With the Olympics has come plenty of criticism of China from the "west" over the Chinese government's crackdown on protest. Parks far from the Olympics are designated for protest, which are rare, and protesters have been dragged off towers while displaying protest banners, and swiftly deported.
Time magazine reported that "George W. Bush, on his way to watch the Games as a self-professed sports fan, got into the act by expressing 'deep concern' about China's human-rights record. 'America stands in firm opposition to China's detention of political dissidents and human-rights advocates and religious activists,' Bush said in a speech in Bangkok a day before leaving for China. 'We speak out for a free press, freedom of assembly, and labor rights not to antagonize China's leaders, but because trusting its people with greater freedom is the only way for China to develop its full potential.'" But anyone who studies American history knows that freedom of assembly is always conditional on who is assembling, and why. Forty years ago, when students and youth poured into Chicago aiming to stop Democratic Party support for the Vietnam war , as the Mayor of Chicago sent the police into the streets to gas and beat the protesters bloody.
Bedlam broke out inside the convention over the war in southeast Asia, and the war outside on the streets, as the youth chanted "The whole world is watching!" Denver, CO (USA): Since early 2007, even before the city was announced as the location for the 2008 Democratic National Convention, activists have been planning to hold what Mark Cohen, of the Denver coalition Recreate68 calls the "biggest anti-war demonstration in Denver since Vietnam" in response to the convention. This plan has taken on even more urgency and righteousness as the Democratic Party now owns this war, having voted funds for it six times since taking over Congress in 2006.For more than a year, the city of Denver stalled and blocked the granting of permits for marches, citing "national security" as the reason they couldn't disclose "confidential" information on permits, which they wouldn't accept applications for. The Secret Service designated both the DNC (August 25-28), and the Republican National Convention (Sept 1-4 in St. Paul MN) as National Special Security Events. $50 million in federal funds for "security" went to each city.The New York Times reports that "Federal and local authorities are girding for huge protests, mammoth traffic tie-ups and civil disturbances." In an intensifying atmosphere less than two weeks before the convention, a "designated protest zone" is being built in the parking lot at the Pepsi Center, where the convention will be held. The 47,000 square foot pen of cha in link fence will be double-fenced, with 8' between fences to prevent "escape." The closest edge of the zone is more than 700 feet from the convention center doors, almost completely blocked by huge media tents, and barely visible from the convention center. Reportedly, the cages will be ringed by concrete barriers and rows of police, with concrete barriers inside so that the crowd can't surge together. See photos here
Recreate68 and a dozen other groups filed a lawsuit this spring to force the city to grant protest permits. The ACLU brought the suit against the city of Denver and the Secret Service. Cohen says, "The city said they couldn't disclose information because the Secret Service wouldn't tell the city their plans. But once we filed suit, suddenly the started releasing information. Then the second phase of the suit was to challenge the constitutionality of the security arrangements, which the judge of course upheld."March permits were granted in June for each day of the convention, but only during the hours of 11am to 3pm, so that permits expire before the convention starts each day. Permit routes end more than a third of a mile from the convention center, and from the Invesco Mile High Stadium, where Barack Obama will give his acceptance speech on Thursday, August 28. Another "freedom cage" will be erected there. Rally permits were granted for Civic Center Park, about a mile from the convention, but ultimately denied for City Park, and larger venue further away.During the trial on the lawsuit July 29, The Denver Post reported, "Mark Cohen testified that the security conditions around the DNC will make demonstrators look like animals in a cage and that the delegates won't hear them. He also said that the public demonstration zone is blocked by a media tent and other structures that limit 'sight and sound' access to the delegates. 'It is not the image of fellow citizens but rather prisoners in a cage with no clear connection to the purpose of their being there,' Cohen said.""Before the trial started, members of Recreate 68 staged a quiet protest outside the U.S. District Courthouse against the Secret Service and the city while wearing orange jail jumpsuits with the words 'Dissent is not a crime yet.' They also placed silver duct tape over their mouths." Under the rubric of the "war on terror," the government argued that there should be no restrictions on their determination of what constitutes "national security" risks, nor on their ability to restrict the movement of people, or the methods or timing of protest.
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The federal district court judge sided with the government, ruling that the restrictions on protest are justified by "national security" concerns. "We are going to file our appeal in the street," Glen Spagnuolo of Recreate68 said after federal Judge Marcia Krieger announced her decision.The ACLU also brought suit against the government to determine what types of security equipment have been purchased. ACLU of Colorado Legal Director Mark Silverstein told The Denver Post the ACLU had "learned that a manufacturer of pepper-ball guns had earned a contract with the city because the information was posted on the manufacturer's website, but the city has refused to say whether the purchase was made."
Ultimately the ACLU postponed the lawsuit, in exchange for an agreement that the city would disclose purchases. But all the ACLU received was a non-specific list, including more than $500,000 in equipment for the purpose of mass arrests.Preparations for mass detentions, and crowd-control weapons, including use of portable plastic fences used in NYC in 2004 at the Republican National Convention, and "exercises" of BlackHawk helicopters flying over the city in June give an indication of just how much the local and federal authorities are concerned that mass protest may break out in Denver.
On August 13, CBS4 News broadcast footage of a previously undisclosed detention facility the city is preparing in a warehouse in northeast Denver. They report, "Inside are dozens are metal cages. They are made out of chain link fence material and topped by rolls of barbed wire...Each of the fenced areas is about 5 yards by 5 yards and there is a lock on the door. A sign on the wall reads 'Warning! Electric stun devices used in this facility.'"
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CBS4 news also reported that activists immediately called the facility "Gitmo on the Platte" referring to the local Platte River. The facility is "reminiscent of a political prisoner camp or a concentration camp," said Zoe Williams of Code Pink, who was shown the footage. And the blogs filled up. "'They hate our freedoms.' Gee, George W. was right after all! Whoops, wrong country." "If an organization were to plan to hold hundreds of dogs in those cages, the Humane Society would have to get involved." The Denver Post reports August 14 that the city is saying "the center will have air conditioning, water, restrooms and medical staff, as well as telephones for detainees to reach family and attorneys." But Mark Silverstein, legal director of the ACLU of Colorado said, "Colorado law requires that confidential attorney visits be accommodated at the temporary detention facility as well." According to the New York Times, "The Secret Service, the Pentagon, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and scores of police departments are moving thousands of agents, analysts, officers and employees to Denver for the Aug. 25-28 convention. They will operate through a complex hierarchy of command centers, steering committees and protocols to respond to disruptions...The Denver Police Department will nearly double in size, according to federal officials involved in the planning. The city is bringing in nearly 1,500 police officers from communities throughout Colorado and beyond, even inviting an eight-person mounted unit from Cheyenne, WY."
In 2002, the ACLU sued the city when it was revealed that the Denver Police Department had been keeping what came to be called "spy files," criminal intelligence files that labeled as "criminal extremists" people and organizations who had committed no crime, but only engaged in First Amendment-protected free speech activities. In These Times reported in 2003, "Ignoring a city prohibition against the collection of First Amendment-related intelligence, the Denver Police developed files on 208 organizations and 3,200 individuals. The department appears to have continued its surveillance until the fall of 2002, despite the ACLU lawsuit. Monitored groups included the American Friends Service Committee (a pacifist Quaker group), Amnesty International and many others with no history of criminal activity. Documents obtained by the ACLU describe how police intercepted e-mails, recorded the license plate numbers of vehicles at demonstrations, and infiltrated advocacy group meetings." That suit resulted in a new policy for the city's intelligence bureau establishing that files could be kept only when there was probably cause to believe criminal activity was taking place, but it did not affect federal agencies.
Democracy Now reported August 1 that intelligence is being gathered by a new "fusion center," one of 40 in the U.S. "Federal and state law enforcement officials in Colorado plan to increase intelligence operations during the Democratic National Convention in Denver and run a fusion center, where intelligence analysts will collect and analyze reports of suspicious activity. Civil rights advocates fear the fusion center could enable unwarranted spying on protesters exercising their First Amendment rights at the convention." Mike German, a counter-terrorist operations specialist and former FBI agent who is now national security counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union's legislative office in Washington., D.C told Democracy Now, "These centers have very robust police powers and domestic intelligence-collecting powers, and what we've seen in the past is that when police agencies are given secret powers to spy, they abuse those powers. And where there is very unclear line of accountability, the chances of something bad happening under that system were very high." German said he was very concerned that the military and the Central Intelligence Agency are integrated into the collection of intelligence on civilians. There are specific orders for the fusion centers on what intelligence can be gathered and kept, including on normal activities that are not considered crimes. Erin Rosa, of the Colorado Independent said that fusion centers are "meant to facilitate communications between federal, state and local law enforcement agencies to share information about, quote-unquote, 'suspicious activities,' which can include taking pictures or taking notes. The definition is very broad when it's defined by them."
German told Democracy Now, "One of the precursor behaviors to terrorism that's identified in the order is taking video. And we put in our report a couple of instances where people taking video were stopped by police officers simply for taking pictures or video. And in some cases, particularly where they're taking photographs or video of police, it actually resulted in arrests."
Anticipation is growing as thousands – the government predicts tens of thousands – are planning to be on the streets of Denver, protesting the Iraq war, a US war on Iran, government spying on the people, and the expected wave of repression. Many will be there with the hope that the Democrats and Obama will meet their demand for change. Many others will be acting on the understanding that no matter who the president is, only you, not your government can bring this to a halt. Is there another way than accepting the change you're allowed to believe in, and fitting your protest into a cage? Just read the blogs in response to the "freedom cages." "This isn't Tiananmen Square, it's a political convention."
"The Dems are becoming what they loathed. Free speech suppressing hacks. I wonder if one is going to have to sign a "loyalty oath" at Invesco the day of the event?" "Watch them almost break all of the rules, and get down and dirty! Order now and get your free AT&T/telecom immunity tote bag!" People in Denver are opening up their homes to protesters, making their restaurants and stores and churches available for gatherings, and many are not liking the police-state atmosphere. The political battle in Denver is going to be two-sided. Last month the Mayor's State of the City speech got completely upstaged when Rene Marie, a jazz singer scheduled to sing the national anthem switched up, and instead, substituted "Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing," the Black National Anthem.
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Debra Sweet is the Director of The World Can't Wait – Drive Out the Bush Regime
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Anti-war activist, mother of three combat tour US marine; member of the national steering committee for the "World Can't Wait" www.worldcantwait.net and member of Military Families Speak Out (my opinions do not reflect the national position of MFSO).
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