Hell-Raising in Philly

An Activist’s Guide to Protests Outside the Republican Convention

Unity 2000
July 30

It's hailed as the largest demo ever held at a convention, but the organizers of Unity 2000 have generated no laundry list of demands (somebody's concerns might be left out)—just a call to action to people of all progressive stripes who want to build a broad-based movement to promote economic, social, and racial justice, and oppose bigotry and homophobia. The action is directed at neither political party but at the procorporate agenda pulling the safety net out "from under millions of us." Organizer Mike Morrill stresses that it will be a "peaceful, festive day," where "people not ready for confrontation can come and get literature, listen to speeches." Having sued in federal court, the organizers obtained a permit from the city to hold the rally on the day before the convention begins, at a site several miles away.

Endorsed by over 200 labor, minority, gay and lesbian, student, environmental, and other organizations, the demo will open to the chanting of Tibetan monks and feature musicians Boukman Eksperyance, Ringmaster, and Warriors Blood. Among the speakers: former presidential candidate John Anderson, Father Roy Bourgeois, Cheri Honkala of the Kensington Welfare Rights Union, Arianna Huffington, Pat Ireland, AFL-CIO president John Sweeney, and Darby Tillis, released from death row in Illinois. Gather from 19th to 29th streets on JFK Boulevard (near 30th Street Station) at 9 a.m. and proceed to an 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. rally on Benjamin Franklin Parkway (215-627-5007, www.unity2000.com).—Kathy Deacon

Shadow Convention
July 30-August 3

After being put off by both political parties and failing to persuade Warren Beatty to throw his hat in the ring, Arianna Huffington, the Tammy Faye Bakker of American politics, raised several hundred thousand dollars to throw her own shadow convention at the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg Center during next week's Republican extravaganza. Hyping three issues—money in politics, poverty and the wealth gap, and failed drug policy—Huffington hopes to catch public attention with participants like kickoff speaker John McCain, Jesse Jackson, and Tom Hayden. Rumor has it that Beatty himself may show up, along with Jerry Brown, now mayor of Oakland. Ralph Nader is trying to figure out whether to make a guest appearance. As for the others, the less said the better, but before you make the trek to Philly, keep in mind you'll have to sit through the extremely unfunny Al Franken, former senator Gary Hart (yep, he's still alive!), and the unspeakably boring Lewis Lapham from Harper's. Yuck.

Republican bigwigs are plenty pissed at former pal Arianna for trying to upstage them. At press time, they'd talked Jack Kemp into reneging on his appearance and were busily arm-twisting Connecticut congressman Chris Shays to dump the event. As for Arianna, "She's a gadfly," said one GOP strategist. "Nobody takes her seriously anymore." Then, voice rising, he added, "She's a star fucker." By now this very important person was almost screaming. "Go ahead. Quote me," he bellowed. "She's as coldly calculating as Lady MacBeth." Annenberg Center, 3680 Walnut Street (215-898-6701, www.shadowconventions.com).—James Ridgeway

March for Economic Human Rights
July 31

Weeks ago, before Philadelphia officials denied the Kensington Welfare Rights Union permission to march through the heart of the city on the first day of the Republican convention, KWRU director Cheri Honkala had already pictured the scene: "We get our heads bashed in." She said it with a smile, though, as befits the leader of one of Philly's—and the country's—most determined, creative, and flat-out kick-ass activist organizations of the poor.

Defying the city ban, thousands of "homeless, formerly homeless, and potentially homeless" people will march down the middle of Broad Street to call attention to America's "disappeared"—the legions left out of the economic boom and abandoned by Republicans and Democrats alike. In North Philly (the KWRU is not saying precisely where yet), hundreds of protesters will throw up a tent city, Bushville, where many marchers will stay. Already officialdom is busying itself: Last Friday inspectors raided the theater where young people with the KWRU were making signs; on Monday activists intercepted a communiqué from the city's Department of Human Services asking shelters to prepare a thousand extra beds—a not-too-subtle warning that children of protesting welfare moms may be seized.

Expect more police action at Monday's march, cosponsored by Philly ACT UP. But given KWRU's decade-long direct action track record—which includes housing takeovers, nationwide bus road shows, and monthlong, 250-mile marches—also expect a multiracial force that won't be easily intimidated. Assemble at City Hall for the kickoff rally at 11 a.m. The march to First Union Center begins at noon (215-203-1945, www.kwru.org).—Andrew Hsiao

Criminal Injustices
August 1

They're calling it the "Executioner's Ball." For death penalty opponents, the upcoming Republican National Convention is a delicious target ripe with hyperbolic possibility. "When you think about what George Bush is known for, it's basically for killing people," says Jeffrey Garis, executive director of Pennsylvania Abolitionists United Against the Death Penalty. "He's killed more than 136 people at this point, and this is his coronation. We're calling for people to crash the party."

This party crashing will occur on August 1, when activists plan to protest the nation's criminal "in-justice" system—not only the death penalty, but also the war on drugs, overzealous cops, and the nation's spiraling imprisonment rate. Demonstrators will descend on busy intersections, armed with signs urging commuters to "Honk for Mumia." Prisoners' relatives will join policy experts for a day of panels on drug-law reform at the Shadow Convention. There will be outdoor speak-outs and an afternoon rally too, but the event most likely to make headlines will be efforts to disrupt the Republicans' party.

Convention protesters plan to try the same direct action tactics that landed activists on the cover of Newsweeklast year, when they shut down the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle. For months, they have been strategizing—learning their legal rights, hiring buses to transport demonstrators, and practicing their puppet making. By linking the fight against globalization with the United States' own racially skewed system of punishment, proponents of direct action hope to diversify their ranks.

Participants in the August 1 events include the Direct Action Network, Academics for Mumia Abu-Jamal, Hunter College's Student Liberation Action Movement (SLAM), the Prison Moratorium Project, and the Campaign to End the Death Penalty. For information on direct action activities, visit www.freemumia.com or call the Direct Action Network at 212-629-1775. For other events, call the Pennsylvania Abolitionists at 215-724-6120.—Jennifer Gonnerman

The Million Billionaire March
July 30-August 1

Spearheaded by United for a Fair Economy (UFE), activists plan to keep up the moxie of Seattle and D.C. with political street theater. At the Million Billionaire March (www.billionairesforbushorgore.com), cigar-chomping billionaires clad in black suits and evening gowns will sashay through Philadelphia to make the point that big money has already bought the election—and that no matter who wins, people with money will still have the power. The tycoons will begin their festivities on July 30, when they'll form a contingent in the Unity 2000 march (meet at 11 a.m. at 29th and JFK Boulevard, on the west side of the river).

Next comes the Billionaires' Rampage, a day of direct action (August 1, meeting time and place still TBA). Group members will auction off advertising rights to the Liberty Bell, encircle the Federal Reserve building (then meditate to "levitate the interest rate"), and perform a feng shui ritual at the site of a new stadium to be built with taxpayer subsidies in Chinatown.

Finally, there's a Coronation Party (on August 2, to coincide with the nomination of Bush). Billionaires will crown the "two-headed BushGore candidate" before Jello Biafra's performance at the Lost Film Festival. 9:30 p.m. The Plays & Player Theater, 1714 Delancey Place.—Lenora Todaro

How to Get to Philly

Bus: Greyhound (800-231-2222; www.greyhound.com) and Peter Pan/Trailways (800-343-9999) run buses from the Port Authority Bus Terminal, about every half hour; $20 one way, $39 round-trip.

Train: New Jersey Transit (973-762-5100; www.njtransit.state.nj.us) trains depart from Penn Station and arrive in Trenton, where there is a direct connection to Philadelphia via SEPTA trains. Round trips are $28, available from Penn Station ticket windows.

Amtrak (1-800-USA-RAIL) trains leave from Penn Station every hour or so; under optimum conditions the trip takes around an hour and 20 minutes. Round-trip fare: $90.

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