by Norm Winick

History wasn't lost on the protestors who came to Philadelphia last week to demonstrate at the Republican National Convention. The American Revolution was started in that same city by radicals who took to the streets in protest of their government. According to one demonstrator in Franklin Square Park, just a few blocks from Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell: ''I am inspired by the American Revolutionaries and their uprising against government. The American Revolution was anti-corporate and anti-establishment but the revolutionaries were rich guys, too. Then they took over. In a lot of revolutions, a new elite arises and must be put down again.''

Demonstrators came from across the nation for a variety of causes. There were death penalty opponents, free Mumia Abu-Jamal supporters, pot-legalizers, hemp advocates, union organizers, animal rights activists, prisoner-rights workers, environmentalists, assorted others and anarchists.

It was the anarchists, most claimed, who caused the disturbances that led to nearly 400 arrests -- many at an abandoned warehouse turned into a makeshift puppet factory. They were allegedly charged with possessing ''potential weapons'' such as rope, chain, tubing, cardboard, hammers, nails, paint, etc. Others were arrested when a few demonstrators, at a time when an estimated 5-10,000 people were marching, broke out of their ranks and blocked traffic and assaulted some police bicycles and squad cars.

Philadelphia police held as many identified organizers as they could until after the convention. Ordinary folks were released fairly quickly if they could provide acceptable identification. Other detainees stripped naked or gave false names so they could not be arraigned and remained in one of six holding facilities in the city. All were refused visitors and contact with other demonstrators. That led to another group of protestors -- marching against mistreatment and in favor of freeing the ''political prisoners.''

But it was the anarchists who were the most animated -- and the least accessible to the media. Under cover of anonymity, a computer programmer from Madison, Wisc. talked about the cause. ''The institutions that run our lives are getting bigger and bigger and farther away from us. Anarchists believe that people should control their own lives. I want people to get out on the streets because that's where real democracy happens.''

Anonymous Anarchist He explained that he had avoided arrest by staying in one area. ''The people who got arrested did civil disobedience. Their goal was to bring out the brutality in the system and they did that.''

''Representative democracy is a failure; it gets corrupted. People need to shut down undemocratic meetings posing as democratic ones. I want people to get active, to get out on the streets and do anything they can.''

''Workers need to take over their workplace. They can take things into their own hands -- take control of their own lives -- in their communities.'' That doesn't mean he always practices what he preaches. ''I am willing to compromise because of the fact that I have to eat. But I am working to unionize my workplace and radicalize the employees. We can do it better if we make the decisions and write the code. Our jobs would be more enjoyable and more productive.''

''There is a misconception that anarchy is opposed to government. It's not. It's opposed to the hierarchy government creates. We are looking for an egalitarian system, without classes, without exploitation. Governments can exist at an egalitarian level. I see no use for government as it exists now because it's based on coercion.''

He claims that while the goal of anarchists and theoretical Marxism might be the same, the means to accomplish them are different. ''Anarchists believe that the revolution must be accomplished by the people. Marxists have their process and their formula and often rely on totalitarian governments.''

One of the anarchists just released from jail held an impromptu press conference to complain about his treatment. ''We were treated like animals and it proves our point -- the criminal industrial complex in action. It's a perfect example of what hundreds of thousands of people are exposed to every day. We were just walking down the street. They stopped us, searched our backpacks without our permission, cuffed us. Then they took trophy photos with the arresting officers, held us and released us without charging us with anything.''

At a pep talk Thursday afternoon, organizers pled for nonviolence. ''There has been a real negative slant against us in the media. There are people being abused in Philadelphia. We need to expose that. We want to discourage activities which lead to arrest. We need people on the street.''

In the end, the demonstrators went unnoticed by most delegates, ignored by most Philadelphians, and went home feeling good about their movement and psyched to do it all over again in Los Angeles next week.

Uploaded to The Zephyr Online August 9, 2000

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