Party protesters will be on the outside shouting in

Friday, July 7th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Plans to disrupt national political conventions are brazen, bipartisan

WASHINGTON – As Republicans and Democrats laud themselves and lance each other at their national conventions, thousands will be outside trying to plague both their houses.
From the Activist Resource Network to the Young Communist League, hundreds of groups will descend on Philadelphia and Los Angeles to offer a message less welcome to establishment politicians: Both major parties are slaves to corporate money.

As a result, the protesters argue, neither party is able or willing to address the persistent problems of poverty, inequality of opportunity and inadequate health care.

Whether anyone will listen is another story.

Mindful of the violence that erupted at last year's World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle, Democratic and Republican party officials say they are worried more about security than the battle of ideas. Officials from both reject the claim that they are captive to well-heeled special interests, saying they are more interested in representing hard-working taxpayers.

Protest leaders, discussing their plans Thursday at a Washington news conference, acknowledged that it is not easy organizing a mass movement in an era of relative plenty.

"It's this guise of economic prosperity, this economic boom," said Lisa Fithian, an organizer from Los Angeles. "But the question is: a boom for whom?"

Several mass marches are planned for each convention, including ones sponsored by Billionaires for Bush (or Gore). The protest agenda also includes candlelight vigils, musical shows, "puppet processions" and camp-outs of homeless people in self-styled "Bushvilles" in Philadelphia.

Targets include racism, homophobia and homelessness. The goals include universal health care and a revival of the union movement.

While some protesters take to the streets, more sedate groups will be indoors at "shadow conventions."

The organizers of these smaller confabs say they intend to address three major issues the big parties plan to avoid: the need to curb the power of "big money" in political campaigns, the need to close the income gap created by the new economy, and the need to end the "failed drug war" that has put a disproportionate number of minorities behind bars.

Organizers of the alternative conventions include mainstream groups such as Common Cause and Public Campaign, both of which support new restrictions on election-year fund raising. A few elected officials plan to attend the side events. In Philadelphia, the speaker list includes Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., whose maverick presidential campaign pushed campaign finance reform to the fore.

But these shadow conventions are expected to draw only 2,000-3,000 delegates apiece. The street protesters hope to attract tens of thousands.

Chuck Collins, an organizer of the shadow conventions, said he hopes the outside and inside activities can complement each other.

The protesters say the heart of the discontent is the money behind both parties.

"It's the narrowing of political debate that comes about because of the enormous amount of corporate money coming into both parties," said Mr. Collins, co-founder of United for a Fair Economy.

In the view of protesters, corporate contributions have bought bipartisan support for free trade; that in turn has shipped American jobs overseas, where many workers are exploited.

These corporate interests, they say, also block universal health care and promote what protesters call the prison and military industrial complexes.

Officials with the Republican and Democratic National Committees said they support free trade because in the long run it will expand economic opportunities across the globe.

"The lesson of the 20th century is that free markets work," said RNC press secretary Bill Pascoe. Jenny Backus, the DNC press secretary, said the protesters ignore the very real differences between the parties over tax cuts, Social Security, health care and changes to the campaign system.

"They don't understand the commitment this party has to campaign finance reform and to reforming the system," she said. "They are missing the forest for the trees."