Anarchists prepare to protest RNCby Jessica Mador, Minnesota Public Radio
This week marks exactly one year until the 2008 Republican National Convention comes to St. Paul. One group of activists spent Labor Day weekend planning its protest strategy. But some convention-watchers are not happy with what they see as the group's violent plans.
St. Paul, Minn. — Members of a self-described anarchist group, the "RNC Welcoming Committee", worked over Labor Day weekend outlining protest plans. At a news conference following the weekend of meetings, RNC Welcoming Committee spokesperson Sandra Brown-Rivers read a brief statement.
"This Labor Day weekend, anarchists and anti-authoritarians from every city, every town, every hamlet, every last Hooverville of this great nation convened a grand congress," said Brown-Rivers.
Brown-Rivers wouldn't describe the weekend's activities in detail, since the group maintains a strict policy of not answering questions from the media.
But in the past the group has said it will not seek permits to demonstrate during the 2008 Republican National Convention.
And last week, a group spokesperson told the Associated Press that efforts to restrict protesters through permits constitute repression and a "violent threat." So it's unclear what the group's plans actually are, but its website features a video that offers some hints.
Dressed in head-to-toe black and wearing masks showing only their eyes, the protesters train by practicing hand-to-hand combat. One throws a bottle rocket over a wall. It looks menacing, until the bottle rocket lands safely in a barbeque grill, where a smiling protester is cooking up a barbeque. There's no sound other than a little music.
The video is clearly tongue-in-cheek and aside from their wannabe militant get-ups, the protesters look pretty friendly.
But some Republicans say videos like this one are no laughing matter.
Mitch Berg is a conservative Minnesota blogger and radio talk show host. He said the video and website of the RNC Welcoming Committee show a clear potential, if not an intention, to commit violence during the convention.
"It's a sign that there are some people who want to plan things and who are trying to plan things and if this leads to something real big and real serious and people blocking I-94 and all this stuff they said they'd have to do, I think it's a sign that someone wants to do something," said Berg. "Whether it will happen, time will tell."
Berg said he believes in the right to free speech for all groups planning to protest. But he said he worries that the so-called welcoming committee's tactics will prevent peaceful protesters and convention-goers from enjoying their own free speech rights.
"I'm a talk show host so I'm keenly sensitive to everybody's civil rights and free speech," Berg said. "But I think that there has to be a good faith effort on the part of the peaceful protest community to help meet the city and the police and all of us dirty rotten Republicans halfway."
An estimated 45,000 people are expected to attend next year's convention. This number does not include protesters. But organizers with the Anti-War Committee, one of the main permitted groups planning demonstrations at the convention, say they are expecting upwards of 50,000 protesters.
If these estimates are correct, the 2008 Republican National Convention could be one of the largest protest demonstrations in Twin Cities history.
The Secret Service is in charge of convention security, but the St. Paul Police Department has ultimate authority over protest marches. St. Paul Police Department spokesman Tom Walsh dismisses the idea that the crowds will be too much for the city to handle.
"Obviously it's been done successfully in the past. There is no reason to expect it won't be done successfully again," said Walsh. "So the excitement out there is premature."
Walsh said the department is prepared to handle any situation that could arise during the convention.
And he said the department supports protesters' right to express their dissent, as long as they are law-abiding and peaceful.
"That's been our policy from the day we learned that it was coming here," Walsh said. "I mean, one of the things that makes this country the fascinating place that it is to live in is the fact that you are allowed to have a varying viewpoint and you are allowed to express it. So we know that people are going to express their dissatisfaction and that is their right. We certainly wouldn't stand in the way of that."
Next year's Republican National Convention is set for Sept. 1-4 at the Xcel Energy Center in Saint Paul.
- All Things Considered, 09/03/2007, 5:20 p.m.