PHILADELPHIA, August 2—The big difference between the tumultuous demonstrations in the streets of Chicago during the 1968 Democratic convention and the rolling guerrilla maneuvers yesterday evening in the streets of this GOP convention city is machine-age technology.
In Chicago, protesters stood amidst National Guard troops and flashed signals back and forth to supporters in hotel windows. Yesterday, the demonstrators were organized in distinct groups based on political priorities, but were in minute-to-minute contact through cell phones. Reporters could follow the action by contacting a demonstration hot-line where operators, sounding like taxi dispatchers, rattled off the fast-changing actions: “Sixteenth and Chestnut is still happening. Wait a sec. Now it’s at 12th and Arch. Twelfth and Arch. The cops are moving in. Go there.”
The police tactics, too, are far different. So far, cops have been relatively restrained, sometimes even collegial. When one group of bike-riding anarchists, dressed as horses, rode toward the raucous demonstrations at City Hall, one of the costumed pedalers crashed. Half a dozen police officers in riot gear then surrounded the “horses” and helped the fallen protester to his feet.
Police are working in traveling squads of cyclists, swishing through Center City like riders in the Tour de France. Yesterday the bike cops were doing much of the arresting, while mounted police worked to corral the crowds. Whenever protesters managed to take over a block and stop traffic, a line of a dozen cop cars, sirens wailing, raced through the city to block the streets. Police on horseback, arms raised in a signal to attack, pushed the demonstrators back. The squads of bike cops quickly followed, wading in to make scattered arrests.
Overhead, four or five news helicopters vied for a look. Spotters dotted the horizon, peering down from building tops.
Unlike their predecessors in Chicago, these demonstrators function for the most part in highly mobile guerrilla-warfare formations, appearing suddenly with whoops and yells amidst the ever-present black and red of the anarchists, and then disolving into the crowds as the police move in. Many are themselves riding bikes, which helps them stay one step ahead of the thick blue line.
When a phalanx of black-clad figures blocked a police van carrying prisoners, hundreds of demonstrators fell into skirmish formation. The police, caught off-balance, turned around traffic to open the road, and brought in mounted cops. But before the mounted police could move forward, the demonstrators had backed away, leaving the police confronting dozens of television cameras whose hubbub spooked the horses.
While the conventioneers and most of the 15,000 journalists who are covering them move from one meeting to another, the demonstrators are accompanied by their own media entourages, which broadcast over radio, on the Web, and in print.