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Activists protest GOP agenda at Virginia Republican Convention

The former capital of the Confederate States of America is again alive with archaic political posturing. However, denuded of their gated communities and military enclaves, the ruling class of this bastion of dystopic conservatism met their opponents and, despite stereotypically southern pretensions to civility, quickly retired within citadels of privilege to continue their plotting.

Activists protest GOP agenda at Virginia Republican Convention

Richmond, Virginia, June 2, 2001 - The former capital of the Confederate States of America is again alive with archaic political posturing. However, denuded of their gated communities and military enclaves, the ruling class of this bastion of dystopic conservatism met their opponents and, despite stereotypically southern pretensions to civility, quickly retired within citadels of privilege to continue their plotting.

Activists representing a variety of issues converged upon Virginia's capital city on Friday, June 1, to protest the Republican agenda at the Virginia GOP Convention. The citizens take issue with a number of repressive policies being advanced by the GOP, targeting the lesbian/gay/bi/transgendered comunity, women, people of color, the working class, children, the environment, human and civil rights, and people of conscience. Jim Gilmore, the Governor of Virginia and chair of the Republican National Committee, holds a position at the forefront of the Republican junta headed by the presumptive chief executive, championing compassion for those that need it the least, and austerity and depredation for those in most dire need.

Specifically, protesters gathered in Richmond to take the state Republican party to task over the policies championed by republicans in the Virginia government. These policies include the vast expansion of the prison-industrial complex, including the construction of 20 new prisons in as many years, the importation of prisoners from other jurisdictions to fill these prisons, and the contracting of cheap prisoner labor to corporations. Often the corporations profiting from Virginia's prison population are the same corporations funding the GOP's campaign coffers. Making matters worse, the Virginia system of applying the death penalty is the most efficient and least fairly applied of any in the nation, killing more people per capita than any other state with a population over 1million. Moreover, crime conscious Virginia Republicans don't seem to see education as an antidote; next to Texas, Virginia has the lowest per capita education spending. Moreover, conservative Republicans perennially introduce anti-gay and anti-choice legislation into the General Assembly. State republicans have worked to stop Living Wage campaigns in Alexandria, Charlottesville, Richmond, and Williamsburg, targeting the working people of the state. The one group that is not slighted by the VA GOP is, predictably enough, their corporate donors, who frequently enjoy preferential treatment and sweetheart deals subsidized by and to the detriment of the majority of Virginians.

In stark contrast to the calls for greater largesse for privilege emanating from the Richmond Coliseum, sixty-five members of the long-lived Richmond Food not Bombs continued their seven and a half year .tradition of providing free food to all comers on Friday evening. Members of the collective withstood a drenching downpour serving a free vegan meal in front of the Marriott hotel housing many of the 14,000 delegates to the convention. The free meal, consisting of chili, rice, and fruit salad, presented a poignant counterpoint to the $100 a plate fundraising meal the Virginia republican elite was enjoying inside.

A "kiss-in" direct action by the Richmond-based Queer Liberation Front was held in the driveway of the Richmond Marriott hotel, as republican delegates were arriving for the evening's banquet. Between ten and twenty activists kissed one another to whet the appetites of the Convention attendees, who continue to back laws such as the "crimes against nature" statute criminalizing homosexual sexual activity, bills that prohibit recognition of same-sex marriages, refusing to include anti-gay violence under hate-crime statues and similar homophobic legislative initiatives.

Four "queerleaders" then managed to gain admittance to the GOP opening banquet, unfurling a banner that read "Free the Queers." The activists were snidely thanked for sharing their message and subsequently escorted from the Marriott dining room, followed closely by representatives of the corporate media obviously weary of the tired palaver and disingenuous rhetoric issuing from the Republican nomenklatura.

8:45 Saturday morning, approximately 70 activists rendezvoused at 9th and Broad street in downtown Richmond with signs, banners, flags, puppets, drums, and coat hangers with cards attached containing statistics illustrating the effects of republican anti-choice legislation. They processed around the Coliseum in a peaceful manner, generally keeping to the sidewalk but occasionally taking the streets and briefly blocking traffic, mostly consisting of GOP convention attendees.

After significant legal wrangling over preceding weeks, the Virginia ACLU and Virginia Justice Action Coalition activists secured permission to hold a rally in the park adjoining the Coliseum. The march arrived at the site at approximately 10:00am. Upon arrival, the police challenged the activists' permission to hold a rally, but after a short discussion, the queerleaders kicked off the rally with spirited cheers such as "Roses are red, violets are violet, don't knock sodomy, at least 'til you've tried it."

Many speakers followed, including Bill Frankel-Streit from Little Flower Catholic Worker, who spoke on the long history and current state of militarism in Virginia. Laurel West from the Richmond Action Center called for support for the Charleston 5 and urged that people travel to South Carolina on June 9 to join protests against their political imprisonment. Other speakers included representatives from Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, The All African People's Revolutionary Party, Richmond Food not Bombs, and others.

The rally was in clear sight of any republican delegates wishing to step outside to take a break from the hot air and inter-party conflict inside. Several measured discussions and a few heated exchanges between activists and republicans were observed.

However, for the most part, the delegates remained behind the police atop the stairs separating the rally from the Coliseum grounds. According to an officer with the Richmond police, the Coliseum management had requested that any activists attempting to climb the stairs onto coliseum property be arrested for trespassing.

Many republican delegates sported stickers showing the Confederate Battle Emblem, or the "southern swastika," calling for further recognition of Virginia's heritage of slavery under the guise of creating a "confederate history month." At one point during the permitted rally two delegates emerged from the coliseum and, behind the protective cordon of Richmond police and Virginia state police denying activists access to the convention venue, displayed their version of the Virginia state flag. This flag contained the state seal on a blue field on the left third of the flag, and the confederate flag on the remainder. Despite popular opinion and historic efforts in Georgia and South Carolina to remove the widely recognized racist symbol from their state flags, certain elements of the radical racist right in Virginia would like to see it resurrected in their state. Apparently, the irony of juxtaposing of the state motto "sic semper tyrannis" or "thus always to tyrants" with a symbol of oppression was lost on these particular republicans. Nonetheless, when an IMC videographer, began to film their form of political expression, the standard-bearers quickly folded their flag and returned inside the coliseum, displaying the cowardice of their convictions.

One arrest for disorderly conduct was made near the Coliseum; however, the activist was quickly released on his own recognizance.

At approximately 11:30am, the demonstrators marched away from the coliseum with an escort of two motorcycle, three mounted, at least one plainclothes, and seven officers on foot following behind the march.

A few marchers expressed concern over the relatively heavy police presence following the march and verbalized fears of reprisals. As marchers reached the original departure point of 9th and Broad street and dispersed into affinity groups, the police dispersed as well and returned to the Coliseum grounds.

According to one activist, the protest signals the increasing pressure that progressive groups plan to bring to the Virginia Capital in the near future.

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