Though classes have not yet begun, many students at Twin Cities high school and college campuses are already working on a massive civics project: getting ready for protests during the Republican National Convention in downtown St. Paul September 1-4.
Organizers with the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), and Youth Against War and Racism at the high school level are collaborating to turn out large numbers of students for demonstrations on the convention’s final day. In St. Paul, activists with Macalester College Students for a Democratic Society are working to house protestors from out of town, and to create an educational convergence space for radical and progressive activism.
At the University, where classes start on September 2, activists are working to make it easier for students to leave class without being penalized. Many courses require a student to attend the first few sessions or risk losing their spot.
“In the past, the University administration has let students go for caucusing and voting,” says Stephanie Taylor of the University SDS. “We’re making the case that students are acting out a different form of commitment to civic studies.”
Moreover, organizers are pointing out a need for the University to make commitments that are politically balanced.
“Even the Humphrey Institute, which is usually progressive, is hosting Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell,” says Tracy Molm, also with the U of M SDS. “They’re opening their doors to the Republicans. This is a campus that we’ve put way too much tuition into, and that the state has put way too much money into, to justify that.”
Students with SDS are also organizing busing to downtown St. Paul to facilitate protesting. Molm says she sees protesting the RNC as an opportunity to jumpstart conversations about social change and public priorities.
“The economy is in the shitter, we’re still pouring money into this war, and we have a really direct target that we can voice that opposition to,” she says. “People will hopefully be able to see what it means to stand up for what you believe in again.”
The group has several benefits and organizing meetings planned in the run-up to the demonstration. Interested students and allies can contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Activists at the high school level, for their part, are planning on staging a walkout, then joining protests near the convention site in downtown St. Paul. Aidan Connor Sullivan, an incoming senior at Minneapolis South High School who is organizing with Youth Against War and Racism, says she sees the walkout as a particularly important opportunity for youth.
“Walkouts are an incredibly important protest when a large number of students choose to leave,” “I think it’s powerful to see people – most of whom can’t even vote yet – using their voice and sacrificing something so that they can go and make their voices heard.”
Like the University, public schools in Minneapolis and St. Paul open their doors on September 2.
“There are two days of school before the walkout,” says. “All day those two days, we’re going to be handing out flyers about the walkout to every person we see.”
Meanwhile, at Macalester College in St. Paul, organizers are focusing on harnessing the energy of student protestor from across the country converging in the region. They’re planning educational events, and working with willing students and neighbors to host out-of-town activists.
To date, 175 activists have signed up for housing through Macalester SDS, and organizers estimate that as many as 500 to 800 visiting protestors may request a place to stay by the time of the convention. Registration on-line at the SDS Web site or by contacting email@example.com.
“We’ve done massive neighborhood outreach in last week and half,” says Peter Valelly with Macalester SDS. “Our numbers are on track; it’s been really energizing to see how much community and student support we’ve gotten.”
Students with Macalester SDS say they saw an opportunity not only to help provide protestors with safe housing, but also to harness the energy of so many radical and progressive activists converging in St. Paul to build a progressive movement. They’ve planned a series of workshops during the convention on everything from street medic training to the role of hip-hop in social change to the history of radical organizing at Macalester. These skill shares, they say, will equip students with valuable organizing tools that will last far beyond the convention. Click here for more workshop information.
Arella Vargas, an incoming Macalester sophomore and organizer with Mac SDS, says the campus community stands to benefit from being the site of the convergence.
“We’re excited by the opportunity to right off the bat make Mac a political space,” Vargas says. “I hope that the Mac community will engage with what we’re doing, and be changed by that.”
David Seitz is a student at Macalester College in St. Paul, studying political science, gender studies and American studies. As a writer, activist and student, he is interested in anti-racist, feminist, and queer approaches to community journalism, politics, spirituality and social geography. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org