RNC Cracks Down on Dissent

This was sent to me this evening. If you’re not familiar with Starhawk, she is a noted feminist writer and peace activist and is now a panelist for a new website devoted to religion, run by Newsweek and the Washington Post. There is a clear difference between the way protestors were handled at the Democratic National Convention, and the way they’re being treated at the RNC…

By Starhawk

It’s Friday night. Our Pagan Cluster is sitting on the bluff of the Mississippi having our first real meeting, when Lisa gets a call. The cops are raiding the Convergence Center, where we’re organizing meetings and trainings for the protests against the Republican National Convention. It’s not a role play, the caller says. It’s real.

Instantly, we jump up and hurry back the six or eight blocks to the old theater we are using for meetings, trainings and social gatherings. I‘ve spent the last two days doing magical activism trainings, teaching people how to stay calm and grounded in emergency situations and when things get chaotic. Now it’s time to put the training into practice. Aaron, a tall, red-headed young man who could be one of my nephews strides along beside me. “Are you grounded?” I ask him. He nods, and runs ahead.

Nobody can keep up with Lisa, who speeds ahead like an arrow, walking, not running, but still covering the ground quickly. Andy and I trail behind. We’re often street buddies, because we’re both big, slow, and supremely calm and stubborn, willing to wade into almost any situation and become the immovable object.

We’re stopped by a line of cops just before we reach the building. They refuse to let us through, or to move their van which is blocking Scarecrow’s car. There’s an investigation underway, they say, and won’t say more.

Brush, our dear friend, is inside, having gone to a jail solidarity meeting, ironically enough. So are two very young people who had just joined our cluster that night. I try calling Brush’s cell phone, but get no reply.

We wait. That’s what you do when the cops have guns trained on kids inside a building. You wait, and witness, and make phone calls, and try to think of useful things to do.

We call lawyers. We call politicians. We try to call media. We call friends who might know politicians and media.

Through the kitchen door, we can see young kids sitting on the floor, handcuffed. We walk across the street, back, made more phone calls. An ambulance is parked in front, and the paramedics head into the building, leaving a gurney ready. Susu, from her car around the corner, reports that the cops have been grabbing pedestrians from the street, forcing them down to the ground, handcuffing them.

Song, one of the local organizers, calls her City Council member. She wants to call the Mayor, Chris Coleman, who has promised that St. Paul will be as welcoming to protestors as to delegates, but no one has his home number.

What I have forgotten to tell people at the training is how much of an action is just this: tense, boring waiting, with a knot of anxiety in your stomach and your feet starting to hurt. Song talks to a helpful neighbor, who’s come over to find out what’s happening. He knows where the mayor lives, says it’s just a few blocks away, and draws us a map.

We decide to go and call on the Mayor, who could call off the cops. About five of us troop down there, through the soft night and a neighborhood of comfortable homes and wide lawns on the bluffs above the Mississippi. The Mayor’s house is a comfortable Dutch Colonial, and lights were on inside. We decide that just a few of us will go to the door, so as not to look intimidating. Song is a round, soft-bodied middle-aged woman with a sweet face. Ellen is a tiny brunette with a gap-toothed smile, and Lisa, formidable organizer though she is, looks slight and unthreatening. The rest of us hang back. Someone opens the door. Our friends have a conversation with the mayors’ wife, who is not pleased to be visited by constituents late at night, and who tells us we should call the office. The Mayor, she says, is asleep, and she will not wake him up.

We think a mayor who was doing his job would get up and go see what’s going on. Nonetheless, we head back to the convergence space.

A protestor has been released from the building. A small crowd has gathered across the street, and Fox News has arrived. They interview Song, who does her first ever Fox media spot. She tells them the truth­ that people were in there watching movies, ­a documentary about Meridel Le Seuer. Meridel would be proud, and I’m glad she is with us in some form.

One by one, protestor’s trickle out. Now we get more pieces of the story. The cops burst in, with no warning. They pulled drew their guns on everyone ­including a five year old child who was there with his mother, forced everyone down on the floor. It was terrifying.

They had a warrant, apparently, from the county, not the city, to search for ‘bomb making materials.’ They were searching everyone in the building, then one by one releasing them as they found nothing.

They continue to find nothing, as we wait through long hours. Meanwhile, more and more media arrives. These cops are not as creative as the DC cops during our first mobilization there against the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Those cops confiscated the lunchtime soup­ which included onions and chili powder, claiming they were materials for home made pepper spray.

We wait until the last person gets out. He’s a twenty year old who the cops have accused of stealing his own backpack­ but apparently they relented.

And now it’s morning. I wake up to the news that cops have been raiding houses where activists are staying, bursting in with the same bogus warrant and arresting people, including a four year old child. They’ve arrested people at the Food Not Bombs house­, a group dedicated to feeding protestors and the homeless. They’ve arrested others, presumably just for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The Poor Peoples’ Campaign, which had set up camp at Harriet Island, a park in the middle of the Mississippi, has also been harassed, its participants ordered to disperse and its organizers arrested.

Let me be perfectly clear here­, all of us here are planning nonviolent protests against an administration which is responsible for immense violence, bombs that have destroyed whole countries, and hundreds of thousands of deaths.

This is the America that eight years of the Bush administration have brought us, a place where dissent is no longer tolerated, where pre-emptive strikes have become the strategy of choice for those who hold power, where any group can be accused of ‘bomb making’ or ‘terrorism’ on no evidence whatsoever in order to deter dissent.

Please stand with us. Because it could be your home they are raiding, next.

Call the Mayors of St. Paul and Minneapolis. Tell them you are outraged by these attacks on dissent. Urge them to let Poor People encamp and to let dissent be heard.


St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman

Minneapolis Mayor R.T.  Rybak
(612) 673-2100
(612) 673-3000 outside Minneapolis

Starhawk is a lifelong activist in peace and global justice movements, a leader in the feminist and earth-based spirituality movements, author or coauthor of ten books, including The Spiral Dance, The Fifth Sacred Thing, Webs of Power: Notes from the Global Uprising, and her latest, The Earth Path.

Starhawk’s website is www.starhawk.org, and more of her writings and information on her schedule and activities can be found there. Photo by Bert Meijer

  8 comments for “RNC Cracks Down on Dissent

  1. September 1, 2008 at 2:39 pm

    “There is a clear difference between the way protestors were handled at the Democratic National Convention, and the way they’re being treated at the RNC…\”

    Well Misha… PERHAPS the biggest difference between the two conventions is the way that the demonstrators are behaving or misbehaving?????

    From a recent media article for example, \”Thousands of protesters descended on the city hosting the Republican National Convention Monday, some smashing cars, puncturing tires and throwing bottles in a confrontations with pepper-spray wielding police who arrested at least five people.\”

    Or this from the same article, \”Some anarchists who had started the trash bin fire later tried to block a major intersection. Police quickly dispersed the group, then shot two tear gas canisters at the fleeing anarchists.\”

    This too, perhaps? \”About 200 people from a group called Funk the War noisily staged its own separate march. Wearing black clothes, bandanas and gas masks, some of their members smashed windows of cars and stores. They tipped over newspaper boxes, pulled a big trash bin into the street, bent the rear view mirrors on a bus and flipped heavy stone garbage bins on the sidewalks.\”

    I\’m not certain that illegal activity would have been tolerated in Denver either — so perhaps the arrests and police actions are more related to the illegal acts and activities of the people who are seemingly intent on creating disruption at this convention???

  2. Lefty
    September 1, 2008 at 2:41 pm

    See how your favorite/ least favorite legislators voted …

    Senate: 90 – 9 – 1


    House: 295 – 132 – 6


  3. Lefty
    September 1, 2008 at 2:49 pm

    Sorry – WRONG LINK ABOVE – re “House Vote” (vote count is correct).

    Correct link …


  4. anon
    September 1, 2008 at 2:50 pm


    Your’e right, and it’s those who are breaking the law and wreaking havoc who will gain the most press coverage. The Dems just can’t help shooting themselves in the foot.

    According to the Associated Press;

    “Instead of a single coherent march that organizers had hoped for, fringe groups of anarchists and others wrought havoc along the streets between the state Capitol and the convention site. Some anarchists who had started the trash bin fire later tried to block a major intersection. Police quickly dispersed the group, then shot two tear gas canisters at the fleeing anarchists.”

    MLK would be spinning in his grave. What ever happened to nonviolent protest?

  5. Misha Houser
    September 1, 2008 at 3:22 pm

    There were attempts in Denver to do the same thing, HOWEVER, they were handled completely different. There was one incident in which a police horse was attacked and a melee insued. From all accounts, it was handled professionally. In another, the police escorted the demonstrators all the way to the Pepsi Center, gave the crowd their free speech, and then helped them return to the downtown area.

    I was on a shuttle bus one day when 5 lonely McCain protestors, a handful of \”end of days\” protestors, and some anarchists tried to stop the buses. We got off and walked back to our hotels, through the crowd with police waving us through. NO big deal.

    You\’re missing the point. When police actively raid places where protestors are organizing their efforts (handing out signs, mapping their routes, etc.) and just arrest people who are there, or try to come up with reasons to arrest them, like saying chili powder in soup is a tear gas ingredient, then I think the distinction is clear.

    I\’ll post an account by one of my friends who served on the Logistics side in the VIP Motorpool regarding protests in Denver, and will also post accounts by a Rocky Mountain News reporter, also a friend of mine later, to further clarify the differences.

    Also, you can\’t damn the efforts of peaceful protestors because of the shennanigans of the few anarchists causing trouble. Nor can you label peaceful protestors as anarchists and be credible when they\’re trying to follow the rules.

  6. Misha Houser
    September 1, 2008 at 3:24 pm

    Sergeant – The protestors are not necessarily Democrats. Many are DTS/Independents. Many of the protestors I saw in Denver were Republicans. Don’t paint all protest as a Democratic party activity. It simply isn’t true.

  7. anon
    September 1, 2008 at 3:31 pm


    You and I understand that not all the protesters at the RNC are Democrats, but what do you think the PERCEPTION of many Americans, particularly in between the coasts, is? Their perception is that these are a bunch of left wing radicals, ie Democrats (they aren’t going to make a distinction), stirring up trouble. It simply does not play well to the interests of Democrats.

  8. Michael Schaffer
    September 1, 2008 at 6:11 pm

    Well they just arrested Amy Goodman, longstanding journalist from Democracy Now, claiming that she was going to incite a riot or some such nonsense. Raids on college student houses have included FBI agents, so the heavy hand of the Bush unJustice Dept. is showing. For video of Goodman’s arrest, see Glen Greenwald,

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