Vice President Al Gore
Los Angeles Police Commissioner
The Democratic National Committee
Mayor Richard Riordan
We, the undersigned groups, are preparing to go to Los Angeles to engage in peaceful protests at the Democratic Party National Convention in order to call attention to the corporate corruption of our political system, as manifested the neglect of issues ranging from sweatshop labor to environmental destruction to the failed “war on drugs.”
As peaceful organizations with a long-term dedication to human rights and democracy, we are deeply disturbed by events in Philadelphia. The City of Philadelphia, the CityAttorney, and the Philadelphia Police Department have created a serious civil liberties crisis by arresting protesters on preposterous charges, fixing astronomical bails and physically abusing jailed activists. We see these actions as a concerted attempt to harass activists, to disrupt our movement, and to stigmatize peaceful protestors. Philadelphia, the birthplace of the government and the Constitution, has now become a center of anti-constitutional repression.
The violation of basic civil liberties includes the arrest of approximately seventy people who were building puppets and art for street theater in a Philadelphia warehouse. A number of activists were arrested while not engaged in protest-related activities. This act of singling out key organizers and the excessive, $1 million bail set for John Sellers of the Ruckus Society of Berkeley and for Kate Sorenson, a community organizer with ActUP Philadelphia, are age old police control tactics. Both Mr. Sellers and Ms. Sorenson face a variety of trumped up charges and many counts of conspiracy (see attached statement by Mr. Sellers). We find this remarkable since the Philadelphia protests took place with virtually no violent conflicts and almost no property destruction. Thousands of protestors engaged in several days of peaceful protest including mass marches and acts of peaceful civil disobedience. Since there is no basis in fact for the charges brought against them, the only conclusion that can be drawn is that the Philadelphia authorities hope to criminalize protesters and to stigmatize those who engage in the exercise of their rights to speak out, to assemble, and to dissent.
There is also another dangerous aspect to the Philadelphia developments. Philadelphia authorities such as Police Commissioner John Timoney have called for Congress to create a committee to investigate the organizations and individuals behind these protests. Why a Congressional committee? All of our activities have been conducted in public, our demonstrations and non-violence code attached below have been widely publicized, and our activities have been peaceful. We see the call for congressional investigations as the opening wedge of a new era of McCarthyism. Just as Senator Joseph McCarthy used the cry of “communists in government” to whip up hysteria that ruined the lives of tens of thousands, so today the Philadelphia authorities are attacking contemporary activists in an attempt to repress the right of people in the United States to exercise their constitutional right to protest.
As we head for Los Angeles, we want to make it clear that we will not accept the attempt of authorities in any city to limit our right to protest peacefully. We have the constitutionally guaranteed right to peacefully assemble, the right to freedom of speech, and the right to petition our government. We intend to exercise these rights.
We call upon Al Gore, the Democratic National Committee, and other leaders of the Democratic Party to speak out in defense of our right to protest at the party’s convention. Like the discussion inside the convention, the dissent outside forms part of the legitimate debate in our society without which there is no democracy.
We demand that Mayor Richard Riordan, the City of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Police Department work to ensure our right to exercise our rights to free speech including the right to protest. We will be in Los Angeles to speak out and will not be intimidated by the new strategy to destroy our movement for social, economic and environmental justice.
JustACT: Youth Action for Global Justice
Bay Area D2K
Ella Baker Center for Human Rights
Art and Revolution
National Lawyer’s Guild (LA and Bay Area)
Alliance for Global Justice
Campaign for Labor Rights
Institute for Food and Development Policy
Americans for Democratic Action
Bread and Roses Community Fund
American Lands Alliance
Alliance for Sustainable Jobs and the Environment