Just before Ted Kennedy spoke at the DNC last night, every hotel in downtown Denver went on lockdown. Police had gone door to door, warning that angry protesters were threatening to move down the 16th Street Pedestrian Mall. The Sheraton, home to the entire New York State delegation, became flanked on both sides, and not only the doors but the elevators were locked. Eventually, cops used pepper spray and 100 protesters were taken into custody. Reports have focused on the police’s use of force (they claim protesters were carrying rocks), but it’s perhaps more disturbing that no one, including those who were watching the action, could articulate what the protest was about in the first place.
Near the Sheraton we met James, a 19-year-old from Boulder who, like his fellow protesters, was wearing a bandanna over his nose and mouth. The bandanna’s purpose, he said, was threefold: to promote solidarity, to protect against CS gas, and to prevent identification. (“The police like to take pictures of us and put our images in their databases and there have been numerous cases — I could list them — where people have been charged with crimes that they didn’t necessarily commit because they’d made themselves known.”) Other than the bandannas, though, the protest didn’t seem to have any organizing principle. James and his friends weren’t with any group; they’d just come to meet fellow anti-capitalists. Their goal: to create a new society that eliminates greed and corruption. It would’ve helped if James and his friends had actually found their comrades. But they’d gone on a side trip to counter-protest a protest by the right-wing anti-immigration group the Minutemen, and by the time they rejoined the original protest, they couldn’t find it, and the cops were blocking their path. So they stood in the intersection and did charades, “just three of us, maybe five people at most,” surrounded by twenty journalists and around 100 armed officers.