Marching to the RNC
The message of many obscured by the sporadic violence of few
by Jo Freeman
At least several thousand people gathered on the lawn in front of the State Capitol in St. Paul on Monday to listen to two hours of speeches before marching to the Xcel Center where the Republicans were holding their convention.
The police estimated that fewer than ten thousand people attended, while march organizers claimed 50,000. My own guesstimate after watching the entire march twice is in the 20-25,000 range.
Despite the fact that organizers worked hard to insure a peaceful, non-violent event, a little street violence captured the headlines, effectively deflecting the attention of media and their readers from the issues which were the purpose of the march.
"Some turn violent in march to convention" said the Associated press.
"Mass show of peaceful dissent soon makes a violent descent" said the local newspaper.
"As Throngs of Protesters Hit Streets, Dozens Are Arrested After Clashes" wrote The New York Times
As the march neared the Xcel Center, a few hundred demonstrators broke off to smash the windows of buildings and cop cars. Large numbers of police clad in riot gear used sheer numbers and pepper spray to capture and subdue them. The local press reported that 284 were arrested; about half were charged with felonies. It also reported that some delegates were personally attacked
None of the press reports mentioned the main march message, which was loudly proclaimed in the lead banner:
"US OUT OF IRAQ ... Money for human needs not for War"
In effect, the success of a few hundred people in creating confrontation and causing property damage undermined the work of those who wanted to get out their messages about ending the occupation.
Organized by a coalition of anti-war groups, local unions and left-wing political parties, the rally and march had few observers other than the police and an occasional person wearing a McCain button as the march neared the Xcel Center.
The only possibility of reaching those not protesting was through press coverage. Since the Republicans had canceled most of their meetings for the day, plenty of press were available to do interviews and provide coverage.
It was actions by the small RNC Welcoming Committee that became the public face of the march. The latter describes itself as "an anarchist / anti-authoritarian organizing body" formed specifically to disrupt the Republican convention as it meets in St. Paul.
The intent, and at least some of the specific tactics to "crash the convention," were well known in advance by both police and march organizers. The "principles" to which those planning the protests were asked to agree contained the phrase "respect for diversity of tactics" which is a code phrase for violence to property.
On the march itself, the diversity of issues represented was wide, even though ending the occupation was the goal on which all agreed. There were plenty of anti-McCain signs, but very few for other candidates — Obama, Nader and McKinney. However, one lone vendor who was selling Obama t-shirts and buttons told me that business was brisk.