An Interview with the Recreate ‘68
Members of Recreate ‘68
Interviewed by Conor Cash of Team Colors
(get the PDF)
So first off, I wanted to get a historical narrative of Recreate 68 … at what point you began organizing towards this, where participants are coming from, from what spaces and activities are they coming from?
Recreate 68 came out of what was known here in Denver as the All Nations Alliance. It was a multi-racial multi-generational group that was addressing social justice issues in the Denver area; a group of activists that have been working together for a pretty long time. We were watching the political landscape as things were developing and it appeared that Denver was going to get the convention. Before it was even announced we started saying “that’s what’s going to happen. We should try to organize around it because we have some issues with the democratic party and it would also be a good stage to present some issues we have with the country as a whole,” so we tried to preempt the democrats and I think we did a good job of it. We purchased website names that we presumed they were going to be buying like 2008Denverconvention.com and ones very similar to that. We were surprised at how many were available because the democrats didn’t take the initiative to purchase domain names. At this time we pointed all the domain names to our site around the organizing efforts. It’s our intention to auction those domain names out to get money for organizing in the community. They weren’t too happy with the fact that we have all of those names. They had to go with 2008denverconventionention.org so it’s all coming to our site. It’s a little humorous and a creative way to raise funds and put it into the community instead of the democrats pockets.
Now what are you going to funnel that money to? To the mobilization or to ongoing organizing efforts in Denver?
It will mostly be funneled towards the mobilization but during the convention itself we have some community projects that we’ll be running, like a 24 hour a day health clinic. We’ll be serving 10,000 meals a day to the community and offering legal trainings to the homeless and people of color in Denver. All that starts to add up, so we’ll be using that (money) for the mobilization and the efforts that will be taking place during the convention which address community needs. Then we wanted to come up with a name that we thought would have a message in and of itself instead of “No DNC” or “DNC Welcoming Committee”. We wanted the name to actually say something, so we started having intergenerational conversations and some of that took place with people like Cha Cha Hernandez from the Young Lords and Katherine Cleaver who was with the Black Panther Party a long time ago, she was Eldridge Cleaver’s wife… other (community) members like Mike James who participated in the 1968 mobilization and other members of our community. What was becoming apparent to us was that there were a lot of similarities between the political landscape of now and then (1968) where you had a Democratic party who refused to stop an illegal war and here we have the Democrats who were in power for the last two years who continued to vote to fund this war and refused to stop it, going against there own rhetoric. So we started seeing similarities. What came out of a lot of these conversations was there was a spirit of change that was missing in the community and in 1968 a lot of people felt like mass mobilization could move their government in certain directions. It’s a feeling that a lot of people have become apathetic to civic engagement- that democracy isn’t something that happens every four years when they vote, and that the power of the community can drive the government to a more progressive way of handling the country. So we talked about recreating the spirit of change and revolution that existed in 1968. We knew just by the nature of the name that it would get a lot of media attention because of the Chicago convention (of 1968). We didn’t want to shy away from that because we felt like this generation has abandoned the 1968 folks and still lets the myth that they were violent continue, when all the reports say that it was police violence that occurred in Chicago and these were nonviolent protests trying to stop a war. We wanted to make that connection with the police brutality that is pretty rampant here in Denver. We felt like that was a doorway into some media avenues to speak about police brutality and the demonization of protest. So in a nutshell that’s how the name came about. Once we decided that, it was our goal to put in place a strong infrastructure for people coming from out of town and to coordinate with national groups to respect the needs of the community here. So we’ve been traveling around the country for the last year or so, meeting with a lot of national and local groups to coordinate efforts around certain themes that we’ll be focusing on during the convention.
Could you discuss the background of the organization, not focused on the DNC but just around the issues in Denver? I know that from the little reading I’ve done there seems to be a battle brewing over the Denver Downtown Plan?
Yeah, there have been a lot of issues here locally. There’s been the gentrification of our community taking place where they’ve been removing people of color from certain neighborhoods to put in high priced condos, there’s been a lot of police brutality taking place in our homeless community, there’s been a ton of illegal shootings of people of color by the police, we have a really strong and active Native American community, with Colorado American Indian Movement (AIM) being one of the leading Native American groups in the country, taking on issues like Leonard Peltier. Defending sacred sites has been a pretty big issue. But we also want to make connections with the broader national issues to show that most of this is connected to a system that, in our opinion, is continued by both democrats and republicans.
So you’re seeing this as an opportunity…. what do you want Denver to come away with from these mobilizations?
Well, we take a two pronged approach to what we’re doing. We’re having major protests every day, but we’ll also be having what we call the Festival of Democracy. That’s going to take place every day. What we’re doing with the Festival Of Democracy will lay down foundations of institutions that will be people-run that will exist in Denver but we hope will also spread out to other communities across the country. The Festival of Democracy will have some really big national and local bands playing and we’ll have some great speakers, but we also have people coming from all over the country. What we intend to do is to run teach-ins and demos throughout the week about how people can go back to their own community and create their own programs like free breakfast programs, free medical clinics, free after school programs, law programs like what we’re running here, and they’ll be able to show people and teach them the skills to do that so when the convention is over there will be something that lasts beyond another story about a big protest. We’re actually creating the movement and taking control of our community away from the politicians who have been ignoring our community. We have a 2 year plan- a year after the convention, we’re inviting people to come back to Denver to see the successes and failures that have occurred through this institution building. Two year out it’s possible that Denver will be hosting the US social forum and we’ll be using that as a two year check-in to see if the 1 year check in helped any failures become successes. Instead of having all these consultas to build up around protests we’re going to be using those times to invite people to different communities around the country, to work in some of these programs that are functioning well so they can get the skills necessary to build them (in their own communities). So yes, we’re going to protest some specific issues but we’re also going to be building and showing what’s possible without the help of the party, and what’s possible through community members and people-power taking control of their lives. That’s one of the goals in Denver as well as nationwide.
What’s the organizing process been like?
It’s a lot of work. We’re looking to serve 10000 meals at the festival of democracy. Trying to coordinate that is a lot of work. Making sure that the health clinic will be open 24 hours a day and getting over 50 medical practitioners to staff it has been a lot (of work). In addition to coordinating all the different music groups to draw in people that might not normally come out to engage in a march and protest, but might come out because they like Dead Prez and the Coup, and might want to hear them along with a good political message and be inspired to get involved in their community. Trying to coordinate all that… we have really good dedicated volunteers and we’ve been putting in a lot of long nights and been doing a lot of traveling and fundraising. But the effort is really coming along way better then we’d anticipated. I was a little nervous when this all started- that we’d not be able to back up the things that we’ve said we’re going to do, but I think the people volunteering have far exceeded expectations for what was even possible. I’m pretty confident that this is going to be one of the largest actions at a Democratic convention in history. I feel confident saying that.
What’s the organizational structure? How are you managing this volume of work?
We organize a littler differently. We organize more in a horizontal fashion than a vertical fashion. We don’t have specific leaders. We have people the group has decided will be spokespeople. People volunteer to take the lead in coordinating different committees and we’ve broken up into multiple committees dealing with everything from sanitation to groups that focus on entertainment, on the legal work ‘cause we’ve had quite a few problems with the city. So we break up into these committees, and these committees have been meeting on a regular basis. Once a week all the committee coordinators come together like a spokes council and check in with everyone else. If there’s an issue that the whole group needs to decide upon then that spokes meeting works through a consensus model that is effective, but it can be very time consuming to reach a consensus decision. Then that group is an organizing committee that comes up with the group’s direction, which the committees will be following. Most of the national groups have given way to let us take the lead and just follow the example we’ve but in place and plug in where they plug in. It’s been a good relationship that way.
So on the local level you feel like the broader left in Denver is getting behind this?
Absolutely that’s been one of the best things about this. Its acting like a catalyst bringing back the energy that existed. Denver was a really vibrant left community and in the last couple of years that energy has dissipated. With this action coming up it’s revitalized everyone and brought back old alliances. It’s been a good opportunity for our community to move forward.
When speaking with the folks up in Minnesota, they seem to see themselves more as providing the infrastructure for people to launch their own actions, which is certainly admirable, but we’ll see how things play out in practice. You seem to be using this as an opportunity to build a local base while drawing in a bunch of different skill sets from around the country… is that accurate?
It is… what we’ve done though, we’re very conscious that we want to make sure there’s room and space for people to do it themselves- to act in their own interest and make sure that their voices are heard and there’s not a dictate coming down to people. We’ve gotten all these groups to focus their energy on a different theme on each day of the convention. We’ve taken the lead in saying “we’ll put together events each day, but if other groups want to put stuff together, whatever they need, whether legal, medical, logistical, we’ll make sure they’re well supported,” but we do put out a call to respect certain themes for each day ’cause what’s happened at prior mobilizations and conventions, there’ll be the ANSWER march against the war and then the United for Peace and Justice march and then the Troops Out Now march… we’ve tried to say “lets put the banners down and march for issues,” just base actions around issues. And people have been agreeing to do that which is going to make this more a solidarity movement than anything. We’ve also gotten agreements from people to cross issue lines- the environmentalists will support the war groups, who will support the immigration groups. Everyone’s been agreeing to this model. If people come out with ideas outside of what we’re doing, we’re making sure their needs are met. They communicate what those needs are and we’ll provide whatever sort of infrastructure they need to make sure they’re doing what they want to do.
There seems to be an effort to create safe spaces for people who can’t risk arrest to participate in this protest …
That’s accurate… there’s a lot of us in our group who want to engage in nonviolent direct action, but we also want to make sure that we’re taking into account that there’s very vulnerable communities who normally have their voices shut out of the national discourse. We want to make sure that there’s space for them to come express themselves. A lot of us are white activists with privilege who can engage in that behavior. We want to make sure that behavior doesn’t stop people from communities of color or oppressed communities or undocumented families (which is a rather large population here in Denver) to be able to have their say. So trying to coordinate when and if these things are going to occur, it’s been a bit of a challenge, but I think we’ve done a good job of making sure that we’ve made space for everyone to express themselves in whatever way they see fit.
We’re trying to engage with some of the discourse around the summit protests and convention protests of the past 10 years, and we’re about a decade on from Seattle which, if we’re assign importance to it, its as a milestone if anything, its not the beginning or opening of any kind of struggle so much as it is a really visible manifestation of it here in the States. There have been critiques leveled against using these protests as a strategy, that capitalism doesn’t happen at the conventions. It doesn’t happen at the summits, but more in the context of everyday life and that this as a strategy in and of itself doesn’t effectively engage with what we’re opposed to and doesn’t exert power upon what we’re opposed to. What’s your response?
I’m glad you brought that up. That was part of our conversations in the early stages of organization. Like you said, we go to these protests, whether it’s the FTAA or WTO or national political conventions and usually what we do is walk away with some good war stories to tell each other until the next one comes. We felt like it wasn’t addressing the situation. What we were doing was preaching to the choir and we didn’t see a growth in the movement and we didn’t see it come forward from these things other than exposing the system as being brutal. That was kind of the goal behind and the impetus behind what the Black Panther Party called their ‘survival programs’. They’d come up with these progressive human service programs for the community. People realized they could get their needs met without the capitalist mindset, without having a price on it. Once people start viewing the progressive community around here as providing services for them, that’s when the message that we have starts to become more acceptable because we’re creating a new reality that didn’t exist. We’re not just screaming against something, they’re starting to see that a reality beyond capitalism is possible in their own community, so instead of lecturing with words, we’re lecturing with actions and programs to radicalize the community. They can realize another world is actually possible, not have that be just a saying- they can actually feel that through these programs that we’re organizing and hopefully when people realize its possible more and more of these programs will grow here and that’s how we feel you radicalize someone, not with a speech or through direct action at a protest but by creating a community that is in opposition to one that exists and showing it can function. That’s how people get engaged with different alternatives, not just by listening to another speaker at another protest. That’s why we came up with the People’s Law Project and that’s why we came up with the health clinic and that’s why we’re expanding Food Not Bombs to be a breakfast program on a regular basis. That’s why we’re starting our own free after-school programs, which will have a political edge too to break through some of the false education that they get in public schools here. We feel that’s a more effective way to address some of the systematic problems that are happening because of this corrupt materialistic society that’s been created.
In your approach, you seem to be grappling with another critique I wanted to raise, which is that these protests sometimes act as just spectacle vs. spectacle rather than a real intervention. These things occur at the national level prior to building infrastructure and power at the local level, which is somewhat backwards. The points you’ve raised indicate that this has been a discussion amongst yourselves, but maybe an additional response to that?
A lot of what I said before addresses the question, but we do feel that it is important to create an image that dispels myth and unfortunately today we live in a sound bite culture that’s driven by things that we don’t like, like corporate media. We also have to be aware that it exists and how we can manage it to put forward images that support what we’re doing. So we do want to create certain amounts of spectacle but what we’ve tried to ask groups is “Whatever actions you’re going to do, think through it. How does that move something forward? Or are you doing it just for the adrenaline rush of going out there … does it have a message? Does it have a strategy? Is it going to be easily understood by someone who will see it? That’s what we’re asking people to do, because there are some people who just want to go out there and do something for the sake of doing it and haven’t thought through the long term implications. We are also aware that we live in a media culture and we are trying to somewhat craft the actions that are going to take place in a way that will clearly be understood by the average citizen.
It seems that there’s been quite a bit of discussion within your community both within Recreate 68 and generally in Denver, and there seems to be quite a continuity of struggle. I’m wondering first if that’s accurate, and also how you maintain the space to have these critical discussions amongst yourselves about what you’re doing?
There has been some disagreement here in the sense that this kind of separated what we’d consider the liberal from the progressive community. A lot of people feel like, “How dare you go after the Democrats?” We’ve been doing a lot of community panels and forums, one every month, on different topics to try to educate folks on trying to remember why we even protest. What I mean by that is, we don’t protest because we’re angry. That is how some of these things get started, but we protest to make movement. If we protest the Republicans all we’re doing is expressing our anger, but we’ve not created any movement at all because it falls on deaf ears. We feel that we don’t agree that the Democrats are the solution, but if anyone may move to a more progressive group you try to approach the people that are closest on the spectrum to where you are and that creates movement. We’ve been doing a lot of outreach and education on these issues but although we’ve got a large progressive community, we’ve also got a large conservative group too who have engaged in pretty regular attacks, trying their hardest to paint this group as a violent fringe group trying to start riots. A lot of misinformation that we feel is coordinated to some extent between organizations to try to give us a black eye because when they realize we’ve moved beyond the hatred of republicans to making serious critiques against the system as a whole, then there’s a real danger to what we’re doing. So we’ve had to kind of deal with the fact that we’re being attacked pretty hard by the Right, which is interesting. You protest the Democrats and the right comes to their rescue. Also trying to wake people up from the fantasy that the democrats are the sole answer to their problems. Malcolm X used to refer to the democrats as novacaine, so you don’t feel your tooth getting pulled. We’ve been trying to help people get past this false consciousness with forums and discussions that will last beyond the convention. I don’t know if that addresses your question.
Within Recreate 68 itself, you said there are people who want to go out and do things for the sake of doing them. I’ve seen that so many times in my own organizing efforts- people feel like doing anything is better than doing nothing, and that’s not an argument I want to have with anyone, but that’s the wrong route to go. How have those conversations played out? As well, while there’s an interest in engaging with people on an ideological level, there’s also a conviction that you need to actually do things, there needs to be physical stuff going on for there to be movement of any sort. That challenges a presumption that the left makes- that people need to be told what to think. How have those conversations played out?
Its been interesting in the sense that Recreate 68 has done a good job of straddling that fence and seeing both side, in the sense that we do feel that action is extremely important and we’ve said from the beginning that this group’s actions aren’t going to be dissuaded by the threat of violence by the city. We’ve been pretty vocal about the fact that we refuse to have all civil liberties stripped, which does set the stage for possible confrontations with authority. We’ve been pretty open about that, but in the same token we haven’t made that the sole focus of our organizing- ‘action action action’. We feel like there’s been a serious void of any kind of conversation around strategy and long- term effects of what we do, and we’ve included that from the very beginning of our conversations. Its been interesting, because there have been some groups that haven’t fully understood where we’re coming from, that we’re not interested in engaging in what they consider more radical actions in the street and have almost dubbed us as liberal. I find this kind of interesting because we’ve said from the beginning that if you look at some of the folks organizing in this group, their histories were not opposed to street actions. We’ve done our time. Many of us know what its like to engage in a struggle and resistance in the street and we’re not opposed to that. We’re just not interested in getting arrested for the sake of having that badge of courage and saying “Hey, I got arrested at a protest!” We don’t want to do that anymore. It’s no fun going to jail and fighting in the courts. It takes a lot of time and if I’m going to give up my liberty, which I value tremendously, I want to make sure I’m doing it for a really good reason that’s going to be understood. That’s what we’ve been trying to explain- we’re not opposed to confrontations in the streets. We’re not opposed to getting arrested. We put together a really kick-ass legal team for a reason. But we want to make sure that when and if we do resort to that, that it’s done for a very specific reason that is well understood and could have large community support. I would like to feel that giving up my own liberty and asking someone else to give up their liberty has meaning and value rather than looking like a badass, saying, “I got arrested at a protest.” I’ve been there and done that. I find it interesting that when we say that, a small minority will say, “You’re liberal and you’re not agreeing with street action.” That’s not it at all, we’ll take this as a far as we have to take it. We’re not afraid to do that. We just want to make sure that we’ve thought it through, that it has a clear message, that its understood by the community and we’re doing something because it moves us in a direction, because it has value. We want to make sure that what we do has value and we’re not just out there for the sake of creating another story to tell people.
You’ve obviously engaged with the white privilege question, and are coming from the position that activism isn’t a job, that it is part and parcel of life. What’s the history that lets you run with that analysis?
I really chalk that up to the All Nations Alliance. We have a really strong undocumented part of our community. We have a really strong Native American community. We have a really strong African American community. There have been people like (Name inaudible) Gonzalez, daughter of Corky Gonzalez, a famous Chicano activist here, and leaders from AIM who realized that there was more strength in organizing across racial and community boundaries and started the All Nations Alliance. This has been instrumental in working with and allowing space for white activists to participate in supporting oppressed communities. They’ve also managed to do a good deal with some of us from when were younger to now on what is needed to be a strong ally to these communities, and to recognize the privilege we possess, and how we can use those privileges to better our community and to better ourselves. I really give the All Nations Alliance and the leaders of that group most of the credit for this community that’s willing to work together in what I consider an extremely appropriate multicultural approach to the issues. I think we had a good foundation laid down by the elders in this community.
Can you discuss the historical context and work of the All Nations Alliance?
The All Nations Alliance started back in the mid 70s with some of the Chicano rights and Indigenous issues that were happening around here. It existed on and off for decades. Some of the more recent things they’ve achieved is that we were the second city in the country to convince the city council to pass a resolution against the patriot act, to say that it wouldn’t be adhered to in Denver. That was at the impetus of the All Nations Alliance. It’s interesting, because the government has realized that that type of relationship between communities is extremely dangerous, and they’ve focused a lot of federal attention on trying to infiltrate and break that group up. There’s a very famous case that came out of here called the Denver Spy Files that the ACLU addressed, where it was revealed, on accident, that there were extensive surveillance programs on the All Nations Alliance between the Joint Terrorism Task Force, federal agencies and the Denver politicians that literally had file cabinets kept on all different community members because of the work that they were doing. When this group started, what we tried to do with this convention, there was an agreement that if there was an issue with the Chicano community that the African American and white communities would support it, and the Chicano movement would take the lead on it, but in return if something happened in the Native American community, than the Chicano movement would join that and support everyone in that. It was a solidarity movement that was made here so that when the Klan wanted to march here during the Martin Luther King Day parade, the Klan came here and the Nazi party came here to have a protest. The community outrage was unbelievable because of that solidarity we’d developed over the years. When we have protests we get really large numbers coming out, like the Columbus Day protest that takes place here every year. When we have that protest it’s not just Native Americans. All different community members come out because they know that if they do that, when their issue rolls around they’re going to have support. That’s been developed over the last couple of decades, and that’s what’s led the impetus behind us asking all these other groups to engage in that same kind of solidarity during the DNC. That’s what’s behind some of the large numbers at protest that we’ve seen taking place. When we had our rally against the anti-immigration people here on mayday two years ago, we had a little over 100,000 people and that was just local. We’re bussing people in for the one during the DNC. That kind of solidarity… I grew up in New York, I organized in Florida, I’ve been out to California, and I’ve never seen a community that stands together like Denver.
What numbers are you expecting?
I try not to get caught up in the numbers game. I’ve heard people throw out 50,000 and 60,000. I think a lot of it depends on how the nominations go. If its a brokered convention and they don’t have a clear nominee by the time the convention rolls around I think you’ll see really large numbers. Same with if it’s Hillary. I think if its Barack our numbers will be lower because people will be willing to put aside some of his ideology to push forward a racial platform. It depends on the day. I would agree with the 50,000 mark for the antiwar march. I think you’ll see more than that for the immigration rally because we’ve already proved how many people we can pull out for an immigration rally. Honestly, I don’t get caught up in those numbers. The numbers that bother me and keep me up at night are how many civilians are being killed or how many acres of the environment are being destroyed. If we have to be out there with just local community members like we’ve done in the past, we’re going to be out there because its the right thing to do. I’m not getting hung up on the numbers, but I do think it’ll be rather large.
Just a final note, what’s you interaction with Unconventional Action been like?
They’ve come to our meetings, we’ve tried to set up communication by meeting with them and making sure that we talk through the issues. We support Unconventional Action, my only issue with them was that they were kind of exclusionary. They wanted it to just be an anarchist movement and didn’t want to make room for other voices. I respect their right to want to organize with people they feel comfortable around, but in solidarity movements we need to work with everybody on the left and that was important to us. But we totally support what Unconventional Action is doing. They’ve adopted a lot of the same themes and stuff like that. They’ve been pretty conscious about launching actions that wouldn’t endanger undocumented communities and we support what they’re doing, but its a bit of a different model. We do stay in communication with each other to make sure that the effort is coordinated, and we don’t want anybody to try to play the good protester/bad protester game with us. We support them and stay in contact with them, but we’re taking a little bit of a different path. I think in the end we’re all going to be together and if we can help them we will. They’re coordinating to bring in people on the national level. They’re trying their hardest to coordinate nationally all the anti-authoritarian groups. to come here to Denver and engage in some specific call-outs for direct action, but also to respect and take part in what Recreate 68 is doing. We support each other, we have had issues that we’re working through because we approach things a little differently, and that’s gonna happen and the beauty is that we’re working through it. We don’t just condemn each other and walk away from it. I think its a good thing to take multiple approaches to similar problems.
Any final words on your part, anything I didn’t ask you that you’d like to say?
Just that, if nothing else, you’re going to get one of the best free music shows that you could see. We’re getting really close to figuring out the logistics for Rage Against the Machine to be here, Dead Prez is coming, the Coup is coming, Michael Franti and Spearhead are going to fly in, Kimya Dawson for the people who like that type of music… we have a ton of bands coming in to play here for free. Some folks are trying to work the logistics out to have Chuck D do a little Public Enemy reunion. It’ll be a good time. Put it on the calendar- what better place to come than Denver in the middle of the summer. It’s beautiful here and you don’t need any money. We’ll feed you, we’ll house you, you need medical care we’ll provide it, if you want to be entertained you got it. This is one of the least expensive vacations you’ll get to go on.