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Democrats, protesters will gather in Denver

Abortion protesters Emily Williams, left, and her father, K.C. Williams, carry posters Friday attacking Democratic hopeful Barack Obama outside the site of the Democratic convention.

Associated Press

Abortion protesters Emily Williams, left, and her father, K.C. Williams, carry posters Friday attacking Democratic hopeful Barack Obama outside the site of the Democratic convention.

Denver, which hosts the Democratic National Convention beginning Monday, is bracing for an ugly week.

A warehouse has been transformed into a jail with chain-link cells that critics compare to Guantanamo Bay. Hundreds of extra police are arriving. Street entrepreneurs hawk T-shirts bearing an AK-47 under the words "Defend Denver."

And at a time when Barack Obama is espousing hope, peace and change, a large protest group is invoking one of the Democrats' darkest moments — the 1968 convention in Chicago.

The provocatively named Re­create 68 has caused unease in this placid city, which could see as many as 30,000 protesters, but its founder says the group is misunderstood.

"If we called ourselves 'Cute Puppy Dogs Against the DNC', I don't think we would have gotten much media attention," said Mark Cohen, a 62-year-old freelance writer in Denver. "We're planning peaceful, nonviolent protests."

The name mines the grass roots social and political movement of the 1960s that made change possible, he said.

But 1968 was a tumultuous time in American history. That year another young, idealistic politician was energizing voters fed up with a war and the same old political structure — Bobby Kennedy.

His assassination after the June 4 California primary, coupled with the April murder of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., punctured a hopeful spirit. The Democratic convention that followed was a violent affair. Police in Chicago clashed with Vietnam War protesters outside the convention hall while Democrats struggled to maintain order inside.

Today another war is a flash point and liberal groups like Recreate 68 say the Democratic Party and Obama have not done enough to get out of Iraq.

The group also will call attention to Obama's reversal on an intelligence surveillance bill that granted immunity to telephone companies. And Obama angered segments of his base by backing away from hard opposition to offshore oil drilling.

"Obama has been moving to the right ever since he clinched the nomination," Cohen said. "If he turns around on issues like this, you have to wonder if there will be anything new."

Denver has created a protest zone near the Pepsi Center, the main site of the convention, but demonstrators complain it is too far away. Recreate 68 plans to enter the area Monday but only for a few minutes to make a scene. Cohen won't say what is planned.

"We're saving that for a surprise," he said.

Despite special concern over the historic nature of the convention — Obama is the first black nominee — it is expected there will be far fewer people on the streets than recent conventions.

Partly that is due to geography. Denver, unlike New York, which hosted the 2004 Republican National Convention, is far from other major cities.

Denver is expecting up to 30,000 protesters, a blip compared with the several hundred thousand in New York, but still enough to trigger security concerns. Four years ago, more than 1,800 people were arrested.

Denver police will not say how many law enforcement officers will be on hand, though about 1,500 police from across Colorado have been called in as well as other states. Federal officials will be on the ground and in surveillance aircraft.

"It's an unknown entity what to expect," said Denver police spokesman Sonny Jackson. "We are prepared for everything."

University of Florida political science professor Michael Heaney is headed to Denver to film a documentary and conduct a study of the protesters, particularly how their concerns differ from delegates'.

He thinks it boils down to attitude toward the two-party structure.

"The problem is that the nature of the system is to pull politics toward the center," said Heaney, who will also travel to the Republican convention in St. Paul, Minn. "That makes it difficult to enact radical reforms."

Obama, he noted, has to appeal to a wider population to win the presidency, but he also cannot ignore the base that got him this far. "It's a very difficult balancing act, and the protesters symbolize one side of that."

Recreate 68 has gained the most attention, but it is hardly the only protest group in Denver. Code Pink, a national coalition of women opposed to the war, is planning events throughout the week, including sending bunches of cyclists and in-line skaters to disrupt traffic.

Several people are traveling from Florida to take part.

Lydia Giordano of Tallahassee packed a white sequined dress, pink crown and a sash that reads "I miss America" and flew to Denver last week to help coordinate Code Pink's activities.

In the late 1960s, she protested the Vietnam War, despite being the daughter of an Army colonel working at the Pentagon. They did not speak for years.

Now, 56 and a retired massage therapist, Giordano is back at it, traveling the country in opposition to the war. Last year, she racked up her third civil disobedience arrest while demonstrating with Cindy Sheehan in Washington.

"The Democrats are complicit in this war," Giordano said from Denver. "They said they would stop it but they haven't. So we have to get in their face. You can't sit back and expect them to act."

Chicago 1968

Helmeted police in a haze of tear gas flail with billy clubs at throngs of protesters on Chicago's streets, as inside a hall ugly shouting matches erupt among politicians over the bloody battles just outside and half a world away in Vietnam. That was the scene at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago as thousands of young people assembled downtown. Many were protesting the nation's part in the Vietnam War. Many supported the presidential nomination of Minnesota Sen. Eugene J. McCarthy, a critic of the war. There, in televised clashes, hundreds of protesters and police were injured and hundreds of protesters arrested. No one was killed. After the embarrassment, Democrats changed the way delegates were selected, taking much of the power to select them away from political bosses like the late Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley and giving it to voters in state primaries and caucuses.

Sources: World Book, Associated Press

Democrats, protesters will gather in Denver 08/22/08 [Last modified: Sunday, August 24, 2008 10:23am]
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