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Democratic Party Convention Protest
August 14, 2020

by Dave Kong
California State Director, American Atheists

A contingent of American atheists braved hot weather and apprehensive police to demonstrate at the Democratic National Convention on August 14 in downtown Los Angeles. Joining as part of the opening day morning protest, we marched to object to the promotion of voucher aid to private religious schools, “charitable choice” programs, “faith-based partnerships” and the display of religious slogans in public schools, as well as the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, legislation aimed at granting special rights to religious organizations.

Streaming 6 1/2 minute Video.

Non-Streaming version.

San Francisco members Jim Heldberg, Tom Maley and I were some of the first people to arrive at Pershing Square, while the air was still cool and the mood calm. The police presence was very heavy throughout the downtown, but for the moment they seemed relaxed. As we unfurled the American Atheists banner, the square began to fill up with the other protesters from a variety of groups, including anarchists in black ninja outfits with masks.

Surprisingly, two of the organizers from the “Oxy Out of U’wa Land” group came over and objected to our signs. They explained that OOUL was trying to protect the land of a South American tribe called the U’wa--a “deeply spiritual” tribe--and that they might be upset if any Atheist signs appeared in any pictures of the event. It was even suggested that we put the American Atheists banner away during their opening speeches, and that American Atheists join the march at the end. We politely, but firmly, held our ground and the dispute ended amicably.

The temperature climbed steadily while we waited for the march to begin. We were joined by Ed Gauci, who had flown from San Jose to attend the event, Ken Bonnell of Atheists United, and newcomers Jonathan Winn and Robert McNally. Reporters from several news organizations interviewed us, including the Wall Street Journal, U.S. News and World Report, and the LA Times. As the OOUL group began their opening ceremonies, which included a performance by enormous paper mache puppets, we unfurled a second American Atheists banner, which read “Their Religion--Our Money--No Way!”

The march got underway around 10:00. The American Atheists contingent marched jubilantly with the crowd, carrying signs with slogans such as “No gods in government,” “No Faith-Based Partnerships!” and “Not Every Taxpayer is a Christian--Recognize Religious Diversity.” While the downtown streets seemed almost deserted, Tom Maley handed out flyers to the people who dared to watch the spectacle. Tom is 75 years old and has a bad leg. He marched the entire route, handing out more flyers than anyone else. We’re lucky to have “Terrific Tom” Maley on our team.

The march ended in a parking lot adjacent to the Staples Center. While speeches were being given on a stage, we posed for pictures and spoke to more reporters, including the Chicago Tribune, the Jerusalem Post, and Slate. The event wrapped up with a performance of “For What It’s Worth” by singer Bonnie Raitt.

For American Atheists, the event was without incident. From our perspective, the police were alert, but relatively calm. However, as we left the area we saw a battalion of police running for Pershing Square. Later we learned that 10 people had been arrested that morning, and what we saw while we were leaving was the beginning of a face off between protesters and police, prompted by a protester who had “bumped” a police officer with a banner.

Thank you to everyone who participated in the event. While our contingent was small, it was determined. Unfortunately, many people who had planned on attending were unable to make it, quite possibly due to the notorious Los Angeles traffic.

Special recognition must be given to Stuart Bechman. Stuart acted as our local contact for the event, keeping in touch with the police and demonstration organizers to determine where and when we could protest. It was an extremely difficult task because the protest arrangements were very unsettled and constantly changing. His tenacious efforts made our participation in the event possible. In addition, Stuart not only marched with our group, but also he stayed for the two marches scheduled for the afternoon as well.

We have pictures from the Republican Party Convention Protests too.


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