It was late at night on July 24 when a tall, black-haired young woman jumped onto the stage at the Triple Rock Social Club and, pulling the microphone close, asked the crowd “Where are you all going to be on September 1st?
A lingering crowd of young people stood under her, not sure what was happening. Kim DeFranco sat at small round table to the side of the stage, smiling. She knew what was going on.
“In St. Paul!” she called back.
Defranco is an organizer for the Coalition to March on the RNC and Stop the War, one of many groups organizing protest demonstrations during the four days of the Republican National Convention this September. The event at the Triple Rock that night was a fundraiser for the Coalition’s protest on September 1, the first day of the convention.
The Coalition’s proposed route has been rejected by the city of St. Paul—much to the frustration of Coalition organizers. The city permit granted for the march will allow minimal proximity to the Xcel Center, and requires that marchers leave the area by 2 p.m., before the convention begins.
The Coalition’s desired route (in green) and the route assigned to them by the city of St. Paul (in blue)
“They act like dissent is an afterthought, and they tried to squish us into the littlest amount of space and the farthest amount of space from the delegates,” Aby said. “They gave us a route that could accommodate maybe 10,000 people.”
The Coalition sued the city for changes in the route and timing to allow a more effective demonstration. In mid-July. U.S. District Court Judge Joan Erickson ruled in favor of city officials, deciding the revised route was appropriate.
According to court documents, Erickson agreed with city officials that the danger posed by the demonstrators outweighed their right to march where and when they please.
“The order, for the most part, addressed all of the issues,” St. Paul City Attorney John Choi said. “From the city’s perspective we’ve granted unprecedented access.”
The Coalition has reserved the south stairs of the State Capitol building from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and plan on having keynote speakers in the morning, before marching to the Xcel Center, Coalition spokesperson Meredith Aby said. If the 50,000 people expected by organizers show up, the event stands to be the biggest protest demonstration in Minnesota history.
Members of the Coalition adamantly maintain that both the rally and the march will be peaceful and well organized, and separate from any violent protests.
Their goal is that “anyone can participate without injury or conflict with the police or anyone else,” Coalition outreach worker Joe Callahan said. “At these conventions, being able to exercise our constitutional rights is a very big thing.”
The Coalition’s common principles appear in their four slogans:
“U.S. out of Iraq now,”
“Money for human needs, not for war,”
“Say no to the Republican Agenda,” and
“Demand peace, justice and equality.”
Jess Sundin, an organizer for the Coalition, began planning a counter-event in the fall of 2006, only days after the Republican Party announced St. Paul as the location of its 2008 convention.
Sundin and the burgeoning Coalition spent the next year-and–a-half applying and re-applying for permits, negotiating with city officials, and finally suing the city twice over delays and restrictions on permits to march.
Last winter, the coalition hosted a meeting on the University of Minnesota’s Minneapolis campus with other protest groups, during which they negotiated a set of working rules for the four days of demonstration. The four “St. Paul Principles,” agreed upon by all the groups, even those with more radical aims, are:
1. Respect the diversity of tactics of other protest groups
2. Be aware of the separate activities of other groups
3. Don’t criticize publicly the tactics of other groups
4. Don’t cooperate with police in pointing fingers at other groups
After the meeting, Coalition membership “exploded,” Sundin said.
Today the Coalition is endorsed by local groups including Women Against Military Madness, The Anti-War Committee, AFSCME Local 3800, and University of Minnesota Students for a Democratic Society, as well as national groups such as CODEPINK, Action LA Coalition, Columbia Action Network, and various national student groups.
Patrick B. Anderson is a freelance reporter and poverty-stricken college student. In addition to food, he seeks input at firstname.lastname@example.org.