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From: News and Views | Beyond the City |
Friday, August 18, 2000

Dissent's Real Democracy

Juan Gonzalezerri Swearingen didn't wait around last night for Al Gore's big acceptance speech. She's heard his flowery promises before, which is why she came here all the way from West Virginia this week, paying her own expenses, to stand outside the Staples Center and denounce the vice president as a fraud.

Swearingen, a 43-year-old nurse, speaks in clear, measured tones, and is stylishly dressed. Like many of the thousands protesting outside the Democratic National Convention the past few days, she fits none of the images of wild-eyed, disheveled radicals being disseminated into America's living rooms by the media hordes who are here.

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A woman offers a peace sign to police in Los Angeles after officers tried to clear protesters.

The country keeps hearing about the boring events inside the convention and about the unruly protesters outside, but hardly anything about who the protesters are, why they are here, or what this has to do with the Democrats and choosing a President.

Here are just a few examples of the stories you didn't hear:

Back in 1992, when he and Bill Clinton were first running for office, Al Gore visited Weirton, W.Va., near the Ohio River. Swearingen was there when Gore promised to do something about a huge waste incinerator across the river in East Liverpool, Ohio.

The incinerator, run by Waste Technologies Industries, burns 70,000 tons of hazardous waste each year. It is the largest incinerator of its kind in the country.

It also sits in a flood plain and is only 1,100 feet away from an elementary school attended by 600 children. Since the school is on a hill, the incinerator's stack releases smoke directly onto the children each day.

Al Gore promised that if he and Bill Clinton were elected, they would do something about the incinerator.

"We'll be on your side for a change," he said. Eight years have passed and the White House long ago forgot Gore's promise.

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A protester is surrounded by police.

But Swearingen, who lives less than 2 miles from the incinerator, didn't. She became an activist against the plant and has now been arrested nine times in protests, including once in front of the White House.

Along the way, she read an article from salon.com, the Internet magazine, saying that an Arkansas man named Jackson Stephens, whose company was involved in financing the incinerator, had raised more than $100,000 for Clinton-Gore and once gave the campaign a $3.5 million line of credit.

Another of the demonstrators this week was Dee Dominguez. She is the tribal chairwoman of the Kitanemuk/Tejon Indians whose ancestral lands are in the Elk Hills of the San Joaquin Valley, 100 miles north of Los Angeles.

Back in 1997, Al Gore backed the government's sale of the Elk Hills oil reserve for $3.5 billion to Occidental Petroleum. The transfer of the 78-square-mile field was one of the largest privatizations of federal property in U.S. history. The Gore family has substantial investments in Occidental. The firm's founder and longtime CEO, Armand Hammer, gave Gore's father a $500,000-a-year job and a seat on the board of directors when the elder Gore retired from the U.S. Senate.

Then there were Maria Elena Durazo and the hotel union workers who marched outside the Loews Hotel in Santa Monica on Sunday. The union is in a tough campaign to represent the hotel workers, and the millionaire who runs the hotel, Jonathan Tisch, has been fighting them at every step.

Tisch is a key confidant and financial contributor to who else? Al Gore. The same Al Gore who talked last night about defending working people and their rights.

And so it went with so many of the demonstrators. Each had a story worth listening to. Even if you didn't agree with them, you had to admire their passion and conviction.

They didn't come for lavish parties. They came to register their dissent, which is how this country started in the first place.

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