A strong showing for dissent and democracy

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by Joe Nathan • 9/5/08 • What a terrific week for all who treasure democracy! Having spent time marching (peacefully, non-violently) on the streets of St. Paul last week, as well as reading literally hundreds of emails and watching vastly different interpretations of events, I’m even more sold on America.

Along with thousands of others, my son, daughter-in-law and I marched early in the week to question US policy in Iraq. We saw an incredible array of signs, and depending on your point of view, lots of humor or disrespect (like the satirical group of “Lobbyists for McCain,” who handed out trading cards for real lobbyists, listing their campaign contributions), or 10 foot high puppets, playing off beauty contests and entitled, for example, “(I) Miss Democracy.” I loved the various ways people played with GOP, including “Government, oh puhleeze!”

We also walked by sometimes silent, sometimes smiling police who were quite content to watch us. It was stunning to see some of them dressed in full riot gear, with ugly, intimidating wire fences, blocking streets near the Excel Convention Center (you can see what this looked like at radiofreenation.blogspot.com or on websites of Twin Cities papers). Everything I saw and heard over three hours was peaceful from police and protestors (and a few “counter-protesters).

It was very disappointing to hear that a few people threw bricks at buses containing Republic Convention delegates or broke windows in downtown St. Paul. I don’t think that will save or improve the life of a single Iraqi or American.

There also are videos of tear gas, pepper spray and concussion grenades being used to disperse people. Was any of this over-reaction by police? Some are urging a careful assessment, which makes a lot of sense to me.

St. Paul city council member Dave Thune described many of the contradictions in an email he sent out at the end of the convention:

“Coast guard gunboats on the Mississippi, helicopters overhead, beleagured and tired St. Paul police officers, peaceful demonstrators bloodied and gassed, gangs of out-of-town thugs smashing everything in sight, citizens asking loved ones to write important family contact numbers on their arms, garbage trucks shutting down bridges and streets, nameless faceless badgeless riot police, videos of young girls crying “I love you” as they are maced and struck, and another futilely holding out a flower as she is sprayed with peppergas… Allegations of weapons, molotov cocktails and homemade napalm stirring the fears and apprehensions of citizens and police alike… good cops and good demonstrators who showed good will… videos, hilarious signs and costumes… Compassionate St. Paul cops with nametags who recognized neighbors by name. Citizens and businesses who brought coffee and sandwiches to officers who had been on duty for 14 hours or more. A cop who knelt and comforted a sobbing, scared woman on the street.

Thune described only what happened outside- not inside the convention center, where thousands of excited Republicans nominated Senator McCain and Governor Palin.

Some mistakes were made last week. But overall, in and outside the Convention Center it was a strong showing for dissent, disagreement and democracy.