Wednesday, August 25

Rick Perlstein: Will Protestors Sabotage Kerry?

Check out his latest Village Voice article, then come back here and leave a comment - he'll be checking in. Here's a portion:
The parallels between Chicago 1968 and New York 2004 are striking.

Then, as now, authorities are besotted with "less lethal" technology that's intended to prevent disorder (back then it was Mace), but actually increases disorder by lowering the threshold at which cops are willing to use force.

Then, as now, police officials argued that the ACLU and the federal judges were putting them in danger by "tying their hands." When the cops lose some of these battles - as they did this year, with rulings against four-sided pens for demonstrators and general searches of bags - they get more afraid. That yields itchy fingers at the triggers of less-than-lethal implements.

Then, as now: the strategic mobilization of "terrorists" - a word Mayor Richard Daley in 1968 used to describe the Black Panthers, who, some residents of the Cook County jail reported, were planning assassinations. The ever reliable FBI sent 60 extra agents, though the jailbirds had made it all up - which didn't prevent the city from announcing the "threat" to the press afterward as ex post facto rationalization for law enforcement's rampage.

Then, as now: hovering, ruthless Republican presidential campaign operatives ready to seize on any advantage to win, who suspect that arrant attempts to frame the election as a choice between George W. Bush and "chaos in the streets" will be enough, for some small margin of voters, to inch themselves to victory.

And, the most uncanny parallel of all: Events have seen to it - perhaps by Republican intention, perhaps not, it hardly matters which - that protesters this time, just like last time, have been rendered ready and eager to demonstrate, on the Sunday before the convention, in a physical location where the city has determined they may not demonstrate. Thus the stage may be set now - as it was then - for disaster.

Chicago, like New York, has a backyard: the gorgeous series of parks stretching along Lake Michigan. The city assigned protesters one of these, Lincoln Park, far from the convention action, as the designated protest space. Then, as now, insurgents harbored a desire beyond what the city was willing to grant: They wanted to sleep in Lincoln Park, were determined to sleep in Lincoln Park - just as folks are determined this year to demonstrate in Central Park. That was how the trouble started then. And that is how the trouble could start now.
Fire away. He's listening.