will have 400 flags up, each symbolizing what it says are 1,000 lives saved by guns every year, totaling 400,000 lives.

Quote: "We're not protesters, we're educators. We promote the civil right of self-defense. That every year far more lives are saved by guns then lost to guns.... If you take away accessibility to guns for the common people, the common people will be victims many more times over than we are now. We see this as a civil rights issue, especially for women." —Maria Heil, national press coordinator, Second Amendment Sisters

Philadelphia Local 22 Firemen's and Paramedics Union (Thursday, August 3): A demonstration urging workman's compensation to cover hepatitis C care and testing. The group says firemen and paramedics are at a higher risk for hepatitis C, which causes inflammation of the liver and, if untreated, can lead to death.

What to expect in Los Angeles at the Democratic National Convention — August 14-17 at the Staples Center


Many organizations have filed permits for marches each day of the convention and prior to it. Last week, activists won a federal court verdict that forced the city to adjust its current zone for protests. How this will finally be arranged is yet to be determined. But city officials, the Secret Service and other agencies are in a rush to come up with a solution that satisfies the ruling. Currently, some marches are planned to pass through an area near the convention site ruled off-limits to protesters, a situation that some fear could lead to conflict between activists and police.

Who'll Be There:

Stop the Execution of Mumia Abu-Jamal (Sunday, August 13): A mass march and rally to demand a new trial for a Philadelphia man convicted of the 1981 murder of a policeman.

Human Needs Not Corporate Greed/March for Our Lives! (Monday, August 14): Similar to the Unity2000 march in Philadelphia, this promises to be the largest demonstration of the convention's opening day. Includes participation by ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now), Rainforest Action Network, International Socialist Organization, Queers For Racial & Economic Justice, Radical Student League, Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice, Alliance for Democracy

Quote: "We're really working to get local low-income people involved.... There is going to be a big youth contingent and a big labor contingent.... We're basically saying that we expect our elected officials to deal with basic human needs and not the corporate agenda." —organizer Lisa Fithian

On the lighter side: Among other things, there will be a puppet procession, the Billionaires for Gore (see above) and a float including skateboarders.

Save the Iraqi Children Rally (Tuesday, August 15): To demand that the U.S. lift its sanctions against Iraq. The protesters argue that the children of the country are hurt more than Saddam Hussein's regime.

Bus Riders Union Rally/March for Racial Justice (Tuesday, August 15): Demanding a moratorium on further construction of Los Angeles' subway system and the purchase of another 1,000 buses. The protesters claim that the subway system has been built to serve non-minority users in wealthier areas. Quote: "The Bus Riders Union is challenging the failure of President Clinton and presidential nominee Gore to enforce, strengthen and increase the civil rights law at the federal level... We demand that Vice President Gore strengthen Title 6 of the Civil Rights Act. What we would like to see is for the federal government to start taking seriously the enforcement of Title 6... when a state agency is spending its funds in a racially discriminatory manner that it (the federal government) will cut funds to the agency... there's fed money coming into the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit Authority that are being used on racist rail projects." —Ted Robertson, march organizer

Labor March (Tuesday, August 15): A march and rally by teachers' unions, county unions and entertainment industry workers.

March and Rally Against Mass Incarceration, Police Brutality, Death Penalty and to Free All Political Prisoners (Wednesday, August 16): The title says it all.

U.S. Navy out of Vieques, Puerto Rico, Now! (Thursday, August 17): The Puerto Rican Alliance of Los Angeles will hold a rally and march to demand an end to the U.S. Navy's presence on Vieques, an island off Puerto Rico.

Rally to Stop Sweatshops, For a Living Wage, Immigrant Rights and Global Economic Justice (Thursday, August 17): A march from L.A.'s garment district to the Staples Center, where it will join a mass rally (see next item).

The Voice of the People Don't [sic] Stop (Thursday, August 17): An umbrella rally to cap off the week of demonstrations, featuring drums, pots and pans, whistles, horns, banners, signs, puppets, and basically anything activists can bring to divert attention away from Gore's acceptance speech.