by Randy Cunningham
(Plain Press, August 2016) The approach of the Republican National Convention has been like the approach of a hurricane for Cleveland. No one knew what to expect but they did know that it was going to be big, noisy, expensive and second only to the Cavs winning the NBA championship as an event that will be remembered. Now the convention has passed. Trump has been nominated and we face one of the most important elections since 1860.
So how did it turn out otherwise?
First off, in spite of hysteria mongering by City Hall and the media the streets did not run red with blood, the jails were not bulging with the incarcerated and Cleveland’s reputation was not reduced to a smoldering wreck. Who to give credit to for that? I think it was because of the organization, the self-discipline and smart politics of the activists who organized the three most significant demonstrations of the week – The End Poverty Now demonstration, the Wall Off Trump demonstration, and the Stand United Against Trump demonstration that occurred the last day of the RNC.
The End Poverty Now march organization was the earliest and most influential coalition that organized in the early days of 2016. Led by Larry Bresler of Organize Ohio it drew support from over a dozen separate social service, advocacy, labor and environmental groups. It could have been larger, but many activists in Cleveland bought into the official hysteria peddled by the Jackson administration and the media, and stayed away. We put together the largest rally and march that Cleveland has seen since the glory days of the old community organizations in the late 70s and early 80s. I don’t know how many people came, but the most typical descriptive words were thousand or thousands. Judging the size of rallies and demonstrations is a game for fools but let us just say there were a hell of a lot of people who attended. The crowd was diverse. The crowd included many representative organizations. The crowd was young. We baby boomer veterans of the 60s were not dominant. The march was colorful with many banners, flags and drums and chants. The rally launching the march featured Rebel Diaz a hip hop group from NYC, the Prophets of Rage – the successor to the iconic Rage Against the Machine along with many inspiring local and national speakers and poets. There was not one arrest during the rally and march.
The second significant demonstration was the Wall Off Trump action that took place on July 20th. A project of the Hispanic artist group Mijente, the Ruckus Society, Iraq Veterans Against the War, The Working Families Party, the Other 98%, First Seven Design Labs, and Grassroots Global Justice the goal was to build a symbolic wall against Trump using banners, and cloth ponchos. The banners and ponchos were created at the Convergence Center that operated as a center for activists at the Ohio City Masonic Arts Center. We gathered at Public Square and walked up Euclid Ave to East 4th Street before putting on our ponchos that said Wall Off Trump, joining hands and in a line marched and sang up East 4th to create a line on Prospect Ave in front of Quicken Loans arena. We were soon joined by the great bulk of marchers who formed a longer line behind us using the banners. We covered what appeared to be almost two blocks fronting the Q. The march was led by Hispanic activist groups. There was not one arrest during the action.
The final action was the Stand Together Against Trump. This was a unique effort that was organized by doctors, nurses and other medical personnel from Cleveland hospitals who work every day alongside colleagues from the populations that Trump wants to wall off or ban at the borders. Key messages were delivered by T shirts that delivered messages such as Muslim Doctors Save Lives, and Mexican Doctors Save Lives. Its actions on the last day of the convention were in two parts. In the afternoon there was a march across the Lorain-Carnegie Bridge. One of my favorite placards was from Jews Against Trump that simply read “We have seen this before.” Later in the afternoon and evening the group gathered at Public Square to continue the protest while Trump gave his nomination acceptance speech. There were no arrests during either of these actions.
No discussion of the events would be complete without mentioning the People’s Justice and Peace Convention that preceded the arrival of the RNC. Those attending the events at the convention heard speakers who were far more in tune with reality and had much more to share with the audience than the freak show put on at the Q. They heard Michael Eric Dyson, Connie Burton – poor people’s advocate, Rev. Lennox Yearwood of the Hip Hop Caucus, and Medea Benjamin of Code Pink who proved that she could penetrate any security cordon by putting in an appearance inside the Q while the Donald was speaking – making us all proud in the process.
The progressive activist community of Cleveland should give itself a big pat on the back for keeping its head while the city fathers were losing theirs, for working itself into exhaustion and beyond dealing with organizing demonstrations, housing out of town protesters, taking care of its guests and overcoming the numerous obstacles thrown in its path by City Hall and the Department of Homeland Security and doing so with very few arrests and very few injuries. It proved the we have nothing to fear but fear itself in our organizing and we gave a stinging rebuke to those who tried to use fear to shut us up. The last 30 years have seen a largely successful campaign to pacify Cleveland masterminded by the city elite. We proved that there is still activist life in our community and that we will rise again.
Randy Cunningham was in charge of housing for the End Poverty Now march. He is the author of Democratizing Cleveland: the rise and fall of community organizing in Cleveland, Ohio 1975 to 1985 and has an up close and personal relationship with the detectives of the Cleveland Police Department.