By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By William Breathes
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
The throng of demonstrators — 500 according to police, 1,500 according to protest organizers — had taken over the intersection of 15th and Stout streets, unfurling banners and emptying a bucket filled with fake blood and dismembered baby dolls. As dozens of officers in full riot gear approached and camera crews jockeyed for shots, drums and Native American chants steeled the resolve of the protesters. Glenn Morris, who's been leading efforts against Denver's annual Columbus Day Parade for almost twenty years, urged everyone who was "prepared to be arrested" to stay close, while supporters cheered from the sidewalks.
But this direct action wasn't going quite the way the other lead organizer, Glenn Spagnuolo, had envisioned. The original Transform Columbus Day plan had called for as many as a hundred protesters to burst through barricades along the parade route. After this first group of less-resistant individuals — the elderly, the handicapped, people not as willing to risk bodily harm — was swept up by police, a second wave of activists would enter the street and use what Spagnuolo had described as "more hard-core sitting lockdown maneuvers" to stall the parade even longer. But the demonstrators had moved too early; the parade was still three blocks away. Anticipating such a display, officers quickly sealed off a one-block radius and surrounded the protesters with a wall of uniforms.
Now about fifty activists sank to the street in three sit-down circles, using the proper hand grips and leg locks they'd been taught in training sessions. Earlier in the week, Spagnuolo had declared that "the time to talk is over," since many Native Americans and their supporters consider a celebration of Columbus deeply, unredeemably offensive. But his expression changed from determined to strained as he watched police efficiently dismantle each of the circles and haul the demonstrators off to nearby Denver County Sheriff's Department buses. If this kept up, their blockade would be over before it even started. Standing near the police, Morris and Spagnuolo — or "the Glenns," as they're often referred to by associates — consulted with Russell Means. Even at 68, Means still commands attention as the man who led the American Indian Movement's militant occupation of Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in 1973. But AIM of Colorado is just a tiny, and disavowed, splinter of that original organization.
"What should we do?" Morris asked. They tried to speak softly, but the screams of a female protester whose leg was in a police pressure hold made talking difficult.
"I say we just rush them," said Means. "All of us at once. Just like we did back in the old days."
The Glenns looked at the three-deep line of police, some of them armed with black paintball guns loaded with pellets that release pepper spray. Designing a large protest is never an exact science, and this is especially true among radical groups whose general distrust of centralized authority often makes such efforts an exercise in guided chaos. There are advantages to this model, including adaptability and quick recovery from law-enforcement responses. But it also makes it difficult for those involved in the action to know what the hell is going on.
"What the hell is going on?" one protester, a young woman, shouted at Spagnuolo.
He didn't answer. Instead, he moved to the sidewalk. "Don't stand near me," he whispered to his wife, Barbara. A police sergeant had pointed Spagnuolo out to other officers, who were keeping a close watch on a group of young men who'd wrapped their faces in bandannas. Spagnuolo had a white bandanna hanging around his neck, ready for tear gas. This was one of the precautions he'd urged at a planning meeting; other suggestions including packing a granola bar for a snack during arrest-processing and a credit card to secure bond quickly. He paced nervously along the sidelines. The second wave couldn't make it into the street without pushing through some cops.
From the 2004 Columbus Day Parade protest, Spagnuolo knew that anyone who instigated contact with an officer, even a bump with a shoulder, would be looking at a much more serious charge than a misdemeanor for refusing to vacate. That year, he and 238 others were taken into custody as part of the orchestrated arrests they'd worked out beforehand with the Denver Police Department. As they peacefully entered the parade right-of-way, they were escorted off and given a citation. The deal was designed to walk the thin line between free speech and illegal behavior. If you scream "Columbus was a murderer!" from the sidewalk, you're protected under the First Amendment. But if you scream it in the street, are you breaking the law? That was the question that led to Spagnuolo and seven others being acquitted at trial, after which charges were dropped in the 231 other cases. Protesters declared it a major victory. Denver City Council responded by closing the loophole, passing an ordinance that makes it illegal to obstruct lawful events after a police order to move.
This year, the Transform Columbus Day Alliance skipped the advance meeting with police, and the rhetoric was much more aggressive.
As Morris began unbraiding his hair, Spagnuolo told fellow activists to head into the street on his cue. "We're going to break that tape and take the assault charges," he said. "That way you guys can follow and take up to the other side and go on lockdown."
As police — supervised by DPD chief Gerry Whitman — deployed a mini-army to arrest a total of 88 protesters, the procession of colorful floats, classic cars and flatbeds filled with elderly Sicilians and mini-beauty queens was stalled another hour.
And at the end of the day, all anyone could talk about was what would happen in Denver next year — not on Columbus Day, but at the Democratic National Convention.
With his shaved head, goatee, solemn brow and a wardrobe of dark garments with many pockets, 37-year-old Glenn Spagnuolo looks the part of a revolutionary. He is articulate, quick-witted and can make great, impassioned speeches about injustice, racism and corporate greed without sounding like some mumbling hippie or foam-spitting radical. He's put those characteristics to good use in front of cameras since January, when it was announced that Denver would host the 2008 Democratic National Convention.
The last time Denver hosted a major political convention was in 1908, when the Democrats nominated William Jennings Bryan — who would go on to lose his third White House bid. So the 2008 convention, slated for August 25 to 28 exactly a hundred years later, has been heralded as an opportunity for Denver to put itself on the political map. But city boosters' glee was somewhat tempered when Spagnuolo and a small group of activists from the anti-Columbus offshoot All Nations Alliance revealed that they'd commandeered several possible DNC websites, buying up domain names like DenverDNC.org and 2008Denverconvention.com for $126 each back when Denver was just one of several possible host cities.
That was embarrassing enough, but worse, the activists had linked the official-sounding domains to a protest project called Recreate '68. That's '68, as in Chicago 1968, the most infamous Democratic convention in history, which still summons a mental slide show of archetypal Vietnam-era images: tear gas, riots, young people clubbed by baton-wielding police, a Democratic Party enveloped in political chaos.
So why name a contemporary protest group after such a notorious event?
There are the obvious parallels to forty years ago: an unpopular war and an unpopular president. For the 1968 convention, a myriad of unassociated activist movements — ranging from hippies to Black Nationalists to yippies to New Leftists, pacifists and revolutionaries — came together under the same protest banner. The Recreate '68 Alliance (R-68 for short) contends that its mission is to recapture the same energy, diversity and power of the 1968 demonstrations by acting as a coordinator for the "tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of protesters" expected to converge on Denver. It's R-68's job to ensure that their collective presence has the greatest possible impact.
For elected officials and local business leaders, the Democratic convention is about more than the economic benefits of having 35,000 delegates, guests and media types dumping money in area hotels and restaurants. They see the DNC as a chance to show off the city as a forward-thinking urban metropolis to a national audience whose conception of Denver is still cobbled together from Coors commercials and ski brochures. The last thing they want associated with the Mile High City is violence in the streets. But they also don't want Denver to be known as the town that squashed dissent and stifled free speech.
Neither does R-68. The group laid out its concerns in March at the Mercury Cafe, where Spagnuolo and four other members of the R-68 organizing committee, along with their attorney, sat behind a table on the small stage. They talked about oppressed peoples, military spending, Katrina, immigration rights, solidarity with Iraqi people and police brutality. They said they hoped to host a four-day "festival for democracy" in Civic Center Park during the convention with teach-ins and poetry readings. "The city will see that it's in its best interests to work with us to make sure that things go smoothly," organizer Mark Cohen said.
When reporters asked for specifics about the protests, Spagnuolo took the microphone. R-68 members had been traveling around the country meeting with major anti-war organizations and other national protest groups, he explained. Plans were still rough, but each of the four days would be coordinated so that no one protest overlapped another. "The protests will range on topics that we consider the symptoms of the capitalist systems put in place by Republicans and Democrats," Spagnuolo said. "We don't make a distinction any longer, because we see them as two sides of the same coin."
Denver's civic leaders aren't the only ones who have something to prove next year. Colorado activists want to show their counterparts on the coasts that they have the ability to organize a successful mega-protest, networking with allies from around the country and putting Denver at the center of it. If R-68 goes well, it could establish the Front Range as a major hub for the radical and progressive movement rather than just a way station on the road to Seattle or San Francisco.
For Cohen, it's also a chance to "reinvigorate the kinds of mass movements that once existed in this country." Cohen and his wife, Barbara, are thirty-year veterans of the scene. They've founded, or helped found, dozens of organizations and campaigns, including the Colorado Progressive Coalition and Denver Copwatch. When the American Civil Liberties Union sued the DPD for illegally keeping surveillance records, the Cohens discovered that they had one of the most massive files. Even though neither has ever been arrested or charged with a crime, they were labeled "criminal extremists" by cops.
The 2003 settlement of that suit required that the DPD no longer keep spy files on peaceful activists. If the department breaks that agreement in the run-up to the DNC, Barbara Cohen pointed out, "the ACLU and National Lawyers Guild will be ready to go to court."
Spagnuolo never had a chance to amass a spy file. A relative newcomer to Colorado, his first notice as a prominent activist came not long after his acquittal on charges stemming from Columbus Day 2004. In the spring of 2005, Spagnuolo, then a manager of several teen-outreach programs for the Longmont Parks and Recreation Department, became the subject of scrutiny after he called the Caplis and Silverman radio show — on a city-issued cell phone — and defended a certain embattled University of Colorado professor. On the air, Spagnuolo answered a question about police officers with this: "Nobody deserves to be killed. But if you're going to put a uniform on, I do have a lack of sympathy if you were killed."
Suddenly Spagnuolo was sucked into the Ward Churchill show and found himself invoking a similar First Amendment defense, claiming he was being persecuted for his political activities and beliefs. After he'd moved to Boulder County in the late '90s, Spagnuolo had helped found Longmont Citizens for Justice and Democracy, which successfully campaigned against a proposed Super Wal-Mart. With Spagnuolo at the helm, the group took on other causes. One year it protested at the offices of Lockheed Martin; the next year it protested at Representative Marilyn Musgrave's. In 2005, it successfully lobbied Longmont to change the name of a street that had honored John Chivington, the colonel responsible for the 1864 Sand Creek Massacre. That earned Spagnuolo credibility within Colorado AIM — and more scrutiny from outside.
Longmont was investigating Spagnuolo to see if he was working on his activist campaigns during city time; Churchill, Morris and sixty others showed up at a Longmont City Council meeting to support him. "I would say that my defense of [Churchill] kind of pushed it over the top as far as the media," Spagnuolo says today. "Not all of us strive for that type of attention; it's good to have some anonymity and organize under the radar. But sometimes we don't choose history, history chooses us."
Spagnuolo was eventually cleared of wrongdoing, but even though he wasn't officially disciplined, he felt that Longmont considered him a liability. The majority of the anti-gang and teen programs that he oversaw were assigned to others. "I was basically being warehoused," he says. "I was collecting a nice paycheck, but I wasn't feeling like I was making a difference in the community."
But soon Spagnuolo would get the chance to make a big difference in a very different, brand-new community: Woodbine Ranch, sixty miles to the south in Douglas County.
Woodbine Ranch sits on 56 acres tucked in a valley where the foothills become the mountains just west of Sedalia. More than a century ago, the valley was used by the Northern Ute as a meeting place for exchanging goods. In the 1920s, Woodbine Ranch emerged as a retreat for Chicago mobsters who went there to gamble and hunt; they used tommy guns to mow down deer and other unlucky wildlife, according to one newspaper article. After that, the ranch functioned as a restaurant and event facility until the '50s, when Woodbine was turned into a YMCA-style Christian summer camp owned by the Rocky Mountain Conservative Baptist Association.
When Glenn Morris saw the property in 2004, he immediately saw it as a place where he could create something long-lasting and positive that showed a world he would like to see rather than one he was simply against.
Morris had joined Colorado's chapter of the American Indian Movement in the early '70s, while still a student at East High School. After graduating from Harvard Law School, he worked on Native American legal issues before returning to Denver. Along with co-director Ward Churchill, he built Colorado AIM into one of the most politically active — and controversial — chapters in the nation. But Morris's high-profile visits to Libya and Nicaragua led to conflicts with the national AIM leadership that resulted in the Colorado chapter splitting into a separate faction in 1986. Now 52, with a squarish jaw and sturdy build that fits well with the long-sleeve shirts and native-print vests he usually wears, Morris carries the brooding seriousness of a man who's spent much of his life ready for battle.
Morris and activist Pavlos Stavropoulos had been talking about creating some kind of community. Stavropolous, who's originally from Greece, has run a variety of social action groups and often writes and lectures on anarchist philosophy; the 42-year-old identifies as an anarchist the same way his neighbors in Littleton identify as Republicans — only he doesn't vote. Instead, he works to put his principles into practice. His family on his mother's side had acquired a substantial inheritance through the sale of some Texas real estate. Because Woodbine had been unoccupied for several years and had fallen into disrepair, Stavropoulos was able to purchase it from the Baptist association for $1.3 million.
Morris and Spagnuolo both became paid project managers at Woodbine Ranch in 2006. They like to joke about the cyclical nature of the property's history. "It took eighty years, but the homeless Indians and Italian gangsters have come back," laughs Morris, who's of Shawnee descent on his father's side. Spagnuolo, who's also the spokesman for PITCH, or Progressive Italians Transforming the Columbus Holiday, had grown up in the Bronx as part of a large Italian family that moved to Long Island when he was a teenager. They'd lived in a bad part of town filled with gangs, drugs and violence — and Spagnuolo admits taking part. "I was very angry at the richer kids on the richer side of town," he says. One of his teachers helped him turn that energy toward politics, particularly the anti-apartheid movement of the '80s, and he's been hooked ever since.
During the summer solstice this year, Woodbine Ranch hosted a celebration. A long, dirt parking lot extends up a hill toward the main lodge, where about 75 people were eating grilled corn and chicken and talking about the project's amazing potential. The incongruous conglomeration of groups that rally under the anti-Columbus banner were well-represented, with Native American activists mingling with hard-core hipsters and soft-spoken earth mothers. In their discussion, everything seemed possible, because nothing like this had ever been done before — at least, not in the liberal activist world.
Woodbine was not a commune, or a compound. If you called it either, you were quickly corrected. Woodbine Ranch was a summer camp and conference center based on a "non-colonialist model" — or it would be one day. Morris stood near two bulletin boards propped up on a tripod, one covered with old newspaper clippings and photos of the property that he had found while doing archival research at various libraries, the other a color-coded timeline for completion of the project. Orange and yellow showed the work that was needed to bring the fifty-year-old electrical and plumbing systems up to date. Next up was securing the building permits to remodel most of the twenty structures on the property, which range from sheds to fully functioning homes to rustic, multi-bed cabins. They hoped approval would come through by August so construction could finally begin.
The project wasn't a secret. But the core group behind Woodbine was worried that if news of their project broke the wrong way, those applications might be stalled indefinitely. Earlier this summer, when a California-based direct-action training group that's been linked to so-called eco-terrorist organizations like the Earth Liberation Front held a meeting there, Douglas County Sheriff's Department vehicles were parked at the base of the canyon the whole weekend. There was no trouble, though. And while neighbors had been wary, they weren't unduly alarmed given the property's eclectic history.
Morris seemed lighthearted as he explained Woodbine's past and talked about its bright future. The plan called for Woodbine to operate as a summer camp for Native American youth who live on reservations or are involved with various tribes across the country, to be a place where they could reconnect with their heritage by practicing traditional farming techniques and learning culture and history from their elders. But kids from other backgrounds would be welcome as well. The property has a small lake, a swimming pool and a large network of trails. It also has meeting rooms and a chapel that the group wanted to convert into a lecture hall so that Woodbine could host conventions for national progressive groups and be available for local events and fundraisers.
The target was to get the place operational by summer 2008, and perhaps even use it as a staging area for DNC protests.
But first, the core group of Woodbine stakeholders had to reach a consensus.
Standing near the industrial-sized kitchen, Stavropoulos watched visitors as they separated their potluck waste into designated recycling and compost bags. The overarching theme for Woodbine, he said, was to create a community free of the colonialist structure of hierarchy and domination.
"How do we all learn to live with each other in this place?" he asked, adding that he hoped Woodbine would serve as a model of the type of interpersonal, environmentally balanced society that's possible, if only on a small scale.
An old jeep painted with the classic anarchist circle-A symbol was parked outside the building. Although it has dozens of intellectual schools and mutant offshoots, anarchism essentially holds that the ills of societies can be blamed on people who have power imposing their will on people who don't have power. If economists look at the world as a system of capitalist market forces, anarchists see the world as a system of power forces that oppress workers, minorities, poor people and others. Power should be held by a collective, they say, not by an individual or a government.
But to be the owner of a large property like Woodbine, where people live and work, is to have power. And that put anarchist Stavropoulos in an awkward position.
Activists repeatedly assert that Woodbine is a project separate from the Transform Columbus Day Alliance, which is separate from R-68. But the three efforts involve several of the same principal players and pull from the same stable of supporters. Morris, for example, is a leader in Woodbine and TCD, but not R-68. The Cohens are main organizers for R-68 and TCD, but not Woodbine. Spagnuolo has been a top dog in all three — and as the most vocal member of a group that's gotten attention through sheer vocalness, he's become the de facto representative of all potential DNC protesters.
R-68 has met with representatives of the DPD, the Mayor's Office and the FBI. This past June, it found a surprise supporter in then-District 7 City Councilwoman Kathleen Mackenzie. She worked with the group to draft a proposed proclamation that called for the city to respect the rights of protesters during the DNC by issuing parade permits promptly, minimizing police use of pepper spray and horses, allowing protests near the convention center, and restricting the use of four-sided barricades to pen in demonstrators.
These points were not arbitrary. R-68's aggressive public efforts are based on concerns raised by treatment of protesters at the 2004 Republican and Democratic national conventions. In New York, where the RNC was held, police rounded up thousands of protesters in the week before the convention and housed them in a bus terminal for days with little food and water. The NYPD also spied broadly on protest groups, even embedding undercover officers. At the DNC in Boston, protesters were relegated to what officials dubbed "free-speech zones" — protest pens. Spagnuolo was there, and says the area was located beneath overhead rail tracks, closed off by a ten-foot-high fence topped with barbed wire, and surrounded by police.
Federal law-enforcement agencies were doing their own reconnaissance. Before the 2004 conventions, the FBI and the Joint Terrorism Task Force, working in conjunction with local law enforcement, had questioned political demonstrators across the country in an effort to forestall potential trouble. In Denver, they showed up at the door of the Derailer Bike Collective — a group of young activists who provide free bikes and bike services to children and the homeless — dressed in full SWAT gear. To Mark Silverstein of the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado, the tactic seemed designed to intimidate activists and definitely violated Denver's spy-file agreement made the year before. That fall, he worked with ACLU offices in other states to file a joint request for information that revealed the feds had been keeping detailed files on this younger generation of activists.
R-68 organizers assume they're being watched by police at any given moment. So at the beginning of open-door planning meetings, Spagnuolo will often note that "it's probably pretty likely that someone in this room is an undercover cop." That's why R-68 made the preemptive move to push the city into an open discussion about protest policies during the DNC.
But other councilmembers thought Mackenzie's proclamation went too far, too fast. The city had no business bargaining with protest groups that vow to "party in the streets" while hamstringing police from using every appropriate means necessary to maintain order, they said. Corporate leaders hinted that if the proclamation passed, they might be reluctant to ante up the $40 million in donations that the city needs to host the convention. Council chairman Michael Hancock — who'd spoken at an anti-Columbus day event in 2001, back when he was a community organizer — yanked the proposal before it could be debated.
"It's one thing allowing First Amendment rights, and it's another when you try to dictate police crowd-control measures," says Councilman Charlie Brown, the proclamation's most outspoken critic. "There's no way I was going to have R-68 via Denver City Council tell our police department what tactics they can and cannot use."
Instead, councilmembers discussed security and free-speech concerns at a committee meeting on July 11, when they heard from Deputy Michael Battista, the DPD's point man for the DNC. Battista said that officers have been receiving special training in "crowd management" — a softer-sounding description than "crowd control" — but declined to go into specifics about what types of procedures will be used. "We will not discuss tactics with protest groups," Battista said. "It's a safety issue for our officers."
On hand were Spagnuolo, Mark Cohen and R-68's lawyer, Tom Cincotta of the National Lawyers Guild, who asserted that any type of free-speech zone would be "unacceptable." Battista said he had met with police departments in New York and Boston and spoken with officials in Los Angeles to see how those cities handled protests, and he noted how different Denver's setup was. Unlike Boston's Fleet Center, for example, the Pepsi Center is surrounded by open space — parking lots and boulevards that could allow for demonstrations within sight and sound of the event without resorting to protest cages.
But the city won't make any decisions on protest areas until it receives an operational security plan from the Secret Service, the lead agency in charge of all "National Special Security Events," which could come as late as January. To guard against possible terrorism, the FBI, FEMA and various bureaus of the Department of Homeland Security will be involved as well. "They'll bring in hundreds of agents over the course of the next year that will develop security for the events," explains Katherine Archuleta, who's in charge of convention coordination for the Mayor's Office.
The federal agencies will determine the perimeters around the Pepsi Center, and also certain transportation corridors for delegates and politicians. Outside of these areas, the DPD will be in command. Boston reportedly had as many as 5,000 officers and state troopers on the ground each day of the 2004 convention. Chief Whitman has said he hopes to pull together 2,000 to 2,500 officers from Denver and surrounding cities. Aurora has already offered 500 cops to augment the force — if their off-time and overtime is paid for. The steep cost of security is the reason Congress has appropriated $100 million for the Democratic and GOP conventions, which will be split between Denver and Minneapolis/St. Paul.
But the DPD is reluctant to discuss how any of that money will be spent. Citing security concerns, spokesman Sonny Jackson declines to talk about police strategy or planning; he won't comment on whether the city is exploring creating a temporary holding facility in the event of mass arrests, as New York did three years ago. "We are preparing for whatever situations may come," Jackson says. "If we need a larger area for detainees, we would be prepared for that. But at the same time, we're not going to disclose where that is going to be, both for the detainees' and officers' safety."
Archuleta and representatives of the DNC host committee have been meeting with R-68 and the ACLU for the past five months, and will step up their discussions as the convention nears. "The mayor is committed to First Amendment rights, but also the safety of citizens and protesters," Archuleta says. "I think the dialogue is the most important thing that can happen, so that we're all aware of what to expect."
Even if that dialogue includes a protest group named after an event that Denver definitely doesn't want to re-create.
"I wasn't there in 1968," Archuleta says, "but I would assume that these types of conversations never occurred. We have to plan the best that we can for all possibilities. We've also agreed that sometimes we won't agree, that sometimes there are things that they want to do that are not things we can accommodate. The most important thing is that we're at the table."
DU is a Nazi-sympathizing supporter of terrorism!"
The tourists stepped out of minivans with Nebraska and Utah plates and stared, bewildered, at the scruffy mass of banners, effigies and facial hair screaming in their direction outside the Marriott City Center. One activist in his early twenties let loose with another free-association rant. "Hey, look at the little Eichmanns!" he shouted through his bullhorn, using a line cribbed from Ward Churchill's much-derided 9/11 essay. "Hello, little Eichmanns. Kill any children today?"
Inside the hotel, Wayne Murdy, CEO of Denver-based Newmont Mining Corp, was about to receive the International Bridge Builders Award from the University of Denver's Graduate School of International Studies. It was a choice that infuriated environmental and human-rights activists, given the gold-extraction company's record of pollution and labor abuses in Indonesia, Peru and Ghana. But since most of the swanky fundraiser's guests were being swept in through a side entrance, the protesters directed their ire at people who had no idea who Murdy was.
"Don't let DU prostitute you guys," Spagnuolo shouted. "You are prostituting yourselves!"
Spagnuolo's first formal training in protest activism came when he attended the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York in the late '80s. Through friends in the gay and lesbian community, he got involved with the radical AIDS awareness organization Act Up, which used theatrical direct-action tactics — such as mass takeovers of government and corporate offices, even churches — that would be picked up by the anti-globalization movement years later. Spagnuolo spent his twenties in various parts of the country, only marginally involved in activism. But his interest in direct-action protest was invigorated in 1999, when demonstrators successfully shut down a World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle. By then, Spagnuolo was living in Colorado, and though he helped organize caravans to the event, he didn't go himself. "I honestly didn't think it was going to be as big as it was," he says. "And it is one of my bigger regrets."
Though many people describe Spagnuolo as an anarchist, he says his political beliefs are closer to those of a democratic socialist. But he tries not to pigeonhole himself, because sectarianism and dogma is often the undoing of leftist movements. "I'll work with anybody who wants to make a positive change in this country," he insists. "Once this government's gone, then we can sort out how to fix this country. Too many people get sucked into 'I'm a communist, so I don't work with socialists who don't work with anarchists.'"
At the DU demonstration, he kept the energy of the seventy or so protesters high. But Spagnuolo himself was tired. He and Morris, who spent much of the protest beating a drum in a circle of Colorado AIM activists, had been up most of the night discussing Woodbine. A week before, Stavropoulos had told the group that his family in Greece — his mother, technically — was no longer confident that Woodbine would be financially viable in its current incarnation. The original estimates to bring the infrastructure up to code had been low, and as the project progressed, substantial problems with the wiring and plumbing had surfaced. Money was flying out the door, and the Stavropoulos family was afraid it would be left holding the bag. Stavropoulos had told the Glenns that the family was going to accept proposals from other organizations to operate the property.
And then, at a meeting just the night before, Stavropoulos had told Spagnuolo that he was out of the project.
The timing could not have been worse. A month after the Newmont protest came the much larger Columbus Day Parade protest. Since this would be the hundredth anniversary of the holiday getting its start in Colorado, plans called for making the protest bigger and more noisy than in previous years — maybe even stopping the parade altogether, as Morris and others had done in 1992, when they amassed 2,500 demonstrators. But the group had to be careful: Spagnuolo speculated that the powers-that-be would like nothing more than to lock up the town's top political troublemakers on Columbus Day, then tie them up in legal actions for months when they needed to move on to planning the DNC events.
That he could handle, though. But the end of his involvement with Woodbine was tougher. "It's been very difficult for myself to try to reconcile what the hell happened," Spagnuolo said. "I went through a lot of shit at the City of Longmont with lawsuits and stuff. And they even treated me in a more respectful way when I walked away from the project there."
This latest blow came from within his own community. "Are we so far into a colonized world that we can't break out of it?" he wondered. "The most depressing thing to me is you've been spending your whole life on this and here's your chance to do it, and can we actually do it? Am I just bullshitting myself?"
He rubbed his face and took a breath, then grabbed his bullhorn. He had a protest to lead.
Larry Hales wasn't alive in 1968. But the thirty-year-old R-68 organizer sees the protests at that convention as a good motivator for today's protest movements. "It was a year when a lot of things came together. The Black liberation circle. Anti-war," he says. "All these ideologies came together and were willing to confront the state and were doing so in a lot of different ways. But it was a spirit, the idea behind it, that has been missing since 1968." And so he likes the name of the group.
Others do not.
"To me, it shows an incredible lack of history to what happened there and the people who were injured," says Councilman Brown. "The fact that people couldn't go downtown and work. The amount of money that was spent. It took Chicago more than a decade to get over that national black eye. It certainly hurt the Democratic Party."
The name has even proven controversial with other progressive groups.
Bill Vandenberg, director of the Colorado Progressive Coalition, says his members haven't yet decided if they will be involved with R-68 — and the name is playing into their reluctance. "Personally, I feel that not only does it give images of Chicago '68 beatings and violence, it doesn't inspire us to look toward a progressive future, either," he says. "It's looking in the rearview mirror."
United for Peace and Justice, a national network of 1,400 groups planning to organize around the DNC and RNC just as they did in 2004, probably won't work directly with R-68. "For me, the point is not to re-create something that happened forty years ago," says Leslie Cagan, a national UPJ coordinator. "The global politics are different, the national politics are different, our movement is different."
The ANSWER Coalition will carry out a full-scale mobilization for the DNC protests, says national coordinator Brian Becker, with bus transportation and car caravans from the West Coast, East Coast and Midwest chapters. The group has been in contact with R-68, he adds, but ANSWER is holding off on deciding whether it will join up.
The Troops Out Now Coalition and the Rainforest Action Network have signed on, says Hales. But other large national groups have been reluctant, partly because the R-68 leadership has declined to issue a statement of non-violence, leaving peace and pacifist groups in a tough spot.
"If you don't have an absolute non-violence code," explains Betty Ball, co-director of the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center, "what happens is there's going to be the interpretation from the media to the general public that 'Oh, there's going to be violence.'"
David Chandler, a co-director of the Colorado Green Party, says the dispute over R-68's protest style has prompted some activists to consider forming a rival organizing group around the DNC. "Spagnuolo may come out as no-violence," he says, "but the tone of what he has been saying to the media certainly would make you concerned."
According to Spagnuolo, pressure from peace groups has prompted R-68 to consider drafting a modified non-violence statement. "It'll be along the lines of 'We will not be instigating any violence against any living being. We reserve the right for personal and community self-defense,'" he says.
And they may need to, according to Claire Ryder, chairwoman of the Denver Green Party, who was at the Columbus Day protest. "I don't recall ever seeing the Denver police being quite that bad," she says. "And I've been kicked and tear-gassed and pepper-sprayed."
A similar overreaction by cops was what caused the riots at the 1968 DNC, she says, with footage of police and National Guard troops using billy clubs, tear gas and pepper spray to beat back crowds in Grant Park widely played in the mass media. "I have far more problem with police in Denver and how they're going to treat the protesters" than with the R-68 name, she continues. Authorities "are just going to create another police riot. And I was hoping that wasn't the way Denver was going to be perceived by the world, but apparently it is."
But Mayor John Hickenlooper is not Mayor Richard J. Daley, who sought to control the protesters the same way he controlled the city of Chicago: with all-powerful, autocratic efficiency. Chicago cops were unleashed to respond with the same chaotic anger that was being directed toward them, with the added edge of police weaponry.
Some groups even think R-68 may be too soft. Unconventional Action, which was born out of the Crimethinc network of anarchists, is recruiting people to protest at the DNC and RNC conventions. The group aims to organize a series of actions that will "shut down the DNC," according to its website, and has been holding a series of "consultas" across the country to build strategy. The Denver Consulta was held on October 5 at a location near downtown and was attended by forty anarchists representing outfits from across the West. Spagnuolo was invited to speak about the mission of R-68.
"A lot of them are younger folks," he remembers, "and they were very excited and happy to hear about the more — I don't want to say aggressive, but the more demanding-type approach that R-68 is taking. We're going to be working with lots of anti-authoritarian groups. And we're not going to be telling people what to do or how to do it."
Four days after the Columbus Day Parade, the protesters held a press conference. After they'd run out into the street, Morris and Spagnuolo had been taken into custody without incident. But others felt they were manhandled by cops, including a female pastor from the Iliff School of Theology who showed a picture of her neck being bent in a police pressure hold. Another protester had to be taken to the hospital. Nearly all of the 88 arrested on October 6 were held in jail overnight, even after they'd posted bail.
Russell Means argued that what had happened to him qualified as torture: He'd been placed in an isolation cell where the buzz of the fluorescent lights bothered him, and his heart medication had been withheld for a time. He said he planned to file a civil suit against the sheriff's department and Denver's mayor, who'd "ordered protesters to be held for the maximum amount of time."
One female protester asked if they could "expect similar treatment at the DNC."
Civil-rights attorney Walter Gerash was there to support the protesters, and will take many of their cases on charges ranging from disrupting a public assembly to resisting arrest. The protesters intend to plead not guilty and take each case to a jury trial. Morris and Spagnuolo will certainly use that forum to further decry Columbus. But they also hope that the legal cases will focus attention on how the city deals with protesters: a protest for a protest for a protest. "We want to put the city attorney's office on notice," Morris says. "They'd better be ready to cancel their vacations."
When he was arrested, Spagnuolo gave Woodbine Ranch as his home address — but now he and his wife must move out by mid-November. According to Stavropoulos, the Woodbine project will move ahead without Spagnuolo. Stavropoulos had his former employee sign a statement of confidentiality regarding the Woodbine project, so Spagnuolo has kept silent on the subject.
But he still has plenty to say about plans for the upcoming convention, when protests "will make the 1968 DNC look like a small gathering." And in honor of the Chicago 7, the group of protesters who went on trial after that convention, those arrested on Columbus Day have already started calling themselves the Denver 88.
"They couldn't process 88 of us in a constitutional manner and get us out of jail in less than 32 hours," Spagnuolo concludes. "What's going to happen when you have 888 people arrested in a day? We're all in a lot of trouble when it comes to the DNC."