Following is the text of the address by St. Paul activist and RNC 8 Defense Committee member Betsy Raasch-Gilman following the plea hearing of October 19.
October 19, 2010
I was a member of the RNC Welcoming Committee for 18 months, and I am proud to have worked with all of the defendants who are now known as the RNC 8 during that time. I would have been a witness for them, had they gone to trial, and I want to outline a few of the things I might have told their jury.
Back to the beginning. The RNC Welcoming Committee was one of many groups who organized protests of the Republican National Convention in 2008. The Coalition to March on the RNC and Stop the War (which included several major national anti-war groups), the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign, Students for a Democratic Society, the Minnesota Immigrant Rights Action Coalition, and the Twin Cities Anti-War Committee were some of the groups who worked closely with the RNC Welcoming Committee. Their politics ran the range from liberal to socialist, while Welcoming Committee members identified as anarchists and anti-authoritarians.
In my own opinion, organizing against the RNC was a matter of real necessity. Think back to the widespread outrage around the world due to actions of the Bush Administration: the illegal invasion of two countries (Afghanistan and Iraq), the complete bungling of the response to Hurricane Katrina, the criminalization of impoverished people who move to the US from Mexico and Central America looking for work, the maintenance of torture camps around the world, the ridiculous denial that global climate change was even happening, the support for corrupt and oppressive governments in many other countries ….! My friends in other countries kept asking me, “Why aren’t the people of the United States out in the streets? Why do you let George Bush get away with this? Don’t you understand how much damage he’s doing?” And of course, the damage kept mounting up at home, as well, with mortgage foreclosures, the loss of well-paying union jobs, the de-funding of public education, and the imprisonment of more than 2.3 million citizens.
And here came the Republican National Convention, the war criminals and the power mongers, to my very own city. Here was my chance to respond to the question of my friends: “Why aren’t the people of the United States out in the streets?” We could be in the streets, we would be in the streets. Some of us would confine our protests to legally-permitted marches; some of us were too upset to do that. The RNC Welcoming Committee provided the logistical support for protesters from around the country who wanted to actually interfere with the running of the convention, through preventing the delegates from arriving at the convention on time on the first day. We wanted to show the power elite and show ordinary people around the world that people in the US did not support our government’s actions. The struggle against US imperialism is our struggle; we are in it with the rest of the world; and we would confront the power brokers. In this instance, we would crash their convention.
Well, our plans set off big alarm bells with the city and the county law enforcement agencies. While the city refused to grant a permit and a march route to the Coalition to March on the RNC, the sheriff’s department and the FBI sent paid agents into the Welcoming Committee to spy on us. It makes perfect sense to me that they would take these actions: as the guardians of the power structure, they recognize what happens when enough people get upset enough to stop behaving themselves! They know that governments fall, and corporations collapse, when citizens and workers withdraw their cooperation. They know that their power depends entirely on our willingness to let them have it, and when enough of us say “NO!” and really mean it, they don’t have enough weapons to force us back into line. As striking textile workers said in the early part of the 20th Century, “You can’t weave cloth with a bayonet.” As all of us clearly anticipated, you can’t put on a convention if the streets are full of people blocking the buses.
That’s what the RNC 8 (and I, and many people here) tried to make happen. We talked with people around the country who might want to confront this convention; we found housing for them; we arranged free meals; we collected and repaired bicycles for them to ride around on; we gave them information about the geography of the Twin Cities so that they could make their plans; we looked for information about the schedule of the convention, and where the delegates would be staying; we set up a legal support structure for people who might be arrested; and we recruited and trained health care workers to take care of people injured by the police. We talked and networked and e-mailed and talked some more.
We also put our plans right on our web site! I personally described our plans in front of Erin Dady, the city of St. Paul’s point person on the convention! Does this sound like a conspiracy? Does this sound like some underhanded plot?
The underhanded ones were the law enforcement agents. They were the ones in disguise; they were the ones who kept asking, “When are we going to make the Molotov cocktails?” They were the ones who made the rest of us nervous with their barely-concealed anger and their misogynist comments. We tolerated them in spite of our misgivings about them because we were trying to be inclusive and open-minded. Our mistake, evidently.
And that illustrates something else about the RNC Welcoming Committee. We wanted to show that we have a different idea of how the society and the economy can be structured – a more ecologically-responsible, community-minded, egalitarian way, called anarchism. We tried to work according to those values, and to value every person who said they wanted to work with us.
The Welcoming Committee approached its enormous organizing job with creativity, humor, and idealism. From the ironic name of the group (Welcoming Committee – riiiiight!) to the satirical video with which we announced our presence, to the cheeky press releases which drove the mainstream reporters (and some of our collaborators) wild, to the periodic statements of solidarity, there was an engaging light-heartedness to much of what we did. We were serious about our task, and we loved to poke fun at the stereotypes of anarchists. Meanwhile, we consciously tried to build a new world out of the ashes of the old, and practiced the skills we’ll need to create a future that we actually want to live in.
Sheriff Bob Fletcher asked me, on the first evening of the convention (when he got done threatening to arrest me,) what anarchism is all about. I refused to answer him then, knowing that he was baiting me. I’ll explain it now. (Hope you’re listening, Sheriff!) It’s about democracy. It’s a direct, participatory way of governing ourselves, of working out problems with one another instead of delegating that power to anyone else. It’s a way of settling our differences without reverting to the rules of courts; it’s about responsibility to one another rather than submission to laws. It’s about economic structures that provide for people’s needs equally, and it doesn’t reward greed. It’s about respect for the planet and all the beings on it and in it.
Between the sheriff’s investigation into the RNC Welcoming Committee and the prosecution of the case against the RNC 8, the state has spent probably half a million dollars trying to repress these ideas. It’s spent a lot more on the weapons and chemical agents which are supposed to discourage “we the people” from taking our own lives and our futures into our own hands.
Recently, the state has raided the homes of our colleagues and friends in the Twin Cities Anti-War Committee, and is threatening them with a legal nightmare like we’ve just come through. It’s silly to think that any of this is really going to stop us from organizing, from building strong community institutions, from calling out injustice, from trying to get in the way of oppression, from acting in solidarity with the people around the world who are experiencing the hard heel of US imperialism.
And if the Democrats think that we’re going to give them a pass on their convention, if they bring it to Minneapolis in 2012, they’d better think again!