so, you think you live in a free country? you think we have the freedom to assemble? think again. and i’ll be very surprised if any of us hear about this from mainstream media outlets.
RNC2—Raid on the Convergence Center
It’s Friday night. Our Pagan Cluster is sitting on the bluff of the Mississippi having our first real meeting, when Lisa gets a call. The cops are raiding the Convergence Center, where we’re organizing meetings and trainings for the protests against the Republican National Convention. It’s not a role play, the caller says. It’s real.
Instantly, we jump up and hurry back the six or eight blocks to the old theater we are using for meetings, trainings and social gatherings. I ‘ve spent the last two days doing magical activism trainings, teaching people how to stay calm and grounded in emergency situations and when things get chaotic. Now it’s time to put the training into practice. Aaron, a tall, red-headed young man who could be one of my nephews strides along beside me. “Are you grounded?” I ask him. He nods, and runs ahead.
Nobody can keep up with Lisa, who speeds ahead like an arrow, walking, not running, but still covering the ground quickly. Andy and I trail behind. We’re often street buddies, because we’re both big, slow, and supremely calm and stubborn, willing to wade into almost any situation and become the immovable object.
We’re stopped by a line of cops just before we reach the building. They refuse to let us through, or to move their van which is blocking Scarecrow’s car. There’s an investigation underway, they say, and won’t say more.
Brush, our dear friend, is inside, having gone to a jail solidarity meeting, ironically enough. So are two very young people who had just joined our cluster that night. I try calling Brush’s cell phone, but get no reply.
We wait. That’s what you do when the cops have guns trained on kids inside a building. You wait, and witness, and make phone calls, and try to think of useful things to do.
We call lawyers. We call politicians. We try to call media. We call friends who might know politicians and media.
Through the kitchen door, we cansee young kids sitting on the floor, handcuffed. We walk across the street, back, made more phone calls. An ambulance is parked in front, and the paramedics head into the building, leaving a gurney ready. Susu, from her car around the corner, reports that the cops have been grabbing pedestrians from the street, forcing them down to the ground, handcuffing them.
Song, one of the local organizers, calls her City Council member. She wants to call the Mayor, Chris Coleman, who has promised that St. Paul will be as welcoming to protestors as to delegates, but no one has his home number.
What I have forgotten to tell people at the training is how much of an action is just this: tense, boring waiting, with a knot of anxiety in your stomach and your feet starting to hurt. Song talks to a helpful neighbor, who’s come over to find out what’s happening. He knows where the mayor lives, says it’s just a few blocks away, and draws us a map.
We decide to go and call on the Mayor, who could call off the cops. About five of us troop down there, through the soft night and a neighborhood of comfortable homes and wide lawns on the bluffs above the Mississippi. The Mayor’s house is a comfortable Dutch Colonial, and lights were on inside. We decide that just a few of us will go to the door, so as not to look intimidating. Song is a round, soft-bodied middle-aged woman with a sweet face. Ellen is a tiny brunette with a gap-toothed smile, and Lisa, formidable organizer though she is, looks slight and unthreatening. The rest of us hang back. Someone opens the door. Our friends have a conversation with the mayors’ wife, who is not pleased to be visited by constituents late at night, and who tells us we should call the office. The Mayor, she says, is asleep, and she will not wake him up.
We think a mayor who was doing his job would get up and go see what’s going on. Nonetheless, we head back to the convergence space.
A protestor has been released from the building. A small crowd has gathered across the street, and Fox News has arrived. They interview Song, who does her first ever Fox media spot. She tells them the truth—that people were in there watching movies—a documentary about Meridel Le Seuer. Meridel would be proud, and I’m glad she is with us in some form.
One by one, protestor’s trickle out. Now we get more pieces of the story. The cops burst in, with no warning. They pulled drew their guns on everyone—including a five year old child who was there with his mother, forced everyone down on the floor. It was terrifying.
They had a warrant, apparently, from the county, not the city, to search for ‘bomb making materials.’ They were searching everyone in the building, then one by one releasing them as they found nothing.
They continue to find nothing, as we wait through long hours. Meanwhile, more and more media arrives. These cops are not as creative as the DC cops during our first mobilization there against the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Those cops confiscated the lunchtime soup—which included onions and chili powder, claiming they were materials for home made pepper spray.
We wait until the last person gets out. He’s a twenty year old who the cops have accused of stealing his own backpack—but apparently they relented.
And now it’s morning. I wake up to the news that cops have been raiding houses where activists are staying, bursting in with the same bogus warrant and arresting people, including a four year old child. They’ve arrested people at the Food Not Bombs house—a group dedicated to feeding protestors and the homeless. They’ve arrested others, presumably just for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The Poor Peoples’ Campaign, which had set up camp at Harriet Island, a park in the middle of the Mississippi, has also been harassed, its participants ordered to disperse and its organizers arrested.
Let me be perfectly clear here—all of us here are planning nonviolent protests against an administration which is responsible for immense violence, bombs that have destroyed whole countries, and hundreds of thousands of deaths.
This is the America that eight years of the Bush administration have brought us, a place where dissent is no longer tolerated, where pre-emptive strikes have become the strategy of choice for those who hold power, where any group can be accused of ‘bombmaking’ or ‘terrorism’ on no evidence whatsoever in order to deter dissent.
Please stand with us. Because it could be your home they are raiding, next.
Call the Mayors of St. Paul and Minneapolis. Tell them you are outraged by these attacks on dissent. Urge them to let Poor People encamp and to let dissent be heard.
FLOOD THE MAYORS’ OFFICES ASAP
St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman
Minneapolis Mayor RT Rybak
(612) 673-3000 outside Minneapolis