by Ivan Moreno
DENVER -- They adopted a bold name - Re-create 68 - promising a
protesters' show of force like in Chicago 30 years ago when the
Democratic National Convention comes to Denver in August.
But the Denver-based umbrella coalition ranging from anarchists to
environmentalists has fractured in recent months. Prominent activists
have split with Re-create 68 over its incendiary rhetoric and,
according to some, its refusal to endorse nonviolent protest.
"My understanding was that there was some resistance to really
settling on a commitment to non-violence," said Dana Balicki, whose
group, Codepink, joined a new protest coalition for the convention.
Re-create 68 appeared shortly after Denver's selection as convention
host. On its Web site, the group once vowed its protests here would
make the 1968 clashes with police in Chicago "look like a small get-together."
The war in Iraq, government infringement of civil liberties and the
environment dominated its message. The coalition once included Tent
State University, a student organization that began at Rutgers
University demanding that war funding be channeled to education, and
Troops Out Now, a New York-based group.
Re-create 68 has since sought to tone down its rhetoric to appease
would-be allies and critics. Its Web site has been edited to
emphasize its members are drawing from the "optimism" of the 1968 protesters.
Co-founder Mark Cohen says the group's mission always was to
"recreate" the spirit of political activism of the 1960s. The group
says it opposes violence but reserves the right to "self-defense"
during the Aug. 25-28 convention.
That hasn't stopped a dozen activist organizations from leaving its
umbrella and forming a second protest coalition called the Alliance
for Real Democracy. It includes Codepink, Students for Peace and
Justice and Tent State University, among others.
Claire Ryder, a member of the Denver Green Party, said she attended
some Re-create 68 meetings but now refuses to talk about them. Duke
Austin of Boulder-based Students for Peace and Justice also declined
to comment. So, too, did Codepink organizer Zoe Williams.
"We wish them the best," said Glenn Spagnuolo, Re-create 68's most
prominent spokesman, who calls the protesters' rift a creation of the
mainstream news media.
Unity dominated a recently weekly meeting of Recreate 68 in the
basement of a Denver coffee shop. "Love is free will. Enter with
luv," read a sign as organizers discussed convention preparations,
including the topic, "Be positive: R68 is not exclusionary - we are
working with everyone."
A former New Yorker, Spagnuolo, 37, has participated in heated
Columbus Day parade protests in Denver. Many local residents oppose
celebrating a man they say helped introduce centuries of oppression
of Native Americans.
Spagnuolo also gained attention for supporting the free speech rights
of University of Colorado professor Ward Churchill, who triggered
national outrage over an essay equating some Sept. 11 victims to Nazi
Recreate 68 has been at the forefront of efforts to get protest
permits from the city, and is pressing officials to release
information about police plans to handle demonstrations during the
convention. The American Civil Liberties Union represents the group
and 13 other plaintiffs.
It plans a large anti-war rally on the eve of the convention and at
least 10,000 people for daily demonstrations addressing political
prisoners, civil rights violations, immigrant rights, the environment
Sen. Barack Obama's historic candidacy didn't affect planning, Spagnuolo said.
"We firmly support the idea of a black president. That's a racial
step forward," he said. "But we don't applaud what Obama stands for
or what he's done the last couple of years. The only thing now is
that imperialism has a black face instead of a white one."
But Recreate's rhetoric - and a plan to levitate the Denver Mint -
can overshadow its efforts to pry information from the city.
"The DNC is setting up a very dangerous situation," Spagnuolo warned
when the Denver convention host committee won a permit to use Civic
Center park for a convention event. Re-create 68 insisted park
permits go to groups not affiliated with the convention.
Spagnuolo warned the Democrats would be to blame if things "blow up."
He later explained that people participating in Re-create 68
demonstrations nearby could spill over to Civic Center park and that
he wasn't implying there would be violence.
"When they make a statement like that, we just can't ignore it. We
have to prepare for the worst," said Charlie Brown, a Denver City
councilman and one of Re-create 68's most outspoken critics.
Brown said the group puts Denver police in a "no-win" situation where
they'll be criticized if they respond aggressively and if they take a
Brown also criticized the group for being "selective" about First
Amendment rights, noting its protests of the Columbus Day parade.
"They basically hate America, they hate both political parties, they
hate capitalism, you can go down the list," Brown said. "Their real
goal is to make it so bad here that no American city will ever want
to host a convention."
Recreate 68's preparations include an attempt to encircle and
levitate the Denver U.S. Mint and shake the money out to spread the
wealth - a nod to Abbie Hoffman and protesters who tried to levitate
the Pentagon in 1967.
"I think that everybody has a little bit of magic inside them and if
we combine our energies, who knows what could happen," Spagnuolo said.