Earlier this month, someone posted an article on this website called “March organizers failed to protect message.” As a member of the Coalition to March on the RNC and Stop the War, I felt compelled to respond. The writer suggested that those who organized the permitted anti-war march on the opening day of the RNC should have tried to prevent “unruly protesters” from engaging in direct action or should have denounced those who did after the fact. The writer suggested that our message was stolen by “a few who acted mindlessly and that we should have stood side by side with police to denounce them.
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I was troubled but not surprised by this person’s analysis. Blaming fellow protesters for police violence and judging those whose tactics involve risking arrest have often marked the aftermath of mass actions. This pattern of backstabbing and finger pointing has left movements fractured and demoralized. In St. Paul, we deliberately tried to create something different: principles that would allow us to focus our energy on the injustice we oppose, engage in the tactics we feel are most strategic, and do so in a way that would build our capacity and inspire unity, even among activists of differing ideological backgrounds, experience levels, and philosophies.
I began writing this as a comment on the article criticizing march organizers, so I want to explain our perspective as a coalition when anticipating how our march would be affected by other actions the same day. We were fully aware of well developed plans to engage in direct action and civil disobedience on September 1. We were not surprised this took place and do not agree that our message was “highjacked” by anarchists. We worked in coalition with several groups including the RNC Welcoming Committee to establish principles of unity that would prevent counter-productive, “good protester-bad protester” labeling. The “St. Paul Principles” we established included a respect for a diversity of tactics (not just peaceful, legal ones) and we agreed that different tactics would be separated by time or space so that we could complement, rather than interfere with each other.
This was achieved with great success. On September 1st, 30,000 people from a diversity of backgrounds, income levels, ages, and struggles marched together under one banner: U.S. Out of Iraq Now; Money for Human Needs Not War; Peace, Justice, and Equality for All. Also on September 1st, a significant number of people chose to directly confront those most responsible for war, poverty, and injustice by engaging in blockades and other methods of direct action. Organizers of the permitted march supported their decision to do so. Many of us believe that elements of civil disobedience and direct action are acceptable and necessary for any movement desiring to mount a serious challenge to the violent, imperialist forces that are exploiting and destroying the lives of millions.
The author of the article I’m responding to claimed that the RNC Welcoming Committee’s website indicated a desire for “violent confrontation.” Anyone who was present in downtown St. Paul during the RNC could see that it was the police who were eager for violent confrontation. Who was it that brought riot gear, tasers, rubber bullets, batons, and chemical weapons to the streets of St. Paul? It was the police, whose only mission was to protect power and privilege and crush anyone in their path.
The very use of the word “violence” to describe the actions of protesters in the face of the police state we witnessed is ridiculous. Pepper spraying a girl repeatedly in the face after she attempted to hand a flower to a police officer is violence. A broken Macy’s window is not. And even though some activists don’t prefer property damage as a tactic, some amount of perspective is important. What is a broken window compared to a million Iraqis killed, or entire cities destroyed by the U.S. occupation forces? A whole lot of windows get broken when the U.S. drops bombs. Which is the bigger concern? Which is a real reason to be pointing fingers?
I and other members of the Coalition to March on the RNC stand in solidarity with all who spoke and acted against the Republican agenda in St. Paul. We didn’t denounce each other before the action and we aren’t going to start now. And we would never, EVER stand with the police at a press conference and denounce our fellow activists. The very suggestion is absurd after the systematic way the police attempted to violently shut down ALL dissent at the RNC. On September 4th, members of our coalition were shot at close range with rubber bullets while holding an anti-war banner, tackled to the ground while chanting for an end to the war, and attacked with pepper spray while holding signs demanding peace, justice, and equality to all. This occurred in response to a large crowd who dared to march after a city-issued permit had expired.
Anyone professing a sincere commitment to justice should make an effort to hold police accountable for their crimes at the RNC, rather than criticize march organizers for failing to shun our fellow activists. We are committed to building and strengthening a diverse movement for just social change. We are not interested in betraying and judging one another.
Anyone waiting for us to do so or advocating such hypocrisy needs to wake up. The most dangerous people in St. Paul that week were the delegates to the Republican National Convention, as well as the army of mercenaries who attacked people on their behalf. Anyone who opposes violence and property destruction should join us in opposing current U.S. policy as a top priority. Our soldiers, police, and anti-immigration agents engage in violence and property destruction every day at the orders of politicians and corporate executives. The system works against us. We must work TOGETHER against it, in diverse ways, not against each other in destructive ways.