2008 is an election year and the media (and everyday conversations around the USA) are turning to the ‘excitement’ of the presidential election race. But in the radical community, a different kind of excitement is building — very serious and extensive efforts are underway to disrupt the Democratic National Convention (DNC) from August 25-28 in Denver, Colorado and the Republican National Convention (RNC) from Sept. 1-4 in St. Paul, Minnesota. National meetings have laid out detailed strategies, outreach is underway nationally including an impressive call to action newspaper, and this spring, road shows will criss-cross the continent all in an effort to bring tens of thousands of people to St. Paul and Denver.
Why should anyone put time, energy, and ultimately their body on the line to shut down the national party conventions? The see-saw discourse of Democrats and Republics is all a huge distraction from the systematic corporate attack on the earth and its human inhabitants, after all.
And that is precisely the point. These two parties — really a few thousand politicians and activists plus a few thousand more individuals who run the political party’s corporate funders — dominate politics in the world’s richest country, and thus these people dominate the whole world. Most people in the US see the election campaign as their chief opportunity to participate in and change society.
Ultimately, if radicals want to make any progress, we can’t ignore the Democrats and Republicans stranglehold on power and legitimacy — we have to expose them and confront their domination of our lives and our future.
As the flyer being distributed by convention disrupters explains:
“Bewitched by the spectacle of politics, we confuse elections with freedom, representation with self-determination. We look to politicians to solve our problems, and when they fail, we replace them with other politicians. These politicians have been unanimous in their support for a disastrous war based on false pretexts. They are unanimous in defending borders that tear up families and countrysides while enabling corporations to export jobs, exploit workers, and pillage resources. They are unanimous in pushing cutthroat competition as the only possible economic model, even as the gulf widens between rich and poor and profit-driven environmental destruction causes global warming to accelerate at a catastrophic pace.
“They’ve created these problems, and now some of the same politicians offer to solve them for us. They try to maintain our attention by debating whether to change this or that detail. But it is foolish to expect different result from appealing to the same class of people: we can only extricate ourselves from the mess they’ve made by acting for ourselves, without so-called representation.
“Our protests against war, global warming and exploitation must be directed against the electoral system itself, so they are not reabsorbed and neutralized when new politicians offer to “represent” us. Our protests must interrupt the practical activity of the politicians — otherwise, [the protests] can be brushed off, to remain in the sphere of personal opinion. Even if we do not throw off their power entirely, the most efficient way to exert leverage upon politicians is by bypassing them to make the changes we desire ourselves, so they can offer us nothing and must struggle to catch up.
“We are proposing a strategy for each convention — a general framework to coordinate our individual efforts so they add up to something powerful. This must be public, so thousands of people can take part: a good strategy is effective regardless of whether the authorities are forewarned. This framework must offer space for a wide range of tactics and plans, so a diverse array of people can participate. Inside this framework, participants can craft their own roles, retaining as much privacy as they need to play the parts they choose. If we succeed in disrupting the political spectacle of the conventions, politics in this country will never be the same.”
Crash the Convention
As we learned at the political conventions in 2000 and 2004, the system will call out thousands of police to prevent any disruption to the conventions. Thus, mounting any serious challenge to the conventions is a numbers game — the more of us on the streets, the better chance we have of interrupting business as usual at the conventions. The cops may be able to arrest us in our thousands, but even if they do, it will take time. As we’ve learned in the past, massive police action in and of itself disrupts conventions. If we’re well–organized, we can use the police response and (over)reaction to our advantage.
Police in Denver and St. Paul have been “practicing” their convention tactics on local activists. The August critical mass ride in the Twin Cities saw a police riot and vicious arrests. Denver’s Columbus Day protests was met with chemical weapons and police carrying machine guns. The cops are trying to scare people off the street but it won’t work.
The political system has harnessed fear very effectively since September 11 to control the population. In 2004, New York city police used the excuse of “domestic terrorism” to infiltrate and spy on people preparing for the convention. But in 2008, the fear-mongers will be met with their own biggest fear: people mobilized, organized, and taking the future back into their own hands!
Unconventional Action, which is coordinating the protests against the RNC, has described how the convention protests fit in with the broader struggle for liberation by setting forth their goals: “A new reality will not emerge by simply stopping the 4 day spectacle of the RNC. We need folks with an alternative vision to come to the Twin Cities and turn their dreams into reality. Start something new, be creative, and come ready to build sustainable alternatives worth fighting for and defending. The new skills that we teach, learn, and put into practice here will allow us to return to our communities stronger, smarter, and more empowered.” They have called for the following strategies:
“1. Start Strong – Throw all of our energy into the first day. We’ll kick this off right and stretch the militarized police state out so far that it can no longer contain and suppress our voices and desires.
2. Transportation Troubles – This includes blockades downtown (at key intersections), on bridges (10 bridges over the Mississippi River in the metro area), and other sporadic and strategic targets (busses, hotel and airport shuttles etc.).
3. Respect, defend, and be prepared for autonomous self-sustaining alternatives – Lasting projects and spaces will be born out of our actions and will need to be protected. We also won’t knowingly bring the hammer down on existing long-term community projects. It doesn’t matter if we win the RNC battle, if the war for our lives is lost.
4. Be inclusive of local communities and respect alliances – We are all on the same side of the barricades and are trying to build lasting bonds for future mutual aid. We may not agree with each other on all of our tactics, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t venues for us to work together and build on the trust and community that already exists.”
And one tactical observation, the Democratic convention is scheduled just 3 days before the Republican convention. No doubt police in the 2 cities are in communication. We have to avoid a situation in which most of us get arrested in Denver so we are either in jail and can’t make it to St. Paul or are too exhausted to do so. Pace yourself.
This spring, you can help the effort by bringing the road show to your town, distributing convention protest materials, and forming affinity groups to go to the conventions. It wouldn’t hurt practicing at anti-war protests in March (or even on leap day!) Check out www.unconventionalaction.org, www.nornc.org or www.recreate68.org for lots more details and information.