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actions & protests | political theory dnc rnc protests 2008

A time to dialogue, a time to demand

A humble attempt at persuading the undecided to throw down at the RNC
A time to dialogue, a time to demand

Coalition and compromise are important tools in building diverse mass movement for social justice, but there are times to dialogue and there are times to demand.

The upcoming RNC protests in St. Paul are an example of when it's time to throw down and fuck shit up.

Conceding the importance of local, sustainable community-building at the grassroots level, educational development programs, and the importance of implementing creative social service projects that materially benefit the most vulnerable sectors of society, it is the argument of this position paper that there is a time when it is appropriate to deploy militant street tactics to take back political power back from the ruling elite, to create favorable conditions for a negotiation on OUR terms.

The WTO protests in Seattle in 1999 were effective precisely because they successfully shut down business as usual and forced the global justice movement's platform into the public debate. The ruling class did not voluntarily or willingly accept our voices in the discussion, they were not convinced by the effectiveness of our objective arguments. No, they were forced to take our perspective into account because we gave them a political consequence for not doing so.

In St. Paul next week, a diverse group of social-cause activists have established a blockade strategy to prevent the Republican National Convention from taking place. Forming a ring around the Xcel Center, setting up both hard and soft blockades on bridges, on and off ramps, and other key intersections, disrupting the six "Loading Zones" near the convention site, preventing delegates from leaving their hotels, all take much courage and some risk, but the potential benefits are high enough that we should all seriously consider whether we are in a position to put our bodies on the line and take one for the team.

Affinity groups setting up hard blockades, using a variety of technical lockdown strategies, are the most at-risk group for enduring police violence and arrest. But their actions could also be the most crucial.

Affinity groups employing hard blockade and lockdown techniques need the rest of us to buy them enough time to get set up. Once their hard blockades are established, it is extremely time-consuming and difficult to get them out of their lockboxes.

That's where the mobile blockade brigade and swarm, seize, and stay strategy comes in. Activists attending the RNC protests in St. Paul who have not yet committed to the blockade strategy should seriously consider forming breakaway marches and marching without a permit on their own path to the Xcel Center. Large mobile blockade brigades, 100-200 people, is often preferable because the size of the march makes it difficult for police to single individuals out for arrest. However, in a situation like the RNC, it may be best to consider limiting the size of mobile blockade brigades to about 50 people, to maximize the number of groups on different streets and to stretch the police lines out as thin as possible.

The mobile blockade brigade is being practiced in Denver, with varying degrees of success. According to ABC News, on Sunday night such a group disrupted the convention and stalled it for about 40 minutes. Only a handful of arrests were made, and the activists used creative tactics to avoid capture by police, even when they were surrounded. First-hand accounts also indicate that the experience was liberating and inspiring for many of the participants.

On Monday night, however, another mobile brigade was tear-gassed by police and mass arrests were made. It is possible that advancing on the police line, instead of sitting down, dispersing and re-assembling, or escaping to another area, caused the police to react with repressive violence.
Both of these situations are learning experiences for everyone getting ready for St. Paul next week.

But it will take more than just one or two mobile blockade brigades to shut down St. Paul. If you are on the fence about your involvement and participation level at the upcoming RNC, consider the benefits of success - of showing everyone around the world that the ruling class only has as much power as we give them - and weigh them against the possible negative consequences - a simple misdemeanor for demonstrating without a permit or failure to disperse, minor crimes that are, to be sure, an inconvenience, but that will not negatively effect any of our futures.

Militancy is a tactic and should never be raised to the level of strategy. Nor is protesting alone ever enough. We must always use a diverse variety of approaches and constantly emphasize local organizing and social service projects. Green zones are always respected. Critiques of standard activist frameworks are sorely needed, as is more outside of the box thinking. In addition, media attempts to frame the convention protests as a clash in the streets should be supplemented with our concrete grievances and proposals for change, otherwise our message risks being lost.

Catastrophic climate change, neoliberal free trade, and imperialist resource wars are forcing us into a corner. It's crunch time. It's time to throw down. All power to the people.