A year ago, eight activists were detained in Ramsey County. Officials said they were protecting the public by holding the so-called RNC 8, who allegedly plotted to violently disrupt the Republican National Convention.
But the anarchist activists, who were all released shortly after the convention last September, still await trial. For various reasons (their first judge recused himself for undisclosed reasons, their current judge has been tied up in a murder trial, terrorism-related enhancements to their charges were dropped), their pending courtroom battle is on hold – expected to start in the early part of 2010, instead of this fall as some initially predicted.
In a way, as they wait to hear whether jurors see their side, the accused activists’ lives are also on hold. But they’re quick to say the legal mess that enshrouds them and carries the potential for time behind bars and the hefty price of a convicted-felon label hasn’t paralyzed them.
At a table in the center of the bustling Midtown Global Market, RNC 8 co-defendants Max Specktor and Nathanael Secor talked about their latest activist endeavors. Specktor is launching an eco-awareness group here and Secor is working on a start-up that would deliver via bicycle food to needy households in Minneapolis’s neediest neighborhoods.
They say they’re invigorated. Throughout the tumultuous last year of uncertainty and frustration, they’ve reflected on their beliefs, which they believe have been vilified and mocked by authorities and the mainstream media, and fine-tuned them.
Additionally, as they’ve seen a few other accused activists sentenced and followed them as they served their time, they’ve found a sort of subtle encouragement.
“I’m trying to stay optimistic, but I know prison is a possibility,” Secor said. “Seeing my friends and loved ones deal with that position has been an inspiration for me.”
During the past year, the significance of the charges has not diminished. Instead, the activists’ perspectives have adjusted and, in a sense, they’ve come to terms with their as-yet-undecided fate.
“The past few months, I’ve felt like I can think about other things,” Specktor said. “The emotional and psychological things have slowed down. The further it gets pushed off, the less it weighs on my mind.”
Likewise, as time passes, the urgency and gravity of cultivating support and legitimizing their politics seem to diminish.
“The weight of the state feels less and less over time,” Secor said. “This is not something that’s going to stop me from organizing.”
But that’s not to say the RNC 8 is halting its efforts to build on its support network. Fundraising events to cover legal expenses and free monthly dinners hosted by the activists offer supporters a chance to connect and talk about strategies to stay in the public eye and keep pressure on prosecutors to drop the charges.
“In a way, I think a lot of us have received a large amount of privilege,” Secor said. “Within this community, we have the privilege of support.”
The activists wonder what implications their charges may have outside the Twin Cities area. Because they previously faced terrorism charges, some of the eight wonder whether the “terrorist” label is an irreversible one. A simple Internet search of any of their names yields news reports of the terrorism charges.
“As long as I stay in this Minneapolis bubble, I don’t think it’ll affect me too much,” Specktor, a Minneapolis native, said.
Secor recalled a front-page story in a newspaper in a town where he used to live that boldly declared he was charged with terrorism, a story that ran beside his mug shot. “If at some point I choose to move, I have to start from scratch,” Secor said.
For now, the activists are focusing on what they call a war against stifled dissent – government oppression of alternative political views.
“This is more than me going to jail,” Secor said. “This is about organizing and being deemed terrorists.”
The prospect of jail time is worrisome, they agree. But there’s also a consensus between the activists that it isn’t enough to silence their voices.
“Going to jail is not going to stop us or silence us,” Specktor said. “It’s going to renew our resolve.”
Still, they aren’t necessarily out to be martyrs for their cause. They say they look forward to the end of the legal wrangling, and a certain future after more than a year spent with felony charges and potential jail time hanging over their heads.
“We’ve got to laugh to keep from crying,” Secor said. “That’s what our lives are like, in some regard.”
Karlee Weinmann (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a freelance journalist who lives and works in Twin Cities.
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