A member of Solidarity & Defense, a Michigan based anti-authoritarian group, describes her experiences at the 2008 Republican National Convention protests in St. Paul, Minnesota.
The Pre RNC Organizing
After spending 9 days in Minneapolis, it is difficult to begin to write a report back from that experience. Residing in Minneapolis and St. Paul during those nine days was both inspiring and at times brought a frightening consciousness of state repression against dissent. Although much could be written about the experience, the main points I want to focus on is the pre-RNC organizing, the raids and representation of state repression before, during and after the convention.
To begin, I was inspired by the organizers that I met from across the Midwest and broader who came with a strong commitment to disrupt the RNC and provide support for other anarchists in the community. People formed strong and quick bonds and demonstrated a concern and solidarity with one another both on the street and in between. Being in the twin cities gave me the opportunity to meet solid and dedicated organizers from across the country. For a short window, I experienced living in a city of a few hundred anarchists (from Minneapolis & out of town organizers) and what that experience felt like.
While I speak positively of many organizers, I also carry strong critiques of the local sector organizers & 'black bloc' style anarchists. Before arriving in Minneapolis, I had an illusion of an existing strong and cohesive organization and upon arrival to the Twin Cities, it became apparent that it did not exist. While the RNC welcoming committee did an excellent job providing a convergence space, workshops, information, legal and food for hundreds of activists, within the 7 sectors, the organization was a disaster. Many organizers and affinity groups had done little to no planning or recruiting work specifically for the sector my affinity was assigned. Original measures of a vouching system were temporarily disastrous when the main security person was arrested on conspiracy charges. Very quickly, what earlier seemed like a semi-secured and organized process became vulnerable to infiltration and disorganization. Affinity groups from out of town ultimately picked up the work (vouching, facilitating, scouting, developing tactical strategies, providing medical assistance, etc.) that had been understood to have been completed. As a result of the disorganization of the sectors, the necessary numbers were not achieved to make the block aids effective in every sector.
Multiple anarchist organizers demonstrated a disinterest in straying away from the black bloc strategies. To me they demonstrated a dangerous disinterest in developing strategies that may be more effective and minimize arrests. The concerns I had played out before my eyes on September 1st when a unplanned black bloc 'swarm' developed of about 50 people who were ultimately ineffective in providing anyone (Bash Back, block aids, detainees...) support because they were being marched around by the police and national guard.
In reflection, I think that the 'swarm, seize, and stay' model demonstrated an effort to break away from the reoccurring and ineffective black block strategy. However, without an increased number of people willing to participate in the overall strategy, it left people participating in block aids naked to the police attention and brutality. Original ideas of working with other organizations/blocs such as the anti-capitalist bloc or the Rude Mechanical Orchestra did not materialize and left groups of 25-50 (at best) in each sector isolated away from the permitted march downtown.
People participating in the block aids made a commitment under the pre-arranged 'St. Paul Principles' to be separated from the permitted march by 'place or time.' This was developed out of not wanting to attract police activity and potentially harm to people who were marching in the permitted march. However, these principles left thousands of marchers unaware that three blocks away people were blockading intersections, turning away delegate buses and being maced, tear gassed, pepper sprayed and experiencing the effects of concussion grenades.
Before the main days of action against the RNC, the police demonstrated tactics of intimidation through raids, detainments and preemptive arrests.
On Friday, August 30th around 9:30 pm, the police raided the RNC Welcoming Committee's Convergence space. Everyone inside was detained, and to be released were photographed and profiled by the police. While the raid was occurring, a group of about a hundred community members, activists, legal observers, medics and journalist gathered outside the convergence space. Instead of people being demoralized by the raid, people seemed to use it as fuel for the upcoming actions. Each detainee was welcomed from being released with cheers, water bottles and eventually snacks!
This challenged the police intentions of instilling fear and demoralization to the protesters.
On Saturday, August 31st the police raided three houses of organizers in the Minneapolis area. One of the houses included the Food Not Bombs house which had opened it doors to many out of town organizers that week. Beginning around 8:00 am the police and members of the FBI raided the houses and detained all the members (expect one four year old child who was eventually allowed to leave). Police and FBI came in the houses guns drawn and handcuffed and detained everyone in the homes, arresting one-two people for each house listed on the affidavit.
An impromptu meeting was called that afternoon in Powder Horn Park to discuss the raids and provide updated information. Over a hundred people attended and although the raids were a demonstration of the frightening level of police repression, people were in good spirits and undeterred by the raids. Committees were formed to provide safe child care, additional legal work and assist in repairing raided houses. It was personally inspiring to see people come together, and as 'main' organizers of the RNC Welcoming committee were being picked off & imprisoned by the police, the Friends of the Welcoming Committee was formed! People both from Minneapolis and out of town worked and sweated together to continue the work of the RNC Welcoming committee when it became apparent that the police and FBI were trying to bring the 'leadership' to their knees. As each 'leader' was brought down, a few more strong organizers were brought up!
The Police Repression
As of Wednesday, September 3rd, it was made public knowledge that the first step of police repression against anti-RNC organizing came through the installment of two paid informants and an undercover officer in the RNC Welcoming Committee over a year ago. These three people worked for over a year developing activist profiles of the welcoming committee's 'leadership' of the group of the original 30-35 people who attended the meetings. The information gathered by the informants led to the arrests of eight RNC Welcoming committee organizers who were being held in the Ramsey County jail but as of Thursday, September 4th were all released on bail or bond. Each organizers is facing 7 ½ years of prison time for conspiracy charges.
In addition, organizers from out of town were painted by the police as 'organized criminals' coming to carry out criminal anarchist activities. One police statement goes as far to suggest that organizers were planning to kidnap a delegate! It is obvious based on the police actions that they are attempting to instill a message of fear to people engaging in dissent against the government in any way outside of begging them for a permitted march. (Which, by the way, the Poor People's March received a permit, but that did not stop the police from tear gassing & shooting off concussion grenades at the marchers as they left from the permitted march!) The police/State/FBI in the Twin Cities sent the message that they believed the organizers posed a real threat to the convention and required high levels of infiltration, surveillance, media misrepresentation, and mass arrests.
While in the Twin Cities during those nine days, I spent a lot of time contemplating the idea of 'security culture.' Many of the police tactics I witnessed pre and during the RNC, were things I was conscious existed but had not directly experienced (phone taping, arresting/brutalizing journalists, taking film/videos/photos that were evidence of police brutality, FBI raids, text message disruptions, police informants, arresting 'leaders' with conspiracy charges to name a few). It became incredibly apparent that there is a desperate need for organizations to work within a semi-closed system of organizing to develop the necessary trust and responsibility to one another to be effective organizers. I still maintain the importance of public actions and groups to function to politicize people, but the experience at the RNC was a fierce reminder of the potential devastation to organizations that police infiltration poses. Reading the affidavits for each arrested organizers, some of the 'evidence' included casual conversations, previous workshops attended, materials found in their home, rallies and demonstrations people had attended. All things that many committed organizers locally and across the country could be vulnerable to.
I left the Twin Cities extremely motivated to work harder and more thoughtfully about organizing, and look forward to engaging in discussions with others about issues raised above as we develop the visions to develop our organization.
Originally posted: September 20, 2008 at Solidarity & Defense