The free speech cage at the site of the Boston Democratic Convention should be left standing permanently as a monument in this city that is awash in symbols of the founding of the nation. It should be left where it is to remind future generations–and maybe people in contemporary America-how far we have moved away from the ideals of the Bill of Rights because of the current campaign of fear, a campaign that has now been adopted whole-heartedly by the Democrats under the leadership of John Kerry.
There was absolutely no justification for the Democrats of the DNC and the Democratic mayor of Boston to adopt the shameful strategy of the Bush Presidency for dealing with protest–fencing it in behind razor wire.
The protests planned for the DNC, mostly by A.N.S.W.E.R., have been and were going to be peaceful.
The alleged threats of terror, emanating from the Bush Department of Homeland Security and the Bush Department of Justice were absurd–a warning that the media would be attacked! Warnings of attacks on public transit! Look out! It was all calculated to embarrass the Democrats and, incredibly, it worked.
The fact that the Democrats fell for this kind of paranoia-inducing hokum shows how far into madness the American public has descended.
But the price for such lack of principle and of such cowardice and idiocy is high. A new low has been set for a Democratic Convention violating the right of free speech when even a silent protest in the hall led to a demonstrator’s being dragged out in handcuffs.
Bostonians will be paying for the $50 million in extra costs the city had to pay to put an extra 5000 cops needlessly put on the street for the four-day convention, just as Boston business owners will have to eat their losses after a frightened public decided to just stay home for the duration.
But we will all pay for this next step down the road of repression of dissent.
With Bush, Cheney and the Republicans, we’ve come to expect the jackbooted response to protest, the shunting of demonstrators off into fenced in detention facilities out of sight of the media, the arrest of those who refuse to be so muzzled. If Kerry and the Democrats now adopt the same approach to dissent, the only response will have to be massive civil disobedience.
If Kerry wins the presidency this November, progressives had better gear up for a return to the Johnson era of heavy police response to protest. Kerry has made it clear that he intends to prosecute the war in Iraq for years to come, and if he does so, he can count on an antiwar movement to challenge him in the streets of Washington.
The Democratic Convention gave a preview of how we can expect a Kerry administration to respond to such a challenge-with cops and razor wire, teargas and arrest.
Now it’s on to New York, to watch how the RNC and a Republican mayor deal with dissent and protest.
Dave Lindorff is the author of Killing Time: an Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. His new book of CounterPunch columns titled “This Can’t be Happening!” to be published this fall by Common Courage Press. Information about both books and other work by Lindorff can be found at www.thiscantbehappening.net.
He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org