If RNC protests turn violent in New York will it boost Bush? Activist and protest organizer Jason Flores-Williams, author Ayelet Waldman and others debate "The Whole World Is Watching," by Michelle Goldberg.

By Salon Staff
Published August 18, 2004 6:51PM (EDT)

[Read "The Whole World Is Watching," by Michelle Goldberg.]

Ive been getting a lot of hate mail. Most of it is from right-wingers saying I should kill myself for questioning our president. But more and more, its coming from liberals and democrats who insult my belief in direct action and civil disobedience. Theyre alleged concern is that, like Chicago '68, unruly and intense protests will be used by the Bush administration to win reelection.

We live in an age when everything political is quantified, and there has never been any study showing that the '68 protests significantly influenced the election. The Democratic Party was in an abject mess. The nation was in turmoil. The center of this country has always been conservative. They were voting against hippie haircuts and Bob Dylan as much as any protest.

I want George Bush gone as much as anyone. But the problems in this country are systemic. Corporations have taken over our democracy and our media. If Thomas Jefferson could come back right now, he would recommend a lot more than a few days of action. Our nation is in crisis and I dont know if another Skull and Bones member is necessarily the total solution.

No one I know is making Molotov cocktails. No one I know is planning to use rats to infiltrate Broadway. (Hilarious.) From the anarchists to the arts groups, all I see is commitment and caring about the future of this country. For the first time in years, we have 19-year-olds who arent watching TV, but going to political meetings and engaging in dissent. Hearts are being awakened. Minds are coming alive. We should be proud of how our generation has answered the call. And we should invest the energy concerned liberals are using in trying to quiet resistance, into writing letters to the FBI and telling them to leave good people alone.

Better, come lock arms with me and protest this administration.

-- Jason Flores-Williams

The A31 Coalition's David Graeber is a very fortunate man. He is fortunate that he is not an Iraqi woman staring at the rubble of her home under which lie the corpses of her children. He is fortunate that he is not the husband of a national guardsman, waiting to see if his wife will come home from duty with a crippled body and mind. He is fortunate that he is not a former prisoner of the drug war, barred forever from receiving welfare benefits and access to public housing.

He is a fortunate man, a man who can blithely risk another four years in which his sole discomfort will be the need to turn off the television, discontinue his newspaper subscriptions, and limit his Internet usage to Web sites where only pretty pictures will stroke his delicate sensibilities.

The Republicans chose New York City precisely because they wanted a riot. They know we are so foolish, so compulsively self-centered in our anger, that we will be unable to resist giving them precisely what they want.

We are all Ralph Nader, and they will win again.

-- Ayelet Waldman

I remember Michelle Goldberg writing during the leadup to the war, that "the left" would disgrace itself, and lose support by staging violent, Stalinist demonstrations. Well, the left didn't, but and it made no difference. We still went to war, just as Bush and company said we would. Democrats went into a deep freeze, and began to wake up only after the Dean insurgency. Maybe quietism was the real threat, after all.

And now, the potential behavior of a large group of people in New York is making the same author quake in her boots. Now it's the anarchist crazies who will ruin things for the moderates at the Republican Convention. There seems to be a thread of fear that animates Goldberg's writing on the subject.

I don't think there will be any significant violence, and I hope there won't be. But the demonstrations will be spun as massive Red conspiracies by the right no matter what. And it's not in the Kerry campaign's control, any more than the events in Najaf today.

In 1968, the violence happened at the Democratic Convention, after a summer of riots and assassinations and antiwar demonstrations brought on by a war begun by a Democratic president. No wonder the people switched to another party -- and that by a tiny majority after Humphrey finally began questioning the war in the last weeks of his campaign.

Bush brought on the war single-handedly. If there's any violence, why would it stick to the Kerry campaign? It shouldn't, unless timid Democrats allow it to be spun that way. And there's two months' worth of hairy events, out of anybody's control, before we vote. Message to handwringing liberals: Take a pill. It's going to be a bumpy flight.

-- James Hassinger

I greatly appreciated Michelle Goldberg's article on violence at the RNC. I share the worry of many that unleashing violence will only produce pictures that media like Fox News will use to prove that those who are opposed to Bush's policies are a bunch of nuts.

Only in algebra do two negatives make a positive. Anarchists, by definition, do not respect law. But certainly there are many protesters who are not anarchists. Tens, or even hundreds of thousands of people standing in silent witness against Bush policies would have much greater power and would be consistent with the abhorrence of the violence unleased by Bush in the rest of the world.

-- Francine Schacter

I am very disappointed in Michelle Golberg's article on the protests planned for the Republican National Convention in New York. The point of the article seems to be to scare people into not expressing themselves.

As Goldberg outlines, the protests are going to happen and there is a lot of potential for violence, because Mayor Bloomberg and the police are doing what they can to ratchet up tensions. So what is the point of quoting a bunch of naysayer progressives who see the left, in its protests, handing the election over to Bush, as these naysayers suppose Chicago in 1968 did for Nixon?

What the story should really be about is the total and ongoing failure of Democrats and progressives to use the media to their advantage. 250,000 people are going to march past the convention site on Aug. 29 (and nothing of the sort happened at the Democratic National Convention). The Republican mayor of New York is refusing to offer a permit for these marchers to rally afterward in Central Park. The Republican mayor also condones police procedures that have only increased tensions in past protests. And the Democrats and progressives can't imagine a way to use these images for their own commericials? To spin media coverage to their own advantage? That's just lame.

Let us not forget that there is another precedent from the 1960s of protesters marching and being savaged by police violence that did enormously change public opinion. This was the effect of seeing protesters in the civil rights movement attacked by police, sometimes using dogs to brutalize them. It is all a question of acting proactively in the media with such images. The Republicans remain quite astute at how to do this, while the Democrats and progressives sit back, complain, go on the defensive and show a total lack of sophistication and strategic acumen.

-- Jacob Fisher

I'm troubled by the selfish arrogance of protesters who travel hundreds if not thousands of miles planning to wreak havoc in a city they don't even live in. The "property damage" and mayhem they talk about so easily isn't just damage to corporate buildings and hotels; it's damage to the city of New York, a place that has had more than its share of tough times in the last few years, and doesn't need any more.

I am all for a huge protest that shows the Republicans that lots of people oppose them and are upset at what the Bush administration has done. For those of you coming from out of town, I'm sure that plenty of honest-to-God New Yorkers will join you, and that many more who don't still support what you have to say. But please remember where you are; remember what happened, and what is still happening here. If you go around breaking things, it's just the city that has to fix them.

Come to New York. Say your piece; it's still a free country, whatever anyone says. But support the city. Respect it. Walk around its neighborhoods, listen to what its people have to say. Go to its restaurants, its stores, its bodegas, its street corners. Shake hands. Ask them how they're doing. Make the city proud that you came. It deserves that.

-- Brian Slattery

I can't wait for the Republican National Convention.

Look for me on TV! I'll be in all black. Like the omen! (Unless we're deciding to blend in, in which case I'll be in business casual.) I'm riding up with my friend Ron. We could have signed up to go in the van with the group, but to be honest -- Steve? He's a nice enough guy, but a total radio Nazi. With him driving? It's going to be like Rage, Rage, Rage all the way up. Maybe some Dead Prez, some Sycophants -- unsigned, you've never heard of them -- mixed in. All good bands, but all the way up? No thanks. I'd rather just relax in Ron's Datsun, get my mind centered, listen to Joan Baez. I like folk, I honestly do. That's my father's influence. He was an activist in the '60s. The beads, the futon -- all of it. I really look up to my father. He's very involved. He reads about five newspapers a day. From all over -- England, India. You should see his office. Books about corruption you've never even heard the titles of. I don't know, though. I think, in some ways, he's lost touch with what's really going on on, like, a street level. Like, for instance, he came into the garage yesterday when Ron and me were loading our knapsacks with supplies (1 x police whistle; 1 x pepper spray; 3 x fog bomb; 1 packet cashews) and asked just what the hell did we think we were doing? Did we want to get this man reelected? Did we want a silly, impotent gesture like a garbage can through a McDonald's window to undermine (he went on and on); and I have to say -- it saddens me to say -- a few of the scales fell from my eyes. I had to be like, Dad, you don't understand. You don't get it. This is serious shit. Dangerous times, dad. We have to show the world we're fed up. This is bigger than who's president.

Our girlfriends decorated our bandannas.

Have you seen our bandannas? Mine's got an anarchy "A" in a skull. It's pretty badass. I'm not saying I'll still want anarchy when I'm 40, or even that I want it now, I'm just saying, it's a look. I mean, the media uses image and gloss and flash over substance. You have to fight symbols with symbols. For example, you know how in the '60s the hawks were the bad guys and the doves were the good guys? Well, our group is called Hawks for America. Good, right? The cool thing about that is, first off, you need the talons and the beak of a hawk now to fight all these lies and hypocrisy. (A dove? At this moment in history? Forget it. A dove would get its back broken.) Second, we co-opted their image. You see? How that works?


We have a press kit.

Have you read our press kit? It tells the media exactly who is controlling who and exactly how the wool has been pulled over their collective big glass media eye. Do you see? How we're ready? Seriously, look for us on TV. We won't be the ones being laughed at by those smug, self-satisfied pundits -- that's for sure. For carrying silly giant papier-mâché Cheney heads, or crappy signs. No way. We're angry and we're serious and we're ready to take center stage. Mark my words, come Aug. 30, we're going to show the world something or other, in a major way.

-- Mike Keeper

Salon Staff

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