March Organizers Failed to Protect Message

By Francisco J. Gonzalez

I was at the March on the Republican National Convention (RNC) in St. Paul that took place Monday Sept 1 and was overwhelmed by the passion, the excitement, the vibrancy of the peaceful participants. I was particularly pleased to see the interaction between marchers: Somali immigrants protesting against the US-supported Ethiopian invasion of Somalia, and Palestinian marchers denouncing the occupation of Palestine and Iraq mingled with socialists, environmentalists, and with pro-immigrant Latino activists.  

Tens of thousands of young people, families, senior citizens, children in strollers, marched peacefully through downtown St. Paul and confronted the Republicans. However, this accomplishment was largely obscured by the actions of a few self-proclaimed “anarchists” that most likely had no idea of what Bakunin stood for, or how Buenaventura Durruti successfully fought fascism in the true spirit of anarchism.

 

I have participated in large protests marches in Latin America, and seen them in Europe, and the organizers of these events were determined not to let unruly elements take over the message or use the peaceful march as cover for independent action. Control of the message is a must, and the Minnesota organizers failed at this.

 

The organizers of Monday’s march and also of the Poor People’s Economic and Human Rights Campaign allowed the anarchists and others to hijack the message, turning off many potential supporters. I have been reading the RNC Welcoming Committee web page for months, where they clearly indicated that they wanted to engage in violent confrontation. Nobody can claim that the anarchists’ violence was unexpected, but still the organizers allowed them to join the marches.

 

A far more effective approach would have been to eject the anarchists from the marches or, if this was not practical, then the organizers should have condemned the anarchists’ behavior and supported the police actions afterwards. Yes, supported the police.  This would have been the politically smart course to take. Could you imagine the positive feedback of having the march organizers stand side by side with the chiefof police at a joint press conference praising the peaceful marches and denouncing the mindless actions of a few?

 

Being angry and violent and acting without thinking is counterproductive. Dr. Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela taught us that civil disobedience and even direct action may indeed be useful tools in the fight against oppression, be it from the Republicans, or from anti-Muslim bigots or from supporters of Zionism, but these are only tools, to be used as needed and when convenient, and not the objective themselves. We are wasting time focusing on the cops and the rest of the repressive system now in place; we must instead use the media to focus on the message: that we reject the McCain-Palin policies of hate and prejudice against Muslims, against immigrants and against peace.

 
 
En la lucha, Francisco J. Gonzalez is originally from Puerto Rico, an attorney by profession with experience on pro-immigrant causes.  He currently resides in Cottage Grove.

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Posted on September 7, 2008, in Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I worked for the last year and a half with the Coalition to March on the RNC and Stop the War and will be submitting the following perspective to the Twin Cities Daily Planet and Twin Cities Indy Media in response to your article.

    Earlier this month, someone posted an article on this website called “March organizers failed to protect message.” As a member of the Coalition to March on the RNC and Stop the War, I felt compelled to respond. The writer suggested that those who organized the permitted anti-war march on the opening day of the RNC should have tried to prevent “unruly protesters” from engaging in direct action or should have denounced those who did after the fact. The writer suggested that our message was stolen by “a few who acted mindlessly and that we should have stood side by side with police to denounce them.

    I was troubled but not surprised by this person’s analysis. Blaming fellow protesters for police violence and judging those whose tactics involve risking arrest have often marked the aftermath of mass actions. This pattern of backstabbing and finger pointing has left movements fractured and demoralized. In St. Paul, we deliberately tried to create something different: principles that would allow us to focus our energy on the injustice we oppose, engage in the tactics we feel are most strategic, and do so in a way that would build our capacity and inspire unity, even among activists of differing ideological backgrounds, experience levels, and philosophies.

    I began writing this as a comment on the article criticizing march organizers, so I want to explain our perspective as a coalition when anticipating how our march would be affected by other actions the same day. We were fully aware of well developed plans to engage in direct action and civil disobedience on September 1. We were not surprised this took place and do not agree that our message was “highjacked” by anarchists. We worked in coalition with several groups including the RNC Welcoming Committee to establish principles of unity that would prevent counter-productive, “good protester-bad protester” labeling. The “St. Paul Principles” we established included a respect for a diversity of tactics (not just peaceful, legal ones) and we agreed that different tactics would be separated by time or space so that we could complement, rather than interfere with each other.

    This was achieved with great success. On September 1st, 30,000 people from a diversity of backgrounds, income levels, ages, and struggles marched together under one banner: U.S. Out of Iraq Now; Money for Human Needs Not War; Peace, Justice, and Equality for All. Also on September 1st, a significant number of people chose to directly confront those most responsible for war, poverty, and injustice by engaging in blockades and other methods of direct action. Organizers of the permitted march supported their decision to do so. Many of us believe that elements of civil disobedience and direct action are acceptable and necessary for any movement desiring to mount a serious challenge to the violent, imperialist forces that are exploiting and destroying the lives of millions.

    The author of the article I’m responding to claimed that the RNC Welcoming Committee’s website indicated a desire for “violent confrontation.” Anyone who was present in downtown St. Paul during the RNC could see that it was the police who were eager for violent confrontation. Who was it that brought riot gear, tasers, rubber bullets, batons, and chemical weapons to the streets of St. Paul? It was the police, whose only mission was to protect power and privilege and crush anyone in their path.

    The very use of the word “violence” to describe the actions of protesters in the face of the police state we witnessed is ridiculous. Pepper spraying a girl repeatedly in the face after she attempted to hand a flower to a police officer is violence. A broken Macy’s window is not. And even though some activists don’t prefer property damage as a tactic, some amount of perspective is important. What is a broken window compared to a million Iraqis killed, or entire cities destroyed by the U.S. occupation forces? A whole lot of windows get broken when the U.S. drops bombs. Which is the bigger concern? Which is a real reason to be pointing fingers?

    I and other members of the Coalition to March on the RNC stand in solidarity with all who spoke and acted against the Republican agenda in St. Paul. We didn’t denounce each other before the action and we aren’t going to start now. And we would never, EVER stand with the police at a press conference and denounce our fellow activists. The very suggestion is absurd after the systematic way the police attempted to violently shut down ALL dissent at the RNC. On September 4th, members of our coalition were shot at close range with rubber bullets while holding an anti-war banner, tackled to the ground while chanting for an end to the war, and attacked with pepper spray while holding signs demanding peace, justice, and equality to all. This occurred in response to a large crowd who dared to march after a city-issued permit had expired.

    Anyone professing a sincere commitment to justice should make an effort to hold police accountable for their crimes at the RNC, rather than criticize march organizers for failing to shun our fellow activists. We are committed to building and strengthening a diverse movement for just social change. We are not interested in betraying and judging one another.

    Anyone waiting for us to do so or advocating such hypocrisy needs to wake up. The most dangerous people in St. Paul that week were the delegates to the Republican National Convention, as well as the army of mercenaries who attacked people on their behalf. Anyone who opposes violence and property destruction should join us in opposing current U.S. policy as a top priority. Our soldiers, police, and anti-immigration agents engage in violence and property destruction every day at the orders of politicians and corporate executives. The system works against us. We must work TOGETHER against it, in diverse ways, not against each other in destructive ways.

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  2. Francisco J. Gonzalez

    The comments by Katrina Plotz regarding my criticism of the anarchists’ actions and the failure of the March organizers to focus on the political activism of the many instead on the antics of the few are clearly illustrative of the need for serious consideration and thinking about how to achieve change in our society.

    First, I want to say that I have a 20 year record of working with the Latino and immigrant communities in rural Minnesota opposing racism and discrimination. I have also worked in Minnesota, Arizona, Puerto Rico and in Spain against colonialism, imperialism and unrestrained globalization. I am proud of my record not only of words but of real accomplishments on behalf of the poor, the powerless and the disenfranchised.

    The point that I was making on my earlier criticism is that, if you are engaged in a POLITICAL struggle, then ANY actions taken MUST be calculated to assist in achieving the POLITICAL AIMS of the struggle. Ms. Plotz indicates that “many of us believe that elements of civil disobedience and direct action are acceptable and necessary for any movement desiring to mount a serious challenge to the violent, imperialist forces that are exploiting and destroying the lives of millions”, but fails to explain HOW would such direct action HELP in changing the system.

    The answer clearly is that such actions do not help and rather hinder the POLITICAL struggle. On September 1st, the media focused on the police and the anarchists instead of on the massive and peaceful protest against Bush and the fascists at the Xcel center. The POLITICAL message was diluted, and this should not surprise anyone since the media would of course focus its coverage on the clashes as opposed to the march. This was totally foreseeable and totally preventable. Unless Ms. Plotz is advocating that we all take arms and launch a revolution, then the ONLY way to achieve our goals is through the political process, and we must play by the rules of this process, which includes knowing how to use the media and also be cognizant of the unfortunate truth that image and perception are everything.

    Direct action definitively has appeal, and may indeed have a place in a movement’s struggle for social justice IF and WHEN it supports the POLITICAL goals of the movement. But in the present cultural, historical and political context of 21st century America, there is absolutely no doubt that such actions would at best be counterproductive.

    I understand perfectly the frustration and the desire to strike at the oppressive forces arrayed against us. As a Latino male I personally do not need lessons on resistance to oppression from Ms. Plotz or from any White middle class anarchist. But what any SUCCESSFUL social justice movement needs is clarity of message, unity of purpose and consistency in tactics and strategy.

    Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. understood this. Dr. King did rail against the police after the Selma-to-Montgomery marchers were assaulted; he was not sidetracked from his main message of demanding change to the system. The enemy is not the police, the enemy is the system itself, and ONLY thru smart political action we would be able to prevail.

    En la lucha,

    Francisco J. Gonzalez
    Guajataca01@yahoo.com
    Cottage Grove, MN

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