The conventions, and the message…

The conventions, and the message sent to the world

Imagine the imagery that will be projected to the world from the upcoming conventions. The DNC and RNC meet to nominate their candidates. Outside, streets are closed and barricaded for blocks. In Boston, police want to herd protestors into what even a federal judge calls “internment camps.” In NYC, the “rally” will be isolated to the  West Side Highway, far away from everything.

The whole world will watch, wonder, and ask; what happened to those freedoms of speech, expression, and assembly that America boasts of so much? Because what the world will see on the streets of Boston and NYC will not look like freedom at all.

DNC. Boston

The photo is of the internment camp, er, “free speech zone”.

People planning to protest at the Democratic National Convention next week in Boston are complaining about barriers, fences and netting at the protest area.

The Boston Globe reported Wednesday one person installing netting at the site termed the protest area an “internment camp.”

Cement barriers, an 8-foot-tall chain link fence and black netting have been put around the 28,000-square-foot area convention organizers set aside for protests.

Judge deplores but OK’s site for protesters

A federal judge yesterday upheld a fenced “free speech zone” for protesters near the FleetCenter during next week’s Democratic convention, even though he said he agreed with critics who likened the cramped space to an internment camp.

Woodlock said he had initially assumed that activists were exaggerating when they likened the protest zone near Canal Street to an internment camp. But he said that after touring the area for 90 minutes Wednesday, he concluded that comparison was “an understatement.”

RNC. New York City

First skirmish in the Battle of NYC. Bush 1, Protesters 0

Bush may be on the defensive in the presidential election contest, but he won a big victory in New York Wednesday, when the main organization protesting the Republican convention set to begin August 29 agreed to Republican Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s take-it-or-leave-it “offer” of a permit that pens in the demonstration on Manhattan’s West Side Highway.

So what’s wrong with the West Side Highway?

First of all, how can you have a rally—a rally! —that is stretched out 50 feet wide by several miles long? Participants certainly, and probably the media and the national public as well, will have no sense of the magnitude of the event if it is strung out like that.

Getting a sound system big enough to reach this long, thin crowd will  be problematic, as well as providing enough bathrooms, food, and water.

Second, the site is well removed from the Madison Square Garden site of the convention itself, meaning that the Republican conventioneers themselves will be completely insulated from the public protests. (There will be a march past the Garden enroute to the highway, but it will be over before much is going on there.)

The highway location is bad for another reason, purely humanitarian. There will be no shelter from rain or sun, and in the dog days of summer in late August; the likelihood is for blasting heat.

Finally, and most importantly, the highway location makes containment by police much simpler. They need only block each of the cross-town streets to prevent anyone from escaping the containment area. Buildings, and the Hudson River, will do the rest of the job for them.

Meanwhile, with many activists calling the UPJ agreement with the city a liberal cave-in, an anonymous group has called for people to ignore the city and assemble in Central Park’s Great Lawn anyway.

Warns Bill Dobbs of UJP, “Mayor Bloomberg, because of his hostility to free expression, is helping to invite chaos”

Both Boston and Manhattan will effectively be gridlocked and locked down while the conventions are in town. Streets around the convention areas for blocks will be sealed off and barricaded. Protestors will not be allowed anywhere near the sites except for token marches under heavy guard. Surveillance cameras will be everywhere, and there will be thousands of police and no doubt military too. 

Something is seriously wrong with this, especially for a country that prides itself on freedom of expression.