RNC Welcoming Committee: Meeting the press at last


Another police blockade of the High Street bridge did not stop media intent on finally having a look at the RNC Welcoming Committee space and members. On Thursday morning, six RNC-WC members explained their commitment to welcoming and encouraging a variety of protesters, but disclaimed any direct role in the week’s street protests.

“The Welcoming Committee was not on the streets,” said one of the spokespersons.

What about explosives? What about buckets of urine? Reporters wanted to talk about what the police claim to have found in searches of homes and the Convergence Space over the weekend.

“I didn’t see any of those things ever in this space,” answered one of the six spokespersons seated in front of a bank of cameras.

“After the sheriff’s office seemed to have such a fetish for scatology,” another young man observed, they tried to figure out where this came from. They decided that it might have started at a Town Hall meeting at Macalester’s Weyerhauser Chapel, when a man in the back stood up and said “What you people should do is throw piss at the Republicans!” The Town Hall group laughed, and “from time to time, we would mention ‘the pee guy.'”

“I was beaten in the Ramsey County jail”

RNC WC spokespersons told reporters they should be investigating the real violence of the week, which they characterized as police violence against protesters. A reporter asked about stories of abuse of protesters in jail, and a young man stood up at the side of the room and said, “I was beaten in the Ramsey County jail.”

Offered a microphone and the stage, 19-year-old Elliott Hughes said that “me and some friends were chanting for food,” when six or seven officers came into the cell. “One punched me in the face, and I fell unconscious. An officer slammed my head on the ground, waking me up.” Then, he said, he was dragged to a retaining cell, where the officers put a bag on his head and “did pain compliance on me.”

“I was screaming for God and crying,” he said, and eventually the officers took him to Regions Hospital for stitches and treatment.

Asked whether he had been given food, Hughes said he had been given food earlier in his imprisonment, but then got nothing for 12 hours. He said he was coughing blood and dry heaving and vomiting, and that “one officer said I was bulimic, and others called me ‘gay’ and ‘a princess.'”

When asked yesterday about allegations of mistreatment of protesters, St. Paul Police Chief John Harrington said that if any complaints were filed, they would be investigated.

Violence and pacifism

“In the 18 months I have been with the Welcoming Committee,” said Betsy Raasch Gilman, “as a religious pacifist, as a nonviolence trainer … I’ve been listening very carefully and assessing whether I want to keep on.” Raasch Gilman said that she found membership in the Welcoming Committee consistent with her personal, religious commitment to pacifism.

Sounding slightly professorial, she said that “the definition of violence is slippery,” drawing distinctions between breaking windows and violence against persons. As for breaking the Macy’s window, “I am not going to condemn the person who smashed the Macy’s window,” she said. “I wouldn’t do it. But I do find capitalism to be a problem myself.”

Raasch Gilman compared the window-breaking to the Vietnam War protest tactic of pouring blood on draft files. “Both cause property damage,” she said, adding that the blood on draft files probably caused greater financial damage. “I don’t know the intention of the person who smashed the window,” she concluded.

Role of media

Shamako Noble of the HipHop Congress and the Poor People’s Economic and Human Rights Campaign, turned the questioning back at reporters. “How many of you believe the police lie?” he asked, looking for a show of hands. “How many of you think politicians lie?” As many reporters hesitated to answer, he concluded “We have a problem!”

“This is not a game,” Noble continued. “They are using the media. We are in a country — I’m a proud American, but the reality is: this is a country with a history of repression.”

He said the mainstream media showed only photos of police, and none of Tuesday’s Poor People’s March He admonished reporters that they should be asking questions of police and asking to see the items allegedly seized in the raids. “The neutrality of the media is a liability,” Noble said.

“We are just the American people, trying to take our country back,” he concluded. “Can you report that?”