The Democratic National Convention — The Real Enemy is Within the Gates

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As a newly arrived Scot to America’s hallowed shores in the year 2000, and with the fire of radicalism burning in my belly, I decided to join the demonstration that was planned to take place outside that year’s Democratic National Convention, which was being held in downtown Los Angeles at the Staples Center.

The demonstration had been called by the usual hodgepodge of socialist, antiwar, protect the environment, and various other radical groups with an axe to grind against the party of mass incarceration, war, NAFTA, Wall Street, the arms trade, and whatever else. Moreover, at this particular convention, the baton was being passed from current president Bill Clinton to his vice president Al Gore in advance of that year’s presidential election, which George W Bush would win, thus investing it with even more importance and publicity than usual — and thus also the demonstration, reflected in the fact that Rage Against the Machine were scheduled to perform an outdoor set at the end of the march.

I did not know a soul within radical circles in LA at this point — I’d only just arrived in the city a few months previously — but I was keen to take part in this event as by then I was of the belief that people of conscience and consciousness living in the belly of the beast that is the American Empire were obliged to do whatever they could inside the law to oppose its brutal actions across the world. With this in mind, on an excruciatingly hot day in mid August, I jumped on a train at Hollywood and Highland metro station to the rallying point in downtown LA, looking forward to a productive and cathartic day of protest among thousands of likeminded folks.

Protest at the 2000 DNC in Los Angeles

I will never forget coming out of the Pico metro station in downtown LA into a sweltering hot afternoon and being met by a phalanx of black-tunicked stormtroopers impersonating cops. They were positioned right outside the station on either side in such a way that you were forced to run a gauntlet through them as they eyeballed you to ascertain if you were arriving as a citizen or a protester (attending protests in the US, you soon learn that as soon as you join one any rights or respect you might enjoy as a citizen are to all intents stripped away, replaced by the status of enemy of the state and treated as such).

Beyond them were more police and up above a police chopper flying circles over the rallying point. Meanwhile dozens of black and white patrol cars were driving round the square where protesters were congregating with their sirens on, redolent of a scene from Mad Max. The LAPD were clearly here in strength with confrontation rather than protecting and serving in mind, which meant that this was going to be a hot day in more ways than one.

By the time we set off we were around 10,000 in number, and as we marched the mood was defiant despite the police intimidation. For me, attending my first demonstration in the States, I was being given an insight into the police state the country actually is when all the stuff and nonsense about democracy and liberty and the Constitution is stripped away.

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Rage Against the Machine performing at the 2000 DNC protest

The end of the march brought us to the stage that had been erected for the Rage Against the Machine performance. It was in the vast parking lot of the Staples Center, which was over to our left, separated from us by hundreds of cops in riot gear and a fence. Just two songs in is when the cops announced that we had five minutes to disperse. Three minutes later they attacked us with batons and rubber bullets. Afterwards a spokesman for the ACLU would describe what took place as “nothing less than an orchestrated police riot.”

On my way back to Hollywood in the metro later, I couldn’t help but ponder the words of Huey P Newton, founder of the Black Panther Party, whose writings and speeches I was reading at the time: “The policemen or soldiers are only a gun in the establishment’s hand,” he said. “They make the racist secure in his racism.” What I’d just experienced for the crime of attending a demonstration in America is what black people experience every day for the crime of being black in America.

A somewhat amusing epilogue to this story occurred later that night at the Mondrian Hotel on Sunset Boulevard, where at the time I worked in hotel security. Many of the delegates at the DNC were staying at the hotel and the place was crawling with Secret Service agents. One of them approached me outside the door to a restricted area for DNC delegates only with a group of people in tow. I’d been posted there to make sure that only those with the proper accreditation passed through. I asked the guy for his ID. I didn’t have to, as I’d seen him around the hotel previously and knew he was legit, but I did so anyway. Unfortunately for him he didn’t have any ID on him and with glee I refused to let him and his group pass, while admonishing his lack of professionalism. Watching him slink away embarrassed with his group was to my mind a small victory.

Al Gore addressing the 2000 DNC

The Democratic Party represents in the eyes of many the human face of American imperial power. It is not. It was after all the Democrats who represented the interests of the slave owners in the antebellum South. It was a Democratic Party president, Woodrow Wilson, who entered America into the First World War while criminalising antiwar sentiment and protest at home. It was FDR who refused to come to the aid of the democratically-elected republican government in Spain when Franco and his fascist hordes, supported by Hitler and Mussolini, mounted their armed insurrection. It was Harry Truman who ordered the dropping of nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki; Lyndon Johnson who escalated the Vietnam War; Bill Clinton who ushered in mass incarceration and was party to the destruction of Yugoslavia; while it was Barack Obama who helped in the destruction of Libya in 2011 and who sanctioned a CIA covert operation to train and equip a Syrian opposition dominated by head chopping Salafi-jihadists.

The current Democratic National Convention, like every other before it, is nothing more than political theatre - a gathering of people who between them have an ocean of blood on their hands and have erected a mountain of suffering in the name of a status quo of racist and class oppression at home and hegemony abroad.

In the words of none other than Cicero: “The real enemy is within the gates.”


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