A screenshot from a video of the arrest of Asheville resident and protester John Penley
It wasn’t just delegates, politicians and party supporters making the trip down the mountain to Charlotte for the Democratic National Convention this week. Activists and protesters also showed up to voice their opposition to the government’s policies and raise issues they claim are forgotten in the course of campaign season.
Asheville resident John Penley was among the first arrested at the convention, making national news after trying to cross a barricade. In a video of his Sept. 4 arrest posted on YouTube, Penley says the protesters were trying to speak to delegates about issues including bringing the military home, soldier’s suicides and the detention of Pfc. Bradley Manning, accusing of leaking classified documents to Wikileaks.
Penley, a longtime activist, was also among those arrested when Occupy Asheville’s camp was cleared in February, and also protested at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla. He was released the next day.
“Much love and respect to my sisters and brothers who bravely fought in the streets of Tampa and Charlotte,” Penley later wrote on his Facebook page. “For me and you it was very very hard, uncomfortable and at times dangerous but because we made the long journey we showed America that [Occupy Wall Street] is not dead and will continue to be in the streets showing the world we are not sheep who will be silent in the face of fascism and corporate military industrial complex police state control.”
Contingents from the local Veterans for Peace chapter, Warren Wilson College, the UNCA chapter of Students for a Democratic Society and the Katuah medics also went to Charlotte for the DNC protests.
Coleman Smith and Clare Hanrahan, both notable figures in Asheville’s protest scene and the New South Network of War Resisters, helped set up a “forgotten issues” exhibit in Spirit Square along with the Fayetteville-based Quaker House. The event included seminars, performances and pictures of peace protests over the last 40 years as well as information about domestic violence in the military and other issues Smith says are slipping below the radar.
“We’re getting encouragement from surprising places: Many of the guards here at Spirit Square are ex-military; they’re thanking us for doing this,” Smith says. “It was natural for us to come down here to talk about the work we’ve been doing to expose the military-industrial complex. Our Asheville contingent have worked with these other groups, it’s larger than all of us.”
Just a few blocks down from Spirit Square, lines of police blocked off intersections in preparation for a march of about 150 people, some affiliated with the Occupy movement. The protests drew less people than anticipated. According to several protesters, the police were mostly cordial, but they quickly outnumbered and surrounded the protesters during their marches through downtown Charlotte. Spokespeople handed out pamphlets inveighing against an array of issues from corporate money in politics to repealing Amendment One and labeling genetically-modified foods.
Others took a more satirical approach to political action. Jason Scott Furr, an Asheville artist, helped run an event for Vermin Supreme, a prankster presidential candidate who wears a boot on his head and promises a free pony for every American.
Furr says he’ll be voting for Supreme instead of any of the major party candidates, as an act against what he calls “this sports team, red vs. blue, two-party system” and as an act of “culture jamming.”
“People from those parties will say you’re throwing your vote away, but I think it makes a statement, and I think if more people weren’t afraid to make that statement, you might see some nuance come back to politics,” Furr tells Xpress. He believes that America has lost the protesting spirit of the ‘60s, something Vermin Supreme serves as a reminder of.
“Vermin embodies the spirit of the court jester,” Furr says. “There’s this tradition of the media focusing on the person who looks the craziest; Vermin uses that to his advantage.”