Part one: In the grass at FDR Park
On Wednesday night at the Democratic National Convention, Kerith, Michelle, Richard, and I joined many delegates at FDR Park to speak with their supporters. Afterwards, Kerith and I spent two hours talking to some of our supporters, sitting in the grass, in the dark.
Halfway through (at the two-hour mark), we meet a young man from Brooklyn, New York, named Brian. Brian is 21-years-old, soft-spoken, Hispanic, with a small goatee on the very bottom of his chin. He is wearing a gray tank top, and his left ear is pierced once on the bottom and twice on the top. The piercings are subtle (it was also dark) and I didn’t notice them until after watching the video several times. Sitting with us is Claudia from Western Kentucky.
Like most of us at FDR Park tonight, Brian is disgusted at the corruption in our government, and that Hillary was “installed by the Democratic Party,” not voted in by the people.
He speaks with an intense urgency, about wanting to make a statement before the convention ends the next night. About needing do something right now, to show the Democratic Party that we know what they are doing “and we’re not going to take it anymore.” That we also need to convince the rest of America, those outside of our progressive bubble (“the people who only have MSNBC”), on the depth of corruption.
[W]e’re acting as if the rally is already over. [If we don’t do anything before the convention ends], it’s speaking in a way that–making it seem that we have already like–we’re past this DNC already. It’s over. We’re just sort of biding time until the next step. […] The whole point of this protest was to show how outraged we are at a rigged election.
I didn’t think of this at the time, but while protesting the potentially rigged democratic primary is an important part, the real reason we’re here is to start Bernie Sanders’ political revolution. To discuss and start the plan of getting people like us into all levels of government, to create the government we deserve.
Jeff: The revolution is “a marathon, not a sprint.”
Claudia: “It’s a long game.”
Kerith: “This is not a tomorrow thing.”
But with as little time as is left in the convention and with how much injustice has been done, Brian says the time has to be now. He points to all of the people standing around us at the park, who have the same energy and anger, with the window of opportunity slipping away. Everyone is going home tomorrow.
I understand [the long-term goals of the political revolution]. It’s perfectly logical. But I’m saying this isn’t pressuring anything. This isn’t showing power, this isn’t showing unity. This is showing a mass of people who want change, and are not doing anything with the numbers that they have. And they’re not organizing in a way that’s going to have an immediate effect now.
[We need] real, immediate change. We’re not just idealists looking towards, ‘Oh tomorrow, tomorrow, we’ll get a seat in Congress.’ If we look impotent [to the Democratic Party and to America] what are people going to do…?
While actual change is important, it is more long-term. The perception of change by others is a more urgent and immediate concern. He wants “to do something drastic,” since that is the only way we will have a chance of being heard.
His idea is to walk into the Wells Fargo Center, led by delegates, and to peacefully sit. “And then we demonstrate that America is not going to take a completely corrupt system.” His goal is to be covered by mainstream media and ultimately be seen by the general public.
Claudia: “If we weren’t pissed off, we wouldn’t be here talking right now. We’ve already done something…”
Claudia talks about how this DNC is different, given the amount of supporters from all around the country that are already here. How remarkable it is that she, someone from western Kentucky, is talking to Brian from New York, on a livestream, here in Philadelphia. During the DNC, Claudia was interviewed by CNN and the New Yorker, (and I was interviewed on television and quoted in four newspaper articles).
She concludes: “We’re not going to get [the coverage that we want] from the mainstream media–”
Unless we do something rash. […]
We have to address the fact of how ridiculous of a picture it [this] is. There’s two walls and SWAT preventing us from showing our outrage of a rigged election.
We press Brian to walk us through his plan. Setting aside all the police and barriers that divides FDR Park and The Wells Fargo Center, if you try and walk into the convention, the first thing you encounter is the Secret Service security checkpoint.
Jeff: “And you don’t think the Secret Service is going to stop you?” He does believe they will be stopped.
Jeff: “And then what?”
Brian: “And then we demonstrate that America is not going to take a completely corrupt system.”
The point of any protest is to express a message or execute an action. To do it as effectively as possible before being stopped, and especially before the potential for violence. At some point, the protest will indeed end, either by choice or by force. But if there is confidence that the message was heard by many, and that it will make a difference, then perhaps even the possibility of violence is worth it. But an effective message or action is paramount.
Since the Secret Service will clearly not allow their checkpoint to be breached, I don’t see how it is possible to ever reach that point–let alone for it to be seen, covered, or broadcasted by the media. These ideas do not occur to me until now, as I write this article.
What do you think it’s going to happen? […] It’s like you’re saying if we go in there we’ll be massacred or something. That something dire will happen when peaceful people that want to be heard, walk into a place that directly concerns them. […]
Do you think the civil rights movement, That people don’t get hurt? … Don’t you think people are prepared for that? … If we are being peaceful, then why would they attack us?
We are not going to reach a resolution tonight.
I’m not saying don’t do it. If you want to do it, do it. But I absolutely will not participate in it, and–I won’t sabotage you, but–if people asked me, [I would say] I don’t think it’s a good idea unless we get some really seasoned advice on how to pull it off.
I don’t think that any of us here have the experience or knowledge to do something this serious.
I have the experience and the knowledge to know what the hell to do against a two-party system that has literally done every corrupt thing in the book.
We shouldn’t be this scared to do something peaceful. […] This is like something out of a third world country. Peaceful people will be killed if they do anything that is against the rules.
We should not have to not have to do this much [planning and preparation]. This should not be the country that we live in. But this is the country that we live in.
Brian: “It’s now or never.”
Claudia and Brian, realizing they don’t know each other’s names, introduce themselves: “I don’t want you to die today.” They hug.
Jeff: “I want you to die two days after that.” Laughter.
Claudia: “Whatever you do, please be careful.”
Part two: Brian, after witnessing people being roughed up by police at #DNCGateBreach: “Our presence is not violence”
Within minutes after leaving FDR Park, a group of at least five people dressed fully in black use bolt cutters to breach the gate at Broad and Pattison, which divides FDR Park and the Wells Fargo Center. About two of them run out into the street towards hundreds of police officers and are immediately detained. Police officers swarmed into the protester area, extremely quickly, creating a line between them and the gate. They repair the gate, and exit the area completely within 20 minutes.
For the next two hours, I intensively investigated what happened, and six witnesses agree that the police’s response was strong but reasonable. People who were truly right next to where the breach occurred did indeed get roughed up a bit. But as it was critical for the police to create some space in order to repair the gate and regain control, and in the chaos of the moment it was not possible to distinguish between perpetrators and peaceful protesters, this is to be expected. There were no reports of injuries or arrests of peaceful supporters, and, again, they left the area within 20 minutes.
I did get some reports of phones being smacked out of peoples hands in the first moments, and the audio cable to the TYT Politics camera was pulled out. But the vast majority of those I interacted with agreed that, given the intensity of the situation, the police could not have done a better job.
During this time, I once again encounter Brian. He was very close to where the breach occurred, and, unfortunately, witnessed people being pushed around by police officers. This has only increased his sense of injustice, and urgency at doing something right now.
(Just before seeing him again, one of those six witnesses joins us. He wishes to remain anonymous. Since he has a beard, I call him Beard.)
They’re [the police are] not interested in quelling the violent ones, they’re interested in beating the front line when they get the chance.
When the [police came in] they pushed on us right?
Beard and me: “Yeah?”
Brian: “And then a cop goes to a guy, ‘Take your fucking bandanna [mask] off’.”
Brian: “And then he says, ‘Step the fuck back.’ And he’s like, ‘I’m being fucking peaceful.'”
Jeff: “He said, ‘I’m being fucking peaceful’?”
Jeff: “Well that’s not very fucking peaceful.”
Beard: “But he had a mask on right?”
Jeff: “If you say, ‘I’m being fucking peaceful’, That’s not so peaceful.”
Brian: “Well after cops fucking rush and throw people around in the front…”
Jeff: “But why did they rush?!”
Woman: “Whose side you on, bro?”
Jeff: “What side am I on?!”
Beard: “He’s a Bernie delegate!”
I’m a Bernie delegate. But there are two sides two every story. There are two sides to every story. And to talk about their side doesn’t make me a traitor. If you want to call me a traitor by suggesting that I’m not–
Woman: “I’m not saying you’re a traitor. You’re saying he wasn’t being peaceful because he wasn’t saying it right.”
So no matter what response, it would’ve been right for the cops? What if the cops started pushing us all the way towards the highway. People are just going to stand there and let us? […] You’re just saying any response is okay?
Jeff: “I must say. We had a long conversation at the park, and I’m sensing–I sensed over there, and I sense over here–pessimism about them.”
Brian: “You weren’t here on the front line.”
Jeff: “I’m acknowledging that I wasn’t. But the reports that I’ve seen so far are that they were strong but appropriate. And what you seem to be suggesting is that they were threatening violence against peaceful protesters. And I haven’t seen any evidence of that yet.”
You weren’t on the front lines. You didn’t see what I fucking saw. [After telling the person to take off his bandanna and step back], and then the fucking cop gives him the fucking, the most disgusting fucking smirk I ever heard of in my fucking life.
It turns out Brian may very well have witnessed some pretty rough behavior. I believe he is at the 40-45 second mark in this video:
The point is to go through the wall. We were talking about going to the wall before. We shouldn’t be met with the fucking army, to go through three walls. What is this a fucking police state? This is a fucking police state.
Jeff, referring to tonight, not the country as a whole: “This is a police state.”
Brian: “Two fucking fences. A fucking army of police.”
Beard: “You have a president in there.”
Brian: “After what happened? After our government rigged an entire election.”
A new man joins in the conversation: “So when you get into the DNC and you break past the cops, what do you want to do?”
Brian: “Fucking…protest inside.”
This new person tried to push him in the same way that Claudia and I did at FDR Park. Unfortunately I got distracted and interrupted the conversation.
Brian: “Our presence is not violence.”