Net Election

Civil Disobedience on the Web

There’s not much happening at—at least not yet. But by next week, the Web site set up by activists planning to disrupt the  Republican National Convention in Philadelphia with acts of civil disobedience will be a busy hub spreading word of impending protests and directing them.

The site includes virtual space to announce protests, solicit volunteers, inform the media, and arrange housing and transportation for activists. It’s just one of many such sites that will be used by groups ranging from opponents of globalization and free trade to advocates for the poor and the homeless to proponents of national health care.

Web sites, e-mail lists, and other new economy tools, such as cell phones, have already proved to be key organizing tools in mass demonstrations such as last year’s World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle and again this year during the International Monetary Fund’s meeting in Washington, D.C.

“We couldn’t do it without the Internet,” says David Levy, one of the organizers of the R2Kphilly Network, an assemblage of activist groups coordinating protests at the Republican convention at They are also joining forces in Los Angeles, planning activities from the Web site at

Levy concedes that some of the people his groups want to reach don’t have access to the Internet, especially in inner cities. Phone banks and leaflets can be used to carry the message beyond the Web, though at much greater expense.

“It has its downsides, but it’s still a tremendous leap forward for people that don’t have a lot of money,” he says. “Political work is nothing but communicating, constant communicating.”

Other Web sites being used to organize protests include, and

The Silent March site is publicizing two days of protests against gun violence and in favor of stronger gun-control laws. The group will deposit 40,000 empty shoes at the Liberty Bell on Saturday in memory of the thousands killed each year by guns.

Refuse and Resist opposes the death penalty and plans an all-day series of events in Philadelphia on Aug. 1. The city has a large anti-capital-punishment community because of the death sentence given to former Black Panther Mumia Abu-Jamal.

On the Redirect 2000 site, protesters can download leaflets and fliers in Microsoft Word format suitable for distributing or posting during the convention. An online bulletin board helps match people driving to the protests with people seeking rides.

Some sites are simply vehicles for communicating a message rather than tools for organizing. “Billionaires for Bush and Gore” will march at both conventions, but the  Web site is mostly filled with materials asserting that the two leading candidates will favor the rich at the expense of the poor.

And should the mainstream media tell the story of the protests in ways that irk the activists, they have a  Web site to report on events dubbed the Independent Media Center.

Of course, law enforcement agencies will also be trolling the protest Web sites as they police the city during the convention in an attempt to prevent any flare-ups.

Philadelphia’s police force, which has a reputation for overreaction, will oversee security outside the convention hall. FBI and Secret Service forces will maintain security inside. More than 45,000 people are expected to descend on the city for the convention.

Police Commissioner John Timoney pledged at a press conference on Thursday that his forces would exercise restraint and would not use tear gas, rubber bullets, or pepper spray unless protesters became violent. He wants to avoid the violent clashes that marked the WTO meeting in Seattle.

Officers received special training to deal with the expected crowds, he said. “We’ve trained our officers to take verbal taunts, verbal abuse, disparaging remarks about their race, their ethnicity, their family origin,” he says.

A former New York City cop, Timoney has plenty of experience dealing with political conventions. He oversaw security for the Democrats’$2 1992 gathering in New York.