It’s been an eventful week for social change groups around the country. In the aftermath of the Republican National Convention in St. Paul many are licking wounds and hiring lawyers. If you’d known what it was going to be like, would you like to have gone?
Most clashes protesters had with St. Paul police never appeared on the news anywhere. Beginning on Monday at least six house raids occurred on groups as they met peacefully to plan nonviolent protests. Journalists and those documenting police behavior seemed to be targeted at several points during the convention. Reports of police brutality were common. There were several stories like the one where police wrestled a protester to the ground so they could yank away his protective goggles, and mace him directly in the eyes. Repeated tazerings, and beatings severe enough to cause internal bleeding are recorded. Charges for arrested protesters often included the words “terrorist,” though most charges were dropped.
The stories are grim and well-documented. Unfortunately, almost none of this was reported in the mainstream media. Even on NPR reporters glossed over the officially sanctioned violence to talk about questionable behavior by protesters, and sympathetic coverage of police press conferences.
On Friday the ACLU announced it would take on the case of Amy Goodman, Democracy Now producers, and other journalists who were arrested. It’s possible other arrested protesters could be included. And Amnesty International has expressed concern for disproportionate use of force by St. Paul officials. The concerns arise from independent media reports, and video and photographic images that show police officers excessively using non-lethal weapons on non-violent protesters.
There have also been reports of an agreement between St. Paul officials and the Republican Party, that the party would cover the first $10 million for legal bills coming from ways the sheriff and police dealt with protesters. Clearly the point of this whole exercise was to show they were the tough guys in charge, and to intimidate dissent.
After the past 8 years those who’ve taken exception to Bush policies can’t pretend to be too surprised at the degree to which the party they represent reacts with fear to those who disagree with them. And fear is clearly the core of decisions that were made about this convention. They’re afraid of dissent because they’re afraid of transparency because they’re afraid of being revealed for what they are. And their followers are like unto them. That’s not a comment on Republicans in general. That’s in reference to the particular strain within the party that’s in control nowadays. The violent rules they operate under are intended to keep people from questioning authority. We all know that. The task for us, who take exception to the rulers, is to find our own core of courage, and steel ourselves to the kind of nonviolent discipline that Gandhi carried with him throughout his struggles. The future may call for even more of that.
The other strength we must learn to rely on is the set of bonds we develop with those who share our values. There really are lots of us, and we need each other. To consciously learn how to reach across boundaries of language, creed, race and culture is a skill set that progressives need to study all across the globe. We can do that in Arkansas, and we must. The things we learn from the Republican National Convention are incredibly valuable for observing just how important that is.
Another interesting lesson from the last week is to look at it as a marker on a check-list. Remember the quote from Gandhi that says: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” Well, we’re beyond the laughing stage, aren’t we? Think about what comes next.