RNC protest organizers get an early start


One year out, protesters are planning for next September’s Republican National Convention.

On September 1, 2008, the Republican National Convention (RNC) will be underway in St. Paul. Exactly one year before the political spectacle is set to begin, two activist groups signaled plans to protest the RNC and invited others to join them.

The RNC Welcoming Committee, a local anarchist/anti-authoritarian group organized a weekend of networking and strategy sessions called the “pReNC.” Hundreds attended including many from out of town. On Monday, they held a press conference at the State Capitol and declared that “together we have magicked into being a detailed plan, worthy of note, to receive the Republican National Convention.” They declined to provide further details and instead joked that they had already achieved their first victory, “a complete shutdown of government services,” (on Labor Day).

The Minneapolis-based Anti-War Committee (AWC) also chose Labor Day weekend to speak out about their protest plans. On Saturday, they organized a press conference and a “Prepare to Protest the RNC: Community Rally and Picnic.” For months, AWC members have been formalizing plans for next year’s demonstrations as part of the Protest RNC 2008 Coalition, a group that includes anti-war, labor, immigrant rights, welfare rights, and anti-police brutality activists.

Last fall, the AWC applied for a permit to rally and march around the Xcel Center on the first day of the convention, but St. Paul officials say they won’t consider the permit request until six months before the RNC. Organizers say they need more time to organize a national march that will likely draw large numbers.

“There will be tens of thousands of protesters here next year,” said Anh Pham of the AWC. “It’s better for the City of St. Paul to work with the local organizers who know the anti-war movement and know how to organize a protest in our hometown.”

Dave Titus, head of St. Paul’s police union, told the Pioneer Press in May that “tens of thousands of peaceful protesters” will not pose a problem, and that St. Paul cops would act fairly and professionally. On the other hand, Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher was quoted in the Pioneer Press as calculating that he will need a budget of $4.4 million to handle the detention of as many as 3,000 protesters.

RNC protesters plan to focus on a variety of issues, but they envision the opening march as a statement against the war in Iraq.

“In September 2008, thousands will be coming to St. Paul to voice their strong opposition to the Iraq War,” said Marie Braun of Women Against Military Madness and the Twin Cities Peace Campaign. “It is an illegal and immoral war that was conceived in lies and has resulted in the deaths of more than 3,700 Americans and over a million Iraqis.” She called on Americans to speak out against the war and urged City officials to grant a permit for the march.

“The City of St. Paul has a responsibility to protect the right of the people to speak out and to march against the Republican agenda and the war on Iraq,” she said. “Denial of these rights can only be interpreted as support for the war and the war machine.”

Angel Beuchner of the Welfare Rights Committee (WRC) announced plans for a poor people’s contingent in the anti-war march and explained the connection. “We are outraged that this government spends trillions to carry out occupation and war abroad while they slash spending for basic human needs at home.” The WRC has invited low income people from around the country to join them. “On September 1, 2008, we will march together and fill the streets, from the Capitol to the Xcel Center, with our demands for justice,” said Beuchner.

After the press conference, the Anti-War Committee held a community rally and picnic in Mears Park, just blocks from the Xcel Center. The event featured poetry, music, and politically-themed games, including a piñata decorated with RNC logos and a croquet game detailing the obstacles currently faced by the Iraqi people.

Meredith Aby of the AWC encouraged the group of approximately 50 people to sign up as volunteers, to donate money, and to participate in civil disobedience as part of next year’s RNC protests. “We need to mobilize the majority of Americans who now oppose the war in Iraq,” she said. “The Republicans clearly aren’t going to end the war and the Democrats haven’t shown that they will either. This year we plan to build a mass movement to demand peace and justice for people at home and abroad.”

The RNC Welcoming Committee and Protest RNC 2008 Coalition met last June and have agreed to work together and respect the diversity of protest tactics anticipated during the 2008 RNC. They also are co-sponsoring a second town hall meeting to further coordinate their plans. The town hall meeting is scheduled for Saturday, October 6 at 2 p.m. in the Weyerhauser Chapel at Macalester College in St. Paul and is open to the public.