Organizing for the 2008 RNC Protests: A Report and Reflections

Local folks attended a recent meeting in the Twin Cities planning for protests against the 2008 Republican National Convention. For at least one person attending the meeting, the planning was reminiscent of the energy and hope that followed the 1999 Seattle WTO protests.

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Over Labor Day weekend this year, some folks from Grand Rapids made a trip to the Twin Cities to attend the “pReNC,” a meeting organized by the RNC Welcoming Committee to make plans for protests surrounding the 2008 Republican National Convention. What follows is the official report from the meeting issued by the RNC Welcoming Committee, as well as some thoughts and reflections on the planning process as it compares to other recent mass mobilizations. By way of a disclaimer, this piece reflects the thoughts of one local person who attended the meeting and is not meant to influence any of the local organizing which will no doubt follow. Moreover, it’s important to be up front–both the RNC and the DNC will, and indeed should be–protested. Neither is “better” than the other. To that end, visit Unconventionalaction.org and Recreate68.org for more on organizing against the DNC.

Media Mouse formed in the fall of 1999 following the protests in Seattle that shutdown the World Trade Organization (WTO) meeting. While no official count is available, it would probably be safe to assume that thousands of people got involved in hundreds of groups around the country that formed following Seattle. Like many of these groups, Media Mouse formed to work on what could be generally described as opposing neo-liberal economic policies both abroad in the form of undemocratic and imperialist trade agreements such as NAFTA and locally with the outsourcing of jobs to Mexico. Media Mouse also took inspiration from the Indymedia movement (http://www.indymedia.org) and was formed with the understanding–learned from the streets of Seattle and rooted in the struggles of the Zapatistas–that the corporate media was not going to report on the burgeoning social movements in an accurate manner.

Like the groups that formed around the country, Media Mouse quickly began working on local issues connected to the large goal of challenging neoliberalism. One of our first actions was a “Rally for Alternative Transit” that protested the shutdown of US-131’s “S-Curve” through downtown Grand Rapids and the routing of traffic onto Division in Grand Rapids’ densely populated Heartside Neighborhood. For us, it was another example of the needs of profit taking precedent over the concerns of people, embodied by the popular slogan of the post-Seattle movements “People over Profit.” This organizing continued locally with a protest held against the World Bank and the IMF in solidarity with demonstrations happening in Washington DC in April of 2000. While Grand Rapids’ event was small–100 people or so–and nothing compared to the militancy of the several hundred person “black bloc” in DC–there were arrests at the unpermitted march and indeed it seems hard to imagine being able to mobilize 100 people for a march against the World Bank in 2007 in GR.

At the risk of being overly nostalgic, the post-Seattle climate was considerably different than now. Without going into the causes of this shift in consciousness–of which numerous causes from 9/11 to burn-out can be analyzed–the post-Seattle period was considerably more exciting. Coming off of what was a clear victory in Seattle–the delay of the WTO Summit and its overall failure–there was an unmistakable sense that direct action and organizing could confront some of the most powerful institutions in the United States. Aside from the aforementioned anti-World Bank march, a protest held outside of a speech by a former World Bank economist in May of 2000 attracted fifty people, no small feat for an event at noon in downtown Grand Rapids.

In the post-Seattle period, it was not uncommon to see people travel great distances to attend the rash of demonstrations held, so it was not a surprise to see people at the World Bank event from Detroit. Similarly, when groups in Detroit and Windsor issued a call to oppose the Organization of American States meeting in June of 2000 thousands showed up to protest the two institutions. While this idea of “summit hopping” (http://nefac.net/node/84) was justly critiqued within the movement, thousands of activists mobilized to confront a variety of entities including the RNC in Philadelphia, he DNC in Los Angeles, the Trans-Atlantic Business Dialogue in Cincinnati.

By 2001, Media Mouse made the decision to attend and report (photos, video) on the April 2001 protests (http://www.infoshop.org/octo/ftaa.html) against the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). The city had been turned into a veritable fortress, with miles of fencing enclosing the Summit site and the police geared up for a confrontation. On the day before the protests, the police reported on the arrests of a “terrorist” group that allegedly planned to use bombs against the Summit. Despite the rhetoric of the police and the militarization of much of the upper city, within an hour of the first protest beginning, Media Mouse was able to witness demonstrators knock a substantial hole in the fence and surge towards the site of the Summit. Despite being pushed back, repeated attempts on the fence would take place over the two days and nights of protests as protestors engaged in running battles with police. In the end, the demonstration overshadowed the Summit and the FTAA is dead.

Following 9/11, this energy lessened, perhaps understandably so. Many in the movement temporarily shifted their energy to antiwar work, while a debate flourished over the place of militant protest in the post-9/11 climate. However, this did not keep the movement silent for long, in January of 2002 some 10,000 protests attended the World Economic Forum (WEF) meeting in New York City to protest against global capitalism.

Media Mouse attended the 2003 protests against the FTAA in Miami, and while several thousand protestors turned out to protest the FTAA meeting, the intense police repression minimized the effectiveness of the protests. Following the FTAA protest in the fall of 2003, there was significant attention placed on the 2004 RNC protest as a chance for “the movement” to steal back its moment. However, the 2004 RNC protests lacked strategy and despite hundreds of thousands of protestors in New York City, little of consequence happened. Media Mouse observed a combination of mass arrests and masses of protestors wandering around without any clear idea where their interests should be focused, a fact that clearly showed that the strategy for the RNC–including a “direct action” day–had failed. Energy was briefly rekindled for the 2005 inauguration protests, but despite an attempt to “crash” the parade route, those protests largely failed as well.

With the so-called “summit” protests, there was always a tension between those who prioritized organizing in their own communities and those who focused on the “summit” meetings. Criticisms can certainly be made–and should be–of the “summit” organizing model, but in thinking about the post-Seattle period, it seems clear that they served an important function in giving inspiration to local organizing efforts and fostered a greater sense of “a movement” than what exists now. Certainly, with Media Mouse coming out of that context, the post-Seattle period to 9/11 was incredibly exciting–with numerous protests planned and a sense that either “we are winning” or that we could win. To be sure, a lot of us–myself included–never really stopped to think about what “winning” meant, but the energy was infectious and thousands of folks got involved–and in many cases–participated in demonstrations and organizing campaigns that seem unheard of in the contemporary political climate. There have been antiwar convergences since 2003, but they have largely been unable to inspire people to action in the manner that the anti-globalization movement did.

Out of this context, I attended the “pReNC” in Minneapolis-St. Paul, in part to avoid the simple tactical failures of the 2004 RNC protests, but also with a desire to rekindle that energy and sense of excitement that I had in the post-Seattle period. Coming out of the “pReNC,” I am quite excited and impressed by the work that has been done thus far. I left the “pReNC” feeling that there is a potential for the RNC to rekindle the energy of the anti-globalization movement and take a step towards building a stronger anti-authoritarian “left” movement in the United States. Aside from the inspiration that always comes from interacting with radicals outside of Grand Rapids, there were a lot of conversations that were far more promising than those proceeding pre-protest discussions in recent years. There was considerable talk of having a clear strategy, and indeed, a clear call to “shut down” the RNC was issued and an overall strategic framework was adopted to facilitate this. Like the best of the post-Seattle protests, people expressed a willingness to learn and be self-critical of previous protests, and the plan for the RNC builds off of recent successes at the G8 in Germany.

Moreover, there was a strong sense that the protests cannot simply be about the RNC, but rather, that they must look forward to the future. In other words, organizing in the Twin Cities and around the country must focus not only on the RNC but using the protests as a tool to involve more people and build a stronger movement. This is perhaps the most exciting aspect of the meeting, that there was a willingness to look beyond street protests and look at how we can build hundreds of decentralized and autonomous groups around the country that are capable of acting locally to achieve clear victories.

Reportback: pReNC 2007: Minneapolis-St. Paul 2007 – by the RNC Welcoming Committee

After the months we spent interwebbing, building bikes, sitting through endless meetings and fundraising, the pReNC was finally here. The main meeting space, the Jack Pine Community Center, on Lake Street in South Minneapolis, was buzzing with excitement as folks checked-in, borrowed bikes from our stockpile, and grabbed literature. The kick-off to our weekend gathering was going swimmingly and we hadn’t even had dinner yet. At 5:30pm a group of attendees left to ride in the monthly Critical Mass bikes ride, usually a low key affair in the Cities, begrudgingly tolerated by the PoPo and even ridden in by liberal politicians.

Not this month.

Accounts vary but, basically, over 50 cops from multiple agencies showed up and arrested 16 Adults and three minors- most were held on PC Riot, though a couple adults were tap-charged with disorderly conduct, instead. They used mace, pepper spray and Tasers on dozens of people. And they just happened to have a State Patrol helicopter patrolling in the sky from almost the very beginning of the ride. Many of us feel that the police, knowing that the Critical Mass was being promoted as a kick-off to the pReNC weekend, attacked the ride in order to smear the Welcoming Committee’s image in the larger Twin Cities community, disrupt our conference, and practice for next year. The police of course deny this, and it didn’t work anyway. We recovered instantly- when the first calls of arrests and mace came in to the crew back at the Jack Pine, everyone got on their (A)-game. We found great support in the community (that the cops maced, Tasered and arrested non-pReNC participants and even bystanders didn’t help their cause), and learned some valuable lessons for 2008. Much has been written and analyzed about the August 31st Critical Mass, and we’d encourage people to see our website, TC Indymedia, and rev up the ol’ Google engine for more info.

SATURDAY, 1 SEPTEMBER 2007

Welcoming Brunch

An amazing pancake breakfast was served to a small horde of bleary-eyed anarchists, while the welcoming presentation began. The presentation was an informational session to orient the participants for the strategizing session on Sunday. It included info on the pReNC and the registration process for the strategizing session, a rundown of the local RNC protest scene, and some basic convention numbers (i.e., delegates, members of the media and other participants, statistics on economic impact and costs, police expectations). Maps were pored over, detailing points of interest in downtown St. Paul, downtown Minneapolis and everywhere in between, and visuals of specific “weak spots” between downtown St. Paul and Minneapolis were utilized (thanks UA!). The RNC-WC then went on to describe what they have been doing for the past nine months: outreach, fundraising, information gathering, coalition building, planning the pReNC, organizing events and trainings, legal organizing and a little more. After Q&A, registration for the strategy session began.

The Afternoon

After breakfast finished, we broke up and scurried off to workshops such as Protest 101, Security Culture, Shutting Things Down to Open Things Up, Street Art, Street Medics, and Off the Sidewalks and Into the Streets. Workshops, of which only four fell through, were generally well-attended. There was also a much-lauded, guided bus-tour of the Twin Cities, highlighting points of interest for the 2008 RNC, occurring twice during the afternoon.

After cramming our skulls with ludicrous amounts of activist knowledge, we crammed our stomachs with a delicious spaghetti dinner. With our heads and bellies filled to the brim we scampered around town playing night games and practicing our new strategies and skills.

SUNDAY, 2 SEPTEMBER 2007

Strategizing Session

The strategizing session began a little after 11:30 am on Sunday with approximately 75 individuals in attendance. It began with report backs from several consultas, and presentations from groups planning around the RNC.

Folks from Unconventional Action talked about the Carolinas Consulta and their ideas on how to take advantage of certain geographic vulnerabilities. Information from this consulta, can be found online at: http://www.unconventionalaction.org/downloads/carolinas_report_back_for_reading.pdf

Next, a man out of Idaho representing the Beard Theater Troupe, discussed his group’s zany musical production of their play “Nobody for President” which they will be performing at both the DNC and the RNC in 2008. He added the specific message his group is attempting to get across with the play: “The feeling we are trying to generate is that each of us, actors and audience alike, are independent, self-reliant individuals capable of governing ourselves. We are promoting nonviolence and nonparticipation as tactics in the struggle against the state.”

The Seeds of Peace Collective reported on their intentions to help provide food and medical support for the RNC protesters. Some of the collective members will likely move to Minneapolis several months prior to the RNC so they can help lead street medic training.

A representative from the local IWW (Industrial Workers of the World) chapter told us about the potential for the annual GA (general assembly) to be held in the TC as a lead-up to the protests. This would mean around 1,000 folks from “one big fighting union” here and ready to stand strong in resistance to the convention.

Representatives from Students for Democratic Society (SDS) shared their plans to hold strategizing convergences in both Ohio and Connecticut to prepare for the party conventions in Denver and the Twin Cities.

The Pittsburgh Organizing Group (POG) briefly discussed their main goals for the weekend of protests at the RNC. They want to put their focus on disruption of the convention, hitting the hardest on the first day of the convention when the largest group of protesters will be in attendance. That being said, POG maintains that it is essential to operate under a radical anti-authoritarian framework and not fall under the predominant liberal umbrella of the more mainstream groups.

The RNC Welcoming Committee reiterated its commitment to providing infrastructural support to facilitate successful actions. The RNC-WC is organizing direct action training in late July 2008 with ex-Ruckus Collective folks. One Welcoming Committee member expressed her intentions to coordinate a family-friendly area for radical parents, kids, and people who are unable to be arrested.

Lastly, a contingent of folks from Madison, WI talked about the People’s Convention that they’re going to be holding in early August 2008. Following on the heels of this, they’re planning a two-week bicycle ride from Madison to Minneapolis, visiting different communities along the way and building up momentum before the protest.

It was very inspiring to hear the groups share their ideas with the larger session, many of which were concrete and well on their way to taking form for next year. In working towards these goals, the Welcoming Committee presented some tactics which might help facilitate these outcomes including: forming a temporary autonomous zone (or free state) in the vicinity of convention headquarters; hosting a counter convention; targeting unexpected places; working in a larger allied connection with other left groups both locally and nationally; and communicating the idea that we are an ungovernable mass.

The floor was again opened to discussion from all parties with the “ungovernable mass” slinging ideas at the facilitators faster than they could be written down. In all, the goals from the larger group materialized and seem to fit into four different categories: 1) action-oriented, 2) building allies, 3) post-convention movement-building, and 4) how are we getting our message out. After a break-out of smaller groups, much discussion on specific wording, and deep breathing, the session consensed (with 15 stand asides) on the goals…so here they are: We will eclipse/crash/disrupt/rout/shutdown the RNC, allowing for maximum participation with different zones of safety and encouraging a diversity of tactics. We will get our message out and be the ones to tell our own stories. We are building alliances and networking with local communities. We might not operate under the same set of assumptions, but we have to breathe the same air, and get f#@*ed by the same bureaucrats. It’s time we sat down and talked. We are coordinating with the folks in Denver and stand in solidarity with them. We understand that in a system that offers just two, identically foul, options, shit is bound to hit the fan sooner or later. Let’s turn it on full blast. And…we will create something fresh and lasting. When the last out-of-towners hop that train away from the convention cities, there will be a lingering effect greater than the pepper spray. This is our chance to build truly radical infrastructure, and a movement that offers new and innovative ways of being and doing that inspire even the most disillusioned among us.

Having collectively reached a decision about the goals for the RNC resistance, the strategy session concluded and transitioned into breakout sessions scattered throughout south Minneapolis. These break-out sessions included Action prep, Media, Outreach, Fundraising, Communications and Medical.

Action Breakout

The action breakout focused much of its energy on deciding key targets for the RNC. People all agreed that the first day of the convention should be the largest coordinated day of action. In broad terms, three potential targets were identified: road blockades in St. Paul, the public transportation infrastructure, and bridges over the Mississippi. To this end, a lot of information must be gathered and mapped out. This includes but is not limited to dimensions of roads; physical layout – lanes, poles, railings, etc.; entrance and exits for action scenarios; bathrooms; skyway access; surveillance cameras; proximity to police; etc. In addition to these considerations, it was agreed upon by the breakout that information regarding access to resources (thrift stores, junkyards, construction sites, dumpsters), financial targets and businesses that support the RNC, as well as information about the holding pen/detention facilities, would all be made available by the RNC Welcoming Committee.

Communication Breakout

The communications breakout recognized quickly that there were two distinct needs for communicating: keeping folks at the pReNC in touch, and doing outreach to those not familiar with the Welcoming Committee. In regards to the first goal, several ideas were tossed around including on-line message boards on the Unconventional Action and Welcoming Committee websites and monthly conference calls. It was generally agreed also, that more pReNCesque consultas need to happen before the big show next September. Therefore, there will be a call for regional consultas as well as a sort of pReNC II in May 08 to coincide with the large May Day celebration in Minneapolis. In terms of outreach, the idea of putting together a roadshow was very popular. This would serve as a way for radicals to connect regionally, and for the vision of the Welcoming Committee to reach people outside the Twin Cities. The roadshow is envisioned as a multi-media presentation with maps and ideas that could orient people and engage them in the convention resistance. It might be fun and reach a wider audience if the show was to travel with a multi-genre group of bands. The roadshow is going to be planned over winter, with a tour tentatively set for the spring.

Media Breakout

The media breakout discussed different options for conveying our story. With the ease of access to the internet and the ubiquitous nature of the web, most of the media envisioned could be digital. Building off of the success of G8 TV, it was suggested there be a website devoted to live streaming audio and video. This could have different resolution options and watermark with indymedia. A separate site might feature a picture walk-through of the buildup and protests. It was agreed that our text be translated both for printed documents and the websites. Some sort of creative anti-branding campaign might be useful for promotion. Another idea was a DVD or CD fundraiser involving the CrimethInc. Collective. As with the Welcoming Committee’s media agreement, it was reiterated that whenever dealing with the mass media you need to state that you only represent yourself and not a group. When this is tricky, defer to the Welcoming Committee. The WC’s media statement is available online at http://www.nornc.org.

Food and Medical Breakouts

The medical and food breakout was facilitated by Seeds of Peace, a group that provides medical aid and food for large demonstrations. They can be reached at seeds_of_peace_collective.org or seedsofpeace@riseup.net. Seeds representatives shared that they would like to send at least one person to live in Minneapolis around March 1st to establish the group on the ground and begin planning medic trainings in the area. More Seeds of Peace members would likely follow 6-8 weeks before the RNC. Seeds is prepared to coordinate a number of different medic trainings in the two months preceding the RNC, including trainings for healthcare professionals, street medic 101, and a wilderness first responder-esque course with an activist bent. As far as food is concerned, local food activists said that they would focus the next year on building their capacity, finding spaces to cook, and coordinating with other groups nationally to help with food. Seeds of Peace folks shared that they know how to build a temporary outdoor kitchen with the capacity to serve thousands for less than one thousand dollars. Seeds also assured that while they don’t explicitly plan on bottom-lining food, much of their energy will go towards coordinating cooking efforts.

Outreach Breakout

The outreach breakout session focused on community organizing and building broad coalitions between radicals and other community groups. The group brainstormed different ways to communicate and coordinate with other groups as well as which communities to work with. Goals for the outreach efforts are: building long lasting connections based on dialogue and cooperation, involving a diversity of communities, being able to ask for and accept help from other groups without compromising our own missions, and creating an inclusive coalition for people with common interests. Some ways to reach out might be going door to door, supplying liaisons to other groups, holding large open town hall meetings, creating issue-oriented forums to encourage discussion between groups, collaborating with other groups on events, and asking what we can do to help (and mean it). Overall, there was an emphasis on understanding that all people are in different places politically, and these differences have been exploited and used to cultivate division in the past. It is in the best interest of all groups organizing against the RNC to communicate and build relationships to make this sort of division impossible.

The Evening

After a delicious dinner, Roadblock Earth First! out of Bloomington, IN gave an excellent presentation on I-69 (the NAFTA Superhighway) and radical, grassroots resistance to it. More info at: http://i69news.bee-town.com/

MONDAY, 3 SEPTEMBER 2007

L(A)bor Day Picnic

To round out a great weekend, we went to St. Paul’s Rice Park for a picnic. Rice Park is conveniently located across from the Saint Paul Hotel, sure to house some VIPs during the RNC, and right behind the Xcel Energy Center. We enjoyed grilled corn and apples, delicious leftover FNB fare blended to resemble a dip, park games, and walking tours of Downtown St. Paul. Some enterprising soul even slipped into the St. Paul Hotel and dropped a banner reading”Bloc by Bloc-Taking it back in 2008″ from the roof!

A good time was had by all, even Commander David J. Korus of the SPPD’s Special Investigations Unit- he was nice enough to come out, introduce himself, and see if we needed anything. At mention of the Critical Mass affair, he assured us that in St. Paul the coppers do things a little bit different than their buddies across the river; asked if the sketchy creepers taking pictures of us picnicking were part of his department, he said, “Yes.” He even posed for our cameras! Golly, thanks, David! Your pretty face is held up on our fridge with a heart-shaped magnet.

STREET AND LEGAL SUPPORT

As stated previously, folks not swept up by the pigs rocked the jail support throughout the weekend. A lot of people jumped into street medic mode as soon as the cops started macing, pepper spraying and Tasering people, and others hopped on their cell phones to get info to the folks waiting at the Jack Pine, who were ready and waiting for an influx of stunned and scared Massers.

All three minors and two of the adults arrested were out by early Saturday morning. Though we initially feared that the rest would be held till their court appearances the following Wednesday (word to the wise: don’t get arrested Friday night on a holiday weekend), all except one were bonded out before then, most in time to participate in the Strategizing session. At this point, some charges have been dropped and we’re still waiting for the City to decide whether it wants to go forward with others.

In addition to the invaluable work of a few folks within the Welcoming Committee, we owe a lot of thanks to Communities United Against Police Brutality and some awesome local NLGers for jumping on this instantly and continuing to work for a just resolution to a totally unjust situation. A lot of local groups like the Anti-War Committee also came out in support of us, and a few residents from around the site of the fiasco rescued bikes that would have been lost to us otherwise, all of which we’re grateful for.

The biggest lesson learned for next year was the importance of sharing information, accepting help, and delegating tasks, in crisis situations- this is difficult, but something we’ll all be working on for the RNC.

NOTE: If you witnessed the Critical Mass shit go down and didn’t provide a statement to that effect, please consider doing so; it could help immensely with whatever charges end up sticking. If you’re in town, lost your bike at Critical Mass, and still need a way to get around, contact the RNC-WC- we still have bikes that we’re lending out.

SECURITY

After much fanfare, the pReNC’s Joyful Sunshine Security Team feels that the weekend went pretty smoothly. Acknowledging that we probably didn’t catch everything, the vouching/registration system we came up with for the Strat and Breakout sessions seems to have worked well- people were understanding and eager to help us develop stronger security culture practices, and yet the protocol we adopted doesn’t seem to have hindered the productivity of the weekend. We did discover one local police cooperator and expel him from all activities; with only a few other exceptions, the vast majority of guests were able to participate fully.

Lessons learned are: we need to think about and develop a process for dealing with sexual perpetrators who seek to enter our communities- based on past experiences and common sense, we can reasonably expect that this will be a much bigger issue at the RNC than it was at the pReNC; we need to work on spreading out responsibilities more widely, acknowledging security as a full-time commitment for events like this; we need to anticipate and prepare for police attacks more seriously, even in “low-risk” activities like riding your damn bike with some friends on a beautiful Friday evening.

WRAP-UP

In conclusion, we here in Minneapolis-St. Paul feel that the pReNC was a roaring success. It left the Welcoming Committee with a greater feeling of unity and mutual confidence, and gave us all an opportunity to meet new comrades in person and touch-base with old friends. Most importantly, we collectively developed an exciting framework for anarchist resistance to the 2008 RNC and people from all over the country left with information to distribute at home and utilize for organizing next year’s extravaganza. Watch for a Call to (A)ction coming soon, as well as details about the next convergence (what should we call it?! pReNC II? Almost TheReNC?). In the meantime, check out info about the MKEtoRNC Consulta (http://mkeanarchy.bravehost.com/), Unconventional Action’s new website (http://www.unconventionalaction.org/), and please send us feedback on the pReNC, updates on what y’all are up to now, and anything we can do to assist you over the coming months.

With Tides of Revolutionary Goodwill,

Your Welcoming Committee

Author: mediamouse

Grand Rapids independent media // mediamouse.org