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The RNC protests and the lessons from them

category north america / mexico | anarchist movement | news report author Friday September 05, 2008 19:11author by M(a)tt Report this post to the editors

A Tale of Twin Cities in the Age of Desperation

As more and more information surfaces here in the Twin Cities—beyond the news or more raids, mass arrests, brutality, etc—I cannot help but feel like I am taking a step back to see a more complete, more startling picture than what I had previously seen, and I know I am not alone in this.

The first revelation, ironically, was that the seemingly gargantuan forces at work to bring the streets of St. Paul to a standstill were little more than a determined core of militants, who were admirably committed but desperate enough to create a facade that victory was all but certain, in the hopes that such blind optimism would bring forth a cascade of young anarchists to flood the streets—not so dissimilar from the posture of the Weathermen when they were promoting their national action, known later as the Days of Rage. There were, however, hundreds of militants who were both tactical and disciplined in their efforts, but this could not substitute for the shortcomings of the organizational model being utilized. This is the most obvious thing that one is struck by when assessing the situation on the ground, but this simple truth is perhaps inconsequential compared to what is becoming more and more evident.

The second thing that has become clear is the level of infiltration of the RNC Welcoming Committee (RNCWC) anarchist group by the authorities. The affidavit given to the judge who signed-off on the warrant to raid a number of spaces all over the Twin Cities reveals that there were, at least, one undercover cop and two paid informants (rats) within the ranks of the relatively small RNCWC. This must necessarily call into question the level to which their work was compromised, manipulated and/or sabotaged. There was, for example, an early split within the group over the question of doing community outreach around the actions, with the faction opposing this course of action remaining, and the few in favor leaving to do separate work. This point is crucial, of course, because it has become all too obvious that the militant actions this week had virtually no base outside the radical activist milieu, and have quite effectively been isolated in the public eye via the mainstream media (MSM).

This course of events suggests that the state recognized the potential of a second Battle of Seattle, which at face-value was in many respects similar to the 2008 RNC. In the current situation, however, there is seemingly no solidarity from organized labor like in Seattle which greatly contributed to the presence of bodies in the streets in defiance of the police state, as well as putting pressure on the state to release those who had been jailed when the ILWU threatened to strike the Port of Seattle. There are of course other factors, such as the inoculation against independent media reporting; the MSM now generally ignores any reporting that isn’t “on-message,” and the state aggressively attacks anyone with “illegitimate” press credentials.

There are many conclusions people could take from this snapshot described above. We could resign ourselves from taking part in direct action in the streets, retreating into this Party or that like so many radicals did in the wake of the utter organizational destruction left by COINTELPRO in the early 70s; we could join the North American underground in the hopes that maybe, this time, the people will be moved to action by the propaganda of the deed; or we could write-off social action entirely in favor of personal redemption via lifestyle choices or identity politics. Each generation of movement activists has to make this choice, and the answer we give determines what mark we will leave on history. My hope is that we have come far enough on the US far left to be strong and determined enough to stand tall in the face of repression, tighten our ranks, and to continue putting down our roots wherever we may find ourselves. I don’t consider this a difficult decision to make, so much as it will be difficult to carry out and convince others of. For those of you who are like in mind, my advice is to lead by example, and don’t be too startled when others begin to walk along beside you.

author by Dead Endpublication date Sun Sep 07, 2008 03:51author email warrenc83 at gmail dot comReport this post to the editors

I don’t think anyone thought the end all, be all was shutting the convention down. Just disrupting it or the city’s buisness-as-usual attitude was enough, and that happened. I don’t think the so-called failure of the actions says anything about the organization OR methods used. It failed because there weren’t enough people. Simple as that. Across the board, people failed to show up. The permitted march was supposed to draw 50, 000-80, 000, not the 10, 000-15, 000 it ended up bringing. The numbers expected for the unpermitted actions, while not tiny, were not enough either.

What militant actions were marginalized? If you’re talking about property destruction, the RNC-WC committee had nothing to do with it on two levels. One, it was only a clearinghouse of information for other groups to adopt. Second, most of the property destruction was done by the ACB elements that broke off the main march and had nothing to do with the RNC-WC or the St. Paul Principles. Ironic that most of the criticism about such things come from the very red and black spectrum that engaged in those activities.

I’ll agree there wasn’t solidarity in the blockading strategy from organized labor. But, I mean, for christ sakes, the SEIU was sponsoring the actual convention. I think that says more about labor’s failure than the anarchist’s shortcomings.

I get the feeling that this was written by someone who was not involved at all at any level of the RNC organizing. Over the course of this year, some important connections have been made regionally and nationally because of this event. I feel like I could go anywhere in the States and know of a radical community to plug into to. Even though the convention wasn’t shut down, almost everyone I know that was involved, whether they are progressive democrats, socialists, anarchists, or somewhat apolitical, are super pumped and energized. The real question is what are we going to do with these newfound connections and energy, and will they last?

author by m(A)tt - NEFAC, personal capacity, IWW, SDSpublication date Sun Sep 07, 2008 11:00author email circleamatt at gmail dot comReport this post to the editors

I don’t think the so-called failure of the actions says anything about the organization OR methods used. It failed because there weren’t enough people.

And you don't see some kind of connection there??? If we can't turn out the numbers, then there is clearly something quite fundamentally holding us back in a country where virtually EVERYBODY is against the current status quo of war, both foreign and domestically against the working class. The strategy to get bodies into the streets of St. Paul to disrupt the RNC (which, by the way, didn't happen) seemed to be exclusively based upon mobilizing the already-radicalized, locally and nationally. A successful day of direct action MUST include the newly-politicized; we simply, otherwise, do not have the numbers, period. What's more, I think a good argument could be made that the RNCWC suspected that they wouldn't get the numbers they expected, and therefore misled people into thinking that the streets would be filled to the brim on Monday; something, by the way, that is completely unethical.

What militant actions were marginalized? If you’re talking about property destruction, the RNC-WC committee had nothing to do with it on two levels. One, it was only a clearinghouse of information for other groups to adopt. Second, most of the property destruction was done by the ACB elements that broke off the main march and had nothing to do with the RNC-WC or the St. Paul Principles. Ironic that most of the criticism about such things come from the very red and black spectrum that engaged in those activities.

I have no idea where you're getting your info, because it sure as hell isn't from the street-level. The ACB engaged in zero property destruction. There was a quasi-black bloc formation that left the rally before the march even got started, who announced their departure during the ACB mini-spokescouncil, but that was NOT the ACB. Secondly, if you don't think the "blockades" and such weren't marginalized, I'd like for you to explain how exactly it was that there were people throwing-down in the streets, blocking streets and withstanding/avoiding police assault, literally blocks away from the main march.

Despite the post-march contingent's best efforts, largely composed of ACB participants (with our limited capacity) we could not manage to find a path to any of those doing direct action in order to reinforce their efforts. The cops met virtually no resistance from those in the main march in terms of keeping us all separated.

I’ll agree there wasn’t solidarity in the blockading strategy from organized labor. But, I mean, for christ sakes, the SEIU was sponsoring the actual convention. I think that says more about labor’s failure than the anarchist’s shortcomings.

I may be an out-of-towner, but even I know that Minneapolis and(?) St. Paul are union towns. We had plenty of them show up to our Starbucks Union rally on Sunday, because the Twin Cities IWW has busted its ass building solidarity with local labor militants and progressive leadership. If a bunch of anarchists like the IWW could do it, it honestly can't be that hard. But like I said, there was clearly an effort to derail the RNCWC doing any public outreach aside from other anarchists) whether that was initiated by actual RNCWC members, the infiltrators, or some combination thereof.

I get the feeling that this was written by someone who was not involved at all at any level of the RNC organizing. Over the course of this year, some important connections have been made regionally and nationally because of this event. I feel like I could go anywhere in the States and know of a radical community to plug into to. Even though the convention wasn’t shut down, almost everyone I know that was involved, whether they are progressive democrats, socialists, anarchists, or somewhat apolitical, are super pumped and energized. The real question is what are we going to do with these newfound connections and energy, and will they last?

I may have only spent the past month planning for this, but I've had enough conversations with locals to get a good picture of what's going on here--locals who, by the way, were formerly involved in the RNCWC, who were purged because they wanted to broaden the scope of the group. I'm glad that you have a place to sleep when you go hitchiking, but networking does not equal organizing. Organizing means politicizing new people, bringing them into organizations, and making them aware of their own power. What the RNCWC did was a hollow facsimile of actual organizing.

All that said, I have every intention of supporting the RNC-8, the folks charged with conspiracy to riot in furtherance of terrorism. Nothing they did or didn't do could possibly justify such a mess for them to be in, and we all need to do our part in making this a national campaign, if only as a means of fighting the rise of the police state in this country.

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author by Ericpublication date Sun Sep 07, 2008 23:01Report this post to the editors

Im glad this conversation is happening. Even when we were totally crushed in places like Miami, at least the union rank and file joined (or tried to join) in the resistance against the police. From what it looks like here I don't see anything at all accomplished (or any compared to seattle, like everyone seems to be throwing around) for building more and more towards a mass movement, making anarchism the main philosophy of the new new newestest left, or growing community organization. I mean, why was it only 10,000 white people marching? Where was the local community? Where were the young kids from the streets? Where were the street people joining? Where were the fucking commies even???

I agree, this action looked just like Days of Rage. "It seemed like violence just for the sake of violence" the newsman was quoted in The Weather Underground documentary - someone show me the difference interrupted by the mass public?

LASTLY and probably most frightening for me was this: After the raids of the convergence center and of the literature, the police said the literature was all based HOW TO guides for blockading, defense, medical supplies, and overall just guides for rioting (or whatever we want to call it, real protesting? would be the name in some countries). If that's the truth (and from all the websites Ive looked at online it does seem to be true) its really fucking pathetic that we spent more time advocating how to disrupt the convention and now why and how about building a new world without political parties and capitalism and all that jazz. And that whole boycott the media thing worked right into the hands of the police, since all the press reported on was what the cops said without a single retort.

author by m(A)tt - NEFAC, personal capacitypublication date Sun Sep 07, 2008 23:26author email circleamatt at gmail dot comReport this post to the editors

In response to what Eric said, I think he's either conflating rioting with blockading, or he's not aware that the vast majority of direct action was essentially nonviolent civil disobedience (if mobile). I think the tactics were generally pretty good, we just lacked the numbers and organizational sophistication. This didn't resemble Days of Rage at all, because there were a very small number of people who decided to street fight and destroy property.

there was plenty of literature and such about political theory and such to be had; the ACB led a great discussion on anti-capitalism on wednesday. i think that spreading info on how to do effective direct action in the streets is very positive, especially given the overwhelming conventionality of North American protest tactics.

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author by Kevin S.publication date Mon Sep 08, 2008 08:54Report this post to the editors

First, as a matter of honesty, I will confess that I did not manage to attend any of the protests and therefore cannot call upon first-hand observation or experience to criticize and/or commend the protests -- a fact which I horribly regret and is attributable mainly to confusion and laziness (thus to my personal discredit, which I hope will be forgiven for the sake of my comments). From the reports it seems there were a lot of stupid actions from some protesters and anarchists either fabricated by the police/media, or carried out by stupid hotheads and/or agents provacateurs. But the effect of these on all of the protests (as compared to media attention) is something I could not fairly gauge.

But that aside, I mainly want to comment from my own experience on the problem of numbers and the lack of people on the streets. As I see it, this problem is mainly coming from a lack of motivation caused by an acute awarenss of how little or nothing is actually achieved by these kinds of protests. Now the ACB was supposed to focus on presence and movement-building, which judging from some reports it seems to have done. (Unofrtunately I've seen very little detailed report on the ACB activities, as compared with the Welcoming Committee or the events outside the convention center.) But that presence is confined to a very tiny circle of people who saw them on the streets or followed their pre-convention preparation -- and of the former there seem to be some mixed impressions, since I have seen claims about black bloc tactics being used, which have then been attributed to early split-offs.

The problem is that everyone knows that unless the protests are of an absolutely mass and uncontrollable scale, they will not succeed in derailing the convention or summit or whatever is being protested, nor even in most cases government policies. On the other hand, that frustration makes it all the more easy for a crowd, whether small or large, to degenerate into random acts of destruction and provocations of violence, which achieve nothing but to discredit their protests while putting other people in danger. So there are a lot of reasons not to go to a mass protests like this, and not a lot of reasons to go.

The other factor which doesn't help at all is that so much the organization behind thes protests is very limited "protest-designed" organization, rarely built to last and even more rarely built for sustained militant actions besides protests. The IWW is an exception to this, and its recent local activities exemplify that fact, so I think they are definitely to be commended. But the Welcoming Committee, for instance, seems purpose-built to exhaust the organized energy of its militants on protesting at RNC and then mostly dying off into oblivion for the next four years, aside from any apparent problems of tactics or organization that might have weakened or discredited them before. So to make it very short, I think this protest mainly goes to show the importance of organizing more firmly in the ground, and has certainly given some impetus for that.

author by mitch - WSApublication date Mon Sep 08, 2008 14:03author email wsany at hotmail dot comReport this post to the editors

Please see our statement at

author by Parrotpublication date Tue Sep 09, 2008 23:45Report this post to the editors

DENVER– “It was completely mystifying to me. I couldn’t tell what they were protesting about,” said the young downtown office worker who was sitting across from me on a light rail train. She was heading to her home in the suburbs of south Denver as she related her experience of watching a clash between police and protesters that sent scores of people to jail on the first night of the Democratic Convention. “It seems like they just wanted attention,” she concluded.

With the exception of a powerful 7,000-strong antiwar demonstration led by the Iraq Veterans Against the War, protests at the Democratic Convention were small and self-marginalizing. Both delegates and Denverites I spoke to throughout the week had no idea what the protests were about to the extent they were aware of them at all. The two main protest groups – Unconventional Action and Recreate ‘68 – did not have an easy task with the local police and media spreading scare stories for months and with Barack Obama and the Democrats widely perceived as a reforming alternative to eight years of Republican rule. However, there was little effort made to bridge the comprehension gap.

When several hundred masked anarchists paraded down the 16th St. pedestrian mall in downtown Denver on the day before the Convention started waving orange and black flags and chanting “Whose Streets? Our Streets!”, bystanders were simply baffled. As soon as the march veered onto a side street, it was cordoned off from both directions by police who unsuccessfully chased about 20 breakaway protesters into a six-story parking garage while allowing the rest to leave after a tense, half-hour standoff.This confrontation was promptly hailed as an exciting victory on the DNC Disruption 08 website. “The classic Whose Streets Ours Streets chant gained real meaning for the protesters as they reclaimed the parking lot, the streets and a sense of possibility that hints at the transforming power of a public in rage at the war and fueled with a sense of joy and liberation.”

The cat-and-mouse game continued the following night and would end in mass arrests.

Recreate ‘68 eschewed confrontational street tactics in favor of permitted marches emphasizing the struggles of oppressed peoples both inside the US and around the world. But with an enigmatic name (Which part of 1968 do we want to recreate—the assassinations, the race riots, the thrashing of antiwar protesters, the election of Richard Nixon?) and a laundry list of causes (Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, Haiti, Venezuela, Mumia, Leonard Peltier, the Cuban 5, etc., etc.), their message was as impenetrable for the uninitiated as that of the anarchists who came across as having no message at all.

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