- The Washington Times - Friday, July 7, 2000

They helped shut down global trade talks last year in Seattle and did their best to make life difficult in April for international financial institutions in Washington.

And now, the eclectic group of activists who have defined protest politics over the last year is headed for Los Angeles and Philadelphia to demand a radical shift in the direction of U.S. politics.

Billing themselves as the "R2D2 Coalition," the groups are preparing a range of activities that feature two "shadow conventions" alongside the Democratic and Republican conventions.

Added to the mix will be protest marches like "Billionaires for Bush" and "Billionaires for Gore," guerrilla puppeteering and speakers, organizers said Thursday.

Not all of the groups, whether the Jewish Labor Committee, Veterans for Peace or the Ruckus Society, have concrete plans for how the nation ought to be run. But none of them likes "the system" nor the Republicans and Democrats who dominate it.

"Every one of us believes that the political system is not responsive to the poor and working people of this country," said Margaret Prescod, a co-founder of the group International Black Women for Wages for Housework, one of roughly 160 groups that have endorsed the protests.

She and others emphasized that their goal is to raise the profile of issues outside the Democratic and Republican mainstream, rather than try to shut down the conventions themselves. But the groups did say they also planned acts of civil disobedience.

Though the groups view themselves as the heirs to the protesters who shut down World Trade Organization talks in Seattle, they are not focused only on globalization-related issues, organizers said. Still, hostility toward groups like the WTO and the International Monetary Fund lurks when the groups discuss their frustrations.

"We see globalization as a key reason why poverty and inequality are on the increase in the United States," said Chuck Collins, director of the Boston-based United for a Fair Economy.

Mike Morrill, director of the Pennsylvania Fair Trade Campaign, said protesters tend to focus on globalization when a major governmental decision is at hand. The Seattle meeting, for example, was to have opened a new round of global trade talks.

The groups stressed repeatedly that they are pursuing an issue-based agenda and will eschew endorsing candidates. They denied that they are seeking to reinvigorate the older liberal-leftist traditions within the Democratic Party, saying their issues transcend party lines.

"You can't call us Old Left," Mr. Collins said. "Globalization, for example, is an entirely new issue."

Republican convention organizers seemed largely nonplused by the plans, saying they are confident that Philadelphia police would keep the situation under control.

"We're not going to be distracted by things going on outside the convention hall," spokesman Tim Fitzpatrick said.

Philadelphia police, anticipating problems during the Republican convention, came to Washington to observe how authorities handled protests here.

Democratic officials could not be reached for comment.

Mr. Collins, whose group is helping to organize the alternative conventions, said those gatherings would focus on three main issues: campaign finance reform, income inequality and the war on drugs.

The meetings, which will take place nearby, will accompany the July 30 to Aug. 4 Republican convention in Philadelphia and the Aug. 13-17 Democratic meeting in Los Angeles.

The groups expect about 2,000 people to attend each of the alternative meetings. Estimates of protesters who might take part in other events varied wildly, from 20,000 to 50,000.

Aware that violence on the part of self-styled anarchists helped discredit their message in Seattle and to some extent in Washington, the groups are calling on protesters to rely on words and not fists.

Guidelines adopted by protest organizers in Los Angeles, for example, state clearly that they will use no violence or destroy property, except for barricades.

Protesters made similar plans before the Washington protests, but there was some violence.

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