RNC: One protester's story

By Andi Cheney

People getting picked up streets. Warrantless raids of houses. Confiscation of private property. Late night harrassment with canine units. Detention without medical treatment. Arrest without offense. Seven-year jail sentences for “Felony Conspiracy to Commit Riot.” Hundreds of police in full riot gear, on horseback, or bicycles, carrying both lethal and nonlethal weapons. The National Guard. Pepper spray, flash bangs, tear gas, rubber bullets, plastic zip-tie handcuffs. Efficiency in power. Journalists arrested. Nuns arrested. Children terrorized. Permits violated. Marching into a 12-foot tall cage. Five police officers brutally beating a 17-year-old pacifist.Where the hell are we living?

I, too, am a pacifist. I do not believe war or violence cause anything but pain, destruction, and homicide. But I have never been a “cop-hater.”

My friend Katherine Steiner ’09 and I attended both the permitted march on Labor Day and the Ripple Effect concert on Tuesday to show our support for the peace movement and our disapproval of the systematic violation of our civil liberties. On the way from Macalester to the capitol, which we later found out was unpermitted, police officers were kind enough to escort us through intersections so no one was run over. They were friendly and approachable.

While marching that first day with the Campus-Wide Anti-War Movement, we abstained from more violent chants such as “We’re here/no fear/RNC we’ll (expletive) you up.” Despite marching directly into a bottleneck surrounded on both sides by mobile chained fencing over 10 feet tall, that chant was as close to violence as I witnessed firsthand. It was not until later that we heard about the experiences of the earlier Funk the War unpermitted march and the rogue protests after. Sitting at home on Monday evening, checking every media outlet from Fox to twincities.indymedia.org, my disapproval of the “anarchists” and sympathy toward the police, though their ranks were excessive, swelled. I have no patience for damaging private property, and while some may say the targets of Macy’s and U.S. Bank were deliberate capitalist symbols, someone still has to sweep up that glass, and that person’s ideologies are an unknown.

Tuesday was going to be a spectacular day, with free performances by Wookiefoot and Matisyahu, Dead Prez, and Michael Franti. (We chose to leave before Anti-Flag and the surprise Rage Against the Machine appearance.) As we tried to negotiate our way from the free bus drop-off point at 7th and Smith, we were forced to turn around twice due to road closures. Around the Capitol grounds, Katherine and I were surprised to see the number of police officers was roughly equivalent to Monday’s count with the addition of some National Guard members, despite the vastly decreased audience. That audience grew steadily throughout the day, of course, but Katherine and I once again avoided all violence.

It was not until Tuesday night, again scouring the news, that I started to grow wary. The 283 arrests the previous day, the arrest of journalist Amy Goodman and her two producers, three Kentucky journalists, and the pepper-spraying of photojournalist Marcus Washington-as full stories unfolded of the raids of the previous week and I began to hear tales from my friends about being cordoned into small areas, my concern grew. I was born in the Twin Cities. This is my home. I have protested here for years, first for the invasion of Afghanistan and then for the bombing of Iraq. Never before have I seen so many police, nor police so recalcitrant. And never, ever have I felt more afraid in my hometown. Afraid I may be hurt, afraid I may be arrested, afraid I may simply be picked up off the streets for wearing a black t-shirt.

I went to classes on Wednesday, because there were no events I felt particularly aligned with, and also because I am a dedicated student and feel my education is a worthwhile endeavor. After the noise and the energy of the first two days of September, classes seemed oddly serene. At times I wanted to stand up and shout about what is going on in our home, mere blocks away. But it hardly seemed real anymore, even while recounting the stories, hearing the stories of my friends.

And Wednesday evening found me again at home with my computer, searching for connections to the day’s activities. What I have read, heard, and seen through the wonders of the internet has made me furious. I cried.

My reason for writing this is not to persuade you to be angry or to cry, but simply to look. We usually try to look at what is going on in the world, look what is happening in our country. Now I am begging you to look at what is going on down the street. We cannot rely on the mainstream media to tell the whole story. So take this one simple action. As a student, as a member of this community, please. Please. Look.

Or you might not know when things get worse.

Andi Cheney ’09 can be reached at [email protected]