People’s Caravan and the Police State

Toby Fatzinger

We are gathered in a circle getting to know each other over Mexican food in a one hundred year old Masonic center in Cleveland. It is the second day of the Republican National Convention and our multi-national group assembled by Grassroots Global Justice Alliance as part of their It Takes Roots to Change the System People’s Caravan is traveling from the Republican National Convention in Cleveland to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. The group is made up of African American, Latino, Asian, white working class, gay and trans activists as well as the family of slain Honduran environmental and human rights advocate Berta Cáceres.

The group is discussing strategy for the next day’s direct action at the RNC, addressing the heavy police presence made up of 3,500 federal and local law enforcement and an additional 2,000 out-of-state officers when one of the Honduran delegates raises her hand. Rosalina Dominguez Madrid of COPINH (Consejo Cívico de Organizaciones Populares e Indígenas de Honduras or Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras) expresses concern about the potential for any one of us to be removed at any time with or without cause by police.

My first thought is that because we have the right to peacefully assemble and express our collective voice without fear of arrest or prosecution we will be safe and Rosalina may just be conditioned by her experience with the Honduran police state. My second thought is that Rosalina’s experience might give her some insight that I lack regarding the evolution of the police state.

I am reminded of the speech given by Wisconsin Sherriff David Clarke the day prior at the RNC in which he blamed the Black Lives Matter movement for inciting anarchy and praised the acquittal of Lt. Brian Rice, the highest ranking officer charged in the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore. The next day we meet up and assemble at the RNC where I am witness to conservative agitators spewing hate toward peaceful demonstrators. Threats of eternal damnation are hurled while a sea of American flag clad agitators hang in the periphery. Over the tops of heads loom signs reading “All Lives Matter” and “Make America Great Again”.

The police presence is militarized and extremely heavy in force. Every manner of law enforcement is represented and it’s not entirely clear if their aim is to protect the non-violent protestors from the agitators or the other way around. Officers patrol on horses, bikes and on foot. Snipers are visibly surveilling the protesters from rooftops with binoculars and assault weapons. Caravans of tactical teams in out-fitted military vehicles with semi-automatic weapons patrol the surrounding neighborhoods of the convention.

As we wrap up at the Republican National Convention and head to Pittsburgh I start to concede that Rosalina, a Honduran activist and mother of ten who is just a couple years older than me, does in fact understand what the evolution of a police state looks like better than I do. When peaceful protesters who have never advocated for or endorsed rogue acts of violence publicly or privately are being blamed for a heightened response to police brutality it is worth considering where we are headed and how safe our first amendment rights truly are.

Arriving in Pittsburgh the next day we meet with one of the oldest labor unions in the United States. We are guests of the United Electrical Workers who are working to end the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement that threatens to extend intellectual property laws across the world. In an impassioned plea to Union members and Democratic delegates in attendance Laura Zúniga Cáceres, daughter of Berta Cáceres, describes the conditions that led to her mother’s death and the murders of other COPINH activists. She describes the last time she saw her mother as she prepared to board a plane. The emotion in the room becomes palpable when Laura pauses for a moment and chuckles sweetly.

Consoling the room of front line activists, electrical workers and Pittsburgh residents she says “It’s good. It’s good to live life like this. Feeling like we are part of a world. Part of a globe.” Indeed, we are part of a global society; A world in which we are dependent upon each other both as individuals and governments. The United States provided approximately 90 million dollars in aid to Honduras prior to the murder of Berta Cáceres. If the U.S. is capable of supporting a police state abroad there is no reason to believe they are not capable of supporting a police state at home.

COPINH is a social and political organization that aims to support the indigenous and popular movements of Honduras. Based in the southwest of the country, the group serves as a facilitating body for recognition of the political, social, cultural, and economic rights of Honduran indigenous communities. By generating constant debate and analysis concerning the regional and national climates, COPINH works to heighten the social and political consciousness of Hondurans as well as improve their living conditions.

The murder of Berta Cáceres and the continued targeted harassment and assassinations of grassroots leaders in Honduras has put a spotlight on the critical role of US military aid to the repressive regime in Honduras. In the four years following the military coup of 2009 that ousted democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya, military, paramilitary and police forces killed over 100 social justice, Indigenous, and environmental justice activists in Honduras. 

Toby Fatzinger, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth (KFTC)/FFOYA House

I represented the grassroots organization Kentuckians for the Commonwealth (KFTC) on the People’s Caravan.  I am also the director of a local non-profit organization called FFOYA House that focuses on connecting artists to use their work as a voice for advocacy.  As a member of the SOKY Chapter of KFTC I serve on the Finance and Economic Justice committees.  My personal focus is on the myriad of issues related to wealth divide and I work to include the arts as part of the labor struggle.