Give Peace A Chance?

Full of different neighborhoods, byways, and bloodlines, the City of Angels presents a different set of challenges for a protester-to-be.

On top of the freeway logistics, a "radical" college student might also find herself wondering how her parents could come up with the dough to post a $100,000 cash bail, the likes which was seen in Philadelphia during the GOP convention.

For what it's worth, there's no shortage of skyscrapers from which to hang banners downtown, no lack of rundown warehouses in Crenshaw, and no dearth of semi-remote staging areas in the hills surrounding the City of Angels.

Protest Glossary
  • Affinity Group: A smaller, independently operating assembly, which can show up for a protest with little advance warning. Usually, affinity groups are allied with larger movements.
  • Direct Action: Often seen as a disrputive tactic, such protests come without warning and are designed to get the attention of regular people, rather than assembled police.
  • Ruckus Society: A California-based group, which trains activists of many stripes in ways to promote their causes.
  • "I think the layout is great for getting out a message to the Democrats and a message to the public," says Antonia Juhasz of the American Lands Alliance.

    But there's no shortage of cops either. And with recently publicized woes such as a widespread corruption scandal and the shooting death of Chief Bernard C. Parks' granddaughter, there's no doubt the Los Angeles Police Department is under serious pressure to keep things under control. The last thing LAPD needs next week is a Seattle-like fiasco.

    Juhasz's group, which - in its own words - tries to change international trade and finance policies to protect environmental, human, and workers' rights, is planning on bringing its noise to L.A.

    "There are definitely direct actions planned," Juhasz says. "But it's definitely not a goal of the protest organizers to shut down the convention. We want the Democrats to meet and talk about our issues. … In Seattle, we didn't want the (WTO) delegates to meet. There was no good that could come of that meeting."

    There's another factor that is likely to turn down the volume. Organized labor has shown no enthusiasm for taking to the streets in Los Angeles. That could well depress total turnout.

    Let's suppose a militant cell of anti-logging industry activists wanted to prevent the Oregon delegation from arriving at the Staples Center next week for Gore's big speech. Not only will the LAPD be out in force, but the city itself, by virtue of the aforementioned magnitude, would without question be tougher to clog with limp bodies and PVC pipe.

    Moreover, those now-famous Ruckus Society dissent gurus, twenty-somethings John Sellerand Han Shan, and some rank-and-file activists themselves, may be running scared after their harsh treatment at the hands of Philly Blue. More than 100 are still in custody in the wake of the Republican National Convention; several were held on $1 million bail, which requires $100,000 in cash to be met. Sellers was among them until a judge reduced his bail by tenfold and he left the city.

    "John (Sellers) was targeted for no reason," said Juhasz, of Sellers' arrest on conspiracy charges in the City of Brotherly Love. "He doesn't engage in any kind of property destruction. … He was arrested on ridiculously trumped-up charges, as was evidenced by his release."

    Shan, the companion of Sellers, told that he's ambivalent about showing up for any major protests during convention week.

    "I'm not exactly sure how much of a profile I'll be taking," Shan said.

    To be sure, he'll be in the area, cell phone at the ready. But whether he'll risk going to jail - and having the system keep him there until the media and the delegates leave - is another story entirely.

    "Han is a target," says Juhasz.

    For its part, the LAPD says it's trying to keep everybody's interests in mind.

    "The bottom line is that we not here to stop anybody from protesting. That's the bottom line. The protesters have to understand that we're here for them as well as everybody else. We have to keep the city safe," said LAPD spokesman Sgt. John Pasquariello.

    Pasquariello would not comment on whether Los Angeles police have any strategies in place for arrests and prosecution of unruly protesters, except to say "If they break the law, people will be subjected to whatever fines and bails will be levied for that particular crime, whatever that may be."

    The cop speak is pretty friendly, but when pressed, the already beleaguered LAPD is making it clear that a Seattle-like scrum is not in the cards if they have anything to say about it.

    "We're not here to provoke them," Pasquariello said. "Their mission, it sometimes seems, is to provoke us. We're not going to overreact, but we're not going to under-react, either."

    Put it all together - protesters don't want to stop the convention; cops don't want to overreact - and everything seems on track.

    Then again, L.A. is a big, big city, and it's been a pretty hot summer.