Sara Burnett – “Protesters, police educate, gear up for convention”

http://www.rockymountainnews.com/news/2008/jul/17/protest-groups-have-big-plans-dnc/

Protesters, police educate, gear up for convention

Sara Burnett | July 17, 2008

Dozens of protest groups are planning a full schedule of classes, concerts, marches and other actions during the Democratic National Convention, hoping to capture the world’s attention and recruit new activists.

They are both energized and organized, and most insist they are not looking for trouble.

“We are completely peaceful,” said Rob Weiland, a 37-year-old courier from Denver and member of the group We Are Change Colorado. “We follow the ideals of Ghandi.”

The organization will be videotaping other groups and police during the DNC, scheduled for Aug. 25 to 28.

They’ll post the videos on YouTube.com or the group’s Web site so the public may see what’s happening without the filter of mainstream media, Weiland said.

If any protest groups are provoking police, he said, “our cameras will be on them.”

The Alliance for Real Democracy, a coalition of 18 groups, is planning a week of classes in City Park on topics such as non violence and how to organize a demonstration. A concert with Denver band the Flobots also is in the works.

The large-scale effort is being planned by six or seven different committees, focusing on areas such as fundraising, promotions and working with city officials, member Duke Austin said.

“This is on a much bigger scale than anything we’ve done so far, so it requires additional organizing,” said Austin, a 33-year-old Ph.D. candidate at the University of Colorado who leads the group Students for Peace and Justice.

“I think it will be an incredible learning experience for everybody there,” he said.

Police, meanwhile, are doing some preparing of their own.

By the time the convention starts, most officers working the DNC will have completed at least 30 hours of special training, Mayor John Hickenlooper said. It includes how to diffuse problems, so that nonviolent situations don’t escalate.

While the majority of protesters don’t want to break the law, the city is readying for “some bad characters,” Hickenlooper said.

Denver received a $50 million federal grant for security that will be used for personnel and equipment.

The city won’t say what type of equipment it’s buying with the money.

But a local company announced last month it had sold Denver 88 guns that fire a pepper spray-like substance instead of bullets for use during the DNC. The weapons may be used to incapacitate people, stop riots or disperse crowds.

Those purchases worry Ben Yager, 23, of Unconventional Denver, a local offshoot of the national group Unconventional Action.

The group is often mentioned as one most likely to cause problems for police during the convention.

Participants won’t discuss details of the camp, but Yager said among the topics was how to protect oneself from police, and how to “do it in a way that won’t get you sent to jail.”

Protesters who do end up behind bars will have some allies.

Today at the University of Denver, the People’s Law Project will train attorneys who are volunteering to represent people who believe their First Amendment rights are violated during the DNC.

The group encouraged any activists or other members of the community to attend a noon lunch on free speech rights.

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