With Hillary Clinton's ill-advised utterance about RFK's assassination in 1968, we were reminded of certain disturbing political realities. And, in hearkening back to that particular age of political upheaval and protest, we are reminded of the police riot which occurred at that year's Democratic National Convention in the aftermath of Robert Kennedy's assassination. (clickable video links)
The protesters then were in Chicago to stand up for their rights and to oppose an unjust and disastrous war. They had as good a reason as ever to protest and their actions and memories should be honored by all freedom loving people. And, while the spirit of protest still flickers in the U.S., the police forces in this country have not stopped violently overreacting to even the tamest of protests. Quite arguably, the police are less tolerant of dissent today than they were in 1968.
As anyone who has been to a mass protest in the last few years can tell you, the police show up in large numbers and they are not afraid to overstep their own legal bounds to defend their corporate masters. They infiltrate protest groups and have even been known to take positions of leadership within them (so as to direct the protests and report on any perceived illegality by legitimate protesters). In this post 9/11 technocracy one can also believe that they are using electronic surveillance to keep tabs on protesters of all stripes. And I write this not to stifle passionate dissent, but only to make the realities of modern protest clear to those who will bravely, and by necessity, proceed to express their righteous indignation in the face of power. Those engaged in any protest activity should be mindful of what the agents of the state can, and will, do to stifle legitimate political dissent at any given protest.
The focus of this article is on the upcoming protests at the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis-Saint Paul, September 1-4, 2008. I'm not focusing upon the Democratic National Convention in Denver, CO, August 25-28, 2008 for one main reason...I simply don't think the protests will be as large (although I do feel the Democratic Party could use some protest as well). In large part, the convention protests this year will, understandably, be about the war in Iraq. With the Democrats apparently fielding a somewhat anti-war candidate in Barack Obama, and the Republicans going with a decidedly pro-war candidate in John McCain, the question of who will see the larger protests is answered quite easily. Obama's apparent progressivism will also give anti-McCain protesters a little more enthusiasm than they may have had in years past. Also... Obama's heritage will inspire more people to get involved beyond the stereotypical white, middle-class caricature.
As I've said, this year's protest will largely be about the war, but have no question... those who show up will also be in protest of a myriad of other state sanctioned injustices. Climate change and environmental degradation are issues potentially even more serious than the atrocious war. Others will be angry about the revision of the constitution and the disposal of habeas corpus. Some will be demanding the impeachment of Bush. Still others will be in protest of what's been done to the economy and their livelihoods. All are legitimate reasons to protest and all will be represented.
The RNC protests will likely have a festive air some of the time. Notable philosophers and radical activists will give talks at the counter-convention, literature of all sorts will be distributed, banners will be unfurled, puppets and costumes will undoubtedly be paraded, and there will be excessive singing and dancing in the streets. I say "excessive singing and dancing" because I imagine that Iraqi war protests are far more somber and, it seems to me, that many protesters forget why they are there when the protest "festivities" begin. But the real protest will not be a parade or a festival -- and you can be sure that the authorities will not be treating any of it as such.
While I greatly appreciate the efforts of those preparing for this protest, I would ask that they prepare with both eyes open. They need to know that thousands of law enforcement officials, from all the agencies, will be in town with the Republican delegates. AGAIN, I write this not to discourage but only to prepare. There will be cops in full riot gear, on bikes and horses, in helicopters, and on rooftops. There will undoubtedly be undercover officers amongst the protesters themselves at every stage. I will repeat sage advice here, do not engage or cooperate with the law enforcement officials in any way that can be helped.
The anger and the ferocity of the protesters will vary, but I ask you to consider who your real allies are and who the actual enemy is. While some will stay on the parade routes, some will not. Still others might lock-down to block delegates or to draw more attention to the protest. And lastly, still others might even vandalize corporate property. And concerning this last group I ask you to consider this... the bank whose window they smash (or spraypaint) may have foreclosed on their family's home, pulled an Enron on their life savings, or maybe that corporation simply supported the war machine and deforestation. Vandalism is not violence, causing bankruptcy or starvation or war actually is. It is a betrayal of the protest to assist the police in catching petty vandals (who may be morally justified in their actions).
It will be HOT in early September, even in Minnesota! Dress accordingly and carry enough water for at least yourself. You may also want to carry simple but effective particle filter masks in case the police start indiscriminately using pepper-spray or tear-gas. You do not want the protest to end just because the police start using their typical heavy-handed tactics, but do wear comfortable shoes in case you have to run. Carry cameras to film the POLICE, not to document any misdeeds of your fellow protesters. Consider being a legal observer or a street medic.
I expect this to be one of the biggest and most passionate protests in American history. It is a good and necessary thing, part of our civil duty, but be prepared if you plan on showing up. Know why you are there, how you expect to help, and the message you want to convey (in case you get interviewed by the media [who you may actually not want to talk to]). Be as bold as you can be and maintain strict solidarity with the other protesters who will be showing up from all over the country.