What follows is a strategic assessment of some of the organizing process leading up to the RNC protests in St. Paul. I participated in the actions but I am not a member of the RNC Welcoming Committee and do not purport to speak on their behalf. This document is purely for the purposes of discussion and debate within the anarchist community. The information contained in this analysis comes from first person observation, as well as a study of various documents put out by the RNC WC, independent and corporate news accounts of the actions, and other strategic reportbacks on the action. All of this information is public and nothing contained in this document is subject to any security culture agreements.
On September 1, 2008 several hundred activists from around the country converged on St. Paul’s downtown business district to execute a carefully planned strategy to stop the first day of the Republican National Convention. Just before noon that day, blockades began to move into place, holding back buses filled with delegates. Over the next several hours more than three dozen affinity groups, each numbering between five and fifty participants, moved into the city’s streets in a converted effort to stop traffic and block delegates.
Tactics ranged from simple sit-ins in intersections to snake marches and black blocs to blockades with disabled cars, chains, and lockboxes. St. Paul Police, whose ranks were bolstered with officers on loan from almost every jurisdiction in Minnesota, reacted aggressively. Police strategically and methodically worked to force protesters out of key intersections and off of main thoroughfares. They used blunt object force, chemical weapons, and concussion grenades to attempt to disburse, or at least push back crowds. And when their numbers allowed, police surrounded and arrested entire groups of protesters, reporters, and bystanders.
Protestors fought back in a series of skirmishes. Linking arms small groups were able to hold back the police’s advance and maintain their territory, if only for a short time. Equipped with goggles, masks, and bandanas groups of activists were able to withstand the onslaught of chemical weapons. Organized into small and tight knit groups protesters were able to swarm police and un-arrest some of their companions who had been snatched by police.
In the end, however, virtually all of the RNC delegates were able to get into the convention, relatively un-delayed. And the convention’s first day, which had been hyped as a neo-con ‘must see’ event headlined by luminaries like sitting President George W Bush, had been scaled back so that state and federal politicians could concentrate on relief efforts in the wake of Hurricane Gustav’s landfall in New Orleans.
But the relatively unfettered, if lackluster, commencement of day one of the Republican National Convention, did not mean that the protests were tactically ineffective. Traffic was blocked for several hours in downtown St. Paul and during the chaotic scene the swarm of protesters was able to disable at least two buses by slashing their tires and smashing their windows. Delegates were delayed in getting to the Excel Center and hundreds of America’s political elite were directly and personally confronted by an energetic declaration of opposition. Local police forces were overwhelmed and later reported to an unsympathetic corporate press that officers were “frightened” by the action on the streets.
In the days and weeks following the Republican National Convention, there has been no shortage of dramatic written accounts of the day’s actions, breathtaking still photographs of various clashes with police, and captivating video footage city streets filled with tear gas and concussion grenades exploding like low flying fireworks. Telling this collective story and reliving this collective experience is fundamentally important for anti-authoritarian resistance movements in the United States; by remembering these huge sparks in activity we remind ourselves that we can confront the state in all of its might and all of a sudden another world seems so much closer and so much more real.
But just as important as telling our collective stories is learning from our collective experiences. While many impressive and heroic actions were taken on the streets of St. Paul, it was the months and months of organizing and mobilizing in community centers, living rooms and city parks in the Twin Cities and across the country that yielded the framework and infrastructure that allowed us to go head to head with the state in St. Paul.
A preliminarily analysis of the organizing process that facilitated the attempts to shut down the Republican National Convention presents a few interesting questions: How did this framework come together and what differentiates this organizing effort from organizing efforts for previous mobilizations? What unique challenges and circumstances did organizers in the Twin Cities face and how were they addressed? What limitations did we put on ourselves and where did we miss opportunities? How can this experience be used as a roadmap for facilitating future actions?
To be sure, any analysis of an effort as multifaceted and complex as this action will be limited and incomplete. But these questions provide a starting point for synthesizing what we learned from this undertaking.
We did not write this but for an impersonal analysis of the RNC actions we agree with it. We are working on a collective analysis of our experience at the RNC and will hopefully post it within the next few weeks.