With the Twin Cities set to host massive protests, an influx of media and thousands of Republicans and supporters, local corporate media are looking to fuel fears that things could get out of control. One activist group being targeted — they say, unfairly — is anarchists. They state that their plans do not include violence and that both their message and tactics are willfully misunderstood.
Last week, WCCO aired a report on local anarchists that said they “hope to cause chaos” and are “a group bent on destruction.” The station superimposed images of property destruction while discussing the group’s plans. That group is the RNC Welcoming Committee, an umbrella group of anarchists and anti-authoritarians organizing resistance to the Republican National Convention.
WCCO is not alone. In July, Fox News accused the anarchists of setting up a “red sector” devoted to clashing with police, a charge the group denies. The Star Tribune’s Katherine Kersten has devoted three columns to whipping Twin Citians into a frenzy over anarchists. In July, the Pioneer Press recounted the destructive World Trade Organization protests of 1999 and stated that “a group of Twin Cities anarchists now is making similar threats against the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul.”
While local anarchists organizing actions at the RNC are loathe to speak to the news media, they have done extensive interviews with local community-based media. Their message and clarifications have fallen on very few ears. Here’s what they have to say about the media, their plans and anarchism as a philosophy. None of the members of the RNC Welcoming Committee use their real names in media appearances.
“We are not as scary”
“We’ve been painted in that bad light, being compared to terrorist attacks on the Xcel Energy Center, or chemical weapons or other forms of violence that we are criticized for,” RNC Welcoming Committee member Bara Cade told Eric Angell on Our World in Depth a program on the local cable access network MTN. “It’s important for people to know we are not as scary as people make us out to be.”
Barry Cade, another member of the Welcoming Committee, said, “Our tactics are not terroristic. If anything I would call them empowering.”
They do intend to prevent delegates from reaching the convention by blockading transportation routes — often with street theater, including a planned dance party by queer group Bash Back!, and even the possibility of piling stuffed teddy bears at an intersection.
“All that means is you are going to stay in an intersection or a place and not leave when the police ask them to leave,” said Emma, one of three members of the Welcoming Committee (also present: Harold and Tony), speaking to KFAI, a local community radio station. “Essentially, anything that will stop or slow down traffic — in this case, the traffic of the delegates — could be considered a blockade.”
Tony chimed in, “Even something such as driving slowly.”
Emma says the plan is to “engage in nonviolent civil disobedience peacefully preventing the delegates access the Xcel Center.”
That nonviolence has been a debate within the anarchist communities organizing against the RNC.
“We definitely don’t have property destruction in our strategy,” Barry told Angell. “It’s not part of it, but we do know there are people who follow the philosophy that … some property supports violence, and enables violence to happen.” He cited the examples of weapons manufacturers or companies that support war.
“There really is an open debate about it. We are just glad this debate can happen and that people can be a part of that debate,” he said.
Bara added: “We don’t want to say that we condone property violence or that we support it, but we also don’t want to say we are against it as well.”
Cooperation and community
Public perception of anarchism is that violence is part of the philosophy or that anarchist philosophy depends on a lack of authority that would force communities to descend into chaos. Those perceptions are at the heart of misconceptions of the movement.
“Anarchism is easily the most understood pol theory in America today, so much so that newspapers use the silly phrase ’self-described anarchists,’” Harold told KFAI.
Indeed they do. Virtually every media outlet describes the Welcoming Committee as “self-described.” The Pioneer Press has done so three times, the Star Tribune four times, and I used the phrase at the Minnesota Independent (then Minnesota Monitor) last fall.
Harold said the misunderstanding leads many to equate anarchism with violence. “The media says direct action is synonymous with violence, that anarchism is the philosophy with the end goal of chaos and disorder.”
Instead, it’s about sustainability, consensus building, decentralization and community aid. And each anarchist has their own ideas.
“I think the key issue is people taking control of their own lives rather than offering up their compliance by being satisfied by giving someone else control of it,” said Barry. “A lot of people out there who don’t know what an anarchist is might be an anarchist themselves. If they look into it a bit, it’s more about creating an environment and community where cooperation is essentially what keeps a community running, not coercion.”
So, for example, instead of the Internal Revenue Service forcing payment of taxes, people would contribute what’s needed of their own volition. Law and order are the responsibility of every member of the community, not authorities.
“Anarchy is based on mutual aid,” said Bara. “It’s very community based, knowing who your neighbors are. … Anarchy doesn’t mean chaos in the streets, breaking windows, all these misconceptions. A lot of what we do is community based. Everyone on an equal level with one another.”
Said Barry, “It isn’t about creating something big but making things smaller, making communities smaller. Revolution should be the byproduct.”
A message on the two-party system
But with that feel-good message, why disrupt the RNC?
“The RNC used to be for nominating the candidate,” said Harold. “It’s essentially a huge dog-and pony-show sponsored by some of the worst corporations you could think of… where lobbyists pay for access to high-level politicians.”
The two-party system, a hierarchical structure, is antithetical to the philosophy of anarchism, they say. It imposes the will of the majority on everyone else instead of a consensus process that takes everyone’s needs into account.
That’s why the anarchists are acting. “Direct action has been a part of just about any effective political movement throughout history,” said Harold. “We don’t think the political elite will stop if we ask nicely.
Whether the media’s frenzied speculation of mass violence and property destruction will be realized remains to be seen, but the Welcoming Committee is adamant that it’s not part of their plan. But delegates and police can expect some major traffic hassles as the RNC gets into full swing in a matter of days.
“It’s a huge forum to say what we want,” he said.