Over a hundred people marched against the DNC in Charlotte in support of Pfc. Bradley Manning on September 4. Participants in the Occupy movement and others wanted to make a demand to President Barack Obama that Manning, the soldier accused of releasing classified information to WikiLeaks, be released. The plan was to head to a gate or checkpoint and veterans in the march would step up to try and get an Obama representative to come out to hear their demand.
The supporters left Marshall Park in Charlotte, where an Occupy encampment currently exists. They went a few blocks up Stonewall before they were stopped and not allowed to go any further than the Stonewall and South Boulevard intersection.
Lina Thorne of World Can’t Wait reported the police wanted people to move into the nearby “protest pen.” Police tried to usher people to an opening in the cage surrounding a so-called free speech zone. The supporters did not want to go in the cage and remained in the intersection.
A drone replica was there along with banners and posters of photos of victims who had died in drone strikes in Pakistan. The protest turned into a demonstration against all the war policies of President Barack Obama’s administration. And, as the police lines closed in on the protesters, speeches denouncing Obama and the Democrats along with words of support for Manning and WikiLeaks were offered.
There was at least one arrest. John Penley, a Free Bradley Manning organizer who is known in the movement as The Captain, was arrested for crossing a police line. He was given a three hundred dollar bond and kept in jail.
As he was being arrested, Penley said, “We were trying to get to the convention to talk to the delegates about military issues, veterans’ issues, war. We want the troops brought home. We want the veterans’ suicides to be dealt with. We want the veterans’ rights for disability complaints resolved.” He added, “We want Bradley Manning free because we feel like he did what he is supposed to under international law, which is expose war crimes.”
The police surrounded the protesters and kept them in the intersection for well over two hours. There was a line of bike police around the protesters. At one point, there was a line of motorcycle police. There was a foot patrol on the west side of protesters. Police golf carts and other vehicles were bunched up on the northeast corner of the intersection. Iron gates lined the north part of the intersection where Secret Service and sheriffs check the identification of people cleared to go where the convention is being held.
There were vans of police beneath an underpass on South Boulevard. There were three helicopters in the sky. There was a mobile surveillance team live streaming the protest. There was a line of police a block west of where the standoff was taking place who could intercept individuals who made it through the police lines. And the police also had the city’s network of surveillance cameras to keep watch on all who were in the intersection.
As was to be expected, the numbers dwindled. An Occupy Wall Street banner was laid out at one point. The symbol of the Occupy movement, a tent, sprang up in the intersection. Satirical presidential protest candidate of the movement, Vermin Supreme, walked into the intersection with his band of supporters.
Medea Benjamin of Code Pink and Col. Ann Wright saw how the protesters were not being allowed to move but weren’t under arrest and shouted to police to free the protesters and free Bradley Manning. They agitated with a microphone set up in the nearby freedom cage to facilitate the limited exercise of the First Amendment at the convention. It created a wonderful scene of irony as there was for a moment no freedom for protesters to leave the intersection and enter the cage and more freedom to move around in the cage than on a street in Charlotte.
Amy Goodman of “Democracy Now!” showed up to the scene. She and her crew were walking around the intersection and talking to protesters. One seemed to get the attention of a public information officer who would explain why people were being held in this intersection. It was intensely hot. Clouds moved in and it rained. Then there was more rain. But, the protesters were still being contained in the intersection and now a right-wing preacher, who said he was from Charlotte, hopped on the microphone in the freedom cage to evangelize and exclaim how it was necessary to pray for God’s enemies, like those in Occupy Wall Street.
Eventually, the protesters were allowed to walk on the sidewalk and go by locations where convention events are being held. They were moved through the city by police and then returned to Marshall Park.
News reports universally suggest it was the protesters that shut down the intersection. This treats the protesters as pests intent to shut down the convention by blocking traffic. It removes the politics from the action. The reality is, had the police and other security personnel had a plan to move the protesters through the city, as they should be able to do during the convention, there would have been no standoff.
Additionally, let’s be clear: there is nothing about the First Amendment in the 2012 Democratic Party platform. There is nothing about policing of protests or police violations of press freedom and people’s right to record, as has been widely documented by those following the Occupy movement for almost a year. What it does mention, however, is an American universal value of being able to “assemble without fear,” which should be promoted in countries abroad.
The message is two-fold: the Democratic Party considers a heavy police state to be part of protecting the right of people to “assemble without fear,” even though it opens up hundreds to stop-and-searches without probable cause in violation of one’s privacy. It intimidates families who would come out and exercise their right to assemble if they did not have small children. It makes Muslims or immigrants afraid because they do not want to be targeted by law enforcement. And it ensures only a small group of people, the most radical of the radical or the most passionate of the passionate, show up to protest.
Finally, the Democrats find it perfectly acceptable to proselytize on the virtue of countries other than America being free while individuals are put on terror watch lists here so they do not protest during major political events. They obscure instances where US citizens are having their freedom of expression violated like, for example, when a Manhattan district attorney in New York remains committed to unconstitutionally subpoenaing the Twitter data of Occupy Wall Street protesters (even though Twitter has appealed twice). They wholly ignore ordinances passed to control free speech and assembly in ways that target protesters and may be unconstitutional.
Below are photos from the standoff yesterday: