LOS ANGELES: QUIET BEFORE THE STORM
by Jim Smith L.A. Labor News
Like a dry, hot desert wind in late summer, a oppressive layer of foreboding hangs over the city of the angels on the eve of the clash of two opposing social movements.
Anti-globalization, pro-democracy workers, students, socialists, anarchists and veterans of battles in Seattle, D.C., and Philadelphia are poised to confront those torchbearers of civilization and empire, the leaders of the Democratic Party. They will confront each other on political, ideological and physical levels. It is the latter that has ordinary citizens of Los Angeles convinced that we are on the verge of a Big One, magnitude 7.5 or greater. Depending on their political persuasion and color of their skin, Angelinos are girding for either a police riot, or they are anticipating anarchists and/or terrorists running wild in their downtown streets. As a result, no one except delegates, demonstrators and police will be showing up on the high-rise field of battle for the next week. However, 3,000 National Guard troops are standing by to join the fracas.
Poor L.A. She began as a paradise of mountains and fields. Later she contracted a hacking couch from the smoke and fog. Her Native California Indians were nearly extinguished. Her Mexicans were conquered by manifest destiny and her African-Americans saw their good union jobs disappear in the late 70s as auto; rubber and steel plants went South. Rampant development - a literal fear of ecology - riots, earthquakes, uprisings, a paramilitary police force that was unaccountable to anyone, fires, droughts, and rebellions finally led us to Ramparts, the most massive police misconduct scandal in U.S. history. No wonder Angelinos expect the worst.
Instead of calming fears, police and L.A.'s Republican Mayor Richard Riordan (who is heading the Democratic Party's convention planning committee - talk about Coke and Pepsi!) are following Chicago's late Mayor Daley (whose son is Albert Goreís campaign manager) dictum, circa Chicago 1968, that the police are here to preserve disorder. On July 13, the Mayorís byline appeared in an L.A. Times opinion article entitled, A Fair Warning to All: Don t Disrupt Our City, in which His Honor explicitly threaten demonstrators who might interfere with the expensive happy face L.A. was presenting to the world. LAPD officials quickly followed up with a biased video presentation to the L.A. City Council of the Seattle protests that could have been made during the McCarthy era. The stage was set for serious government violence. County Sheriff Lee Baca's statement, August 10, We have plenty of room in our jails was merely icing on the cake.
Anecdotal evidence says the LAPD is itching for a fight. L.A.ís first African-American Police Chief Willie Williams was quickly deposed when he actually tried to implement reforms called for by the Christopher Commission in the wake of the Rodney King beating and subsequent massive uprising. He was replaced by Bernard Parks who acts as if he has never heard of Warren Christopher. Parks appointed Tom Lorenzen, to be the former head of L.A.ís SWAT squad, field commander of the convention detail (what valuable skills does he bring to the job?). Friends who have relatives who are married to cops say the LAPD wants to regain its honor after its slow reaction to the 1994 uprising and to the Lakers' victory party riot last month. Itís the Vietnam syndrome again.
ON THE EVE OF THE ENCOUNTER
Itís Saturday night. Tomorrow is the first big march - for Mumia Abu Jamal. He is the poster model for the fight against capital punishment. He is becoming our patron saint, in the way that Che Guevara is the patron saint of Cuba. The fact that he is wrongly accused of killing a Philadelphia cop is incidental - except to the cops who see red at the mention of his name. If we can get past Sunday without police violence, we have a chance to get home free.
I visit the Independent Media Center in Patriotic Hall, which is just a stoneís throw (excuse the expression) from the Office Supply depot (you won t get a free commercial plug from me), where the convention will take place. About 100 veterans and new video, audio and print journalists are gathered in a stuffy room where they lay plans to cover the demonstration with military precision. If the pen is indeed mightier than the sword, these are the people for the establishment to fear. They re well organized and they have diverse skills which are not in service to the corporations. What could be scarier? Democracy Now, the Nightline of the alternative media will be encamping on these premises by Monday and delivering TV, radio and web feeds across the country. Do the Democrats have a chance of winning the ideological battle? I think not.
Onward to the Peoples Convention which is holding forth in the Belmont High School auditorium. Downtown is thick with California Highway Patrol and LAPD vehicles. What will it be like tomorrow?
The Peoples Convention was nearly left out in the cold. It wasn't until Aug. 4 that legal pressure forced the school district to honor its contract and allow the convention to use its auditorium. The uncertainty of a location obviously hurt its attendance. When I arrived, no other media are present and about 50 diehards are listening to the windup of a panel on the CIAís role in bringing crack cocaine to south central L.A. This has been a hot topic in the Black community since Gary Webb broke the story in the San Jose Mercury News and lost his job as a result.
In the previous four days, Peoples conventioneers had heard from United Farmworker Vice President Dolores Huerta on the need for third parties and various local political radicals and some elected officials on issues ranging from neoliberal globalism to the need for a gang truce in Los Angeles. As I left, organizers were distributing 30-odd resolutions for ratification or rejection by the body. In spite of the lack of violence and terrorism, early arriving media from as far away as Japan had aired parts of the four-day proceedings.
My last stop was the Convergence Center. It was only yesterday that a federal judge had barred the LAPD from staging a preemptive raid on this West 7th street headquarters of the D2KLA and the Direct Action Network. The four-story building was thronged with people. I made the mistake of walking in with my press credentials showing. For this, I was quickly accosted by a security person who told me that media visitation hours were over. Fortunately, my union had endorsed D2K early on. This gained me entrance to the ground floor with a promise not to go higher where important meetings were underway. The ground floor turned out to be a production area for giant puppets - those icons that have taken the place of the saints and the Virgin Mary in our political processions. In fact, the judge specifically prohibited the LAPD from messing with the puppets - unless they were weapons (as if an icon is not a weapon!).
Tomorrow, and the next few days, will tells us if the First Amendment is alive and well in Los Angeles. Right now itís a toss-up.
L.A. Labor News <http://www.LALabor.org> will publish daily reports on its website on the Battle of Los Angeles, with a particular emphasis on labor activities.