Activists Aim to Frustrate, Disrupt Republican Convention

July 7, 2008 - 7:30 PM

(Clarification: Daryle Lamont Jenkins of the One People's Project said on May 14 that he does not plan to "crash" Free Republic's June 5 gathering in New York. Jenkins said he merely wants to draw attention to the event.)

New York (CNSNews.com) - About 200 people filled St. Mark's Church in Manhattan on Wednesday night in what has become a must-attend monthly meeting for activists of all stripes. Their goal is simple: to let the world know the Republican National Convention is not welcome in their city.

The noRNC Clearinghouse, made up of individuals from dozens of activist groups, serves as an information clearinghouse. One of its main goals is to facilitate discussion among like-minded activists so they'll be on the same page when the convention begins in August.

Journalists are welcome to attend the meetings -- which have taken place for about a year -- as long as they don't take photos or use recording devices. Reporters from the New York Times, Associated Press and the BBC were just a few who attended Wednesday's gathering along with CNSNews.com.

Most of the liberal activists who spoke to the crowd shared information about upcoming events, but a significant portion of the meeting touched on strategies for dealing with the media, getting legal advice, and reaching out to individuals who otherwise might not protest.

One activist group, the Poor People's Economic Human Rights Campaign, is planning a "March for Our Lives" on Aug. 30, the first day of the GOP convention. It will also launch "Bushville" to focus on what its spokeswoman, Samantha Heller, calls the Bush administration's disregard for the homeless.

The group Billionaires for Bush has developed a full calendar of events, featuring at least one event for each day of the convention. Members of the group -- there are about 40 -- plan to dress up in gaudy outfits and march around the city.

"We don't necessarily want to disrupt the convention, but we want to bring up the economic issues that are important to us while the delegates are in town," said Sonia Lazreg, a Billionaire member who made her pitch at Wednesday's meeting.

Billionaires for Bush describes itself as a "strategic media and street theater campaign" that seeks to "flush out the truth about the Bush administration's disastrous economic policies and help turn the fatcats out of power in November."

But not everyone is taking the Billionaires' non-disruptive approach. Several speakers made passionate appeals to get in the faces of delegates.

One speaker, who didn't identify himself, complained that protesters weren't doing enough. He is planning a May 21 "die-in" at Rockefeller Center to show the world he's serious about this.

"We have to take to the streets and make a serious f***ing statement," he said.

The noRNC Clearinghouse is divided into different working groups, including media, legal, outreach, training and housing. Heading into Wednesday's meeting there were 17 groups, but more were proposed at the meeting, including a fund-raising group, and still more may be formed.

The Clearinghouse itself isn't considered anything more than a forum to share ideas. It has a rotating group of facilitators who run the meetings. Those attending don't necessarily have to participate in a working group; some come just to advertise their own events.

One of the priorities is reaching out to non-traditional protesters. On conservative websites such as Free Republic, there is speculation that scruffy and rambunctious protesters might actually help President Bush among voters who value law and order.

That is why the noRNC Clearinghouse has developed an outreach working group, which is charged with seeking out underrepresented groups, people living near the Madison Square Garden convention site and activists outside the New York metropolitan area.

"We're targeting residential communities around Madison Square Garden," said Yvonne Liu, a member of the outreach team who also works for NYC Summer, an activist group. "We want them to join us. We want to attract all different sorts of people so it's not just activists."

There's also the task of reaching Manhattan residents who might see protesters passing through their neighborhoods. Liu said the protesters want residents to understand why they're demonstrating.

While protesters want to avoid frustrating New York City residents, they hope to have the opposite effect on the Republican delegates. Some activists want to stake out their hotels, follow them to Broadway shows and basically make it known that they're not welcome in New York.

Daryle Lamont Jenkins, spokesman for the anti-fascist One People's Project, said he plans to target the legions of conservatives who visit the Free Republic website. Jenkins, who called the "FReepers" overtly racist, said he plans to crash a June 5 gathering they have planned in New York.

"We need to fine-tune who it is we are going after," Jenkins said. "And you can't just have this esoteric thing, 'The Republicans are doing this, the Republicans are doing that.' We've got to start saying who it is among the Republicans, who it is among the right, who it is among the multinationals who are the problem."

Despite the threats facing delegates, the convention's communications director, Mark Pfeifle, expressed little concern about what protesters might have planned.

"We have full faith in the New York Police Department and the security arrangements they're making," Pfeifle said. "They are, along with the Secret Service and other federal and local authorities, the professionals, and we have full faith they'll do an excellent job."

The New York Police Department and the New York City Host Committee, the organization responsible for convention logistics, have adopted a similar attitude.

In fact, police have said there is more concern about terrorists than a sometimes rowdy, but often manageable group of protesters.

See Related Story:
Setbacks Fail to Deter GOP Convention Protesters
(May 13, 2004)

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