Naked City

Showdown Conquers Capitol

Saturday's Showdown in Texas rally at the Capitol turned out to be remarkable both for Austin and for the progressive-activist movement. Not because of crowd size: The turnout, estimated at between 2,000 and 3,000, was much lower than protests against the war in Iraq held earlier this year. And not because of violence or rioting; the monochromatic Black Bloc -- a loose alliance of anarchist "smashers" -- looked positively lame as their low numbers stood around on the Capitol lawn, adjusting the bandanas covering their faces. The Showdown was memorable because women and people of color ran the show.

"This is an historic moment," organizer Patrice Mallard told the crowd, slightly damp from the drizzle. "We have things in common. We need to stay together." Organized by the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker-founded social-justice organization with a regional office on East Sixth, the Showdown drew attention to Texas' role as a major exporter of arms -- and, consequently, war -- while highlighting the need for peace both abroad and at home and attacking the Bush agenda. The rally was part of AFSC's "Made in Texas" campaign against militarization, which Mallard directs. Cardboard signs poking out from the crowd promoted environmental protection, universal health care, and other alternatives to the administration's wars on terrorism, Iraq, labor rights, civil liberties, social services, etc.

"We will not be dominated by fear and violence," said speaker Medea Benjamin of Global Exchange, who has helped organize the Code Pink women's movement against Operation Iraqi Conquest -- er, Freedom. "It's time to get off the testosterone-driven military mode," Benjamin intoned. Other speakers included Kensington Welfare Rights Union leader Cheri Honkala, who came all the way from Philadelphia to "enlist" Texans in the war against poverty; state Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, clad in a Texans for Peace T-shirt and fuming at those Republicans intent on "stealing" U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett from Austin; and ACLU of Texas Director Will Harrell, among others. After the rally, the remaining crowd marched down the western side of Congress Avenue, carrying brightly painted signs and drumming. Many later entered the Capitol to testify on behalf of Doggett, a potential victim of the GOP's re-redistricting plan (see "Re-Redistricting," p.22).

Preceding the main Showdown event were several "feeder" marches to the Capitol, including a Communities of Color march from East Austin that drew more than 200 people, according to AFSC estimates. Other activities included a three-day Women and War Conference and a caravan to Crawford, where the president spent Saturday entertaining Australian Prime Minister John Howard at his ranch. (Showdown organizers did not sponsor or endorse the caravan.) According to reports, the conference went much more smoothly than the caravan. "The [Crawford] police chief announced that protests without a permit were illegal," writes media activist Stefan Wray -- "we had three minutes to get into our cars or we'd be arrested. Some people didn't make it back into their cars in three minutes and were arrested." (Only two protesters were arrested at the Showdown.)

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