9.05.2008

RNC { freedom and its discontents

I wanted to wait until the end of the RNC in order to address a few things. The scope of this post will be the hosting of the convention here in the Twin Cities and the actions and responses of ordinary residents, political protestors, and the law enforcement groups providing security.

The GOP's convention serves many purposes, beyond just the several day media commercial for their party and its agenda. The delegates have to ratify the choice for Presidential candidate, pass a platform, as well as do any internal party business. This is the same with the Democratic convention in Denver. The import of thousands of delegates and party officials into our cities has been seen as a boon, financial and reputationaly. Planning for this has been long.

I did not protest the convention. Aside from riding up in an elevator with NBC White House journo David Gregory at the Graves 601 Hotel in Minneapolis, I didn't see any media. I did see some delegates, including party goers at the Depot in downtown Minneapolis, and what appeared to be a gay Republican (Log Cabin) couple attending the convention. I also spotted what looked suspiciously like five or so very high rent ah 'ladies of the evening'.

What I did see a lot of was cops. Everywhere. I have never seen so much police presence in the Twin Cities outside of when the 35W bridge collapsed.

I've been following the protests with some interest. I don't see a lot of point in protesting the convention iteself. It may be a convenient location to bring attention to the spectacular failures of the Republican party and its agendas for the last decade, but the convention itself is an important component of democracy. Despite my aversion to a protest show, I understand that the right to assemble peaceably and protest is the very essence of democracy, and probably the most important government protection given by the First Amendment. If you cannot criticize your government and its dealings then all the other rights of free speech don't mean much. The genuis of this country's bill of rights included the right to rip your government a new asshole verbally when it deserves it. The Alien and Sedition Acts were rightfully torn up to a large extent. Criticism of government functioning is the major precept of improvement.

What I have seen over the past week has been repugnant.

The St. Paul Police Department (headed by John Harrington), Ramsey County Sheriff's Office (headed by Bob Fletcher), St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, and FBI and the U.S. Secret Service have apparently conspired to treat protestors and even citizens of Minneapolis and St. Paul out walking around as criminals. The mass arrests, excessive force, use of tasers, pepper spray and chemical mace, tear gas grenades, smoke bombs, rubber bullets, riot clubs, intimidation and threats, as well as the preemptive arrest of protest groups and the 36 hour holds in order to get potential legal and nonviolent protestors off the streets and incapable then of excersizing their rights, the arrest of journalists, lawyers, and innocent bystanders, all in the name of law and order, have represented nothing less than a subversion of democracy.

A subversion of democracy.

I'd like to stop just short of calling this treasonous to the founding principles of this nation. These tactics, well documented from this and past conventions and protests, have lead me to the conclusion that this is an intentional outcome. That law enforcement treats the constitutional rights to protest, speak, march peaceably, criticize, and expect more from our government as inconvenient at best and outright criminal or terroristic at worst. That the right to walk down your own streets unmolested and unarrested is only a luxury you get some of the time. This appeared to be nothing other than a war against liberals, against anyone who took time out of their schedules to speak their mind and expect government to be better, a war against protest itself.

Instead our law enforcement took the route of paramilitarized jack booted thugs and of naked fascism.

I believe that the delegates have a right to meet here, party, enjoy our cities, and be safe. But I believe just as strongly that our citizens have a right to have their constitutional rights to assemble and protest peaceably, and not just in 'free speech zone' (are you kidding!?) cages a mile away from where anyone could see or hear them are equally important. I don't advocated violence or destruction of property, but neither do I advocate mass arrests of hundreds of people, many of whom were not protesting, and were in the wrong place at the wrong time. I'm especially concerned by the arrest of legal observers, independent journalists, and those documenting the conduct of both the police and the protestors.

I'm also of the opinion that there is a significant chance that at least some of the property damage done (thus providing the 'excuse' under which this complete overreaction of force) was the work of Agent Provocateurs (not exactly unheard of), enlisted moles of the police departments themselves. Certainly there were a very small number of the ten thousand or better protestors who were of little productive agenda and were enganged in behaviour that should not be tollerated. When they engage in property damage or genuine rioting, then law enforcement has every right and duty to stop it. But there is no way you will convince me that the hundreds of people swept up in arrests were doing harm or a danger to public order.

Honestly, preventing a fascist police state is worth a few broken windows. Your cure is worse than the disease.

The riot police, decked in bulletproof vests, gas masks, and riot clubs were aching for a fight. You could just see it. This is not a responsible or ethical way to run public order, and it no way to respect the people in your communities. The sheer magnitude of police presence and their spoling for confrontation all but incited the mess we got.

If there is any justice, it is my hope that the Minnesota Civil Liberties Union will be revving their engines for a legal confrontation with these officials and officers. I desire that some of your officers lose their jobs over this at least (prison for a few of these thug cops would be a nice bonus and hopeful deterrent to this kind of crap in the future). I'm not optimistic about this, though, as lawsuits from the last electoral cycle are still awaiting trial. I think your departments took this into account and decided that prior restraint and
preemption were fine tactics because it would be all over by the time you let people out and then years before anyone with the guts and money would take you on in court.

"When peaceful revolution becomes impossible, violent revolution becomes inevitable." - Oliver Tambo

Police Sweeps At RNC - a Decade Long Pattern

Asking the Right Questions

The UpTake

2 comments:

Zophorian said...

I can see where you are coming from ‘allthings’ but I am hesitant to say that things are so bad. The American public is more divided now than it has been in a long while—at least in my lifetime. When animosity is that great things are bound to get ugly. But they will get even uglier, exponentially, when people don’t take deliberate steps to be smart and savvy.
I have to wonder, what did the protesters think they were going to accomplish by protesting the RNC convention? They certainly are not going to change the minds of any of the RNC members that are in town for the convention. The situation is beyond that, the divide and animosity is too great. The likely result would be an increased resoluteness in their position and a further belief that the other side is a little nuts.
Or maybe they wanted to get the media’s attention. Getting the media’s attention could help their cause and is a good aim. But then why must the be in the same city as the convention? Why couldn’t they have rallied at the DNC convention? Or had their own ‘non-aligned and full or grievances’ convention? And why must they insist on having free range over the city? There are legitimate security concerns that need to be dealt with as well as trying to preserve some semblance of normal life for the people that live in the host city. All they are going to do by going outside of the designated areas is to upset the locals and get riots on TV—which make the protesters look like wakos. It hurts their cause to force the issue.
They need to be smart and savvy if they want to get their point across. Picking a different city and/or time for the protests would be good. Staying in the designated areas would be good. If they are concerned about their image that is the best: the media knows where to find them and the police will have to leave them alone. Then we avoid the nasty pictures that were on TV which reflect poorly on the whole nation.
Also, don’t over-react ‘allthings’, America has never been perfect (come on you have read more of “A People’s History” than I have) and is not even at the top of its game these days. Yet, American is still doing better than a lot of place. There was supposed to be a political protest here in Yerevan last night. It didn’t happen. Why not? Because both sides were reasonable about the situation. The opposition wanted to hold a protest, as it does every now and then, to remind people of the disaster the last election was here. However, there is a very important football game in town tonight—Armenia vs. Turkey, world cup qualifier. It is the first time ever the two sides have played. The Turkish president it coming, borders have been opened for the occasion and yes the international media will be here. The last point is why the government passed a law last week prohibiting any gatherings or political demonstrations for a week on either side of the match. They don’t want the international media to see the protests. That is exactly why the opposition wanted to have the protest last night. But they backed down because the chance that this game can better Armenian Turkish relations is more important than the protest. They decided they can do it at anytime, even if last night was the best time.
All of this is going on less than a year after the killing of 50 some protesters at a peaceful protest back in March. Armenia has gone through more in the past year than the US has in the past 8 and they have still been able to keep a cooler and more calculated head than the Americans. We can still be arrested or broken up, with no cause or explanation, for being in a group of 10 or more in public. They don’t but they still can. They still refuse to give the opposition permits to hold rallies. They make excuses and unreasonable demands on time and place—in places that are obviously too small, on days when large numbers of people are going to be out of town, like holidays. They have has a few rallies since March 1st (the day of the killings) and all of them have been illegal. The rallies have all been threatened with police shutdown. Power was cut off so they couldn’t get the PA system going, but they found away, they didn’t strike back. The ruling party usually organizes a free concert or kids fair the same night as the rallies. The TV media is not (or at least back in the spring) allowed to show footage of the rallies. Back in February when they had 5000 people staying all night at Liberty Square and 500,000 or more for marches and speeches at 6 in the evening for over a week, it was not put on the TV news. It was like a 600 Lbs gorilla in the room that the TV couldn’t talk about. In addition, TV and radio news was censored, news papers were shut down, CNN was interrupted when Armenia was on the news, and the internet was filtered (I needed tor software to get any news here). That is a real crisis on democracy and freedom.
American is going through some rough times but there are nations that have only even had rough times. American opposition and protesters need to be less brash and more clever. In a country like Armenia, where the media IS controlled by the state, presence on the street is vital and effective. But it needs to be done with care and tact. In a country like American in your face, on the street protests are not going to be the most effective way to get heard. People need to get more involved in politics on a daily level, they need to be more media savvy. Instead of being upset about the restriction put on street protests they should find a better way to make their voice heard…

GeistX said...

Zophorian. You make good points and remind us that there are places in the world that are worse. But still, some nagging issues remain.

Why the need for paid informants?
Why the use of agent provocateurs and infiltrators?

Why are the American police forces resorting to these methods? It seems like every peaceful protest has been pre-empted by either police raids or a violent minority that gets the news attention. Now its been proven that in some of these instances the violence was instigated or attempted to be instigated by members of the police undercover. What does this accomplish except to make protests look bad publicly, making it easier to shut then down or prevent them.

I agree we all need to be savvier regarding protests, but we should protest. I think people are missing the point regarding wanting the whole city for access. Its not that the protesters want the whole city, they don't want 'Free Speech Zones'.