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From Emilie@ix.netcom.com Mon Aug 21 10:33:06 2000
Date: Sun, 20 Aug 2000 23:36:07 -0500 (CDT)
From: "Emilie F. Nichols" &W#60;Emilie@ix.netcom.com>
Subject: Only 50% of Americans vote for the president and the protests outside the Democratic convention explain why
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Article: 103135
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Only 50% of Americans vote for the president and the protests outside the Democratic convention explain why

By Duncan Campbell, in Guardian, (London)
Saturday 19 August 2000

Two images stand out from the protests taking place outside the Democrats' convention in Los Angeles this week.

The first was of battalions of riot police, equipped as if for an invasion, standing guard outside the downtown temples of corporate America as demonstrators marched past.

The second was of the mainly Latino workers in the Broadway sweatshops leaning out of windows to cheer on the marchers protesting against "corporate greed" and globalisation.

The images symbolise both what is missing from conventional American politics, what divides the haves and have-nots of the world's richest country and what is fuelling the still unspecific but growing international movement that started in Seattle last year and will be seeking another platform in Prague next month.

Only half of the American electorate vote for the president and the events of the past week in LA have partly served to explain why. The financial clout of the corporations now gives the appearance of having permeated every aspect of policy-making so that it is no longer clear to many people whether their elected representatives are acting in the voters' interests or their backers' interests.

Do politicians shy away from real gun reform because of the gun manufacturers' lobby?

Do they back a judicial system that jails more than 2m Americans because the prison-industrial complex now carries such weight?

Are they helping the Colombian government in a civil war because they want to protect the interests of American oil and because it suits the military-industrial complex?

For many politicians the answer may be no, but the suspicion will remain as long as the race is to the richest. The news this week that George W Bush had now raised $100m for his campaign and his running mate, Dick Cheney, had received a corporate pay-off of $20m further emphasised the great gulf between those inside the safe convention walls and those outside on the streets.

And it is this gut feeling that the corporations and the international financial bodies are now controlling decisions on wages, the environment or immigration, that has helped to mobilise this still loosely-knit confederation of protest.

What fuels it, too, in the United States, is the feeling that neither of the two main parties offer alternatives on what are to some people the most important issues of the day.

One of the angriest demonstrations of the week focused on those on death row and in jail for drug offences. Both Democrats and Republicans back the death penalty and both support the "war on drugs" that has led to the incarceration of so many. Indeed one of Al Gore's pledges during his acceptance speech was for a further 50,000 police officers. Not a further 50,000 teachers for a country with the illiteracy levels similar to those of many third world countries; not a further 50,000 medical workers for a country where 40m are not entitled to healthcare. No wonder some of the placards outside carried the slogan: "Don't incarcerate, educate".

The ghost at the feast this week has been Ralph Nader, the Green party's candidate and now the repository of the hopes of the liberal left outside the Democratic party. His name was written in the heavens by a sky-writing plane on Wednesday and has been on the lips of many throughout the week. Is a vote for Nader a vote for Bush is the question that will be asked many times between now and November, but increasingly the evidence is that the uncommitted, the independents and the disillusioned Democrats will be heading his way. If these votes do indeed lose Gore the election, the next big question will be whether it leads to a larger, more focused movement and whether the Greens are the party best equipped to lead it.

Al Gore and George W Bush may bask in the warm glow of their respective conventions, but outside the air-conditioned halls it is clear that the old order is no longer trusted by the very people - the young, the poor, the Latinos, the blacks - they are claiming to want to help. Somehow, it seems unlikely that many hands would be waving from sweatshop windows if either of the two presidential parties had ventured down Broadway in their limos this week.


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