Political Protests Becoming Common

Monday, August 21st 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Lisa Fithian marched, jogged, skipped and trudged more than 20 miles last week through the streets of Los Angeles.

She pleaded with police officers. She cajoled angry, masked anarchists clad in black. She chanted into megaphones. By the end of the week, though, Fithian wasn't tired.

The labor and community organizer was dancing.

She said the ruckus outside the Democratic National Convention proved ``that the protests are not just a unique, one-time instance. This is a new movement. We're vigorous.''

Thousands of demonstrators spent last week here marching in the streets and occasionally clashing with police. Organizers said they got their message out and energized their movement, which was barely visible during the Democrats' last convention in Chicago.

The demonstrations followed a series of protests in the U.S. dating to last year in Seattle, when some 50,000 protesters took over the city center in opposition to World Trade Organization meetings being held there.

But whether the protests, a continuation of activism that is an intrinsic part of U.S. history, signal the onset of significant social upheaval remains to be seen. Some observers believe the diversity of the activist groups will dilute their effectiveness.

``There's been a resurgence of protesting and activism,'' said H. Eric Shockman, associate professor of political science at the University of Southern California and an expert on protest movements.

``The means look very similar; the goals seem to be different,'' he said. ``I get a real sense we're on the cusp of a very different paradigm when we're looking at the connections of protest movements.''

In April, thousands of anti-globalization protesters showed up in Washington when the International Monetary Fund and World Bank held their spring meetings.

And earlier this month, some 300 protesters were arrested in Philadelphia after sometimes violent brawls with police protecting delegates at the Republican National Convention.

In Los Angeles, there were demonstrations for women's rights, gay rights and youth rights. There were marches against police brutality, against U.N. sanctions imposed on Iraq, against global corporatization. And there were rallies, sometimes as many as 10 a day, where demonstrators with dozens of different causes joined to chant slogans and listen to speeches.

Nearly 200 people were arrested during the Democratic convention. A hunger strike by 45 protesters continued into its third day on Sunday, Los Angeles County Sheriff's Deputy Rick Martinez said.

Justin Eckert, who watched one demonstration of about 2,000 trudge through a traffic tunnel in Los Angeles, agreed. He said he was impressed by ``a definite groundswell of movement.''

But, voicing a concern that was expressed by other protesters, he said he feared the diversity was a drawback: With so many different causes, he doubted any particular message was getting out.

``Obviously there are a lot of very passionate people here, but there's no central message,'' he said. ``I've seen a sign for every extremist political cause there is marching past me.''

David Bolog, who rode his bicycle in most of the demonstrations in support of the Green Party, said that while everyone has their own narrow cause, all of the causes remained interrelated.

On Thursday night, at the end of his last protest of the week, the 30-year-old masseuse from Santa Monica ran his fingers through his sweaty, spiked red hair and said he's proud of what was accomplished.

``By joining together, we were able to realize that there's a lot more people who are concerned about the well-being of this country than we, as caring individuals, originally thought,'' he said.

Alan Wolfe, a sociologist at Boston College, acknowledged that ``something's happening.'' But he said the movement seemed passive, responding to events such as the Democratic National Convention rather than setting its own agenda of actions and protests.

``It's reacting, rather than taking the initiative,'' he said.


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