Cleveland, July 18 — In the weeks and months leading up to protests at the Republican National Convention, the state, the right wing and the corporate media went out of their way to sow fear and intimidation throughout the movement to keep people from coming to protest.
Cleveland, like all cities that host conventions, received a multimillion-dollar grant from the federal government to further militarize the police and buy new instruments of repression. Downtown Cleveland was under military occupation, with eight-foot-high metal fences lining downtown, armed soldiers stationed at dump truck barricades, and cops on bikes and horses in full body armor.
The morning of the demonstration on July 17, three cops were killed in Baton Rouge on the heels of an earlier shooting of Dallas police. The state and the media — as they did after Dallas — immediately went into overdrive to use this as an opportunity to demonize and attack the Black Lives Matter movement and create an environment for increased state repression on the growing movement filling the streets and shutting down highways across the U.S.
In spite of their best attempts, the righteous opposition to racist billionaire Donald Trump and the police war on Black and Brown people brought many hundreds into the streets of Cleveland for the first protest during the RNC.
The multinational demonstration was a tremendous success that helped set the political tone for the protests held throughout the RNC.
State, right wing attempt to silence protests
During the buildup to the RNC, the corporate media went out of its way to promote the fact that Ohio is an open carry state and that right-wing Trump supporters would be coming to the convention heavily armed. They circulated the call by the Traditionalist Workers Party — the fascist organization that attacked and stabbed counter-protesters in Sacramento, Calif., on June 26 — that they would be coming armed to defend Trump.
The FBI, Cleveland police and various state agencies also knocked on doors of activists and harassed those organizing protests to create an atmosphere of fear and intimidation.
Cleveland is the city where 12-year-old Tamir Rice was gunned down by police in 2014, and the city where Malissa Williams and Timothy Russell were shot 137 times by Cleveland police in 2012. John Crawford III was shot dead by police in 2014 in a Beavercreek, Ohio, Walmart. No cop has ever been brought to any semblance of justice for these deaths or for the many martyred in the escalating police war on Black and Brown people in the U.S.
Militant protest takes the streets of Cleveland
From the bed of a pickup truck, speakers addressed the crowd gathered at the opening rally chaired by L.T. Pham from Durham, N.C. Many in the crowd lived in or around Cleveland, and were joined by delegations from Illinois, New York, North Carolina, Michigan, Florida, Texas and from as far away as Utah.
Many speakers raised the urgent need for the broader people’s movements to come to the defense of the Black Lives Matter movement, and drew links among the struggles for immigrants and migrants rights, women’s and LGBTQ struggles, the fight against Islamophobia at home and U.S. imperialism abroad. Throughout, speakers denounced Trump’s demagoguery and the entire two-party system, and raised the urgent need not only for unity and solidarity, but to raise a militant anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist struggle to fight for a revolutionary socialist future.
Abbas Hamideh, of Al-Awda, told the crowd, “The Palestinian people are being murdered every single day by racist, colonialist police. And this same entity trains the police here in the U.S. … It is natural for the Palestinian people to stand with all oppressed people — with the Native Americans here, with Black people, with Latinos, with Mexicans, against the racist Donald Trump! Black lives matter!”
Bee Schrull, with the Cleveland American Indian Movement, called on the demonstration to boycott the Cleveland Indians until they change their racist name: “I watch my people suffer every day. We are the group most likely to be killed in police interactions. Our women are most likely to be the victims of sexual assault, most often at the hands of non-Native people. … I came here today to ask for you to stop supporting the Cleveland Indians! We are dehumanized every single day, and we demand the recognition of our humanity!”
Additional speakers from the Coalition to Dump Trump and the RNC, CODEPINK, Freedom Road Socialist Organization and a group of Muslim doctors, nurses and health care workers planning a July 21 march called “Standing Together Against Trump” also addressed the crowd, among others.
“[The Black Lives Matter movement] has been criminalized in the press, but we are not criminals, we are freedom fighters!” Workers World Party vice presidential candidate Lamont Lilly told the crowd. “African descendants fighting for our liberation is not new. We are descendents of the Black Power movement. We are descendents of the Civil Rights movement. … We are Malcolm X, we are Ida B. Wells, we are Harriet Tubman, we are Huey P. Newton, we are Fred Hampton, we are Angela Davis — we are the people and we will not be turned around! Black lives matter!”
Monica Moorehead, Workers World Party candidate for president, followed Lilly and explained the party’s election campaign: “We don’t give a damn about these elections. We are using them to put forth a message to defend Black Lives Matter, to stop the deportations and raids against our migrant sisters and brothers and their families, to abolish capitalism, and to fight for a new socialist society. …
“It is a victory that we are out on the streets today,” Moorehead continued. “Because of what happened in Dallas, and what is happening in Baton Rouge right now, they want to divert attention away from the righteous struggle of the Black Lives Matter movement. We cannot allow them to push back this movement. They want to silence this movement and scare people out of the streets. The fact you are here today is a testament to the fact that our movement is not going anywhere; in fact, it’s going to grow stronger and more multinational!”
As the march prepared to step off, Teresa Gutierrez, WWP election campaign manager, told those lining up: “We are gonna march to shut down the RNC and Trump! We are gonna march to shut down the DNC! The world knows that the movement is here, that we are not silent, that they tried to tell us not to march, to hold our heads down, but we are holding our heads up and we’re gonna march!”
The spirited, multinational march snaked through downtown Cleveland, navigating past police barricades and answering Trump supporters with militant chants denouncing Trump, racism, the police, Islamophobia, attacks on LGBTQ people, and solidarity with migrants, Black Lives Matter, the struggle for liberation in Palestine, and all people fighting to free themselves from the yoke of U.S. imperialism.
Chants like “Black Lives Matter!”; “From Palestine to Mexico, these border walls have got to go”; “No Trump, No KKK, No racist fascist USA!” and “March on with no fear, we’re doing this for Tamir!” elicited cheers and applause from bystanders as the march moved by.
On July 18, protests continued with a march by the Coalition to Dump Trump and March on the RNC. Organizers of that demonstration reported that 1,000 people came into the streets of downtown Cleveland for the march, which approached the sites where the RNC was taking place.
More protests are planned throughout the week as the convention continues in Cleveland, and many are gearing up to travel to Philadelphia next week to join protests at the Democratic National Convention.