Peace activists, radicals plotting protests for GOP conventionby Amy Forliti, Associated Press
Minneapolis — (AP) Shrouded in black, with a bandanna masking her face, the self-proclaimed anarchist slips into her combat boots and dashes through town, tossing a Molotov cocktail here, launching a bowling ball there. The YouTube video is more parody than threat: The flaming cocktail ignites a charcoal grill, and the bowling ball knocks down pins instead of crashing through a Navy recruiting office window. But as the video fades to black, the message onscreen is clear: "We're getting ready. What are you doing?"
With less than 10 months to go before the Republican National Convention, activists are already plotting to crash the party. On the drawing board: A mass march to protest Iraq; human roadblocks; schemes to disrupt public transportation; and talk of a temporary free state near the main convention site, St. Paul's Xcel Energy Center.
With tens of thousands of people expected to visit the Twin Cities during the convention Sept. 1-4, local and federal law enforcement are getting ready as well. And civil rights groups and attorneys are talking with police and demonstrators - to ensure laws are followed during what will likely be the largest crowd crush the state has seen.
"It's better to be planning early rather than late," said Jordan Kushner, coordinator of the Legal Observer and Political Defense Committee, a committee within the National Lawyers Guild. "People have as much right to the streets as the Republicans who are coming here to engage in their activities."
The group behind the spoof video, the RNC Welcoming Committee, began organizing last fall just a week after the GOP announced its convention would be in the Twin Cities and says it is helping other groups organize, too.
Members of the group declined to meet with an Associated Press reporter or talk by phone, confining their exchanges to e-mail.
The group says it will help protesters find food, housing and medical support during the convention. It also plans to provide maps of roads, bridges and site access points to aid in planning. And it intends to create a family-friendly area for children of protesters.
During the convention itself, the RNC Welcoming Committee will help protesters find food, housing, or medical support. They'll also try to provide a framework for groups to operate in, no matter what the agenda. For example, if a radical thinker wants to create a roadblock, the committee will have mapped roadways, bridges and access points. On the flip side, the committee also intends to create a family friendly area for kids and others who can't be arrested.
The RNC Welcoming Committee describes itself as an anarchist/anti-authoritarian group. When asked about the use of violence, the group wrote in an e-mail: "We may choose to use pacifist tactics, but we will defend ourselves, our communities, and the earth. We will not bring violence to the protests, but we will not back down and we will not be terrorized."
The group said it also would not apply for a permit to demonstrate, saying: "We will not allow the state to regulate our resistance."
Some groups who have applied have been frustrated to find the city of St. Paul won't grant them until six months before the convention.
Mick Kelly, a spokesman for the Coalition to March on the RNC and Stop the War, said his group plans a massive anti-war march on the convention's first day. It's important to get a permit early so people can plan travel from around the country, he said. The coalition has been leafleting at protests in Washington and Los Angeles to recruit marchers for Minnesota.
"The Republican National Convention - they've begun their preparations full-press," Kelly said. "We in the anti-war movement need to do the same thing."
St. Paul Police Commander Doug Holtz said the city is working out details on how to accommodate protesters, but declined to go into them. "The city of St. Paul is going to be well-prepared to have an excellent convention," he said.
Attorneys and legal observers will be on hand to ensure protesters' civil rights aren't violated and to avoid a repeat of the 2004 Republican Convention in New York, when more than 1,800 people were arrested. Some of those people said they weren't protesters at all but were swept up by police, and some lawsuits are still pending.
Teresa Nelson, legal counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota, said the ACLU wants to make sure protesters are close enough to the convention so they can be seen and heard.
Protesters are also getting ready for next year's Democratic National Convention in Denver Aug. 25-28. The group "Recreate 68" - a reference to the troubled 1968 Democratic National Convention - seeks to serve the same umbrella function as the RNC Welcoming Committee in Minnesota, supporting other protesters.
Recreate 68's focus, according to member-spokesman Glenn Spagnuolo, is anti-war and opposition to the two-party system.
Also planning protests: the Rev. Patrick J. Mahoney, an anti-abortion minister who is director of the Christian Defense Coalition, who wants to have 2,000 protesters encircle the Pepsi Center, where the Democratic National Convention will be held. Mahoney said his group also plans to protest in St. Paul, especially if the GOP nominates Rudy Giuliani, who supports abortion rights.