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September 1, 2004

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Schwarzenegger’s True Lies, September 1, 2004

Report by Anuradha Mittal*

The young man was carrying a picture of an Iraqi woman holding a frail-looking child. The girl next to him held a placard which read, “Noor Ali Mohammed, 16, Afghanistan.”

Along with hundreds others, they were marching down in twos on the sidewalk, from the site of Ground Zero. Others carried pictures of young American soldiers killed in fruitless wars launched by the Bush administration; names of innocent civilians killed in Afghanistan and Iraq; and others carried signs with names of immigrants held in detention in the U.S., victims of the “War on Terrorism.”

And they were singing like human rights activists always do . . . ain’t gonna let nothing turn me around, turn me around…” One protestor carried the Constitutional First Amendment, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” He claimed, “This is the only permit I need.” Another group read aloud their First Amendment Right to free assembly and freedom of speech, which seemed to fall on deaf ears of the NYPD, as they arrested hundreds across the street.

Ground Zero had the look of a military base, plastered with hundreds of riot police menacingly armed with batons, guns, and handcuffs. Hundreds of protestors penned off by the barricades, were being “processed” and then taken away in the paddy wagons. Flags with “Expose the Truth Behind 9/11” and posters of Bush with “Guilty” written over his picture, were strewn all around. The pavements were stenciled red, “RNC Out.”

The march, organized to protest the U.S. foreign policy that supports repressive regimes through the School of the Americas and sanctions killing of innocent civilians, started around 4 pm. The New York police moved in immediately and arrested hundreds, claiming the march was “illegal.” August 31 actions were unprecedented with over 950 arrests, with the total arrests since the start of the RNC reaching 1,500.

But the voice of protestors could still be heard across New York. The Texan delegation faced protestors wearing pig snouts outside their hotels. Others marched for immigrant rights and at noon, the others used street theatre to remind the country of shameful abysmal treatment of prisoners in Iraq. Beth, vice principal of an elementary school, lamented to her husband, Kenny Bruno, an activist with the Earth Rights International, $70 million have been spent on “security for the RNC” while she continues to be outraged by the cuts in education, libraries, health care.”

Last evening, as I took the flight back to California, I watched Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Hollywood Governor of California, deliver his speech at the RNC. As he outlined “an immigrants’ dream,” I was outraged by the unfolding of the events during the last few days.

As the Republican crowd cheered, Schwarzenegger called America “a land for immigrants where we can come with our dreams and be welcomed.” And I thought of Julia and my other friends with the Coalition of Immokalee Farm Workers (CIW), who I ran into at the Still We Rise march on August 30. Displaced from their lands in Mexico, Haiti, and other Latin American countries, these small family farmers came to America with dreams of a better life. And they found death or incarceration at the border, or slavery in the fields of America. Over the last few years the CIW has helped unveil cases of slavery in America where farm workers have worked in conditions that can be best described as indentured servitude: working 12-13 hours a day, 6 days a week, for $20 a week!

Schwarzenegger cheered on that America gives more then anyone else to fight AIDS and disease in Africa. “We are the America that works for democracy and human rights around the world.” Schwarzenegger’s arrogance requires a degree of official amnesia.

In relation to the size of its economy, America is the world's smallest donor of foreign aid, with much of this aid given for strategic and economic humanitarian reasons - as in the cases of Israel and Egypt. And the Global Fund, the world's most promising AIDS program has been starved for funding, with the U.S. bearing much of the responsibility. In addition, Washington has placed the requirement on its aid recipients and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) regarding the purchase of generic life-sustaining AIDS drugs, approved by the World Health Organization (WHO), and has provisions in new trade agreements that require poor countries to import brand-name drugs for at least five years before importing cheaper generics or producing their own.

And the Governor of a bankrupt California boasted to a Republican audience that America is back. “ Back from the attack on our country. Attack on our economy. Under Bush and Cheney, the economy is moving ahead.” In August the administration shared the good news with the Americans. It revised its figure for this year's budget deficit: $445 billion. This, or so the spin goes, is good news, because the original forecast was even higher – $521 billion. Only in the administration's upside-down economic world could a deficit, $70 billion higher than last year's and $445 billion marking the highest deficit ever, be hailed as progress.

Today the national debt is $7.3 trillion with each citizen’s share of this debt being over $25,000. While according to the U.S. Census Bureau, Foreign Trade Statistics, the nation’s international deficit in goods and services increased to $55.8 billion in June, from $46.9 billion in May, 2004.

The only True Lie in Schwarzenegger’s speech was that America is the “lamp lighting the world.” Indeed, the world sees America lighting up the world, as it recalls its ‘smart bombs’ lighting up the skies of Kabul and Baghdad. America's name is stamped on the missiles, AGM 114-D air-to-ground rocket made by Boeing and Lockheed-Martin, fired by Israel into Gaza and the West Bank - fired from Apache helicopters, made in America, of course. And “No matter what the nationality, what religion, America brings out the best in people,” the Governor claimed.

The True Lies of the Governor might have gotten him a standing ovation at the Republican Convention, but have failed to impress the working poor and the immigrant communities in America. The international community can see through his lies. It is the pictures of protestors trying to reclaim the principles this country is built upon, that the global community learns of another America that demands the end of the “Empire.” These patriots are America’s best good will ambassadors that will make America and its communities and families safe.

No wonder the New York Times acknowledged on Monday August 30 that the peaceful message of the protestors at the RNC is drowning out the Republican message.

* Anuradha Mittal is the Executive Director of The Oakland Institute.

Near Media Blackout on Aug 31 Massive Civil Disobedience in NYC, September 1, 2004

Report by Stephen Bartlett*

On the morning channel 7 television news here in New York City a total of five seconds was devoted to the direct actions and the 950+ arrests that occurred during yesterday's August 31 Action Coalition day of non-violent civil disobedience. The five second spot featured an image of protesters being handcuffed and the words "nearly 1,000 arrested yesterday at protests here in NY." In contrast, the fashion choices and inanities of the Bush twins during their speech got about ten minutes of coverage.

There is a kind of twilight zone in the corporate media concerning the protests, the motives and identity of the protesters, the police response to the protests, and the conditions of those arrested, some of whom are being held in large pens in an asbestos and chemical-ridden and condemned bus park on Pier 57.

While California Governor Arnold Schwarznegger was under the lights at Madison Square Garden extolling the so-called 'American Dream,' baiting 'girlie-men' and telling democrats they are really republicans, police were busy orchestrating often pre-emptive and sweeping arrests of protesters and passers-by alike at a myriad of locations around the city, from Wall Street, to Union Square, to Herald Square next to the Convention Center, as far north as 125th St. and Martin Luther King where protesters tailed in the subway from downtown were arrested for wearing bandanas on their faces. Veteran activist Medea Benjamin, inside the RNC as Scharznegger was speaking and only 20 feet from Vice President Dick Cheney and Rudolph Giuliani and their wives, unfurled a banner that said: "Pro-Life: Stop the Killing in Iraq." When secret service agents approached her and then seized her, she managed to shout over and over: "Dick Cheney, Stop the killing in Iraq! Dick Cheney, how much money did you make on the war today?!" She was carried head first down a flight of stairs, put in a paddy wagon, questioned, then released shortly after.

What occurred yesterday throughout lower and midtown Manhattan was unprecedented in terms of the scale and diversity of direct actions focused on the Bush agenda in places like Iraq and Colombia, on Rupert Murdoch's FOX channel distortions and partisan propaganda, and on the transnational corporations, military-industrial and otherwise, who are perceived to be pulling the strings of US government actions and policy for profit and privilege. The A31 Action Coalition had called for decentralized acts of civil disobedience and had distributed lists of the locations of the headquarters of war profiteers, government offices and media outlets, including the notorious FOX news network. Affinity groups made autonomous plans, some of which were communicated to other groups as they were taking place, again through text messaging.

A major action took place in a solemn march from Ground Zero headed up towards Madison Square Garden. An estimated 3,000 people, many dressed in white began to walk on the sidewalk two by two, headed uptown. They had not gone far when police moved in and arrested some 200, whose only infraction was that they were the lead edge of a very large contingent of protesters, and the police had manpower on hand to pick them up. The large contingent regrouped afterwards and, relying on information on police positions sent by text messages to cell phones, were able to take alternative routes and eventually reach their goal miles later. Once they arrived there, however, before the mass die-in could happen, police again moved in and arrested an additional 50 protesters.

A massive 'Shut-Up-A-Thon' was staged at the offices of the FOX news service by Code Pink at 48th and 6th Avenue, and thousands participated, including Robert Greenwald, director of the documentary "Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism." The talk radio program 'The O'Reilly Factor' was a focus of condemnation, with a recorded loop of O'Reilly's voice saying "Shut up. Shut up!" to the son of a victim of 9/11 who would not buckle under his disrespectful interview style. Despite the presence of thousands there, police allowed the protest to continue for some time.

Thousands of protesters amassed at Herald Square, where re-enactments of the tortures of Abu Ghraib were undertaken, capturing the attention of the media present. Also, Republican party delegates were delayed by these crowds from reaching the convention center. An interview by MSNBC at an outdoor studio was similarly interrupted by protesters.

Attempts to close down areas of Wall Street by other affinity groups led to a dozen arrests. The 'Internal Noise Brigade' playing at Union Square attempted to lead a march out of the park but did not make it a block before police divided the crowd in sections, and about 100 caught in the middle were all arrested. Mopeds, plastic nets and metal barriers were used for these divide and arrest operations. Several bystanders were swept up in this dragnet, including at least two women who were interviewed on a cell phone smuggled into the temporary jail at Pier 57 some 13 hours later. They described horrendous jail conditions that appeared to represent a disdain for the lives and health of the detainees. They had not been charged, had not been permitted a phone call, had waited four hours even for water or to use a toilet, and were left exposed to the night's cold. Given these conditions, some had dubbed this improvised and unhealthy prison 'Guantanamo-On-The-Hudson.'

I am writing this report after attending a large labor union rally at Madison Square Garden late afternoon on Wednesday, Sept. 1 and while listening to live speeches being made at rallies downtown that are soon to move to FOX news service office once again. Tom Morelo sang militant union songs at the labor rally, and Danny Glover gave an impassioned speech about the fight we must wage as workers, the backbone of America, and continue to wage after November 2 to "take back our country." The major slogan of the rally was "Push Bush out of the Door in Two Thousand and Four." The city is in a constant state of upheaval. Later this evening a party thrown by Coca Cola for Hispanic delegates to the RNC at the Copacobana will be met by a 'Cacerolazo' or Argentinian style protest of pots and pans being beat. (This is appropriate since Agricultural Missions just held a public preview of a documentary film about the Argentinian struggle for alternatives to the economy by the rich called "Hope in Hard Times", a film that the producers attended with us here at the Interchurch Center.) I will attempt to be present at the corporate Coke party that highlights the killings of union activists in Coca Cola plants in Colombia. This protest is sponsored by CISPES, the NYC Referendum on Free Trade, VOTE!, Ring Out and Killer Coke.

The marathon of protests and police repression continues in the city that never sleeps. Please pray for everyone in NYC to enjoy endurance, for calm under stress and for the peace that passes understanding.

* Stephen Bartlett is with the Agricultural Missions and lives in Louisville, Kentucky.