by Randy Cunningham
(Plain Press, July 2016) Cleveland is a city holding its breath. From July 18th through the 21st, Cleveland will be an occupied city. It will be occupied by the convention of a Republican Party that has built its power over the past four decades by stepping on cities such as Cleveland. It will be occupied by its own city government that is catering to every whim of convention goers, and trashing the rights of dissent and free speech in the process. It will be occupied by the fears of our elite that this will be another opportunity to showcase the city that will end up like a Cleveland Browns’ football season.
The hype is everywhere. The city is getting spruced up. Private homes are being rented out at exorbitant rates. Restaurant and tavern owners are salivating with visions of profits in their heads. The hotels of Cleveland are fat and happy. The civic boosters are breathless in their enthusiasm.
The flip side of the enthusiasm of the civic booster, is the paranoia of the cop. The city is marshalling forces like a country mobilizing for war. Riot equipment is being purchased, and the boys are being given all the toys they want. The city has enacted a security plan that dishes up equal helpings of repression, pettiness and absurdity.
The Great Fear is the fear of demonstrations and protests getting out of hand. The source of this fear are plans being made to protest the forty years of silence that have reigned over problems that demand an end to silence.
Silence about poverty. Remember poverty? It used to be a concern before the War on Poverty was turned into a War on the Poor. Silence about the homeless and the policies designed to keep them out of way of progress and profits. Silence about racism. And, finally silence about all the old demons of American history as embodied in the person of Donald Trump.
There are a number of efforts being made to shatter the silence. The End Poverty Now March for Economic Justice coalition was one of the first coalitions to get organized and is led by Organize Ohio – a state wide community organizing network. The coalition is composed of unions, social justice and peace organizations, environmental groups, anti-racist organizations, and homeless organizations. The main focus of the End Poverty Now coalition is building support and participation for a march that will be held the afternoon of July 18th – the first day of the convention.
The next most important effort will be the People’s Peace and Justice Convention which will run from the 15th of July to the 17th in the lead up to the RNC convention. The People’s Peace and Justice Convention will host some top notch speakers such as MSNBC commentator Michael Eric Dyson, and Rev. Lennox Yearwood of the Hip Hop Coalition, and a series of workshops that will have something for everyone who is committed to the fight for social justice in the USA.
There is a full buffet of activities by organizations both local and national planned for the week of the convention. About the only way to keep track of what is going on is counterrnc2016.org and the web site of End Poverty Now at endpovertynow2016.org. It is important that if you want to participate in any of the events to visit these web sites every few days, because plans can change at a moment’s notice. It can be confusing.
One reason for the confusion is the City of Cleveland, whose security plan is not a plan for peace and order. It is a plan for chaos. The city has delayed issuing permits until two weeks before the convention. The intent is clear. They want to make sure that it is impossible to properly plan demonstrations and events, and if you cannot properly plan such events you will get into trouble.
The City of Cleveland initially set up a security zone that encompassed three square miles of downtown Cleveland roughly running from Carnegie Ave to the South, the Crib in Lake Erie to the North, W. 25th street to the West and E. 30th street on the East. It mandated a conveyor belt for demonstrations along a route that guarantees that no one at the convention and few people outside of the convention would see the marches. Demonstrations were to be no longer than 50 minutes in length from start to finish and if your demonstration is 10 minutes late in starting, your permit could be revoked. No provisions for rallies were made. The absurdities pile up one atop the other. You cannot carry a bicycle lock within the security zone, but an AR-15 assault rifle is just fine.
One unknown is what the stance of the Cleveland Police Department will be. The police are always a trick bag. Long time Cleveland protesters say that the Cleveland police have not traditionally been arrest happy in such cases. However, others are worried about the precedence of what happened with the Michael Brelo protests last year where protesters were “kettled” into dead end alleys and over seventy people were arrested. Figuring out what the police will do is always a risky business.
In response to the recipe for disorder cooked up by the city, one of the most unlikely coalitions in Cleveland history has come together in a law suit before the US District Court for Northern Ohio against the City of Cleveland. The plaintiffs are Citizens for Trump, the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, and Organize Ohio represented by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The suit asks for a restraining order against the security plan of the city for violating the constitutional rights of free speech and peaceable assembly of the plaintiffs.
In response to the suit, United States District Court Judge James Gwin ruled that many of the restrictions placed by the city of Cleveland on demonstrations and parades violated first amendment rights of free speech. The negotiations to follow up on the response of the court will now be critical for what unfolds in Cleveland during the convention. On June 23, following the Judge’s ruling, the ACLU negotiated with the City of Cleveland for a smaller restricted event zone and parade and demonstration routes more respectful of the free speech rights of demonstrators to get their messages before convention delegates. U.S. District Judge Dan Polster is overseeing the negotiations. The details of the settlement were not available as the Plain Press was going to print.
There are two door mats at the front door of the City of Cleveland this summer. The one for the GOP says WELCOME. The other is for those who are not fans of the GOP and its retrograde agenda. It says GO AWAY. Again the issue is silence.
The elite, the movers and shakers and boosters love the sound of silence. But for the rest of us who think there is a long list of neglected business that demands attention, we need to break the silence. It is a moral imperative to do so.
Find an event to participate in. Join the marches. Break the silence. Activism is the pulse of democracy. Make sure that pulse is strong this July in Cleveland.
Editor’s Note: Randy Cunningham is on the planning committee of End Poverty Now and is the author of Democratizing Cleveland: the rise and fall of community organizing in Cleveland, Ohio 1975-1985. For more information: The People’s Peace & Justice Convention contact the Cleveland Nonviolence Network at www.clevelandnonviolence.org, on Face Book under www.facebook.com/pjpc2016 and e-mail email@example.com. End Poverty Now March for Economic Justice at www.endpovertynow2016.org, firstname.lastname@example.org, twitter.com/EndPoverty2016. Stand Together Against Trump at www.standtogetheragainsttrump.com. And for a comprehensive list of events go to www.counterrnc2016.org