R2K Activists Rival Republicans In Their Planning Ability Angela Couloumbis

The protest groups have organized media headquarters, food distribution and legal aid. Housing is still a problem.

Philadelphia, July 26, 2000 — The Republicans aren't the only ones carrying clipboards and checklists.

As the Republican Party and Philadelphia's host committees continue to script every aspect of next week's GOP convention, groups of activists have countered by mounting an intense organizational effort of their own.

They have set up a media headquarters in Center City. They have stocked truckloads of food and water. They have arranged for child care and even rounded up attorneys to represent them should demonstrations end in mass arrests. And they have tried to get it all done in time for the arrival of tens of thousands of protesters, who are expected this week.

Housing crisis

Just as the Republicans have teams coordinating housing, food, medical care, meeting spaces and entertainment, so do the protesters. Like the Republicans, the activists have colorful slogans and Web pages to trumpet their causes.

"The only difference is they have more money," said Nicole Meyenberg of the Philadelphia Direct Action Group, a protest alliance.

Despite what many activists are calling a continuing "housing crisis" — with many protesters still looking for places to stay — protest organizers said they had worked for more than two months to ensure their demonstrations had the maximum effect: mainly, to disrupt the convention.

Daily trainings

Starting this week, activists are holding daily training sessions on everything from protest tactics to puppet-making to education in political causes — among the issues are the death penalty, global warming, and Mumia Abu-Jamal, the radio journalist convicted of killing Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner.

The sessions are being held through Saturday as part of what activists call "Convergence Week" — that is, the week that protesters are expected to start trickling in from throughout the country.

"The point is to give people practice in the kinds of situations they will face once they're out on the streets," said Skylar Fein, who is helping coordinate the training.

Feeding thousands

While they practice, there is no shortage of food. According to James Rockwell, who is coordinating food for protesters, both local and out-of-town organizations, such as Food Not Bombs, Seeds of Peace, and the Colorado-based Everybody's Kitchen, are donating food.

The fare, which includes vegetables, fruit, grains, rice and bread, is "good for feeding the masses," he said.

Rockwell said that food would be distributed to activists for the rest of Convergence Week and into next week, when many protesters plan to stage rallies and demonstrations without a permit. Water, he said, also will be available.

Rockwell says he has enough food to feed "several thousand" protesters a day. Amy Kwasnicki, a member of Philadelphia Direct Action Group, said Everybody's Kitchen was bringing two food wagons converted from school buses and would serve about 3,000 meals a day. Seeds of Peace is capable of serving 1,000 to 2,000 meals, she said.

"This is not a riot," Kwasnicki said. "People have to be fed and watered and go to the bathroom."

No toilets yet

Speaking of bathrooms, the protesters do not have any. The R2K Network, an umbrella anti-Republican coalition of which the direct action group is a member, does not have any. Organizers have asked city officials to provide outdoor facilities. They paint an ugly picture of tens of thousands of activists searching for places to relieve themselves if the city does not.

"We're going to have a health crisis if the city doesn't help," Kwasnicki said. "We're asking everybody to bring their own toilet paper."

So far, city officials have said they will provide toilets, as well as security and a stage and sound system, for the Unity 2000 rally, a large, peaceful rally planned for Sunday on the Ben Franklin Parkway. That rally has a permit.

Legal and medical support

Illegal demonstrations, activists said, require a different kind of preparation. The practitioners engage in what is called direct action, such as linking arms to block entry to a building. Often, such demonstrators may tussle with police and land in jail, meaning they will need help from special legal, medical and logistical teams.

To that end, the direct action group has both a "legal team" and a "medical team." The National Lawyers Guild will field more than 100 pro-bono "legal observers" during the demonstrations, said Angus Love, the Philadelphia chapter's events chair.

Love said the legal observers would wear bright yellow hats and would carry checklists to ensure police do not use excessive force when confronting protesters.

Legal observers, Love said, are supposed to be impartial intermediaries between protesters and police.

Love also said there would be a cadre of attorneys, separate from the legal observers, to help out with criminal proceedings and, should the need arise, civil proceedings.

Organizers said medics also would be on the streets carrying with them basic supplies, such as bandages, band-aids and disinfectants.

Most of the medical supplies, organizers said, were left over from Washington's World Bank and International Monetary Fund protests in April, organizers said. Protesters never used the supplies because police there raided the medical site on the eve of the protests, Kwasnicki said.

"They got it back afterward," she said, adding the supplies are now stored in a secret place. "We don't want that to happen again."

Independent Media Center

The Independent Media Center, located on the 1300 block of Locust Street, will offer activists access to donated computer equipment, cameras and video-editing equipment to prepare their message for the public.

While the cost might seem high for so much equipment and space, most of it is donated, or in bad shape, or both. The media center operates on a shoestring budget compared with the estimated $52 million being spent on the Republican event.

"We spent about $7,000, mostly on telephones," Kwasnicki said.

That is not to say the protesters will not bring financial benefit to the city, like the $100 million the convention is projected to pump into the regional economy.

"Sure, if you get a slice of pizza for $3 and multiply it by the number of protesters," Kwasnicki said, smiling, "we're definitely going to be contributing to the economy."


Angela Couloumbis and Thomas Ginsberg, R2K Activists Rival Republicans In Their Planning Ability. Philadelphia Inquirer, Wednesday, July 26, 2000

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