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No War! No McCain!: Anti-war protests at the RNC send message to the world

By Freedom Road Socialist Organization

The tens of thousands of RNC protesters who hit the streets of Saint Paul Sept. 1 – 4 did something that was truly great. The demonstrations sent a powerful message that was heard around the world: The people of the United States reject the war on Iraq and the Republican agenda. We insist on peace, justice and equality. This message was heard by the rich and powerful, who responded with repression. And it was heard by hundreds of millions of people. Reports of the protests were carried by thousands of media outlets ranging from network TV in the U.S. to Al Jazeera to the New China News Agency. The Sept. 1 rally against the war was carried live on C-SPAN.

The demonstrations that took place on the first and last days of the RNC were of particular importance. The size, scope, militancy and the political clarity – crystallized in the slogan “U.S. out of Iraq now” – helped to create the political context for the entire week of actions against the RNC.

September 1

On Sept. 1, 30,000 people from across the United States participated in the massive anti-war march organized by the Coalition to March on the RNC and Stop the War. It was an incredible outpouring against the war and injustice. Low-income people marched under the slogan, “Money for human needs, not for war.” An immigrant rights contingent called for an end to raids and deportations and full equality for the undocumented. Hundreds from the Somali community formed a contingent demanding an end to the U.S-backed Ethiopian occupation of Somalia. Other contingents included supporters of Palestine, veterans, trade unionists and students. Together the contingents made a strong statement that the people of this country reject the war, John McCain and the Republican agenda as whole.

In addition, the Sept. 1 protest stands as positive example of how to unite all who can be united in a down-to-earth and practical manner. The Coalition to March on the RNC and Stop the War was able to bring together more than 130 organizations for the Sept. 1 march, including the three main anti-war coalitions in the U.S. – United for Peace and Justice, Troops Out Now Coalition and International ANSWER.

Several things made it possible to build this broad front for the Sept. 1 protest. First, the political basis of unity was focused enough to bring forces together, yet general enough to encompass the demands and concerns of other people’s movements. Second, organizers of the Coalition were able to reach an agreement with the organizers of other protests which allowed for a separation of time or space between different forces that had different kinds of actions planned. It was agreed that there would be no public denunciations or criticisms of plans or projects of those on the streets against the RNC. On the organizational level, a flexible and consultative approach was utilized by the march organizers. This served to consolidate the Coalition partners and draw in more forces. And finally, on a tactical level, march organizers waged a determined fight to get permits and promoted a march with a mass character. The word tactical is used here because the decision to get permits is a question of tactics, as opposed to of strategy or principle. In this particular case, obtaining permits was helpful in uniting as many as possible for the largest protest possible.

The huge turnout on Sept. 1 reflects the courage and determination of each and every person who attended. City officials not only created a climate of fear, but as events leading up the convention and over the four days would show, the cops did their best to make sure that there would be something to be afraid of.

Coalition organizers waged a two-year fight to get permits for the march. Saint Paul officials from the mayor and police chief on down did everything in their power to stand in the way. In the months leading up to the RNC, city officials waged a campaign of violence-baiting in order to scare people away from the march. The area around the Xcel Center, the site of the RNC, took on the appearance of a penitentiary.

Then, days before the opening of the convention, cops carried out a series of outrageous raids on the homes and the convergence center of RNC protesters. Eight members of the RNC Welcoming Committee were jailed on phony ‘conspiracy to riot’ charges. In response, leaders of the Coalition to March on the RNC and Stop the War did the right thing. Standing by the other groups organizing protests at the RNC, they immediately denounced these attempts to suppress protest at the RNC.

Following the Sept. 1 march, a series of militant actions took place in downtown Saint Paul, with the aim of shutting down the RNC. Freedom Road sees these actions as a good thing that helped make the four days of protest at the RNC a success.

September 4

On the final day of the RNC, hours before John McCain was to accept the nomination of the Republican Party, several thousand gathered at the Minnesota State Capitol Building for a protest initiated by the Twin Cites-based Anti-War Committee. The plan was to march on the Xcel Center under the slogan, “No peace for the war makers.”

From the beginning, police did everything possible to disrupt and stop the protest. Justice Department representatives stood near the stage uttering threats. Cops on bicycles carried out arrests and provocations while a band was playing before the rally. Shortly before the rally ended, more than 100 cops in riot gear massed behind the stage.

Far from being intimidated, leaders of the Anti-War Committee marched towards the Xcel Center, where hundreds of riot cops, some on horse back, others on bicycles and others using snowplows as barricades blocked the way. After a mass arrest that took much of the leadership of the protest out of commission, others from the anti-war, welfare rights and immigrants rights movements stepped forward and kept the march going. The march ended in a barrage of tear gas, concussion grenades and more mass arrests. By the end of the evening almost 400 participants in the Sept. 4 march were jailed.

This demonstration was significant on several counts. First, it was both mass and militant. Organizers made it clear they would march with or without a permit. Second, the protest pulled the spotlight off the pro-war message of McCain. Before and after his speech, TV coverage cut back and forth between the clashes on the streets of Saint Paul and events inside the Xcel Center.

While paling beside the really significant things that happened Sept. 4, it needs to be said that a handful of people failed the test that the RNC provided our movement. The first to fail was the so-called ‘Peace Team.’ Made up of some honest people from the peace movement, its goal of staying ‘neutral’ during the protest led them to go over to the side of the cops. On day four, they repeatedly were the ones who conveyed dispersal orders from the police. The second group that failed was Socialist Alternative, which did everything they could to undermine the day four protest, and are now running around denouncing militancy at the RNC.

Where do we go from here

In the months ahead it is important to build on the successes of the RNC protests. The Republicans and their agenda of war, racism and reaction received a solid blow. More things like this are needed.

There is also the job of defending the nearly 800 protesters who were arrested in the course of the Convention. Of special importance is the RNC 8. The eight face conspiracy changes with enhanced penalties based on the Minnesota version of the Patriot Act. All progressive people should support the demand that charges be dropped against all RNC protesters. Without exception.

The Sept. 1 anti-war protest demonstrated that the possibility exists to build real and principled unity in the anti-war movement with the aim of carrying out joint actions to end U.S. occupations. Sectarianism can be overcome and there is no reason why more actions like this cannot be done in the future.

Constructing a real movement for real change in this country depends on uniting the many to defeat the few.

We also need to take as many people as possible as far as they are willing to go, which means raising the level of struggle and militancy whenever possible.

The rulers of the United States, the monopoly capitalists of Wall Street, now find themselves in the midst of a great crisis. They are waging war on the world’s people abroad and here at home. Now is the time to build our respective movements for peace, justice and equality, and while doing so, expose the nature of the enemy we are up against.

The protests at the RNC were a great victory. The future is bright and there are more victories ahead.

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