Democracy in St. Paul - Page 2

While Republicans gestured inside, police stole the streets from the people
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Photo from Louisville
Eccentric Observer

This became the focus of local and national media coverage, and while to some degree it represented the vibe on the streets, there were also thousands who came to engage in peaceful civil disobedience.

Despite last-minute revisions to the RNC schedule, thousands gathered on Sept. 1 for the March on the RNC protest — the largest of the week — to kick off the opening day of the convention. Throughout the day, confrontations broke out between police and autonomous groups of protesters attempting to block roads and bridges around the city. Some became violent, and there were mass arrests.

Tuesday night, the Poor People's March For Our Lives" protest provoked confrontation, when several hundred people who marched to the free speech "cage" — a barricaded area outside the Xcel Energy Center reserved for protesting — refused to disband after police issued three dispersal orders. Like the previous day, police began firing tear gas into the crowd, eventually pushing the people to a park, where some 60 were arrested.

The Sept. 4 rally was permitted, but the march was not. The Twin Cities Anti-War Committee, which organized the event, made clear from the beginning it intended to march to the Xcel Energy Center to try to disrupt McCain's acceptance speech.

At the rally, which preceded the march, a speaker commenting on the mass arrests of protesters asked the crowd, "Are the people responsible for the criminal war on Iraq and the war at home on the poor ever held accountable for their actions?"

"No!" came the reply.

Police had the rally surrounded and intermittently plucked people from the crowd, placing them under arrest for unknown reasons — the most common charges were unlawful assembly, felony property damage, and felony riot. Large clusters left the main body of the rally and surrounded the police, prompting tense stand-offs as the police removed those under arrest.

"Stay together," Katrina Plotz, an organizer with the Anti-War Committee, screamed from the stage. "They're trying to steal our protest — we have to ignore the police intimidation."

What became a battlefield here in the streets of St. Paul began with a series of sit-ins, as impenetrable police lines continually stifled marchers not looking for a serious fight with police. Frustrated with repeatedly being halted — a slow process in which police used horses to divide groups and arrest only some protesters — demonstrators engaged in an improvised maverick march that went wherever it could, for as long as it could.

Now, in the quieter moments between concussion bomb blasts that pushed the group toward its ultimate fate in the Ramsey County Jail, a small debate broke out among some of the protesters about how effective their direct action was at this RNC.

"It makes sense at a WTO conference like Seattle in 1999, where policymaking can actually be halted," one said of the police presence. "But more than anything else the RNC is ceremonial."

Still, as the police ultimately herded this crowd onto a bridge that police then blocked on both sides before placing everyone under arrest, it was clear those here tonight were angry. Judging from chants throughout the week, most felt they could not meaningfully participate in the political system in any other way. They obviously wanted to be heard.

"The whole world is watching! The whole world is watching!" they shouted as police shot pepper spray into the crowd, forcing its last few steps onto the bridge.

This report first appeared in the Louisville Eccentric Observer. Sam Stoker is a freelance reporter based in Chicago.