It is required by the State that you have a permit to assemble publicly and voice your dissent in Minnesota (MN). Groups that wanted to protest during the Republican convention (RNC) negotiated all summer long with a conglomerate of police, FBI, Secret Service, the RNC, and the city of St. Paul. The conglomerate permitted protesters to assemble at the State Capitol, which was separated from the RNC’s fortress downtown by the interstate highway system. The fortress city was only accessible via bridges. For the most part, St. Paul was thus a ghost town, the RNC revelers totally insulated from the outside world by miles of giant, double chain link fences and thousands of militarized police commanded by the Secret Service and the FBI. “Delegates were in a bubble,” noted one journalist.
Prior to the Republican convention of 2008, the Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher used paid infiltrators to spy on and sabotage public organizations likely to protest the Republican convention, including anti-war and peace organizations. Before and during the convention, they raided the homes of members of organizations such as Food Not Bombs and one that video records militarization and police brutality. In these raids, they arrested organization members in their homes.
US taxpayers paid $50 million to the city of St. Paul for RNC security. According to the Minnesota press, the state assembled and lent to the national Secret Service and FBI 3700 national guard riot cops in full black military regalia (some from around the country) to keep protesters away from Republican elites. Republicans paid the state to cover anticipated lawsuits against police misconduct. The militarized police surrounded protesters at all times, using 4 foot long clubs to beat protesters with, and chemical weapons, rubber bullets, and concussion genades. They used excessive force. The Excel convention center was surrounded by two layers of 10 foot high thick steel walls.
After protesters had registered with the state and obtained permits to march in protest, the police state designated marching routes ringed by fencing far apart from the convention. Protest marches involving from 500 to 12000 people were also ringed by the 3700 black-clad, helmeted, heavily-armed militarized police. Said one local citizen, “Prior to this, I had only seen pictures of this sort of thing from Latin America.”
Ensconced in their citizenless police state utopia in downtown St. Paul, Republicans partied. The police state of Minnesota created holding centers by surrounding imprisonment areas with two layers of 10 foot high chain link fence, and hundreds of riot police, regular police, and police on horses.
The militarized police arrested hundreds of protesters, journalists, medics, and shoppers. Typically, the militarized police would declare that citizens’ permits to assemble publicly had run out and they would demand that citizens exit public space. When on principle, a few citizens refused, the militarized police rushed in groups of 50 to beat and arrest these individuals.
On Thursday, September 4, the grand finale of the RNC, protesters wanted to march near the RNC, but the militarized police forbade them. Organized by anarchists, they quickly split into two groups to rush toward downtown St. Paul. The riot police trapped protesters, journalists and even 19 corporate communications professionals–and even Sears shoppers on the bridges, blocking off the downtown end of the bridges with dump trucks and snow plows donated by the St. Paul mayor, as well as police on horses, and thousands of riot cops. A main group of protesters was trapped on the John Ireland Bridge. Others, including two 17-year-old girls who managed to run and escape cluster bombing and tear gassing, were trapped on the other bridges, where they were arrested.
Nuns and Minnesota locals were paddywagoned away and released. On the orders of the City Attorney, John Choi, and the Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner, out of state protesters and journalists were charged with a misdemeanor, removed from public life for a few hours to days, and had to supply $2000 bail ($200 immediately) to the state.
The militarization of American public life is abetted not only by the Minnesota city and county attorneys, but also by the corporate press and Minnesota mayors, who unanimously praised the massive presence and function of the 3700 riot police troops. Even though Minnesota has a unique (but clearly forgotten) history in an early 20th century socialist governor who would send the National Guard out to defend (rather than attack) strikers from corporations’ hired private armies (the Pinkerton Detectives), “Never once,” said a flabberghasted citizen, “have these (present day) political leaders ever stopped to think that the police could be used to protect people’s constitutional rights, to protect civil liberties, rather than to repress them.”
The media and political leaders worked to convince the broad, uninvolved Minnesota public that the assemblage of 3700 armed, militarized, helmeted, jackbooted riot police is an appropriate response to the public expression of dissent. Chief among the reasons cited for the approval of fascism voiced by people who did not attend the protests is that it stops “anarchists” from “throwing rocks through windows”. By and large people who say this cannot articulate, independent of sensationalist propaganda, what an anarchist is, or why she (or a couple of broken windows) should be feared more than a police state protecting a corrupt plutocracy from a crumbling society.
In contrast to the alienated corporate consensus, one of my eye witnesses was impressed by the disciplined organization of anarchists at the protests. They used Twitter (cell phone communication technology), they had planned for riot police shutting down their protests, they quickly split off in groups and went separate routes.
Provactively, protesters were exhilarated with their experience. Protest participants explained how the protests “energized” them with a sense of community: “Being there, being a part of it, hearing a very articulate, clean-cut, very young black man at the back of a group of protesters captured on a bridge calling the National Guard out, saying ‘We’re all Minnesotans. Tomorrow you go back to living with us. You watch the Vikings with us. Why are you working for them? (gesturing toward elite Republicans holed up in a barricaded city)’ I thought, These people (protesters) are great. I felt a sense of pride. These people understand democracy and they understand what’s wrong with the police state approach to social conflict.”
As well, being there gave a participant a sense of “gratitude” for anarchists. “You know, I don’t feel an affinity with dirty hippies. But being there, being a part of it, there’s a lot of different kinds of people here protesting. The mainstream media works to tell a story about how it’s dirty hippies dissenting. It’s a lie. If you’re not here, you don’t know. You follow their story and you complain about the anarchists. Even some middle class protesters buy in. But while I wouldn’t do some of the (anti-property) things the anarchists do, I’m grateful for them. They allow me to have a more moderate stance.” We talked about how elites are only shaken by disruption (Piven & Cloward), which causes discomfort, and how young anarchists allow dissenting middle aged middle class people to participate in a bloc pushing for change without participating in discomfiting disruption themselves.
A protester commented on experiencing for the first time the charged “potential for humans to act together spontaneously. A lot of the protest was highly organized, but with police repression, sometimes we had to improvise together. It pushes you to the brink of the unknown. That can be scary, but that kind of ability to innovate collectively in the face of stress is also a very impressive human capacity.”
Witnesses commented on the “horror of being in a police state. The streets were emptied of citizens.” “It was a police state,” they said somberly. “You could not walk freely in public space.” Yet, according to a source who had a journalist’s pass into the dead city taken over by the RNC, the sense of confidence and comradeship protesters discovered in each other contrasted sharply with the “manufactured patriotism” within the RNC cordon sanitaire.
It came out in a September meeting of reporters covering the RNC that some reporters were “embedded” with the militarized police. This means that the State police arranged to have these communications professionals, paid by media businesses, act as the police’s own communications team. In “exchange” for doing this service for the police, the communications professionals were not allowed to report on the events until the last day of the convention. Is corporate media shite? It is shite.
For more on the RNC protests and police state repression:
To teach yourself about fascism, see Andrew Bosworth’s “Welcome to Neo-fascism 101.”