MADISON – The United States Conference of Mayors will be here shortly. Banners announcing their 70th annual convention adorn street signs in the vicinity of the capitol, and veteran protester Ben Masel appeared on local television a few nights ago announcing a compromise with the Mayor and Police Chief concerning the size of the protest-free zone around the event.

While the conference agenda includes consideration of progressive proposals ranging from reducing carbon dioxide emissions to ending the blockade of Cuba, one sinister thread that seems to run through the conference is “homeland security.” Among the dignitaries to address the 300-plus mayors this weekend are internal security boss Tom Ridge, the head of the Federal Emergency Management Administration and undersecretaries for transportation security and bioterrorism control.

This emphasis has helped draw together dozens of organizations to promote a seven-point agenda urging popular control of local government, an end to privatizations, and promotion of sustainable environments and civil rights. The calls for progressive taxation and an end to school vouchers and prison construction have a particular resonance in Wisconsin, where state taxes are the most regressive of any state, where the voucher was born, and where more African Americans are incarcerated than in any other state.

“We see this conference as the local extension of the globalization conferences in Seattle and Quebec,” says Jeff Ryan of Creative People’s Resistance (CPR). One poster here notes that opponents of globalization “have discovered that local governments are a key tool used to crush resistance and enforce white capitalist supremacy.”

A factsheet distributed by CPR calls attention to the half billion dollars in federal funding “for local and state counter-terrorism efforts” passed after Sept. 11, calling the Mayors’ Conference “a strong advocate of Homeland Security block grants” and speculating that “many of the corporate sponsors underwriting the Mayors’ Summit will be looking for some kickback Homeland Security contracts.”

In addition to Madison’s sizable activist population, Masel predicts “just under a thousand out-of-towners” will come for five days of protest events, including an all-day alternative conference Saturday at the Madison Labor Temple.

The authors can be reached at babette37@juno.com

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