RNC protesters image by Joeff Davis
Hundreds of ebullient protesters converged on a park a few miles from the Republican convention in Cleveland yesterday to jump around to the band Prophets of Rage, led by B-Real of Cyprus Hill, Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine, and Chuck D of Public Enemy.
A multiracial, multigenerational crowd bounced up and down with fists in the air to the driving hard-rock guitar and hip hop lyrics. Someone tossed a paper mache pig wearing a blond, Donald Trump wig in the air.
“Hello Cleveland!” shouted Morello, who was wearing a red baseball cap with the words “Make American Rage Again.”
“Thank you for your joy and your rage.”
Introducing a song he said was used to torture inmates at Guantanamo during the George W. Bush Administration, Morello added:
“We’re now gonna use this song to torture those sons of bitches at the Republican National Convention.”
After that, Morello directed the crowd, “We are all gonna meet on the corner and march.”
The End Poverty Now! march, organized by Jobs With Justice, Peace Action, and a plethora of other social justice groups, wound its way through the streets toward the convention center downtown. Marchers chanted, “Whose Streets? Our Streets!” as they were followed by a phalanx of cops on bicycles wearing masks and body armor.
Erik Coleman, a community organizer with Ohio Fight for $15 and Raise Up Cleveland marched with a group of fellow organizers in red t-shirts. “We’re bringing awareness to this—letting people know we’re fighting to end poverty,” Coleman said.
“No one should have to work forty hours a week and live below the poverty level. That’s criminal.”
Code Pink, put on political street theater called Billionaires for Trump before the start of the march. When co-founder Jodie Evans was asked if they had plans to disrupt the convention this year she responded, "of course." Image by Joeff Davis.
Medea Benjamin and the rest of the Code Pink gang (who later that evening successfully disrupted the speeches at the convention) hopped out of a van, lugging bags of fake cash and wearing their trademark pink gowns. They mingled with members of Support Prison Resistance who arrived on a green school bus.
Larry Robinson, a thirty-year-old grocery stocker, and his friend Brittney Hahn, an eighteen-year-old customer service worker, came from Columbus when they found out about the march from their union, the United Food and Commercial Workers. It was the first rally either had attended.
“I was pretty surprised by the turnout,” said Larry. “There are a lot of different characters here.”
Annie Krol, Northern Ohio organizer for the NARAL towered over the crowd in a long purple dress and stilts. Two more young women marched nearby carrying a vagina banner.
“We’re a medical destination state, and yet most women can’t access abortion care, which is a big part of the reason we’re still in poverty,” Krol said.
America, 8, came to the rally with her mother and sister, "I don't like Trump because he wants to deport all the Mexicans," she said. Image by Joeff Davis.
Despite rumors inside the convention hall about violent agitators coming to attack police and spread mayhem, protesters and police alike seemed relaxed and genial.
A group of marchers from the Revolutionary Communist Party gave their section of the blocks-long march a militant feel, carrying a poster of people killed by police and chanting “Stop racist deportation, working people have no nation.”
Gregory (Joey) Johnson, who was the defendant in the 1989 Texas v. Johnson flag-burning case before the Supreme Court declared, through a bullhorn, that he would be burning another flag at the RNC, and briefly led marchers around him in a chant of “burn that rag!”
“I feel compelled to do it,” he explained. “I see it as a symbol of oppression and global exploitation.”
Johnson, like his revolutionary camarades, is as critical of Hillary Clinton he is of Donald Trump.
“The American political conventions are beamed out to the world as if expressing the will of the people. Elections are a sham,” he added. “They’re how the system of capitalism and imperialism imposes itself.”
In Cleveland, where poverty, police killings, and the decline of manufacturing have hit people of color particularly hard, it’s not difficult to see the attraction of revolutionary militancy. But most of the marchers were focused on a message of peace, and on problems closer to home.
The march ended in downtown Cleveland, where Khalid Samad of Cleveland’s Peace in the Hood spoke the names of victims of police violence, including Cleveland’s Tamir Rice. Naubia Loftis, an eighteen-year-old youth activist and camp counselor read poetry.
Loftis was there, she explained, “to make people aware of the injustice in Cleveland.”
“The Republican convention shouldn’t have been in Cleveland,” Loftis said, particularly since the Tamir Rice investigation is still going on. There are a lot of abandoned buildings where Loftis lives, in the north of the city. She added,
“They spent all this money, and they are trying to throw a rug over all the issues like poverty.”
“We don’t want Cleveland to continue to be one of the poorest cities in the nation,” said Samad, who also offered a prayer for understanding and reconciliation at the end of his speech.
“Did you hear any hate speech out here today?” he asked.
“Do we love everybody? Alright. Don’t get it twisted.”
Ruth Conniff is Editor-in-Chief of The Progressive.