Compassionate GOP-ers beat protesters

MILWAUKEE — Speaking from New York after being released from police custody, AIDS activist Mark Milano told the World that he and fellow protesters at a Republican National Convention event on Sept. 1 were nonviolent, but that the Young Republicans who set upon them acted “like mad dogs.”

Milano is a member of ACT UP-New York’s “Naked Truth” squad, which has sought media coverage of President Bush’s efforts to block a plan for debt relief to help the world’s poorest nations fight AIDS, potentially condemning millions to die.

On Sept. 1, the squad infiltrated the Republican Youth Convention, where 155 convention attendants, or pages, were gathered to hear White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card. When Card was introduced, they stood on their chairs, blew whistles, and began shouting, “Bush lies, Stop AIDS, Drop the debt.” They revealed their political T-shirts, pulled out signs, and unfurled a large banner.

“The Young Republicans’ reaction was immediate and violent,” said Milano. “We were pushed off the chairs and dragged to the ground, assaulted, beaten, punched, and kicked repeatedly.” But, he said, “ACT UP has a 17-year history of nonviolent direct action. Not one of us responded to a single blow.”

Despite the Republicans’ holding up their own signs to block media cameras, footage run by New York’s ABC affiliate showed a downed protester being repeatedly kicked by a youth delegate in a green shirt as the reporter narrated, “He’s kicking her over and over.” Milano said the assailant “bragged” of his action to an ACT UP observer that was continuing to pass as a Republican.

Milano and 10 other protesters were removed by Secret Service agents and plainclothes NYPD officers and charged with disorderly conduct and inciting a riot. At least one was also charged with felony assault and had to post bail of $2,500, Milano said. Milano was released after about 30 hours. No Republicans were arrested.

Though ACT UP said law enforcement manhandled protesters, Capital Times correspondent John Nichols thought the protesters risked worse otherwise. He told Democracy Now!, “It was a pretty scary situation. … Those Young Republicans were angry.”

Milano said he had “a deep gash on my leg that was bleeding profusely.” Erik Sperling, a cellmate who was arrested in a random dragnet, described Milano and his cohort as appearing “badly bruised.” Milano said that over 15 years of protests, he had never seen the level of physical violence exhibited by the Young Republicans. “They had no compunction,” he said. “‘Rabid’ is the only word I can think of.”

Milano said the action, while “very scary and very draining,” met its goal of publicizing the need for AIDS-related debt relief.

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org.