The communist opposition to President George W. Bush has begun. On Friday, June 27th, President George W. Bush arrived in Burlingame, California for a fundraising lunch, and the communist Workers World Party was there to protest, with the help of their allies in the labor unions and on the far-left of the Democratic Party. It's a scene we'll see again and again in the next year and a half - through their anti-war International ANSWER, the Workers World Party has vowed to follow President Bush wherever he goes. Supporters of Democrat Dennis Kucinich and the leaders the Service Employees International Union and the Communication Workers of America trade unions believe that their cooperation with the Workers World Party will weaken President Bush's presidency and defeat him in 2004. After attending this latest protest, I'm convinced that the opposite is true - the protestors have been reduced to an abrasive spectacle, only harmful to their own cause. That's not to say the Workers World Party and their friends won't be able to draw large crowds in the future, but if they truly want George W. Bush out of office, they're being self-defeating.
There's no doubt that the Workers World Party has gained influence, thanks to International ANSWER's recent string of anti-war protests. The San Francisco branch of the Workers World Party won the support of much of San Francisco's Left, and their long list of backers reflects this. Friday's protest was backed by, among others, the San Francisco Labor Council, AFL-CIO; the San Francisco branch of the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee; the California branch of the National Organization of Women; the San Francisco branch of Al-Awda (the Palestinian Right of Return coalition); Global Exchange; Peninsula Peace & Justice Center (a Palo Alto-centered anti-war group); the South Bay Mobilization (a San Jose-centered anti-war group); the Children's Defense Fund; and the other major anti-war coalition, the Revolutionary Communist Party-controlled Not in Our Name Project.
The Workers World Party failed the logistic test: conditions were not optimal for protesting. Burlingame is far from their supporters' base in San Francisco and the scorching temperatures were unseasonably warm. Instead of gathering in a central, open spot, the demonstration stretched along the sidewalk across the street from the fundraiser. Only half of the protestors could hear and only a tiny fraction could see the event's interminable series of speakers. The Bay Area might be a center of radicalism, but less than 1,000 protestors attended the demonstration, far less than the organizers' predictions of "thousands."
Unlike protests at more centralized venues, this protest featured relatively few literature tables, probably due to insufficient room. Only two tables were present: International ANSWER's and a smaller, independent table selling miscellaneous left-wing political books and copies of the Workers World Party's newspaper, Workers World. Two members of the environmentalist extremist group Rainforest Action Network also sold literature, spreading their anarchist books and newspapers along the ground. Perhaps to avoid paying elevated seller's fees to International ANSWER, the books and newspapers, including the journal of the enviro-terrorist Earth First! were distributed 'free,' with recommended 'donations.'
In addition to the tables, communists from four different parties were working the crowd, selling their party newspapers: Workers World, Revolutionary Worker, News and Letters, and Socialist Action. People distributed their stickers and flyers to all who passed by; within five minutes of arriving, I was handed an 'Arab sympathizer' sticker, a 'No God' sticker, and a 'U.S. and Israel - Partners in Crime' sticker (the last subtitled 'What Crime? Genocide.') I was also given flyers for several Bay Area fundraising events and conferences. International ANSWER's flyer (titled 'Bush Lies, People DIE!') advertised their weekly meetings in San Francisco and the upcoming September 26th to 28th "Global Day of Protest Against Occupation and Empire," a set of worldwide protests being organized to mark the third anniversary of the second (current) Palestinian Intifada. The flyer from "Labor Action Committee to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal" urged the crowd to support a convicted cop-killer.
While the Workers World Party was lying low, preferring to recruit people who first become involved in one of its many fronts, supporters of two other political parties were busy soliciting support. The Democratic Party was represented by a few supporters of long-shot presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich and three identically-dressed members of "Team Barbara Lee," the radical Berkeley congresswoman. The Green Party also had a large presence. The first thing protestors saw as they approached the protest site was a large banner for the Green Party campaign of Pat Gray, who will be running against Bay Area Democrat Tom Lantos in the 2004 election. Gray herself was there with a half-dozen supporters to pass out campaign literature and shake hands. Her efforts were supported by the Workers World Party, who were distributing flyers for "Drop Lantos, Not Bombs," a group organized to force Lantos out of office. In addition to Gray's supporters, Green Party backers of San Francisco Supervisor Tom Ammiano were collecting signatures for his mayoral bid. The crowd was quite supportive; many sported "Anyone But Bush 2004" stickers and signs.
No one group stood out in the crowd. The Senior Action Network/Gray Panthers, the Service Employees International Union, and the Communications Workers of America had all made an effort to mobilize their activists; therefore the protest was peppered with senior citizens and union staffers. At least a few were making and distributing preprinted picket signs, emblazoned with the name of the California Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO. Another handful carried "No Blood for Israel" signs. A group of four dressed as aliens, their signs reading "Where's the WMD? Abducted by aliens!" Another group, clad in white protective coveralls, claimed they were weapons inspectors here to inspect America. One man carried a Palestinian flag; another, a Cuban flag labeled "Bush, kiss my ass." A third man waved a Baathist-party era, post-1991 Iraqi flag, the version with the Islamist 'God is great' added between the stars. Che Guevara t-shirts were worn by a few; a Rainforest Action Network member wore a t-shirt praising the terrorist EZLN. At least four people wore the standard green armbands of National Lawyers Guild observers.
Two protestors were insane by any, even communist standards, carrying signs full of gibberish; one was obviously a schizophrenic off his medication. A black-clad contingent of anarchists were present, but they were relatively small in number and dressed flamboyantly, for style rather than combat.
The only thing uniting this crowd was their absolute hatred of President Bush. A large number decided to trivialize the Holocaust by comparing the President to Hitler, either by adding a Hitler moustache to his picture or drawing a swastika on the forehead. Their favorite chants, repeated endlessly over the two-hour-long event, were "George Bush - war criminal," and "Bush lied, people died." The presence of couple dozen supporters of President Bush, dressed in patriotic garb, caused many protestors to lose their reason; when one patriotic couple walked
through the crowd, protestors surrounded them, drowning out their cheers with shouts of "Shame! Shame! Shame!" Several young people screamed themselves red-in-the-face, fists clenched, eyes closed, shouting with all their might. Fortunately, there was no violence.
Every public protest organized by the Workers World Party or any other leftist group centers on a long string of monotonous speeches, and this was no exception. No fewer than fourteen different radicals took the stage to deliver rants. A few focused on single issues, often peripheral to the main purpose of the protest. For instance, a Workers World Party event wouldn't be complete without a long harangue on Columbia, so Workers World Party-front supporter and promising new recruit Natalie Alsop used her speech to condemn the United States' opposition to the FARC, Columbia's armed Marxist drug pushers. Of course, the City College of San Francisco student was only identified as a volunteer for International ANSWER.
Similarly, long-time Workers World Party member Alicia Jrapko was identified only as a member of the National Committee to Free the Cuban Five. She briefly discussed America's detention of five Cuban spies before accusing Cuban-Americans of being terrorists themselves, accusing the
population of Miami of being "good terrorists, the kind supported by the government." And speaker Azania Howse, a Workers World Party member since at least 1996 and likely back to the first Gulf War, spoke primarily about her work to protect an arts center in Oakland. Although praised by the master of ceremonies for reneging on her obligations as a voluntary, paid member of the military, refusing to fight in Desert Storm, and contacting a Workers World Party front for help deserting, Azania's party affiliation was never mentioned.
Speakers unaffiliated with the Workers World Party (yes, there were a couple) who also chose to speak on single issues included Karina Moreno of the Children's Defense Fund, who wanted the Child Tax Credit extended to families who don't pay taxes to begin with, and John Iverson, director of the East Bay branch of the radical homosexual organization ACT-UP, who wanted to destroy medical research and development by forcing pharmaceutical companies to give up their patent rights to their competitors.
And those were just the moderate speakers.
Michael Lyon of the Senior Action Network and San Francisco Gray Panthers, compared the Republican medicare plan to medicine in fascist Germany, where the old were referred to as "useless mouths." Lyon's speech was interrupted by the arrival of the President at the Marriott Hotel; the crowd yelled and booed quite loudly for a few minutes. When Lyon returned, he led the still-energized crowd in a chant of "Bush is lying, people are dying" - perhaps it was a Freudian slip when he mischanted, saying "Bush is dying...." He concluded his speech on a hopeful note. American troops in Iraq had tremendous potential for resistance, he said - after all, in Vietnam, many troops shot their officers.
Another speaker, Joey Johnson, worked with the Not in Our Name Project, the Revolutionary Communist Party front group. It's no surprise that Johnson, whose real first name is Gregory, is in fact a long-time member of the Revolutionary Communist Party; he set some important case law when he was arrested for burning the American flag outside the 1984 Republican convention. Although he served a year in jail, he appealed the constitutionality of the charge, and his conviction five years later was overturned by the Supreme Court. In his speech, he discussed how the protestors were "standing in the streets with the people of the world, where the people of the world need us to be," and read the Not In Our Name Project's 'Pledge of Resistance' to the crowd.
Riva Enteen, director of the San Francisco chapter of the National Lawyers Guild and frequent speaker (along with her thirteen-year-old daughter) at earlier anti-war protests, used her speech to mourn the demise of constitutional rights in America. She informed the crowd that no one had to speak to a federal agent; she was joined by a protestor named Clint Buttler, who said he was approached by the Secret Service as someone who "looked like a threat," and was asked for identification. This was described by Enteen as nothing but intimidation, and part of a "slippery slope to fascism;" it certainly couldn't have been Clint's resemblance to a known terrorist, as the Secret Service claimed.
An unidentified speaker, one of five from an organization called Code Pink, told the crowd about her organization's extensive efforts to harass fundraiser attendees . Five members of Code Pink had purchased rooms in the hotel where the President was speaking, and were on hand in pink gowns and sashes to greet fundraiser attendees as they entered the hotel lobby; anti-war and anti-Bush slogans were written on the sashes. Despite Enteen's claims about eroding civil liberties, Code Pink had been allowed to remain in the lobby for an hour, only being ejected from the hotel when they, ticketless, tried to enter the fundraiser itself. In their speech to the protest, they stressed the difference between rich and poor, and how the Bush administration was only the "president of the rich."
The most comical speaker was probably Jim Long, of the Veterans Speakers Alliance and Veterans For Peace. After claiming that Bush was a deserter during the Vietnam War (wait - wasn't desertion being praised just a few speeches ago?), Long contrasted him to that most benevolent of speakers, Fidel Castro. While at a rally in Cuba, Long observed how Castro was loved by his people, in contrast to President Bush, who had to be protected from protestors in a "quasi-military" operation. He then claimed that "it's hard for me to determine where the police state is and where the free state is." According to Long, every November 11th he goes to Cuba to take part in a special commemorative ceremony to honor Cuban veterans. While this sort of speech says more about Long than it does about America, the protestors applauded and cheered it.
By far the biggest cheers were reserved for the angriest speaker of the event, Kevin Danaher of Global Exchange. Danaher opened by claiming that President Bush had "stole Florida," and "isn't the constitutional President of the United States - there is a coup d'etat in this story." The crowd
loudly cheered its agreement. Danaher then stressed the need for the protestors to become recruiters, mobilizing en masse to approach others on the bus, at work, and in other locations.
Most disturbing of all, Danaher implied that the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon, which killed 124 on the ground and 64 on American Airlines flight 77, was not a terrorist attack, but a U.S. government-organized conspiracy. The crowd cheered. This exercise in anti-American paranoia was overseen by two masters of ceremonies, who led the crowd in chants between speeches. Although neither identified themselves, they were two of the Workers World Party's most prominent members, Richard Becker and Gloria La Riva - possibly the most powerful communists in the party to be excluded from its leading body, the seven-member Secretariat.
Becker made several impromptu speeches of his own; when one speaker accused the Bush administration of favoring the rich, Becker, who hates both Republicans and Democrats alike, took the time to accuse the Clinton administration as being as "bad as Bush" and responsible for just as much suffering: the killing of a million people in Iraq through sanctions,. Becker also made a fundraising pitch for International ANSWER; as buckets were passed through the crowd, he announced that those wishing to make tax-deductible donations to ANSWER were invited to make their checks payable to the 'Progress Unity Fund,' a San Francisco-based, Workers World Party-managed non-profit. And in one particularly memorable quote, Becker told the crowd that they had to stop the United States from acting militarily again, "not against Cuba, not against [North] Korea, not against Iran - because people around the world have a right to self-determination." One wonders how much self-determination the people truly have in North Korea's Stalinist hell.
Completing the speeches took a full two hours; by this time, the fundraiser was ending. Protestors did not see President Bush nor most of the attendees leave, and although International ANSWER brought out their giant, inflatable, missile-shaped balloon, also used when President Bush visited Santa Clara county in early May, the crowd's energy had faded. They slowly dispersed, most driven back to the nearby transit hub by shuttle buses.
Both the crowd and the speeches were so extremist that any news coverage could only help the President. I'm beginning to suspect that this is the Secretariat of the Workers World Party's secret intention; in terms of resources, publicity, and membership, they're faring far better under the Bush administration than they did under Clinton, or would under the administration of any left-leaning Democrat. Therefore, another term for President Bush is in the Workers World Party's interests; therefore Workers World Party demonstrations against President Bush are going to be as angry and militant as possible. This allows them to recruit the truly radical while alienating the nation's undecided swing voters, giving them street credibility.
As next year's campaign heats up, and the number of television cameras at these protests grows, the speakers are going to get angrier and angrier. The Democratic Party has put itself in this unenviable situation by refusing to denounce the Stalinists in its midst, in their efforts to generate "mainsteam" opposition to President Bush. In the future, these party hacks should take note: when you cooperate with the communists, you always get burnt.