Friday, September 05, 2008

Thoughts from St. Paul.

Following another day of arrests, and after reflecting on the last week, I have some thoughts:

1) In many ways, the anarchists won. Their goal was apparently to create chaos and anarchy, and this they did. If their plan was to cause chaos for the RNC delegates, however, they missed their mark: what they did was to severely disrupt the civil liberties of the citizens of the Twin Cities and their visitors.

I have not had a whole lot of contact with police at demonstrations. I have marched on Washington a couple of times for queer rights and reproductive rights, and I held a line against "Operation Save America" when they invaded Buffalo a while back. The advantage we had then was that we were not throwing things at the police, nor were we being wantonly destructive. I am pretty sure that those who did these things in St. Paul expected the brutal response they received, and if not, then they should have. I'm quite sure the organizers did, and they are to blame for putting in harm's way any youth who didn't have a good sense of what they were up against.

Yes, I'm playing the middle-aged card. Ignorance of the law is no excuse: neither is ignorance of history. If you are planning to confront police in riot gear, you should at least have learned from the innumberable lessons of the past what will happen next. It's great to be dewy-eyed and committed, but you also need to be shrewd and to educate yourself.

2) I am angry at the anarchist groups that ruined what was otherwise a peaceful demonstration of people who have, many of them, committed their lives to peace. It's easy to disrupt someone else's event, and it probably makes you feel powerful. That doesn't mean that your movement has any substance to it. Know that what you did was to overshadow what would have been a significant showing of peaceful protest, something that would have had an impact on the rest of the nation. Already, because of you, the RNC, most if not all of the Republican Party, and many Democrats have dismissed the entire protest as simply a bunch of hoodlums who wanted to create havoc. You didn't care about stopping the war or the Republican machine. You just wanted to get out there and break things, and this was a great excuse for you to do it. Thanks for nothing.

3) I am angry at the St. Paul police, along with the Minneapolis police, the Dept. of Homeland Security, the FBI, and the Secret Service. In the process of responding to real threats from the anarchist groups, these groups used excessive force, which is a euphemism that means they beat people badly, they used rubber bullets, tasers, tear gas, and pepper spray - and they used this excessive force not only against folks who had weapons, but against folks who were just standing there, who were not part of the anarchist groups, and who were not even in the vicinity of the riots. They also arrested people without cause. They arrested members of the press who had identified themselves and showed the police their id - and some of these were charged with rioting. They shot rubber bullets and tear gas at peaceful protestors practicing civil disobedience because the group would not disperse. Their violence was not limited to those few people who were setting fires and attacking delegates (and you can see Bfp for a discussion of whether, in such cases, excessive force is really ok (for some reason, I can't get her page to load, so I can only link you to the blog home and not to the specific piece that I am thinking of)).

How is it that we accept that police may round up peaceful citizens and press - and then shoot rubber bullets and tear gas into the crowd? On MPR this morning, Mayor Coleman stated in defense of these brutal acts that took place yesterday that the police had warned the crowd numerous times to disperse. Do we as a society think these tactics are appropriate for dispersing a peaceful crowd? In some cases, police confronted with this scenario have chosen to stand down and allow the crowd to have its sit-in. The only crime here was that the marchers stayed beyond their permit time. Is this a tear gas worthy crime?

4) I am angry at St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman for not standing up for the citizens of his city and for taking sides with the police against them. He seems to see nothing wrong with the police catching up innocent bystanders and peaceful protestors in a sweep, yet stories have been surfacing all week of people asking police for help or being told by the police to head in a certain direction to get away from the protests and leave, but finding that when they got where the police had directed them to go, they were surrounded and arrested.

5) I am angry at the journalists in St. Paul and nationwide who have not covered the stories of the arrests of journalists. That these arrests have gone largely unnoticed is particularly striking, as it suggests a sense that we as a society believe that the police and other law-enforecement officials have absolute power to use as they see fit. In fact, they do not. They are subject to the law, and when they arrest someone without cause, when they arrest members of the press, when they use excessive forece, when they do this on a routine basis, as they appear to have done over the last week, it suggests that they are 1) incompetent; 2) drunk with power; or 3) attempting to suppress free speech. I sincerely hope that what we have seen here is incompetence and that it will be rectified.


Green said...

"You have a lot of anger inside you."

In the building I'm working at this week there are little tvs in the elevators that give news blurbs. I saw over 300 demonstrators were arrested in MN, but it wasn't clear what they were protesting.

Daisy said...

#2 Well, it's been a long time since I was any kind of serious anarchist disruptor (ha), but I can tell you one thing:

"Breakaway factions" (as they used to be called, I have no idea what they might be called now) are usually instigated by people on the inside... i.e., some "peace activist" who secretly (or not) wants to mix it up, or someone with a personal or political gripe against the leadership. It isn't like a bunch of violent people just show up and co-opt a peaceful demonstration, although it does usually look that way from the outside. What it is: a small coterie of people on the inside wait for backup, then break away. (Hence the term, "breakaway factions"--can also apply to heavily theoretical meetings where there are purges and you are voted off the island.)

This strategy is historically called The Fifth Column, as you may have heard the term.

The great thing about such a strategy is that people will always deny knowledge of being part of it, very high intrigue. The strategy lends itself to endless conspiracy theories.

But it used to be pretty standard operational procedure for any "violent" direct action planned ahead of time.

Daisy said...

"The great thing about such a strategy"--

Great, as in, from a law enforcement vs anarchists perspective: people in authority being able to properly assign blame to any one party.

When they have, you get something like the Chicago Seven/Eight trial for "conspiracy" which was just laughable. (Some of those people really hated each other, and then they were stuck going on trial together!)

Plain(s)feminist said...

Green - see what I mean? They were there to protest the war.

Daisy - wow, that's really interesting. Thanks for the explanation.

Anonymous said...

It would not be good for the Democrats for the media (or should I say the Obama media) to report on the arrests. The arrests make the Dems look bad so why in the world would the media report it?

Plain(s)feminist said...

Anon -

Would the "Obama media" be the same media that had nothing but praise for Sarah Palin and McCain and the whole RNC?

Are you suggesting that the journalists arrested were actually Democrats who were protesting the RNC?

Do you think that journalists being arrested and prevented from doing their jobs is somehow *good* for the media?

What you say makes no sense at all.

Daisy said...

Chickenhearted person (anonymous, of course):

It would not be good for the Democrats for the media (or should I say the Obama media) to report on the arrests. The arrests make the Dems look bad so why in the world would the media report it?

How is that possible? You mean because Minneapolis is a majority-Dem city?

Otherwise, looks like paranoid, violent Republicans are nuking whoever dares disagrees with them... and a blackout of news coverage of such events would directly benefit the party doing the repressing.

So, guess which party THAT benefits?


PS: Watching the media pee itself all over Palin again today! Oh yeah, "the Obama media" all right!

Anonymous, you must live in a cave.

Michelle said...

I get where Plain Feminist is coming from. It's frustrating to see kids (and that's what the louder anarchist are, not that they don't have ideas worth listening to. They're just so noisy) messing up the intent to raise consciousness. To see the police and city government incapable of controlling a bunch of, for all practical purposes, fairly harmless people is equally frustrating. I'm 39, live in Portland, Oregon, and much as I hated doing it, had to strictly forbid my teenager from marching for several years because I didn't want my precious baby getting pepper sprayed. Fortunately though, the city government has bent over backwards to accommodate the valid community organizers. Last year, my daughter joined a protest I was unaware of. Despite the anarchists climbing the walls at city hall and cussing at the cops, the mayor joined the protest. Meanwhile, the cops stayed out of fight mode, and stood under the anarchists climbing the walls to catch them if they fell. That's the only reason my own little rebel didn't get grounded for a week and is now able to be a part of consciousness raising however she wishes.

Our city government, on the administrative and protective side make it easy. And now that the opposition, regular people really, can feel safe, they listen. I always see small groups of opponents breaking off and talking at our protests now, something I never saw in the ones I participated in during the '80's here. The civil rights marchers of earlier years, who were in real physical danger of the police and their fellow citizens, probably hadn't even thought of a time when public dissent could lead to actual dialogue all in one day. But thanks to our organizers simultaneously ganging up on the noisy kids and letting them know that everybody is aware of their "secret" plans to break off, and letting our city administrators know they were on it, we can now. Portland has a lot of problems but I think our organizers have done a great job of helping public protest evolve into something a valid way to effect change. I wish St. Paul luck as they accomplish the same.


Plain(s)feminist said...

Michelle, what you're talking about is like the protests I remember in the '80s at my weird liberal arts college. And I've seen protests like this where the police are not in fight mode, as you say. It is possible.

Thanks so much for sharing that - you made my day!