The following report back is being republished here because it in part involves planning here in the Midwest against the upcoming Republican National Convention (RNC) protests in Minneapolis/St. Paul. As we have said for months, we remain impressed with how plans are developing not only for large-scale protests against the RNC, but for the possibility of shutting it down. In a previous post, we reflected on how planning for the RNC could rekindle the energy of the anti-globalization movement that provided the initial inspiration for the formation of Media Mouse. Moreover, we covered the RNC protests in 2004 and believe that the current plans are significantly better than what was undertaken in 2004.
For folks in Michigan who are interested in organizing against the RNC, please contact ACTIVATE (Grand Rapids SDS). They have made organizing against the RNC-DNC one of their priorities for the year and can do presentations to interested organizations on the current state of organizing.
“Report Back from NEAN-MAN Consulta: Feb. 16-18 in Pittsburgh, PA:
From February 16-18, 50 anarchists representing 12 groups in the Northeast Anarchist Network (NEAN) and Midwest Action Network (MAN) met in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Throughout the weekend, we discussed and strategized how to aid our individual, group, and network-wide efforts to shut down the Republican National Convention (RNC) in September, as well as how to strengthen collaboration between the Northeast and Midwest. While not an official decision-making body for either network, or the attending groups, it was an important opportunity to further our planning and build the personal and organizational relationships necessary for the long fight ahead. The RNC Welcoming Committee was present to provide logistical information and present the strategic framework.
Note: Much of the report is based on incomplete notes. With no verbatim record we apologize for any errors, omissions, or oversights in how or what is reported. We tried our best! The planning for the RNC is still at an early stage, and thus it was difficult to get particularly in-depth on many issues. Our hope is that this report will help other groups organizing consultas and RNC-related gatherings, and assist groups in identifying and addressing tactical and strategic questions. Out of respect for the fact different people and groups may find different information useful we have erred on providing as exhaustive an account as is practical. To avoid complete duplication of already existing information we highly recommend people check out the RNC Welcoming Committee (RNC-WC) website at http://www.nornc.org as it includes most of the info they presented in Pittsburgh.
The Northeast Anarchist Network: www.neanarchist.net
A regional, horizontal organizing network in the Northeast, striving to link those committed to anti-authoritarian, anti-capitalist, and anti-oppressive struggles, NEAN recently celebrated its 1st birthday. Following general assemblies in Amherst, Syracuse, Boston, and New York City the network will next gather March 21-23 in Ithaca, NY. NEAN is also in the process of publishing a quarterly newspaper, the Nor’Easter. Articles, art and poetry can be submitted to email@example.com. Calendar item can be sent there as well (subject line “Calendar”). NEAN groups are currently engaged in a number of projects including a traveling skill-share program, an anti-election offensive to discredit “representative” democracy, an international solidarity campaign, the Lakota struggle, and the possibility of putting together an action camp.
The Midwest Action Network: www.midwest.azone.org
Is a very loose network and resource sharing tool, 2-3 years in the making through an off and on process of Midwest groups trying to make and maintain contact. It originated first as an E-mail list, then added a website as a way for groups to cross promote and stay in touch. They held a Midwest anarchist gathering in 2006 and 2007 and will again this year June 6-8 in Toledo, Ohio. Right now there is a loose and open membership as they continue to work out how to structure the network, and it’s hoped the lead up to RNC organizing will help this process along.
Points of general agreement from the gathering
Through discussion, we found agreement on the following points:
-We are in complete support of the three-tier strategy as articulated by the RNC-WC:
1: Blockade the Xcel center, meeting site of the RNC, with a ring of blockades
2: Immobilize the delegates’ transport, like hotels and buses
3: Blockade the bridges between Minneapolis and St. Paul.
– We advocate to the movement, and the RNC-WC, a siege strategy for the protests in order to trap delegates inside, in case the blockades fail to stop the meetings from starting, or to surround and attempt to occupy the Xcel center itself in the case of unqualified success in shutting it down. We do not view this as a plan B, rather a logical continuation of the already announced strategy.
– There is large interest within our two networks about further coordination and collaboration at the RNC. This could take the form of anything from NEAN-MAN clusters working together to blockade a specific area or it could be as simple as making sure we are able to communicate during the events. There are various concerns about how any coordination would work or what form it would take, and it was the collective view that the planning within groups and networks has not developed to the point where we can discuss this more specifically. We encourage the RNC-WC to make suggestions about how clusters can most effectively participate.
– In recognition that our movement and its goals are often misrepresented, especially by the corporate media, and that our vision is sometimes not sufficiently articulated we believe there is value in promoting direct democracy and anarchism in our messaging as a viable alternative to the existing political system.
More info on the gathering:
Where is our organizing at?
The gathering provided a snapshot of where planning is at in different cities, what questions and concerns people have, and how we might move towards a more effective resistance. We gathered information in a variety of ways; meetings at the gathering itself, anonymous surveys of attendees before the gathering started, and individual discussions with the RNC-WC and other attendees.
In summary: almost everyone present was aware of, and planned to participate in, the RNC-WC’s three-tier strategy to shut down the meetings. There is an honest feeling that an actual shutdown of the meetings on the first day IS possible. At the gathering there were a significant number of people who plan to get to the Twin Cities early and a small number who plan to stay after the protests end. With six months to go, few groups have formed clusters or affinity groups, a bunch of groups have recently started forming affinity groups or clusters, and a few people didn’t plan on going with any organized group.
*Note* The sections below are a compilation of general brainstorms, representing individual views and opinions, not a list of any agreed upon or debated points.
What does “shutdown” mean and what is success?
The meetings not taking place, keeping delegates out, a lack of quorum, an empty arena, a state of emergency in the city. Creating a financial disincentive for cities to host these types of conventions. Having a massive turnout of locals, learning from local struggles to help us inform our local organizing, better and more organizing happening after the convention, not viewing it as an isolated event but rather one in a long series of struggles. Showing society that we reject what’s going on inside and that we, and you, can do something about it.
What is failure/defeat?
A repeat of some previous convention aftermaths (Boston ’04) where local momentum is killed after the convention finishes. A bunch of people show up right before the convention, fuck shit up, and leave town right afterwards, leaving locals with all the responsibility and accountability to explain what happened and why. People viewing community aspects as less sexy than street confrontation and avoiding it. Our actions result in state repression on already marginalized or repressed communities that don’t want that and/or aren’t prepared for it. An inability to communicate with each other, conflicts with other marches, ending up in the wrong place or side of things, decision-making problems or results that don’t reflect our values. Substance abuse. An inability to take advantage of our victories, underestimating ourselves, a lack of vision!
What questions do people have?
Folks are looking at a lot of the logistical necessities before the event: how to get people to the Twin Cities (planes, trains, buses, automobiles), how to coordinate and house those arriving early and/or staying late. Another priority is how best to fundraise to support the RNC-WC and build up legal defense resources. Also, how can we involve groups that can’t make it to the protests? Lead Up/Preparation? We need to learn about security culture and expect/prepare for repression. When the FBI visits homes/workplaces and targets individuals, we need to turn it from “FBI vs. Individual” to “FBI vs. Movement” and we need to go on the offensive. Let’s maintain good contact with National Lawyers Guild and progressive lawyers locally. We’ve got to make sure affinity groups aren’t completely dependent on others for medical, legal, and other forms of support.
Our movement’s internal communications:
Multiple times, in differing ways, the question of how we can communicate and coordinate during the protests was raised. It’s clear that an overall communications strategy is needed for the protests that is able to address: how clusters can securely coordinate, how to keep people appraised of happenings spread across a large area, and how to decide and announce a change in strategy during the protests (how will we know if the blockades are succeeding or have been breached?).
Media, messaging, and other external communication issues:
To what degree, if at all, should we care about what the corporate media says? Varying opinions. Let’s put anti-election forward as one message, we want: direct democracy, control of our lives, workplaces, homes, popular neighborhood assemblies. We can let people know why we’re there instead of just “fuck the elections.” Let’s make leaflets to hand out beforehand telling folks where coverage will be so they are not left listening just to the unfriendly corporate press, make our own newspaper during the convention, maybe a live feed/web blogging from the barricades (in the tripod!), let’s work with contacts at home to get them the rough info so they can package and disseminate it ASAP, let’s stay positive, let’s try well-constructed communiques and press releases. Maybe call for a global day of action, wildcat actions, actions in other cities.
Tactical and strategic issues, questions:
The most pressing question is how the three-tier strategy translates from a fairly abstract idea into reality. How do we figure out who is blockading where, how are people gathering or reaching their intersections, etc?
How soon will we know the exact security perimeter?
How do we take advantage of the space a tactical victory would open up?
What if the perimeter is so large that blockading is not practical?
What if they bring delegates and workers in before we get there?
What times will we deploy (the RNC is supposed to “go live” at 7pm)?
What is the “exit strategy” so there is a way to extricate the blockades?
How does this particular protest fit into the larger movement?
Good for getting folks involved afterwards, publicity, only one battle in overall struggle, keep momentum going, capacity building (confidence, motivation, solidarity, inspiring), change the playing field, show that we are a force to be reckoned with, shift from protesting Republicans to total rejection of two party system, working for the future, being taken seriously as a movement, and what does that mean? A mass movement that people can see, show them/us what democracy looks like.
What if there is a partial failure of the strategy? If blockades go up but are compromised?
Depends on perimeter, varies upon numbers, storm the Center, get as close as possible and on camera, siege and trap delegates in, concentrate people at entrances, figure out a way to signal the change from blockade to siege, Skyway backup blockades, St. Paul website has maps of Skyways, etc.
Diversity of tactics/ close proximity coordination:
There was also a recognition that while some types of blockades simply need people to actualize, the type of static blockades capable of holding a space for a significant period of time generally depend on supplies. With the police/city likely to remove most movable items (construction equipment, newspaper boxes, dumpsters) there are more limited options and a need for getting supplies to where they’re needed. Unbolting may be a possibility. And having mobile and static tactics complement each other is critical.
Building solidarity with – and exercising accountability to – the public and especially marginalized communities:
The RNC-WC is going door-to-door and holding town hall meetings, awesome. They are also compiling a list of places demonstrators should stay away from disrupting. Let’s try not to bring more police and harassment into communities already experiencing the brunt of police violence. We can recognize that there is no “us vs. them” while still understanding the way privilege and organizing dynamics challenge the movement.
We could get back together afterward and figure out how to improve in the future/ evaluate.
What does a blockade look like? Puppet shows, street theater, vehicle blockades, burning stuff, dumpsters, tripods, free stuff people find on Craigslist to blockade with, fake funeral/wedding procession, skill share, free school class, web blockade at intersection, black bloc, moving blockade, reclaim the streets party, setting up our own movement checkpoints, re-enactments, tactical frivolity, clown blockade, staged vehicle collisions, armored dance party on bridge, suspensions on bridge, phony construction blockade (not people, just signs), naked folks (maybe pictures of politicians on genitals), bike bloc, shiny distraction glittery bloc, giant puppets, use of distractions (smoke), shields, banners, floats, occupy buildings and rooftops, lots of bouncy balls, etc.
Some things network groups are doing to get ready for the RNC:
Holding an art show fundraiser, acquiring communication equipment, sharing knowledge of past conventions, holding an anarchist formal dance as a fundraiser, hosting the RNC-WC on its tour, holding Unconventional Action meetings, focus more on networking and communicating with other groups, putting on trainings (medical, know your rights, direct action, etc.)
How the gathering was organized: an after-event assessment
Facilitators and structure:
Structuring and facilitating a large gathering presents multiple challenges: soliciting agenda items when people often don’t let you know until soon before the gathering that they’re attending, structuring the agenda to ensure attendees get what they want out of the gathering (when most of the input on goals is vague – “networking” and “information sharing/gathering”), different groups using different hand signals and being accustomed to different styles of discussion, etc.
During each session, we used two facilitators, a minute-taker, and a stack-taker. This was helpful by not overwhelming individuals and providing a clear delineation of who was in what role. We went over the hand signals to get everyone on the same page and strenuously stressed the correct use of direct response as a “clarification/critical info needed to proceed” tool rather than a way for people to jump in front of others to engage in one-on-one debates. Facilitators took an active role in checking in with the group, soliciting comments on how to proceed, and throwing out ideas to spur discussion, but did not usually participate personally in the actual discussions. Our intention was also to try and ensure a small number of voices did not dominate during the discussions, something we were slightly less successful with. Based on past gatherings, we were more prepared for lots of people wanting to talk. However, during some of the sessions, a handful of people predominated the discussions and there were multiple times and sections during which there was silence or a small stack. This is something we’d definitely look at more before hosting a similar gathering.
Overall, we felt the gathering was productive in sharing information, brainstorming, and building personal/organizational relationships, which will be critical in forming multiple clusters and organizing in the future. What didn’t and couldn’t happen at this gathering was a resolution of some serious framework questions that are making it difficult for already-formed affinity groups and clusters to progress in their planning. We have no doubt those discussion will happen and we look forward to where things go from here.
In Solidarity and with hope,
Pittsburgh Organizing Group