Magazine article Insight on the News

Outside the Hall, a Few Sour Notes

Magazine article Insight on the News

Outside the Hall, a Few Sour Notes

Article excerpt

Protesters of every stripe and color showed up to demonstrate at the GOP convention, and most did so without incident, despite highly charged emotions. Some even brought their sense of humor.

Ted Koppel must have spent too much time inside the convention hall during his shortened media junket in San Diego. While the performances were delivered almost flawlessly within the Republicans' "big tent," as Koppel complained, an entire theater of the absurd, downtrodden and disgusted clamored at the gate, marched in their official demonstration zone and assembled in locations throughout San Diego County for a completely unscripted counterconvention.

The cast of characters -- some native San Diegans, others converging on the city from anywhere and everywhere -- was impressive even by California standards. A 7-foot condom with a happy face patrolled the area outside the sparkling Marriott Hotel, distributing AIDS literature. A giant bee declared his candidacy for president, buzzing around the crowds and handing out carnations.

Although the antitobacco "Buttman" was nowhere to be found, a masked crusader known as "Liberal Man" flounced about the Gaslamp Quarter in red and yellow spandex tights with a peace sign emblazoned on his chest, vowing to heckle President Clinton at campaign stumps. "Do you want to see my bleeding heart?" he mused. "I wear it on my left sleeve."

Activists on all sides of every explosive issue in America toted homemade, boldly printed signs and donned T-shirts, campaign buttons and comfortable shoes to make their presence and their voices heard for a litany of causes: AIDS awareness, affirmative action, gun rights, gun control, immigration, Proposition 187, the environment, antiabortion, pro-choice, labor concerns, English as the official language and gay and lesbian rights.

An American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit guaranteed the demonstration site's location across the trolley tracks from the convention center, a place the GOP originally had designated as a loading zone for the disabled. The loss of the loading zone caused few concerns among those in wheelchairs. The biggest problem for them at the convention, as a disabled CNN producer pointed out, was the web of cables on the floor and, of course, the convention center's poor sight lines.

With so much attention focused on the sanctioned demonstration zone as the convention approached, many organizations assumed they would be confined to the fenced area. But throughout the week, protesters carrying signs espousing such ideas as "God is not White," "Intolerance is a cancer to a free society" and "Stop the Cuts, No Scapegoating of Immigrants" increasingly spilled out into the streets, in front of the Marriott and just outside the guarded entrance to the convention center where the delegates, media and elected officials could see and hear the uproar.

"We are not going to be penned up!" cried Karen Mall, a member of ACT UP of Los Angeles, a militant gay and lesbian group that promotes AIDS awareness. "They have to look at us -- this pandemic exists, and they need to come to the table and discuss it."

Others chose to use the amenities of the demonstration zone -- its stage, microphone and designated gatherings to their advantage. "Si, se puede, si, se puede!" (Yes, you can!) chanted a mass of about 2,000 demonstrators opposing California's Proposition 209 that would eliminate governmentally enforced affirmative action. The participants echoed the words of United Farm Workers Union founder Cesar Chavez and carried signs depicting California Gov. Pete Wilson behind a Pinocchio nose with "Read between the lies" printed below. The march was sponsored by the L.A. Affirmative Action Defense Coalition, a group claiming to speak for Latino organizations, Asian-Americans, immigrants rights and student movements.

Several young Latinos provided a voice for the movement, stepping up to the microphone to tell their stories. …

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