Philadelphia Protests: National Support Needed
August 4, 2000
As we go to press on August 7, more than 250 protesters are still in Philadelphia jails after protests during the Republican convention; most were arrested August 1. At least two of the leaders of the movement for affordable HIV/AIDS treatments in Africa and other developing countries are being held on bail up to $1,000,000 -- about 100 times the usual bail in such cases, and probably the highest bail in history for nonviolent protest. There are reports of denial of HIV and other medications, and other serious abuses within the jail. About 150 of the prisoners are on a hunger strike. Calls are out for jail-support and medical volunteers, bail and legal defense money, and for phone calls or letters to Philadelphia officials and media, and for any help nationally in getting out the word on what is happening. How we respond to those in need will say much about AIDS activism and its future -- and about the larger movement for a better society as well.
On August 6, Kate Krauss of ACT UP Philadelphia wrote to AIDS Treatment News:
"Readers should know that individuals' health is in danger. Demonstrators are being dragged, kicked, beaten, hog-tied, and slammed against walls head first. Beaten arrestees have gone untreated and jailed demonstrators have been unable to obtain important drugs, including HIV medications.
"Readers should know that the very types of ACT UP-style demonstrations that sped up the FDA drug approval process and transformed the patients' rights movement in our country are being outlawed in Philadelphia. Police destroyed signs, puppets, and other props with visual messages that would have explained the issues during demonstrations. We believe that Los Angeles may follow suit during the Democratic Convention. The right to free speech and freedom of assembly are in the Constitution, even for controversial speech and assemblies. The Philadelphia police department is trying to criminalize dissent."
AIDS activist involvement in the demonstrations focused on challenging Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush and his advisers around access to patented medications in developing countries. Many demonstrators were charged with blocking traffic -- even some arrested indoors during a raid on their workspace where they were making puppets and signs.
For More Information
The situation can change rapidly, so by the time you read this, specific calls for action may no longer be appropriate. But you can find current information from the following sources and others.
Ask your local media to cover this story. For information, their reporters can call the Legal Support Team, 215-925-6791.
Philadelphia Direct Action Group, 215-574-7883.
New York Direct Action Coalition, 212-629-1775.
ACT UP Philadelphia, 215-731-1844.
During the emergency it may be hard to get through by phone. The Web is always available.
Comment and Analysis
We had thought that the end of the Cold War would result in less official violence being directed against those who call for a better world. In some ways this has indeed happened. But the Philadelphia case shows that there are serious exceptions.
Perhaps a better analysis is that there are two basic styles of government operation. In one style (which could be called mediation mode), government helps balance and mediate among conflicting interests. In the other style (which might be called demonization mode), government bodies or authorities are captured by one faction and used as a weapon against their opponents. The anti-communist crusade of the Cold War is one example -- as is medical marijuana, to name an issue which this publication has covered.
In the Philadelphia case, the Republicans came to town bringing tens of millions of dollars to the table -- and supporting law enforcement on just about every issue except gun control. The protesters brought almost no money -- and were demonstrating against abuses of the criminal-justice system, with many opposed to the execution of Mumia Abu-Jamal of Philadelphia, sentenced to death on charges of killing a policeman. Republican organizers, eagerly courted for the money the convention would bring to the area, had months to build working relationships with local officials -- while many protesters see the prevailing government as oppressive and prefer to have as little relationship as possible. These different relationships among the parties may help explain why police and local officials did not behave an evenhanded manner.
Email reports on the tactics and brutality of the authorities in Philadelphia evoke memories of official behavior toward protesters during the Vietnam War. But the big difference between Philadelphia in 2000 and the notorious Democratic presidential convention in Chicago in 1968 is the role of the media. In Chicago, mainstream professional reporters for the major newspapers, television stations, and wire services were attacked by the police; dozens were injured in a single night. In Philadelphia this did not happen.
But in Philadelphia the mainstream press did not cover the protesters or their message (as it did in Chicago). The major media largely limited its coverage to the fantasy show inside the hall, even when everyone knew that the public had little interest. This journalism-with-an-agenda may reflect the growing centralization of control over the major media, through ever-larger corporate mergers and acquisitions. Today in the U.S., fewer and fewer strings need be pulled to change the content and tone of almost everything distributed through traditional channels to a mass audience. The Republican Party is probably the best-positioned organization on Earth to pull those strings -- and in this case, was strongly motivated to do so, to sell the fantasy that party analysts had selected as their best ticket for returning to the White House.
To investigate what you can do, see the list of information sources above.
Copyright 2000 by John S. James. Permission granted for noncommercial reproduction, provided that our address and phone number are included if more than short quotations are used.
This article was provided by AIDS Treatment News. It is a part of the publication AIDS Treatment News.