Originally published in The Metropolitan. Sept. 4, 2008. The Metropolitan covered the Democratic National Convention. Never before had the staff of the college newspaper attempted such a feat. Following the convention, the paper published a special section highlighting each of the days’ events.
As the Democratic National Convention Committee put finishing touches on the Pepsi Center, more than 5,000 delegates, a cavalcade of media and thousands of tourists made their way into the city. And while the convention had yet to officially start, the demonstrators marching the streets made it clear — the DNC had begun.
Protesters take first steps
After months of meetings with the city, various protest organizations formed two groups: The Recreate ’68 Alliance and Tent State. The alliances had Civic Center Park and the City of Cuernavaca Park as their respective parks for demonstrations. While Tent State prepared for a week of classes and concerts, R-’68 began the week with a march to the gates of the Pepsi Center.
On the west steps of the Capitol building, R-’68 began its march with a rally. Among the speakers were former CU professor Ward Churchill and vocal war protesters Cindy Sheehan and Ron Kovic.
Sheehan’s son was killed in 2004 while serving in Iraq. She has been protesting the war ever since.
Kovic, author of “Born on the Fourth of July,” told the crowd assembled, “This is my 40th year in this chair. I was in the Vietnam War — that is why I am in this chair, and I will be damned if I’m going to see any other troops come back in this chair.
“I gave three-quarters of my body in Vietnam. Today, we’ll march today peacefully. The whole world is watching. The whole world is watching you,” Kovic said.
The marches begin
The first march from Civic Center to the Pepsi Center rounded onto Speer Boulevard from Colfax Avenue at about 11 a.m.
Protesters wearing Zapatista-esque bandanas covering their nose and mouth chanted against fascism and the war in Iraq.
“We are going to the Pepsi Center, and we’re going to make our demands heard,” someone belted on a megaphone. R-’68 had been told by the city its march would end at Market Street, but the organization promised to continue all the way to the heart of the convention at the Pepsi Center, even if it meant they’d be arrested.
Leilani Dowell, 30, of New York City, and a member of Fight Imperialism Stand Together, said these kinds of protests were necessary to remind the world that while politicians can make the decision to go to war or retreat, they won’t until the people demand it of them.
“No matter who gets elected, all wars will continue,” she said. “The war in Iraq, the war against poor people. We need to force these politicians to make changes. This day will help create that change.”
Along the southbound lanes of Speer, police in riot gear stood to keep the protesters on the street. When the demonstration reached Lawrence Street, a helicopter flew over and several protesters fell to the ground.
This was to represent the thousands who have died in military service. It was an awe-inspiring sight.
The march reached Speer Boulevard and Auraria Parkway at 12:21 p.m. The convention’s security checkpoints were not yet in place for the convention, and the protest was allowed to continue to the nearest gate at the Pepsi Center.
A college Democrat, Rachel Soyle, of Ohio, said she decided to see the march at the spur of the moment. “I love the passion,” she said.
Upon reaching the gates of the Pepsi Center, R-’68 leaders asked protesters to sit with them. “We are taking over the streets,” Kovic said. “We are taking over the streets, sitting in the name of freedom. We will not be silenced. We will not be silenced. We will not be silenced.
“They told us we could not march to the Pepsi Center, but we did. We are sending a message to the convention and to the entire country.”
Police made the decision on-site to allow the march to continue to the Pepsi Center as long as the group remained peaceful.
Calm before the storm
While the protesters remained peaceful in the physical sense, their chants were filled with rage: “1-2-3-4, we don’t want your fucking war,” the crowd roared.
At 12:51 p.m., R-’68 asked the Denver Police if they could march back to the Capitol building through Auraria. The request was denied, and the group was ordered to disperse or be arrested. While there was some confusion, mostly due to a lack of communication, the group broke up soon enough.
As the sun set on the eve of the convention, little else happened. Tent State sponsored a music festival at the 16th Street Mall. The free mall shuttle was temporarily shut down when Unconventional Denver — perhaps the most radical of any protest group — marched up the mall, occasionally deviating on to side streets causing minimal traffic jams.
— Dan Williams contributed to this report.