Anarchists Stalk Democratic Convention

If not for all the pink hair and inventive body modifications, the two dozen people wandering around the Golden Triangle on a sunny Saturday could be mistaken for delegates surveying the city in advance of the Democratic National Convention.

"Gather 'round, everyone. Welcome to Denver. My name is Rockslide. I am going to be your tour guide for the day." The bearded twenty-something clears his throat and announces an itinerary similar to what might be offered by convention organizers: "We're going to go though Civic Center Park, walk through downtown to the Pepsi Center."

But this tour group consists of anarchists from around the country, and this guided trip of the Mile High City is designed to help them plan how to disrupt the DNC come August.

"The big boxy building to my left is Denver police headquarters," Rockslide says. "Though they have holding cells and process arrests there, in all likelihood the city will be housing DNC arrests in a large secondary facility, like New York did with the [2004] RNC."

Someone in the back asks, "Do we know where?"

"No," Rockslide answers. "And I don't think we will until they start putting protesters in it." A few blocks away, he points out the gold of the State Capitol dome and the "Ministry of Information" (aka the Denver Post/Rocky Mountain News building). And he gestures toward heating grates on the south side of the Denver City and County Building where, until recently, the homeless would congregate at night to stay warm. "The city started kicking them off about four months ago," he says. "It's all part of their push to clear the downtown area of undesirables before the convention."

Rockslide then launches into a brief description of Denver topography: street layout, important buildings, neighborhoods that are being gentrified, areas where yuppies hang out.

This excursion is just part of a weekend-long planning conference put together by local members of Unconventional Action, a nationwide outfit of self-proclaimed anarchists and anti-authoritarians who've made it their mission to disturb the pomp and circumstance surrounding the political conventions this year. Unlike protest groups that gear their actions toward influencing the Democratic and Republican platforms, anarchists say they'd like to take down the entire two-party political system that "piloted us into unwinnable wars, ecological catastrophes and grievous imbalances of wealth and power," according to an Unconventional Action strategies newsletter.

Though you might assume that being an anarchist is all about confronting fascists and smashing capitalism, it's also about meetings. Very long meetings. So far, regional "consultas" have been held in North Carolina, Minneapolis, New York and Maryland. The Denver gathering began on January 19, the morning of the tour, with a general anti-DNC meeting organized by the protest-organizing group Recreate 68 ("Taking It to the Streets," October 25, 2007). Some seventy proud leftists crammed into the basement of a Lincoln Park church, enduring more than two hours of speeches and privately speculating as to who among them might be undercover cops or federal agents (a tip-off: Their mustaches were un-ironic).

So that contingents from Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, South Dakota and California can get a feel for downtown, Rockslide now guides the group west on 14th Street, pointing out that delegates will be staying at the soon-to-be-former Adam's Mark Hotel and noting structures that hold various electrical substations and public utilities, but not offering any specifics on how or if they should be used in any direct-action protests. Since the structure of Unconventional Action is non-hierarchical, it is up to individual cells to devise their own plans.

For his part, Rockslide says he is going to expend most of his energy on "concrete community-building" exercises like organizing free food giveaways for the hungry or taking over abandoned buildings to construct makeshift recreation centers. But it's clear that different factions will be looking for ways to confront police, delegates and anyone else they see as part of the oppressive power structure.

Rockslide gestures dramatically toward the Hyatt Regency Hotel. "Officially, only the Colorado delegates will be staying at the Hyatt; however, we have reason to believe that this is where the nominee will be stay-ing, along with the nominee's entourage and the other bigwigs in the Democratic party. "

The tour continues to the 16th Street Mall, "likely a main strip for delegates," where the group boards the free shuttle. One of the young men wonders aloud what effect the convention will have on oppressed communities in the city. But with the Democratic candidates currently vying for the nomination, these protesters are looking at denouncing a nominee who could be the first female president, the first black president or a guy running on one of the most populist messages in years. To let Democrats off the hook, though, "would make us nothing more than liberals," says one anarchist.

As the group crosses the parking lot for the Pepsi Center, Rockslide explains where the security perimeters are likely to be, at least 200 feet from the building. "Everyone touch the Pepsi Center now," he says. "It will be your only chance. This right here is the belly of the beast. Any questions?"

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Jared Jacang Maher