Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Three Parts All the Outrage

Grab your reading glasses and hunker down for the longest post I've had in a long long while, I promise it will be an interesting ride.

Part I: My Experience at the 2008 Republican National Convention

S. and I boarded a bus headed for St. Paul Monday at 2 a.m. We traveled with the Coalition to March on the RNC and Stop the War group. The group was a diverse bunch of old, young, black, white, Hispanic, Indian, and everything in between. The ride up was peaceful and motivating albeit lacking sleep ( boo ).

Our bus was one of the first to arrive and we noticed an extremely heavy police presence as early as 10 o'clock. Officers were stationed at every single intersection and we estimated there to be at least 3 officers for every pedestrian on the street. Despite our solidarity with the permitted marchers we linked up with a group that needed help with a planned demonstration. Seeing as how I could not get arrested due to a date with some babies the next day we agreed to help when needed and maintain a safe distance as legal observers.

The group we were working with planned to create a "lock box" where people tied, taped, and connected each other to make a more secure barrier to block an intersection where delegates would be arriving.

Sitting feet away from a squad car that sat at the corner of the six way intersection the demonstrators planned to block, we felt aimless and a little anxious wondering how the five or so protesters we were with was going to pull this off. Eventually, two of the demonstrators approached an officer and asked directions to the march when out of the bushes, off of bikes, from across streets and over walls approx. twenty demonstrators swarmed the intersection quickly attaching themselves securely to one another.

I was pleasantly surprised. Their group was well organized and everyone fearlessly worked together connecting and planting themselves in the intersection. Within seconds traffic was stopped up with angry Minnesotans honking up a storm in the midday heat. Within minutes additional squad cars arrive. At this point officers were non-aggressive allowing me to stand with them and listen in on their plans as to what they were going to do about this little problem. After a while I was bored of shuffling around and feeling brave so I offered water to the people blockading the street. They all seemed to be very congenial and peaceful people that had passionate views about the state of our government, and we all quickly became friends.

Approximately twenty minutes went by and traffic had to be re-routed (success). Many angry cars had to be turned around and we witnessed a semi hopping a median (dangerous AND illegal). Additional squad cars arrived and what appeared to be a horse trailer... the total number of police on site was approximately 10-15. Rumors of teargas floated around so we decided to forgo our legal observation stance in order to ensure the safety of our new found friends. Armed with vinegar, water, goggles, and bandannas we outfitted the demonstrators prepared to withstand teargas.

Across the intersection some people were illegally being searched so I walked over to make sure they weren't being bullied and in the process I got bullied by an officer in full riot gear screaming at the top of his lungs for me not to cross the street. Of course I crossed the street, but eventually I turned around when they let the kids go. Another officer tried to give me some advice to stay out of the street for my own good. While non-aggressive I told him that I wanted to make sure my friends were okay and was not willing to comply. He then told me to open my bag. I was caught off-guard by this seeing as how I was clearly only an observer mostly standing on the outside and making sure of the safety of the people protesting. Without my consent he grabbed my bag and opened it, which is illegal because I didn't consent to a search and he didn't have a warrant (know your rights!). Of course he didn't find anything except for a water bottle and three disposable cameras.

Pissed off I walked back to the group.

A small meeting was held including the people in the lock box and the other twenty or so loose demonstrators blocking the road and it was decided that the "loose" demonstrators would head downtown towards the march. The walk was very long and sweaty but spirited and mischievous while still remaining completely peaceful. We stopped at a coffee place to fill up our water bottles and headed back out. Six of our demonstrators saw an opportunity to further delay the convention and sat down and locked arms in front of a chartered bus carrying delegates.

Unfortunately this is where our peaceful day gets a little dicey. Police officers storm the six kids yelling and spraying their faces with pepper spray. No warning was given before the pepper spray was used within inches of the face. The officers then dragged the kids across the concrete separating them and putting them face first on the ground. They cuffed them and then continued to step on the backs of the demonstrators to hold them down. The demonstrators were then lined up and sat on the curb.

We requested an ambulance be called for one of the demonstrators who badly reacted to the pepper spray and then we called the legal network set up to help protesters against such things.
An ambulance was called twelve minutes later. The awesome legal team showed up before the Minnesota medics!

Long story long, it was my first brush with police brutality and I am appalled! Of course this is only the tip of the iceberg. While we were trying to maintain contact with our friends in custody and make sure their personal belongings (ie car and cellphone) were taken care of a few miles away chaos was ensuing.

Splinter groups from the PEACEFUL permitted march broke away and clashed with cops prompting a police state where officers tased, tear gassed, rubber bulleted, and used something called concussion grenades. Yes, their was mild property damage (a few broken windows and flat tires ... no really that's it), but the level of brutality and disregard for civil rights was completely unacceptable. There are multiple reports of credentialed journalists being arrested for absolutely no reason, except for the simple fact that they were reporting! Here is a prime video example:
The woman being arrested is Amy Goodman. According to Journalist Mike Burke, "Amy Goodman is one of the most well-known and well-respected journalists in the United States. She has received journalism’s top honors for her reporting and has a distinguished reputation of bravery and courage. The arrest of Goodman, Kouddous and Salazar and the subsequent criminal charges and threat of charges are a transparent attempt to intimidate journalists." This isn't the only journalist arrested. An AP photographer was arrested along with many others members of the NON-corporate media.

This is the United States and our voices are being silenced by force. As of right now over 300 hundred people have been arrested and the numbers are growing. I just received a text message from organizers that policed just snatched someone out of the PEACEFUL March For the Poor, and is now arresting them. If you'd like up to date messages on the things that are going on text Follow RNC08 to 40404. For more contextually full updates click on this link to go to INDYMEDIA.ORG.

Now Some Visual Candy:

Thank goodness for independent media! Like I said that's only the tip of the iceberg, youtube RNC08 protests.


Robot Ghost said...

Fascinating blog. Thanks for writing that. Sounds like you were a part of a historic moment there.

Grad School Reject said...

I'm proud of you for acting on your convictions. I'm impressed at the decisions you made in the face of some intimidating authority.

That said, please please please be careful on these trips. After all, you ARE the LAST unicorn and you need to take care of yourself :)

The Last Unicorn said...

RG: Hey stranger, thanks for reading. It was a wild time.

GSR: Awww you are like the big brother I have, only a lot more concerned for my safety! Thanks!
I am back and I was very very careful, it was an important experience for me to go through.