FLASH BACK to '68? An anti-war protest in London, circa 2002,What's So Great About Recreating '68?
asks the musical question, if someone had only listened then,
there'd be nobody listening in now ...
asks the musical question, if someone had only listened then,
there'd be nobody listening in now ...
Dirty hippies for a new day? Nope, just some folks who were actually paying attention ...
“Riot, n., a popular entertainment given to the military by innocent bystanders.”
-- Ambrose Bierce, the Devil’s Dictionary
Just listening to a few lines of conversation from a recent meeting at Capitol Hill’s Gypsy House Café made it as clear as the view of the nearby gold dome could be easily found around the corner, if you cared to walk, that is, or of beautiful downtown Denver, all to be dressed up very soon like a $50 million red, white and especially blue bag of chips — or, if you prefer, the view of the nearby head shop: Re-Create 68 defies definition. Pin down Re-Create 68’s purpose? Try pinning down smoke.
Surely it’s not an organization. Not when its whole raison d’etre is to question authority, which pretty much precludes the act of organizing. Nor, for that matter, can it be defined as a lobbying group, considering that each member seems to have a different idea of what message it’s trying to convey. That is especially frustrating for those among us, especially in the media, who seek easy answers in order to write headlines.
Especially big headlines. Such as “Denver to Riot! See you there!”
Perhaps it could be at least loosely defined as a production company to encourage performance art. The meetings due seem to be, to the great disappointment of those headline writers, and the denizens of the outward blogosphere, more ready to cast protest in the light of a festivarian glee. To those in the middle, stuck in their easy chairs, watching all, clucking their tongues, its members seem to have some sort of common goal that involves getting people to drop out of their 21st century lives in order to come to Denver during the Democratic National Convention and replicate the turbulent druggy-leftist-protest-music-inspired lifestyle practiced 40 years ago.
But really, it’s just a bunch of people who, rather than rushing home to water their lawns or preen in their SUVS in the suburbs ... just not-so-plain folks, controvertionaries, who were actually paying attention.
“Re-create 68 is just a bunch of groups together and individuals. I didn't start it, nor am I a member,” said one of its meeting-goers, Jill Dreier, who is an organizer for the Visualized Film Festival in Denver. “I organize a film festival and used to be part of the Colorado Campaign for Middle East Peace ... so from those groups, I know a lot of people, including the R-68 folks.”
Perhaps the Gypsy House Café itself offers some clues. Women in hints of gypsy garb, most of it slummed out to the basic tune of what you can now get pretty freely in the resale shops up and down Colfax Avenue, with perhaps a piece of two purchased at the nearby Cherry Creek Mall ... just maybe, maybe ... men in bleak-chic anarchistic looking black T-shirts, short-cropped hair, soccer moms and men in ponytails mix amiably as sitar music plays and members of the Denver Police Department stroll by, unobtrusively taking photographs.
Hey, where’s the tie-dye? What? No one calls anyone a “pig?” Where are the familiar boundaries we can trust, the old division, the division between “us” and “them.” Where are the assurances that this is just some kind of cliche. And that, at least, the re-appearance of its rough beast to serve as notice that, like it or not, ’68 is back in Denver, perhaps bigger than ever: With CSN without Y coming to town to surely sign about the paranoia in "Almost Cut My Hair."
During their orderly meetings in the café’s basement, the group’s core, er, “people,” have sought to reignite the antiwar ethos of 1968, organizing events for a “mass mobilization” during the convention. There is no rabble, maybe a ramble of two. But if you really want a rabble, go cover the San Miguel County Commissioners in the high-priced echelons of Telluride for some real gripe and grinners. They seem to be about as radical as the Town Council there.
Anyone seeking a clearer definition might consider visiting the group’s Web site, www.recreate68.org. There, one can learn that Re-Create 68 represents “the grassroots movement opposed to the two-party system,” is a “convergence center for the antiwar movement” and has an agenda that includes everything left-leaning, from fighting poverty to bringing the troops back home. Environmentalism, too, but there’s still actually some faith in politics here.
Maybe you can turn the Titanic around in four years, eight, tops?
Among many, however, Re-Create 68 has become the hobgobblin of dysturbian anxiety.
As a result, the Re-Create 68 people have spent a lot of time lately trying to deal with dissent within their own loose-knit ranks as other liberal groups and activist organizations reject whatever it is that Re-create 68 stands for. That is to say, what the media says they stand for. The scary thing they have to say. The quick thing easy to rail against before you click off Uncle Bill to catch up on some reality TV in order to get a load off and feel better.
All politics is local, ‘tis said. This is no different. Earlier last month, eight left-leaning groups — the American Friends Service Committee, Code Pink, Colorado Street Medics, the Green Party, Iraq Veterans Against the War, the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center, Students for Peace and Justice and United for Peace and Justice — announced they were splitting with Re-create 68 and forming a new coalition, the Alliance for Real Democracy. Such is the business of politics: gyres winding in and out.
Re-create 68 co-founder Glenn Spagnuolo said it’s strange for groups to resign, considering that there’s no membership. It’s like going on Facebook.com and quitting one of many groups, such as the Rolling Stones network, to give the appearance you once played for the actual band, but, now have some new tunes to play. The participation from the other groups, he said, has been limited to dropping in on Re-create 68’s open gatherings, which usually draw about 20 or 30 people. For example, members of the Green Party came in a few times, then left, never really got involved.
But then came heap big headlines, assuring stuff to say, hell yeah, the center can hold. But, as far as it goes with the Green Party, or this other rainbow coalition of orgs, mostly driven by pushing for people to come from the outside toward Denver: “They were never part of Re-create 68,” Spagnuolo said. “Their groups reach a different audience than us. There are just multiple coalitions reaching different groups. We think that’s great.”
Green Party chair Claire Ryder, speaking for herself rather than on behalf of the Green Party, said that after attending several meetings she’d decided to stop going because she didn’t feel the group allowed everyone to be heard.
“I didn’t agree with the way they organize, and the name was chosen before anybody got a chance to participate,” she said. “It’s run by three people.”
Again, county commissioner boards come to mind: But it’s really not that simple.
Ryder also said she didn’t care for the way the group’s activities have been characterized in the media. Who would, if you were inside, looking out? Now the members of Recreate ‘68 have to put themselves through the rigors of “talking to the media” training sessions in order to keep from further fanning these so-called fire of Orc being pushed down by ol' William Blake's authoritarian foe, Urizen.
“The conflict is what the story is about now,” she said. “The big thing is the violent or nonviolent thing. It has been reported in the press that way. I don’t want to be a part of that conversation.”
It is, of course, the choice of the name “Re-Create 68” that causes people to visualize Denver’s streets filled with tear gas and billy-club-wielding police during the last week in August. The resonance to Chicago 1968’s Democratic National Convention, turns out, was a somewhat doubled-edge sword.
And there are those who seem ready to act out such a scenario. Especially the police, who are planning for the chance to arrest around 3,000 people, and who are going to look pretty damn silly, after arguing for all of that budget money, if they don’t actually fill up that hotel from hell.
If a comment posted recently on a Rocky Mountain News blog is to be believed, at least one person is “Getting ready for the anticipated and promised R-68 assault. Let’s hope the National Guard is prepared to deal with arson.” Arson, of course ... ding dang ... there has actually been no table set up plan made for how to commit arson, the Rush Limbaugh crowd might be disappointed to find.
Such saber-rattling wasn’t even actually behind April’s announcement from Tent State University that it wants no ties to Re-create 68.
The group describes itself at Tentstate.com as a “Coalition of Projects in Pursuit of Democracy.”
“We were never a part of Re-create 68,” said Adam Jung a University of Denver student who serves as the group’s Colorado spokesperson. “We severed ties because the media had married us together, and the messaging was incompatible.”
See these words?
As in, watch and learn ...
Spagnuolo, however, says the groups had been linked, but there are no money trails here. No special sections to produce. And since the troubles of the world are so diverse, nothing the logic choppers can really get their minds around.
Of the Tent State thing, yeah, sure, not even the left-of-the-left of center can hold these days for very long. “That’s a group where there has been a split,” Spagnuolo said. “There was a falling out, and we admit that. For them to say, though, that they weren’t a part of our effort is ridiculous. They clearly were. They even participated in one of our early press conferences.”
Still, Spagnuolo is willing to concede that the members of Tent State “were drawn in by … issues over name, and issues about how nonviolent we (actually) were. But we support nonviolent groups and we still support them.”
Tent State, of course, could’ve have been accused of casting the some sort of resonating flames from a bad day gone by, the Kent State shootings that inspired Neil Young’s classic, “Ohio,” but who’s counting?
Not the mainstream media. They are always going to glorify the dissent within the dissent, rather than the real way business works under the Golden Dome of Rome: Just follow money, it flows toward authority, to the right. Like the Demos could even think clear enough with Hillary and Obama banging in out, to come up with any comprehensible copy, for say a special section to run in the local state political gossip sheet, the Colorado Statesman, like the Republican party was able to do for its own state delegate convention. Follow the money, indeed ...
Re-create 68 also had been disinvited from using a tent designated for demonstrators during the convention, it was announced at a R-68 meeting in May. But at at Re-create ‘68 meeting, some of that news was regarded with a happy challenge. At least there was something within target range they could actually break through.
Fellow co-founder Barbara Cohen says Re-create 68’s early “successes,” as she put it, haven’t helped its image. That includes drawing the attention of conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh.
Limbaugh seized on the name, saying he “welcomed” the notion of riots during the convention and was “dreaming” that they’d happen, exclaiming, “Riots in Denver! The Democratic Convention would see to it that we don’t elect Democrats.”
When critics charged that Limbaugh was inciting listeners to riot, radio station KOA, which carries the show, issued a statement saying, “A review of the full transcript from Limbaugh’s show on Wednesday, April 23, shows that Limbaugh was not advocating violence in Denver at the Democratic National Convention, but trying to make the point that if there were riots in Denver, it would hurt the Democrats’ chances of winning the 2008 presidential election.”
The controversy thrust Re-create 68 into the spotlight as the focus of liberal anxiety and conservative glee and helped make Spagnuolo a darling of the radio talk show circuit.
It also has led the three co-founders, Spagnuolo, Barbara Cohen and her husband, Mark Cohen, to assert that the anti-war movement during the breakout year of protests against the Vietnam War is the real source of their inspiration in naming the group.
“We all agreed the name would get attention, but it’s not re-create Chicago ’68, but re-create the year 1968,” said Barbara Cohen, a longtime local peace activist who, with her husband, was a plaintiff in the famous Denver “Spy Files” lawsuit after police targeted the couple as “criminal extremists.”
“We are an umbrella group that is trying to get the other umbrella groups together ... from every political stream,” she said. “We’ve worked with progressive Democrats, anarchists, Green Party members, everybody working together to put on nonviolent events.”
Spagnuolo says he also wishes the media would characterize Re-create 68 not as a group of rabble-rousers, but rather as an alliance of leftist dissenters that’s trying to get the Democratic Party and its presumptive nominee to commit to bringing the war in Iraq to a speedy halt.
The group has recently obtained hard-fought permits to demonstrate during the DNC. During those demonstrations, rather than rioting, Spagnuolo says the group plans peaceful protests of what they characterize as Barack Obama’s “toned-down” anti-war rhetoric.
Spagnuolo says the new tack indicates Obama is moving his political position “more to the center, in order to get votes.”
If Re-Create 68’s most ambitious hope is to denounce Obama’s move the center, it’s hard to believe the group will draw down the National Guard. Nevertheless, Spagnuolo believes Denver’s government is stocking up on anti-riot weaponry and is itching to use it.
Spagnuolo alleges Denver has purchased such devices as a ray gun to send microwave pulses into a crowd, creating an extremely uncomfortable heat sensation, and an acoustic device that bounces sonic waves off crowds to induce stomach distress.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado has sued the city for access to public records related to the purchase of security-related equipment, Spagnuolo said, but the city, “will neither confirm nor deny whether they have purchased these weapons” for the upcoming Democratic National Convention.
In response to a request filed by the ACLU under the Colorado Open Records Act seeking disclosure of the records, the city’s Department of Safety records coordinator, Mary Dulacki, denied their release on the grounds that disclosure “was contrary to the public interest” and because “it could potentially disclose tactical security information.”
Whether or not they’ve been purchased, Spagnuolo says even the rumor of such devices has sent a chill to groups planning demonstrations.
“They are trying to build up paranoia to make people afraid to come out and execute their constitutional rights,” Spagnuolo said. “I think the city should be embarrassed with their actions to date ... It’s going to leave a lasting black eye, the way they view people who protest as a criminal element.”
City officials have attempted to quell this type of criticism by announcing parade routes for public marches and promising to process parade permits promptly.
In a written statement, Katherine Archuleta, senior policy and initiative adviser to Mayor John Hickenlooper, recently stated, “We’ve been working to enable organizations with diverse viewpoints and agendas to have access to a safe and visible parade route for the purpose of public expression.”
The notice coincides with an agreement reached with the ACLU, which on May 1 had filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court on the behalf of groups seeking improved access to certain areas for public expression.
But Spagnuolo, who has been a Denver resident for seven years but cut his activism teeth on the streets of New York, isn’t convinced.
“This city doesn’t want its $50 million party interrupted,” he said. “They feel like this will tarnish the Democratic Party.”
National and local media outlets have been quick to jump on such statements.
For example, in January, 9News political analyst Floyd Ciruli said: “If they actually do turn Denver into Chicago, there’s a very good chance they will turn off the voters. It could be directly counterproductive to what they would like to do.”
Yet, back in the real space of the Gypsy House Café, the only violence under consideration was dealing with Pieface, a relic hippie activist they think might try to hit Oprah Winfrey in the face with a pie. Of course, upstairs, with the hot-blooded proprietorship there, if you don't buy anything such as a piece of pie, or, a cup of coffee, in order to use the internet link by wireless, that same internet created by the military industrial complex to begin with, well then, they'll get pretty damn violent ... you'll be pushed out in the street for your "white man's complex " ... so the human animal has all potentials under that chapel perilous, too! Indeed, the weirdness of the atmosphere around the Gypsy House Cafe these days can get so wired, so paranoid, so set on edge it's practically one of Denver's best tourism attractions, if you like that kind of thing ... you could almost convince yourself that spooks of all varieties are there, too, watching you watching them, as they take a hookah toke or two ...
But if Re-Create 68 actually is a front for subversives working under Limbaugh, things must be tougher than they seem in the right-wing military-industrial cabal. Cohen announced to the circle that the group had a mere $1,600 in its antiwar chest. An early plan to have people show their support by underwriting portable toilets for protesters just hadn’t panned out as successfully as the PBS “All Things Considered” had reported. The size ... the size of things ... they all seem to depend upon the distance they are seen from.
But for the geriatric set, the Boomers, who clearly have the practical real world in mind, they clearly have such important questions to ask regarding the survival of the human race as: Has no time been “wasted,” buzzed in some Statesman editor from her office hotbox, stressing in the addressing of the hygienic or other bodily needs of the estimated “thousand to 100,000” demonstrators who actually might hitchhike into Denver in August “wearing headbands, bell bottoms and beads, bearing flowers and protest signs, and taking an occasional mellow toke as they flash the peace sign.”
(That same editor tried to insert those same lines into this same similar report ...)
But it didn’t work, just like the economy, or, the war machine doesn’t seem to work right anymore: Instead, the group discussed presentations, film fests and which bands to book. You know, stuff to keep the people outside the castle walls entertained while the real deals are made at the DNC.
As the meeting broke up, Spagnuolo was asked if he thinks Re-create 68 will bring a repeat of the rioting and violence that gripped Chicago during the 68 convention.
“That will be up to the Denver Police Department,” he said. “Any violence would be at the hands of the Denver Police Department.
“I’m more worried about people being killed in Iraq in my name,” he said. “The local media has branded us (as violent agitators) because it’s what sells. But there’s nothing sexy to report when people’s constitutional rights are being violated.”
And if he’s a radical, he’s an equal opportunity opponent of the two-party system. When asked if he’d also be protesting at the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis/St. Paul in September, he said, “I will be if I’m not still in jail.”
Douglas McDaniel is the author of 15 books, including his most recent, a book of poetry for the political season, "Ginsberg Rolls Over," published by Mythville MetaMedia.