By Joellen Perry
Sunday, July 30
One thing was clear among the some 10,000 protesters who gathered on Philadelphia's JFK Boulevard Sunday for a rally dubbed Unity 2000: that George W. Bush and Dick Cheney are the problem. But it wasn't clear if they consider either Al Gore or Ralph Nader the solution. Talking head Arianna Huffington, who this week is holding "shadow conventions" to try to rival the GOP event, says that both parties are corrupt and that the only way to ensure change is to vote for Nader. Not so, says Lynda Rubin, a counselor at South Philadelphia's Fell Elementary School who marched yesterday with her local AFL-CIO chapter. "Gore is much more open to the needs of real people who get up and work every day," she says. A 24-year-old man protesting the imprisonment of Mumia Abu-Jamal, convicted of killing a Philadelphia police officer, said simply, "I don't vote."
More than 250 groups from around the worldfrom Students for a Free Tibet to the International Socialist Organizationmarched through the city to Philadelphia's Art Museum, where they rallied for four hours. Each group pushed its own cause as well as Unity 2000's platform, which includes campaign finance reform; a "people first" practice of tolerance across racial, gender, and ethnic lines; and environmental preservation. "Every four years, small, diffuse groups of protesters get ignored," says Unity 2000 organizer Mike Morrill. "We figured the best way to get something big was to bring people together across issue boundaries."
The march had a mostly peaceful, festive atmosphere, as Republican Women for Choice mingled with representatives from the AIDS activist group ACT-UP, and labor unions marched alongside groups vehemently decrying police brutality. "Am I in line with all the issues represented here?" asked Wendell Young III, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers' Union Local 1776. "No, no, no. But I'm here to support the principles." For most of the day, protesters sipped strawberry smoothies and ate soft pretzels, danced to rock groups singing for social change, and spent a relaxed afternoon making their voices heard. Police, on bicycle, horseback, and foot, were an undeniable presence, but both protesters and law enforcement officials say the vibe was amicable. Relations soured briefly later in the day when a gaggle of demonstrators sat in a circle in the middle of a downtown street to protest police brutality. Police closed the strip to traffic, but reopened the artery within 10 minutes after protesters, upon learning they could be arrested, disbanded.
Cops are girding for more fireworks: Protesters plan a slew of "direct actions" throughout the weekincluding, this afternoon, when homeless and disabled people, who do not have a city permit, were marching for "economic human rights" down Broad Street to the First Union Center, where the Republican Convention is being held. No problem, say police, citing their quick response to yesterday's short-lived sit-in.