Anarchy and the RNC: Protesters won’t rule out 2008 violence

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As Republican National Convention officials are stocking up on bunting and balloons, booking hotels and ordering canisters of helium, others around the country are equally busy preparing for the Republican nominating committee in the Twin Cites next September. Coming from Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, and Chapel Hill, N.C., and beyond, their interest isn’t in supporting — or even protesting — the GOP presidential contender. They’re anarchists and anti-authoritarians, and they’re coming for one reason alone: To shut it down.

The protesters won’t work with law enforcement or corporate media, two factors that contribute some mystery about how many will show up in 2008 and what tactics they might use. Through the organizing power of the Internet, however, notes from organizing meetings give anyone with access a glimpse of plans for bridge blockades, strategies for disrupting public transportation and even information about a family-friendly anarchist area. They’ve even created a video that spoofs common misconceptions about violence by anarchists.

The truth, however, is that several statements by organizers assert that violence is not off the table. Although the protesters say they won’t take the first swing, they vow to protect themselves as law enforcement will likely attempt to thwart their plans involving illegal behavior.

No Working with Authority

Anchored by the Twin Cities-based RNC Welcoming Committee and facilitated by Unconventional Action, the protesters have organized groups in cities such as Madison and Milwaukee, Wis.; Pittsburgh, Pa.; Iowa City, Iowa; and Chapel Hill, N.C. Planning for the RNC disruptions has been under way since it was announced that the convention would be held in St. Paul.

The network of activists isn’t coming to St. Paul to protest the policies of the Republican Party necessarily. The protesters will attempt to make the convention as big a headache for Republicans as possible by tactics such as blocking access to the convention and creating a “free state” near the convention. Businesses supporting the RNC would not be exempt as targets. Ultimately, “making the Republicans/Democrats (whatever you want to call them) obsolete” is the focus, according to the Welcoming Committee. The two-party political system — in fact, the political system itself — isn’t working for them. They aren’t Democrats, and they aren’t liberals. They are anarchists.

The plans of those arriving in September 2008 to disrupt the RNC don’t include working with local law enforcement. At a recent community discussion with St. Paul police regarding security and free speech for convention protesters, the RNC Welcoming Committee didn’t show up. They did send fliers, however, which read, “Don’t believe police propaganda: Authority belongs to the people, not the police.” The flier listed reasons why they won’t dialogue with law enforcement:

“Police protect the current power structure, not the people. Police rely on violence to protect a system that promotes violence. Police protect a social order that is founded on racism, sexism, and homophobia. Police brutality has consistently been a problem.”

“[P]eople ought to be allowed to control their own lives, and not each other’s,” the Welcoming Committee flier read. “Real problem-solving in communities doesn’t and can’t occur through authoritarian intervention… Communities should have the resources and power to manage themselves, but not enough to control others.”

It would be accurate to call them the ultimate believers in a “small government” ideology.

Planning Early

The early start to organizing disruptions at the RNC is purposeful. “It may seem strange to organize a gathering primarily focused on mobilizations so far in advance,” wrote the Chapel Hill, N.C.-based Carolina Consulta in notes from a meeting last May (PDF). “Past experience has taught us that it is unrealistic to expect hundreds of people from different parts of the country to be able to develop an effective strategy at a last-minute spokescouncil held two days before we hope to shut down an entire city center. Ideally, affinity groups across the country should know exactly what their roles will be many months in advance, so they will come mentally, physically, and tactically prepared to fulfill them.”

The tactical goal for the groups is to shut down the convention. “We can only have leverage over our rulers by showing our own power, that we must back our demands by demonstrating that we can interfere with their business as effectively as they interfere with our lives,” says Unconventional Action. The Carolina Consulta writes that among its goals is “to shut down the cities, delay and disrupt the conventions and corporate media coverage, to deter cities from wanting to host the conventions in the future,” and “to use the media to our advantage.”

The plan so far is this: “Tier One: Establish 15-20 blockades, utilizing a diversity of tactics, creating an inner and outer ring around St. Paul’s Xcel Center, where the RNC is to take place. Tier Two: Immobilize the delegates’ transportation infrastructure, including the buses that are to convey them. Tier Three: Block the five western bridges connecting the Twin Cities.” The group has been collecting information on transportation routes and logistics for the convention.

While the preliminary plans continue to be discussed as local organizers build toward a consensus, affiliated groups around the country continue to organize. Anti-RNC forces will convene in May 2008 to solidify plans, according to the Welcoming Committee Web site.

The Violence Factor

Will anarchists and anti-authoritarians attempting to disrupt the convention use violence as a tactic? The answer: Maybe.

“As the Welcoming Committee, we refuse to condemn the defense of individuals, communities, and the Earth. Most violence comes from the state. When you come to our protest, look around: We won’t be the ones with nightsticks, guns, and Tasers,” according to their Web site.

A frequently-asked-questions section on the site addresses the consensus on violence and destruction. “What is your stance on violence and property destruction? Destruction bad. Property bad. The concept of property is used to deprive people of the basic necessities of life. We live here, and want to live in beautiful, clean environments, just like you. We also believe we have a right to defend ourselves, and if the tools used to attack us include the tools of property, it’s not exempt.”

In a press conference in late August, Welcoming Committee spokester Bea Bridges said, “The State asks that we only resist in ways it finds convenient and easy to contain, promising repression of those who act outside the parameters it sets. This is a threat — a violent threat with which the State hopes to terrorize us into submission. Therefore, there exists no ‘peaceful’ option. Some among us may choose to resist State violence using pacifist tactics, while others use whatever methods they deem necessary and appropriate. But, no matter how we respond to it, violence is already present at the protests through no fault of our own.”

The suggestion of violence is one the Welcoming Committee pokes fun at. A video released by the group in August has created buzz among media outlets this month.

Police Encourage Cooperation

The Welcoming Committee is part of a larger demonstration against representative politics. The Democratic National Convention in Denver next August will see similar tactics. But the groups understand that they will be working with others who do believe in the power of representative politics. “We aim to organize militant direct action that manifests opposition to both the Democratic and Republican Parties,” says a statement on the Unconventional Action Web site. “As anti-authoritarians, we oppose so-called representational politics, but even those who still believe in it must understand that we can only have leverage over our rulers by showing our own power, that we must back our demands by demonstrating that we can interfere with their business as effectively as they interfere with our lives.”

In a letter to the Minnesota Monitor, St. Paul police officials wouldn’t comment on specific strategies to communicate with the anti-RNC forces or if they have specific plans to deal with disruptions caused by the protesters, but did provide some general statements about what residents can expect. “We encourage those people who wish to demonstrate during the event to work with us to develop a relationship, which can only help make the event an enjoyable event for everyone,” said the letter signed by St. Paul Police Chief John Harrington and Commander Douglas Holtz. “We want to have an open and honest dialogue with any group who wants to express their concerns, and we are very willing to reach out to enhance communications in an effort to make the event a success for everyone.”

As for violence, the St. Paul police said, “While there has been attention given to those that might want to disrupt the event, the St. Paul Police Department would like to assure the residents, businesses, and visitors, we will be prepared to keep the peace, we discourage acts of disruption — and we will not tolerate criminal activity.”

The letter says that they “anticipate that those who come to St. Paul will follow the law.”

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