pReNC Report back from the RNC Welcoming Committee
After the months we spent interwebbing, building bikes, sitting through endless meetings and fundraising, the pReNC was finally here. The main meeting space, The Jack Pine Community Center on Lake Street in South Minneapolis, was buzzing with excitement as folks checked-in, borrowed bikes from our stockpile, and grabbed literature. The kick-off to our weekend gathering was going swimmingly and we hadn't even had dinner yet. At 5:30pm a group of attendees left to ride in the monthly Critical Mass bikes ride, usually a low key affair in the Cities, begrudgingly tolerated by the PoPo and even ridden in by liberal politicians.
Not this month.
Accounts vary but, basically, over 50 cops from multiple agencies showed up and arrested 16 Adults and three minors- most were held on PC Riot, though a couple adults were tap-charged with disorderly conduct, instead. They used mace, pepper spray and Tasers on dozens of people. And they just happened to have a State Patrol helicopter patrolling in the sky from almost the very beginning of the ride. Many of us feel that the police, knowing that the Critical Mass was being promoted as a kick-off to the pReNC weekend, attacked the ride in order to smear the Welcoming Committee's image in the larger Twin Cities community, disrupt our conference, and practice for next year. The police of course deny this, and it didn't work anyway. We recovered instantly- when the first calls of arrests and mace came in to the crew back at the Jack Pine, everyone got on their (A)-game. We found great support in the community (that the cops maced, Tasered and arrested non-pReNC participants and even bystanders didn't help their cause), and learned some valuable lessons for 2008. Much has been written and analyzed about the August 31st Critical Mass, and we'd encourage people to see our website, TC Indymedia, and rev up the ol' Google engine for more info.
SATURDAY, 1 SEPTEMBER 2007
An amazing pancake breakfast was served to a small horde of bleary-eyed anarchists, while the welcoming presentation began. The presentation was an informational session to orient the participants for the strategizing session on Sunday. It included info on the pReNC and the registration process for the strategizing session, a rundown of the local RNC protest scene, and some basic convention numbers (i.e., delegates, members of the media and other participants, statistics on economic impact and costs, police expectations). Maps were pored over, detailing points of interest in downtown St. Paul, downtown Minneapolis and everywhere in between, and visuals of specific "weak spots" between downtown St. Paul and Minneapolis were utilized (thanks UA!). The RNC-WC then went on to describe what they have been doing for the past nine months: outreach, fundraising, information gathering, coalition building, planning the pReNC, organizing events and trainings, legal organizing and a little more. After Q&A, registration for the strategy session began.
After breakfast finished, we broke up and scurried off to the workshops such as Protest 101, Security Culture, Shutting Things Down to Open Things Up, Street Art, Street Medics, and Off the Sidewalks and Into the Streets. Workshops, of which only four fell through, were generally well-attended. There was also a much-lauded, guided bus-tour of the Twin Cities, highlighting points of interest for the 2008 RNC, occurring twice during the afternoon.
After cramming our skulls with ludicrous amounts of activist knowledge, we crammed our stomachs with a delicious spaghetti dinner. With our heads and bellies filled to the brim we scampered around town playing night games and practicing our new strategies and skills.
SUNDAY, 2 SEPTEMBER 2007
The strategizing session began a little after 11:30 am on Sunday with approximately 75 individuals in attendance. It began with report backs from several consultas, and presentations from groups planning around the RNC.
Folks from Unconventional Action talked about the Carolinas Consulta and their ideas on how to take advantage of certain geographic vulnerabilities. Information from this consulta, can be found online at: http://www.unconventionalaction.org/downloads/carolinas_report_back_for_reading.pdf
Next, a man out of Idaho representing the Beard Theater Troupe, discussed his group's zany musical production of their play "Nobody for President" which they will be performing at both the DNC and the RNC in 2008. He added the specific message his group is attempting to get across with the play: "The feeling we are trying to generate is that each of us, actors and audience alike, are independent, self-reliant individuals capable of governing ourselves. We are promoting nonviolence and nonparticipation as tactics in the struggle against the state."
The Seeds of Peace Collective reported on their intentions to help provide food and medical support for the RNC protesters. Some of the collective members will likely move to Minneapolis several months prior to the RNC so they can help lead street medic training.
A representative from the local IWW (Industrial Workers of the World) chapter told us about the potential for the annual GA (general assembly) to be held in the TC as a lead-up to the protests. This would mean around 1,000 folks from "one big fighting union" here and ready to stand strong in resistance to the convention.
Representatives from Students for Democratic Society (SDS) shared their plans to hold strategizing convergences in both Ohio and Connecticut to prepare for the party conventions in Denver and the Twin Cities.
The Pittsburgh Organizing Group (POG) briefly discussed their main goals for the weekend of protests at the RNC. They want to put their focus on disruption of the convention, hitting the hardest on the first day of the convention when the largest group of protesters will be in attendance. That being said, POG maintains that it is essential to operate under a radical anti-authoritarian framework and not fall under the predominant liberal umbrella of the more mainstream groups.
The RNC Welcoming Committee reiterated its commitment to providing infrastructural support to facilitate successful actions. The RNC-WC is organizing direct action training in late July 2008 with ex-Ruckus Collective folks. One Welcoming Committee member expressed her intentions to coordinate a family-friendly area for radical parents, kids, and people who are unable to be arrested.
Lastly, a contingent of folks from Madison, WI talked about the People's Convention that they're going to be holding in early August 2008. Following on the heels of this, they're planning a two-week bicycle ride from Madison to Minneapolis, visiting different communities along the way and building up momentum before the protest.
It was very inspiring to hear the groups share their ideas with the larger session, many of which were concrete and well on their way to taking form for next year. In working towards these goals, the Welcoming Committee presented some tactics which might help facilitate these outcomes including: forming a temporary autonomous zone (or free state) in the vicinity of convention headquarters; hosting a counter convention; targeting unexpected places; working in a larger allied connection with other left groups both locally and nationally; and communicating the idea that we are an ungovernable mass.
The floor was again opened to discussion from all parties with the "ungovernable mass" slinging ideas at the facilitators faster than they could be written down. In all, the goals from the larger group materialized and seem to fit into four different categories: 1) action-oriented, 2) building allies, 3) post-convention movement-building, and 4) how are we getting our message out. After a break-out of smaller groups, much discussion on specific wording, and deep breathing, the session consensed (with 15 stand asides) on the goals... so here they are: We will eclipse/crash/disrupt/rout/shutdown the RNC, allowing for maximum participation with different zones of safety and encouraging a diversity of tactics. We will get our message out and be the ones to tell our own stories. We are building alliances and networking with local communities. We might not operate under the same set of assumptions, but we have to breathe the same air, and get f#@*ed by the same bureaucrats. It's time we sat down and talked. We are coordinating with the folks in Denver and stand in solidarity with them. We understand that in a system that offers just two, identically foul, options, shit is bound to hit the fan sooner or later. Let's turn it on full blast. And... we will create something fresh and lasting. When the last out-of-towners hop that train away from the convention cities, there will be a lingering effect greater than the pepper spray. This is our chance to build truly radical infrastructure, and a movement that offers new and innovative ways of being and doing that inspire even the most disillusioned among us.
Having collectively reached a decision about the goals for the RNC resistance, the strategy session concluded and transitioned into breakout sessions scattered throughout south Minneapolis. These break-out sessions included Action prep, Media, Outreach, Fundraising, Communications and Medical.
The action breakout focused much of its energy on deciding key targets for the RNC. People all agreed that the first day of the convention should be the largest coordinated day of action. In broad terms, three potential targets were identified: road blockades in St. Paul, the public transportation infrastructure, and bridges over the Mississippi. To this end, a lot of information must be gathered and mapped out. This includes but is not limited to dimensions of roads; physical layout - lanes, poles, railings, etc.; entrance and exits for action scenarios; bathrooms; skyway access; surveillance cameras; proximity to police; etc. In addition to these considerations, it was agreed upon by the breakout that information regarding access to resources (thrift stores, junkyards, construction sites, dumpsters), financial targets and businesses that support the RNC, as well as information about the holding pen/detention facilities, would all be made available by the RNC Welcoming Committee.
The communications breakout recognized quickly that there were two distinct needs for communicating: keeping folks at the pReNC in touch, and doing outreach to those not familiar with the Welcoming Committee. In regards to the first goal, several ideas were tossed around including on-line message boards on the Unconventional Action and Welcoming Committee websites and monthly conference calls. It was generally agreed also, that more pReNCesque consultas need to happen before the big show next September. Therefore, there will be a call for regional consultas as well as a sort of pReNC II in May 08 to coincide with the large May Day celebration in Minneapolis. In terms of outreach, the idea of putting together a roadshow was very popular. This would serve as a way for radicals to connect regionally, and for the vision of the Welcoming Committee to reach people outside the Twin Cities. The roadshow is envisioned as a multi-media presentation with maps and ideas that could orient people and engage them in the convention resistance. It might be fun and reach a wider audience if the show was to travel with a multi-genre group of bands. The roadshow is going to be planned over winter, with a tour tentatively set for the spring.
The media breakout discussed different options for conveying our story. With the ease of access to the internet and the ubiquitous nature of the web, most of the media envisioned could be digital. Building off of the success of G8 TV, it was suggested there be a website devoted to live streaming audio and video. This could have different resolution options and watermark with indymedia. A separate site might feature a picture walk-through of the buildup and protests. It was agreed that our text be translated both for printed documents and the websites. Some sort of creative anti-branding campaign might be useful for promotion. Another idea was a DVD or CD fundraiser involving the CrimethInc. Collective. As with the Welcoming Committee's media agreement, it was reiterated that whenever dealing with the mass media you need to state that you only represent yourself and not a group. When this is tricky, defer to the Welcoming Committee. The WC's media statement is available online at www.nornc.org .
Food and Medical Breakouts
The medical and food breakout was facilitated by Seeds of Peace, a group that provides medical aid and food for large demonstrations. They can be reached at seeds_of_peace_collective.org or email@example.com. Seeds representatives shared that they would like to send at least one person to live in Minneapolis around March 1st to establish the group on the grounds and begin planning medic trainings in the area. More Seeds of Peace members would likely follow 6-8 weeks before the RNC. Seeds is prepared to coordinate a number of different medic trainings in the two months preceding the RNC, including trainings for healthcare professionals, street medic 101, and a wilderness first responder-esque course with an activist bent. As far as food is concerned, local food activists said that they would focus the next year on building their capacity, finding spaces to cook, and coordinating with other groups nationally to help with food. Seeds of Peace folks shared that they know how to build a temporary outdoor kitchen with the capacity to serve thousands for less than one thousand dollars. Seeds also assured that while they don't explicitly plan on bottom-lining food, much of their energy will go towards coordinating cooking efforts.
The outreach breakout session focused on community organizing and building broad coalitions between radicals and other community groups. The group brainstormed different ways to communicate and coordinate with other groups as well as which communities to work with. Goals for the outreach efforts are: building long lasting connections based on dialogue and cooperation, involving a diversity of communities, being able to ask for and accept help from other groups without compromising our own missions, and creating an inclusive coalition for people with common interests. Some ways to reach out might be going door to door, supplying liaisons to other groups, holding large open town hall meetings, creating issue-oriented forums to encourage discussion between groups, collaborating with other groups on events, and asking what we can do to help (and mean it). Overall, there was an emphasis on understanding that all people are in different places politically, and these differences have been exploited and used to cultivate division in the past. It is in the best interest of all groups organizing against the RNC to communicate and build relationships to make this sort of division impossible.
After a delicious dinner, Roadblock Earth First! out of Bloomington, IN gave an excellent presentation on I-69 (the NAFTA Superhighway) and radical, grassroots resistance to it. More info at: http://i69news.bee-town.com/
MONDAY, 3 SEPTEMBER 2007
L(A)bor Day Picnic
To round out a great weekend, we went to St. Paul's Rice Park for a picnic. Rice Park is conveniently located across from the Saint Paul Hotel, sure to house some VIPs during the RNC, and right behind the Xcel Energy Center. We enjoyed grilled corn and apples, delicious leftover FNB fare blended to resemble a dip, park games, and walking tours of Downtown St. Paul. Some enterprising soul even slipped into the St. Paul Hotel and dropped a banner reading"Bloc by Bloc-Taking it back in 2008" from the roof!
A good time was had by all, even Commander David J. Korus of the SPPD's Special Investigations Unit- he was nice enough to come out, introduce himself, and see if we needed anything. At mention of the Critical Mass affair, he assured us that in St. Paul the coppers do things a little bit different than their buddies across the river; asked if the sketchy creepers taking pictures of us picnicking were part of his department, he said, "Yes." He even posed for our cameras! Golly, thanks, David! Your pretty face is held up on our fridge with a heart-shaped magnet.
STREET AND LEGAL SUPPORT
As stated previously, folks not swept up by the pigs rocked the jail support throughout the weekend. A lot of people jumped into street medic mode as soon as the cops started macing, pepper spraying and Tasering people, and others hopped on their cell phones to get info to the folks waiting at the Jack Pine, who were ready and waiting for an influx of stunned and scared Massers.
All three minors and two of the adults arrested were out by early Saturday morning. Though we initially feared that the rest would be held till their court appearances the following Wednesday (word to the wise: don't get arrested Friday night on a holiday weekend), all except one were bonded out before then, most in time to participate in the Strategizing session. At this point, some charges have been dropped and we're still waiting for the City to decide what it whether it wants to go forward with others.
In addition to the invaluable work of a few folks within the Welcoming Committee, we owe a lot of thanks to Communities United Against Police Brutality and some awesome local NLGers for jumping on this instantly and continuing to work for a just resolution to a totally unjust situation. A lot of local groups like the Anti-War Committee also came out in support of us, and a few residents from around the site of the fiasco rescued bikes that would have been lost to us otherwise, all of which we're grateful for.
The biggest lesson learned for next year was the importance of sharing information, accepting help, and delegating tasks, in crisis situations- this is difficult, but something we'll all be working on for the RNC. NOTE: If you witnessed the Critical Mass shit go down and didn't provide a statement to that effect, please consider doing so; it could help immensely with whatever charges end up sticking. If you're in town, lost your bike at Critical Mass, and still need a way to get around, contact the RNC-WC- we still have bikes that we're lending out.
After much fanfare, the pReNC's Joyful Sunshine Security Team feels that the weekend went pretty smoothly. Acknowledging that we probably didn't catch everything, the vouching/registration system we came up with for the Strat and Breakout sessions seems to have worked well- people were understanding and eager to help us develop stronger security culture practices, and yet the protocol we adopted doesn't seem to have hindered the productivity of the weekend. We did discover one local police cooperator and expel him from all activities; with only a few other exceptions, the vast majority of guests were able to participate fully.
Lessons learned are: we need to think about and develop a process for dealing with sexual perpetrators who seek to enter our communities- based on past experiences and common sense, we can reasonably expect that this will be a much bigger issue at the RNC than it was at the pReNC; we need to work on spreading out responsibilities more widely, acknowledging security as a full-time commitment for events like this; we need to anticipate and prepare for police attacks more seriously, even in "low-risk" activities like riding your damn bike with some friends on a beautiful Friday evening.
In conclusion, we here in Minneapolis-St. Paul feel that the pReNC was a roaring success. It left the Welcoming Committee with a greater feeling of unity and mutual confidence, and gave us all an opportunity to meet new comrades in person and touch-base with old friends. Most importantly, we collectively developed an exciting framework for anarchist resistance to the 2008 RNC and people from all over the country left with information to distribute at home and utilize for organizing next year's extravaganza. Watch for a Call to (A)ction coming soon, as well as details about the next convergence (what should we call it?! pReNC II? Almost TheReNC?).
In the meantime, check out info about the MKEtoRNC Consulta ( link to mkeanarchy.bravehost.com), and please send us feedback on the pReNC, updates on what y'all are up to now, and anything we can do to assist you over the coming months.
With Tides of Revolutionary Goodwill,
Your Welcoming Committee
contribute to this article
add comment to discussion