Recreate 68 stretches city’s civil rights comfort zone

By Janet Simons
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

The name “Recreate 68” has been a problem from the start for the group’s co-founders: Barbara Cohen, her husband, Mark Cohen, and Glenn Spagnuolo, who often serves as the group’s spokesman.

“We all agreed the name would get attention,” said Barbara Cohen, recalling the moment the group decided what to call itself.

What they apparently didn’t realize, however, was that visions of Chicago streets filled with tear gas and billy-club-wielding police would define Recreate 68 in the public mind.

“It’s not recreate Chicago ’68, but recreate the year 1968,” insists Barbara Cohen, who wishes people could replace that disturbing image with something that looks more like San Francisco’s summer of love: a flowering of new consciousness, freedom and dissent from societal standards.

The group also tends to be viewed as clueless anarchists who have no idea where the thousands of demonstrators they hope to attract to Denver during the Democratic National Convention will eat, sleep or go to the toilet.

And, aided and abetted by Recreate 68 publicity screaming, “DO IT IN DENVER! The Whole World is Watching! 2008 DNC PROTEST,” the media have focused on police and city government fears that the group will foster civil unrest that might easily erupt into violence.

However, over the past year, the Cohens, Spagnuolo and some 40 associates have been working assiduously on two basic goals: creating a program and infrastructure for the Festival of Democracy, a series of speeches, demonstrations, teach-ins and musical performances at Civic Center Park Aug. 24-28; and pushing the city’s comfort zone on civil rights to assure that police honor the constitutional right of demonstrators to assemble, protest and speak freely.

Recreate 68 organized these massive projects during weekly group meetings at the Gypsy House Café on Capitol Hill.

Decisions are collaborative.

“All of us have an equal say,” said Barbara Cohen. “Group decisions are made at our meetings.”

Preparations for the Festival of Democracy are nearly complete. In addition to speakers and bands, Recreate 68 has made provision for food, shelter — in the homes of volunteer hosts — and Porta Potties.

The civil rights issues have proven more difficult to resolve.

Recreate 68 has been point man among 12 advocacy organizations suing the city to, according to the wording of the American Civil Liberties Union’s lawsuit, “protect the right to engage in peaceful marches, demonstrations and assemblies during the Democratic National Convention in Denver this coming August.”

The lawsuit comes before federal District Judge Marcia Krieger on Tuesday, July 29.

On the eve of that court date, we sat down with Recreate 68 co-founder Mark Cohen to talk about the group’s goals.

Question:
If Recreate 68 isn’t a reference to the violence of the Democratic Party convention in Chicago, what is it a reference to?

Mark Cohen:

We’re talking about the spirit of change. The sixties were really about demanding that this country live up to its own principles, as embodied in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, particularly the Bill of Rights, and particularly the First Amendment, which says people have a right to make their views known to their elected officials. And we’ve had now not just under (President George W.) Bush, but under (President Bill) Clinton, as well, an attempt to equate dissent with criminality or even terrorism. We’ve seen it in the Patriot Act, FISA (the Federal Information Surveillance Act) and in all the rhetoric that has come out of the administration in the past eight years.

We’re reasserting our civil liberties. We’re saying the people who will be outside the Pepsi Center bringing their concerns to the delegates and the officials are as integral a part of the political process as the people who will be inside.

Question:
Are you concerned that the police in Denver will respond to demonstrators as the police in Chicago did in 1968?

Cohen:

Unlike Chicago, in Denver the police department is sitting down and talking to us, and they’re at least saying they respect our First Amendment rights. So we’re hoping things will be a lot a different this time around. Although it is worrisome to hear that they’re stocking up on tear gas and pepper spray.

Question:
Assuming you get the right to be heard, what’s your message?

Cohen:

Part of the reason we’re demonstrating at the Democratic Convention is that we want the Democrats to understand that the way they’re going to win this election is not by moving to the right, which (Sen. Barack) Obama already seems to want to be doing. Instead, the Democrats need to take strong progressive positions. That’s what every poll shows is where the majority of the people are. On issues like the war, single-payer health care — you can go down the list — the majority is to the left of where both parties are now.

So in a sense, we won’t know how successful we’ve been until November, or a couple of years into the next adminstration. Maybe we’ll know immediately if we have large, peaceful demonstrations and we’re able to exercise our freedom of speech and assembly.

That would be a sure sign of success.

Question:
What would you tell people who still aren’t sure exactly what Recreate 68 is up to?

Cohen:

I’d say that we will be holding demonstrations. There’s nothing bizarre or un-American about that. In fact, there’s nothing more American than people participating in the political process that way. And we’re not just doing demonstrations. We’re doing a five-day Festival of Democracy. We’re feeding people. We’ll have music and a variety of booths, and training and workshops.

We’re not just about protest. We’re about building for the future.

We want people to come away with the understanding that neither of the two parties are really responsive to the needs and concerns of the majority of the people of this country. We want them to realize that the parties are captive to corporate influence. Americans need to take back their democracy and to stop assuming that others are taking care of it for them.

No matter who’s elected in November, we have a chore ahead of us to restore meaningful democracy in this country.