By all accounts, tens of thousands of people from all across the United States are poised to protest — and attempt to physically disrupt — the Republican National Convention (RNC) August 30 to September 2 in New York City. The RNC protests could be the largest and most tumultuous in the USA in several years.
The RNC sets up the perfect storm for chaos in the streets. New York City is the largest city in the US and one of the least friendly for Republicans. Many New Yorkers feel that the RNC was forced down their throats, and tens of thousands of locals are expected to join the protests.
The Republicans opportunistically decided to have the convention in NYC to take political advantage of the attack on the World Trade Center and to highlight Bush’s “war on terrorism.” But since they selected the location of the convention, things haven’t gone well for Bush or the war on terrorism. In the name of 9-11, Bush dragged the US into an increasingly unpopular war that may be generally recognized as a fiasco by late August.
New York is ground zero for many social groups that have been special victims of Republican policies over the years — gays, African-Americans, Arab Americans, the poor and urban dwellers, women who support abortion rights . . .
New York has a massive police force — if it was an army, it would be the sixth largest on earth — which is threatening to take a “zero tolerance” stance on protesters. As of the date this article is being written, the city has still failed to issue any permits for “legal” demonstrations. The Department of Homeland Security and John Ashcroft have announced that they expect a terrorist attack within the US before the election — perhaps at the RNC — which you can better believe will be used as an excuse to squelch public protests and whip up fear.
Thus, the stage is set for huge angry crowds, inadequate and restricted places to gather, vicious police, hype about terrorists hiding in the sewers — all in a huge, crowded urban setting — basically chaos on a mass scale. While it may be difficult for protesters to get near the heavily defended convention center at Madison Square Garden, delegates will still have to get there from almost 50 hotels, most of them within a mile of MSG. This area of midtown Manhattan cannot be entirely closed by the police because to do so would shut down the world’s economy which is operated largely from New York City.
But even given the challenging but opportunity-filled tactical situation at the RNC, we should stop and give some thought to why people should go to New York City for the RNC. Organizing to bring in thousands of activists from across the country will involve the expenditure of millions of dollars for travel and the use of huge chunks of time that could be used on many other grassroots protects or protests.
What will be accomplished by protesting the Republicans? We should think of street action as a tool — we should have some understanding of what goal we are seeking and how application of pressure on a particular point will promote that goal. Certainly the Republicans are responsible for promoting terrible policies and values, but it is just as certain that protesting them won’t change their policies or their values.
And are we just falling into an electoral politics trap by focusing on Republicans instead of capitalism in general? I’m not so ideological as to dismiss a bit of election year “lesser of two evils” pragmatism, but assuming that we think it might be slightly better for Bush to lose the election, does protesting the RNC even promote that goal? In the 1960s, many candidates used street protests to their advantage.
Perhaps the best reason to go to the RNC is to use the huge stage it will provide to send a powerful message to people — not politicians! — both in the US and internationally that the road we’re on is unacceptable. The world’s eyes will be on New York City during the convention, and massive protests will be hard to ignore. There has been relative calm in the US since the large anti-war protests before the war started, and in the absence of massive protests, there is less of a sense that there is popular opposition to the war and the disastrous course the world is on.
Visible massive protest is a tangible way to change the political climate — to make clear that there is strong opposition. News events can’t help but look different through a lens tinted by the glow of chaos in the streets.
In the US, visible protest will help those with questions about the current political direction to feel less isolated and more empowered. For viewers in the rest of the world, it will be an important reminder that Americans are not united behind militaristic, unilateral, imperial policies. When the United States appears more split, it makes it easier for people everywhere to oppose the current regime’s policies — from Baghdad to Berlin.
In the increasingly globalized world, we need to keep our eye on world public opinion. Anti-Americanism is at an all-time high, but much of this opinion is really targeted against the current rogue regime. It’s up to those on the streets in New York to de-legitimize the regime and shatter any remaining sense that the US public uniformly supports the terrorist US policies since 9-11.
Our Fuckin’ Streets!
New York offers many tempting targets for popular outrage besides the Republicans and Madison Square Garden. Besides Wall Street, it is home to the corporate media and countless corporate headquarters. If all else fails, there are hundreds of Starbucks.
Many activists, understanding that the police will be well organized around Madison Square Garden, are advocating a decentralized strategy in which action is taken to areas all over the city simultaneously. For instance, it has been suggested that people from each particular state disrupt the hotel housing that state’s delegates, so local media can’t charge “outside agitators” and to spread the police as thin as possible.
Certainly, our strength will be our diversity of tactics, spontaneity, unpredictability, and adaptability. We need to go to New York organized and ready to test for weak spots, and seize opportunities as they arise. We’ll be most successful if we avoid being rigid about any particular plan or tactics, and are instead able to drop ideas that aren’t working quickly and figure out other options.
We also need to focus on being effective and drop, to the greatest extent possible, tired and doomed scripts and behaviors — fuck the black block and swaggering around looking punker-than-thou with way too much silly attitude! Excluding our potential allies on fashion grounds will get us exactly nowhere.
For instance, while the biggest, most legally sanctioned and moderate marches may be boring, it would be a mistake to simply ignore them, since there are tremendous opportunities for small group actions within the context of a massive crowd. Radicals and militants have a special role to play in New York. We need to avoid getting trapped in situations where we are totally surrounded by gobs of police and there are just a few of us who are easily swept up and arrested right off the bat.
Going to New York with an affinity group will provide the best chances for operational flexibility, effectiveness and safety. An affinity group is a small group of 6-12 trusted comrades who agree to stick together, cooperate to accomplish goals, use their collective wisdom to identify opportunities for action, and watch each others’ backs. Affinity groups can provide decentralized and non-authoritarian “leadership by example” in chaotic and uncertain situations, because they have enough people to try something as a group that can be noticed and followed if other people in the area think it makes sense. As an individual or a couple in a chaotic situation, you’ll often feel disempowered, scared and reserved — as an affinity group, you’ll feel courage.
So study up on New York maps, get your affinity group together and network with other groups so you can run in a pack (known as a cluster). Then make your travel plans. We have the summer to discuss our goals and figure out which actions, targets and tactics will fit those goals. But on the hot, humid New York streets, the main thing will be to be there, be visible, and fuck shit up!
The hotel assignments for the RNC are as follows:
Alabama – Sheraton New York Hotel and Towers
Alaska – Sheraton Manhattan Hotel
American Samoa – Embassy Suites Hotel New York
Arizona – The Roosevelt Hotel
Arkansas – W New York
California – New York Marriott Marquis
Colorado – New York Marriott East Side
Connecticut – Sheraton New York Hotel and Towers
Delaware – Millennium Hilton
District of Columbia – The Algonquin
Florida – Hilton New York
Georgia – The Ritz-Carlton New York, Battery Park
Guam – New York Marriott Financial Center
Hawaii – New York Marriott Financial Center
Idaho – Park Central New York
Illinois – Doubletree Guest Suites Times Square-New York City
Indiana – Embassy Suites Hotel New York
Iowa – Sheraton Manhattan Hotel
Kansas – Park Central New York
Kentucky – The Westin New York at Times Square
Louisiana – Helmsley Park Lane
Maine – W New York
Maryland – Park Central New York
Massachusetts – Swissotel The Drake, New York
Michigan – Hilton New York
Minnesota – New York Marriott East Side
Mississippi – Hilton Times Square
Missouri – The Westin New York at Times Square
Montana – Renaissance New York Hotel Times Square
Nebraska – New York Marriott Financial Center
Nevada – RIHGA Royal New York, A JW Marriott Hotel
New Hampshire – InterContinental, The Barclay New York
New Jersey – Crowne Plaza Hotel Times Square Manhattan
New Mexico – The Roosevelt Hotel
New York – Sheraton New York Hotel and Towers
North Carolina – The Warwick
North Dakota – New York Marriott Financial Center
Ohio – New York Marriott Marquis
Oklahoma – The Roosevelt Hotel
Oregon – The Roosevelt Hotel
Pennsylvania – Hilton New York
Puerto Rico – Millennium Hilton
Rhode Island – Millennium Hilton
South Carolina – Helmsley Park Lane
South Dakota – Sheraton Manhattan Hotel
Tennessee – New York Marriott Marquis
Texas – Hilton New York
Utah – Millennium Hilton
Vermont – Hilton Times Square
Virgin Islands – Sheraton Manhattan Hotel
Virginia – Helmsley Park Lane
Washington – Millennium Broadway Hotel New York
West Virginia – Millennium Broadway Hotel New York
Wisconsin – Millennium Broadway Hotel New York
Wyoming – Sheraton New York Hotel and Towers