An Interview with the RNC Welcoming Committee
Garrett & Betsy of RNC Welcoming Committee
Interviewed by Conor Cash of Team Colors
(get the PDF)
Conor: My initial questions are just about the historical development of the Welcoming Committee, how the group came together…maybe a timeline?
Betst: Garrett, you were there at the beginning, weren’t ya?
Garrett: Yeah…well, basically one of the first things that happened is, like as soon as—people were whispering about it, talking about it, getting ready for it when we knew that we were gonna be one of the number one places considered for the convention, considered by both the RNC and the DNC, and as soon as the RNC committed to come here, there was sort of like a call put out through the local networks of co-ops and collectives…we have a really strong worker democracy movement in Minnesota. We actually have the highest percentage of our economy made up of worker co-ops and collectives than any other state. So we sort of used that network—different show spaces, radical arts spaces, cafes, places like that…infoshops, community centers…so we have sort of an informal network in place, so the call sort of went out through that, first. And it was sort of kept “on the down low,” if you will. For the first couple of meetings, it was sort of by invitation only; by being part of these groups, you would hear about it. And I guess anyone was welcome, but you had to hear about it, and the only way to hear about it was by being part of the radical community. So the first thing that we did then was we got together and we developed our points of unity and our initial call to action, which are still on our website, I believe. Once we felt secure in our points of unity, we publicly invited anyone to join us; but the idea just being that we wanted to make sure we were securing radical anarchist anti-authoritarian space in the organizing, before we opened it up and just let anyone join us. But then it was very, very public—we put out calls all over the Internet, we posted flyers all over town, passed out flyers at other events, used Indymedia to keep track of the radical calendar. So that was like a big part of the initial jumping-off point, and that was like two years before the convention was scheduled to be, so about a year and a half ago.
C: So most of this is coming out of kind of an existing infrastructure of radical spaces and initiatives?
G: Yeah, and it’s tough because it’s a very informal infrastructure, you know. It’s word-of-mouth, and people talking to people who they feel comfortable talking to.
C: Right. So, these worker co-ops you discussed, they have a long history in the Twin Cities?
G: Yeah, we have a pretty huge history…
B: Yeah, going back to about 1971, which is—it goes back that far.
C: And I know that there are a number of infoshops and show spaces that played a role in things as well. Do you just wanna maybe call out a couple of notable cases? What particular worker co-ops spring to mind?
G: I think one of the most supportive and effective spaces for us was the Jack Pine Community Center; they really helped us out a lot. They would be, in my mind, number one. But really, we’re not really affiliated directly with any other organization; we’re just really an informal social network.
B: And, you know, there are some kind of, cafes and places where people kinda hang out, and then that’s kind of where some of the work gets spread for initiatives like this. At that point there was a food co-op that was still around, so that was another place where people find each other.
C: And those were your main avenues of outreach as well?
G: I think so. In the beginning, it was just getting things started…but then also, we paid a lot of attention to where other groups, other protest groups, were going to be, and sort of go through that as well…
B: The other thing is, I think that after the points of unity were established, and the call to action was written, then—at least I found out about it because it was on the email list, so I got it at the point that Garrett was describing, when it went public. That was the way that—there was a bunch of Internet advertising as well that went on. I think I got it, like, two or three times, the whole call to action and stuff like that, but on different lists.
C: What’s the protest mill you otherwise—what are the other groups that are organizing around the RNC? You don’t have to go through the laundry list if you don’t want, I’m just wondering if there’s a lot of energy around this.
B: Oh, yeah, yeah. I think that, in some ways, it’s got more energy around it because it is the Republicans and not the Democrats, because St. Paul and Minneapolis are pretty heavily Democratic. And we’ve got Democratic mayors in both cities. And St. Paul’s Democratic mayor was elected on the strength of the fact that his opponent, the previous mayor, had backed George Bush; he was nominally a Democrat, had previously backed George Bush in 2004. So our current Democratic mayor was elected as a protest against endorsing George Bush, so to have the Republican National Convention here is really quite ironic. I think it’s easier to mobilize against the RNC than it would be to mobilize against the DNC here, and there’s a range of kind of liberal groups that working on this, spearheaded by the Anti-War Committee, which is kind of our own homegrown…well, like I said, it’s an anti-war committee! (laughs) And then there’s the local chapter of Veterans for Peace, it’s very active—it’s one of the nationally more prominent chapter, Local 27 of Veterans for Peace. And then there’s something called the Iraq Peace Action Coalition, which is basically what the name says…there are a number of local peace groups and peace-and-justice-type organizations that have all formed a coalition, working to fundraise for more permanent work, and they’ve done some outreach to some of the national peace-and-justice groups—United for Peace and Justice, International ANSWER and the Troops Out Now Coalition. There’s some tie-in with the Military Families Speak Out, I’m not sure how strong the tie-in is but it’s there, there’s contact there.
G: I was just gonna say that there’s a coalition heading—there’s the March Coalition, and then there’s protestrnc2008.org, it’s sort of like a local coalition of protest groups, of which we’re a part, and that’s been sort of the umbrella group for a lot of these smaller entities working within. That as well as the March Coalition, which in my mind are the two big ones.
B: They’re working on the first day of the RNC, another group is working on the second day of the RNC, that’s the Poor People’s Economic and Human Rights Campaign. Both of these groups are looking at bringing in boatloads of people from other places to march on those two days. There’s another even more liberal kind of approach, they’re called Peace Island, they’re hoping to hold kind of a two-day alternative convention kind of thing, bringing in a lot of big-name speakers from around the country, hopefully planning out what we’re supposed to be doing over the next four years or something, I don’t know. I’m not too interested in it, I shouldn’t say that…(laughs)…but it’s something that’s going on, so I think it’s sort of the most liberal approach because they’re not really planning out a protest, they’re planning a convention kind of thing.
C: Clearly, everyone in the Twin Cities is aware of what everyone else is doing, for the most part. Do you find yourselves working with these groups often, or…I’m sure there’s some degree of coordination together, but…
B: Actually—and Garrett, you might have a different take on this—but it’s my impression that actually they don’t know much about what everyone else is doing. And that there are certain kind of networks that run through the whole thing, one of them being the National Lawyers Guild, who’s making plans to represent anybody who gets arrested, and so the National Lawyers Guild is in touch with pretty much all of these organizations and coalitional efforts. But I think that the Welcoming Committee has been providing some of that networking between groups too. The Poor People’s Economic and Human Rights Campaign organizer didn’t know anything about what was going on until I told her, and the Coalition to March on the RNC didn’t know anything about the Poor People’s Economic and Human Rights Campaign until I told them. So there’s still not as much coordination as you might expect—given that we’re not that big of an area, we should be in touch about what everyone’s doing…
C: What do you attribute that disconnect to?
G: I guess I believe that there are certain ideological and process-y kinds of differences between us and other protest groups, in that we’re mostly anarchist groups or mostly facilitating other people’s actions and not planning actions of our own, we work through consensus process and that sort of thing in how we organize—and so I think that other groups have maybe less practice in paying attention to what other people are doing, caring about other people’s specific plans, coordinating with them, and are maybe just more interested in doing their own thing. I don’t want to make that sound like a bad thing, we all should be doing our own work with our own skills and own types of organizing. But I think one thing that seems unprecedented is the St. Paul principles that we’ve put together with other local protest groups…I think that compared to—when I hear about the DNC in Boston in ’04, the relationship between the Black Tea Society and their local ANSWER chapter was horrendous, like they hated each other. So I actually think that the fact that we’re able to approach people and we’re able to agree to these sort of principles to work by actually speaks really well to the organizing we’ve been doing locally. I would add to that—that’s local organizers, but then there’s this whole other realm of national organizers…the local organizers are like our local community affiliation and affinity and support, but we also have ideological affinity and support from a lot of groups all over the country, from Madison, Wisconsin, Milwaukee, Chicago, all the corners of the country, the Northeast Anarchists Network has been really supportive, Students for a Democratic Society has been really supportive, I talked to some people in DC that were really really great, and people in the Northeast that I’ve talked to that are taking a more radical perspective and really do want to look into a kind of framework, trying to stay abreast with their kind of resources on what everyone else is doing.
C: So you see yourselves more as providing an infrastructure for out-of-town folks who are coming in and kind of executing their own—for lack of a better word—“direct action,” and not to put any connotations on that…
G: They’ll all be, in general, ranging from direct action to civil disobedience to other sorts of more symbolic actions.
B: Yeah, you’ve got it right, that’s how we define ourselves. We’re providing the infrastructure.
C: How are you communicating nationally about the strict details about this? I mean, putting out word is one thing, but as to actually provide these people with informational resources and getting them connected with NLG and whoever else they need to convene with, what’s that work been like?
G: Well, we’ve talked around the term “informational clearinghouse.” And so, that’s what a lot of, in my mind, our work is, in helping to facilitate—in terms of coordinating people to get information. There’s obviously a whole other realm of work to be done in terms of logistics, housing, feeding people, stuff like that. But in terms of getting people prepped with information, that’s an important part of what we’re doing. Mostly, it’s pretty much all transparent information that’s getting distributed. NLG is wanting to hold observer trainings, so we put that out on our website and on our email lists, saying, the NLG is doing this. We make sure to keep ourselves informed, so then when someone approaches us saying, Hey, I wanna be trained as a legal observer, we can say, well, come to this NLG legal training. It’s sort of facilitated that way. It actually ends up not being super-sticky, it actually works pretty well, especially because we have so much support from other groups. There’s a separate group, from us, that is facilitating bottom-lining legal groups, there’s a separate group fro us that’s facilitating bottom-lining medic stuff, so then we can just point people in the right direction.
B: And that goes to the heart of the organizing thing that you’re kind of interested in, too, because part of what we’re hoping for is that there will be some permanent structures coming out of this. It’s a whole lot of effort to put together a four-day protest. So we’re really hoping to be able to start some collectives and institutions that last beyond this, beyond the RNC, after the Republicans are gone. One of them would be a medical collective, and one of them would be a legal collective.
C: Can you kind of discuss that vision generally, and the work that’s happening to take it past the convention?
B: Well, I think the medics group did a report-back on their work, and it sounds kind of ambitious to me, but if they are actually able to follow through on this, I think it’ll be terrific, because they got a kind of a pyramid…they’re involving people from a number of different groups that are working on healthcare issues, including the Universal Healthcare Coalition, and other groups that are trying to address the lack of affordable healthcare and quality healthcare. Plus, then they’re trying to train street medics. Plus, they’re working with the hospitals operating in the area of the convention in St. Paul, working with the hospital staff in training them on the kinds of weapons the police may be using against protesters and the kinds of wounds that they might see, and getting the medical people up to speed on what exactly may be required of them during the demonstration. The idea is that, after the demonstrations are all over, they may be able to continue on as medical care providers in some fashion, whether that be a free clinic or something along those lines, that the people who come together to provide medical care for the Republican National Convention protesters would also then continue to work on providing affordable medical care after the convention is over, and because a lot of these are medical students, nurses, pharmacists, people who are in the medical profession already.
C: That’s interesting. You are drawing off of your professionals…these are not just street medics…
B: Yes, that what the person who came to report back to us on Sunday said. She’s a medical student herself, and she said there are already a number of students, but there are also nurses who are working, and some pharmacists.
C: Just to insert my own comment…having looked at what happened at the Common Ground Clinic in New Orleans, it’s an interesting example of people who are not necessarily—there’s no real ideology going on besides the fact that they’re nice people and they feel bad that this happened, and they just happen to be a nurse or a doctor or a therapist and then head down to New Orleans and have a pretty powerful experience of what it’s like to work in an entirely different way. It’s interesting hearing about that beginning to happen in the Twin Cities as well. Did those people come on initially out of some affinity with the protests, or did they get approached by the folks doing the organizing and then coming into the fold that way?
B: No, these are folks who have an affinity with the protesters. The core of the medical collective is people who affinity with the protesters. Now, obviously they have to do an enormous amount of outreach to people who are not politically involved at all, if they’re going to want to train emergency workers and things like that. But, again, the Twin Cities being essentially a liberal kind of stronghold, the chances are pretty good that many of the medical care providers are pretty fed up with the Republican agenda too.
G: Along the same avenue as the medical stuff, there’s also groups that are planning to do different types of medic training, including street medic training but also protest medic training for medical professionals, a few workshops on that—so people who already have medical experience can understand what’s different and what’s the same. What’s really going to be interesting is that they’re actually offering Wilderness First Responder training and people can actually get certified in that. So it’s really one of our big goals that we talked about that came out of the preNC, capacity-building, and I think that that’s a perfect example, that our networks are part of capacity-building, and personal skills are all part of that.
B: And that’s national in scope. I mean, we want not just the Twin Cities that should be building their capacity, but across the country, building their capacity through this demonstration and these protests.
C: Coming out of that, what are the issues in the Twin Cities right now? What struggles are occurring on the local level? Down here in Tucson, obviously the war on immigrants is a pretty huge one. I’m just wondering what kind of organizing is happening around those localized issues?
B: Well, immigration rights is a big one up here, too. We’ve had some pretty scary raids over the last year, where places were being raided and people were swept up. Whether these accusations have any merit or not is kind of hard to tell, and also the implication as to whether or not these people had actually committed any robbery or anything like that. So immigrant rights is a big one for us too. Anti-war stuff obviously is really big up here.
G: Indigenous rights, especially with the 150th anniversary of the founding of Minnesota is coming up. There’s a lot of local initiatives, communities rallying around that. I also think that we do have a lot of other stuff going on locally, but I think we’re trying to have people in the Welcoming Committee a little bit different, in that while we’re inviting people to demonstrate and focus on whatever issues they find prudent, we’re also trying to maintain an analysis of the situation that isn’t issue-based, that reveals more systemic problems and puts forth clear anarchistic analysis. That’s part of why we’ve been organizing for so long and from the very beginning, we really thought it was important to have a strong anarchist voice saying, yeah, borders are messed up, and yeah, the occupation of this land from indigenous peoples is messed up, war is messed up, and global warming is messed up, but you know why is because capitalism is messed up, hierarchy is messed up, and we need to subvert patriarchy and racism before we can talk about any more.
C: With that said, what’s the demand that you see yourselves carrying through this protest, or trying to make known, what’s the goal?
B: Well, again, the Welcoming Committee doesn’t have a set of demands of the RNC. Now, are you familiar with Unconventional Action?
B: One of the most clear statements of demands I’ve seen has come from Unconventional Action—no war, no warming, no borders, and there’s another one that I don’t remember…(laughs)…But there were four specific things that, policies that have to do with the Republican party that they were going after. But the RNC Welcoming Committee, we haven’t put out an agenda like that. Our agenda is in some ways more on the process side of—we’re gonna have this done democratically, with a respect for diversity of tactics, that’s kind of more, in some ways, our agenda, being a strong radical voice.
C: And do you see any of the previously mentioned initiatives—indigenous rights, for example—trying to use this as an opportunity to push through their own agendas, or advance their own demands?
G: I really hope that they do, and I hope that a lot of different people with a lot of different causes, in concert, put out their demands in solidarity with one another, saying, hey, we recognize that all of our problems come from the same source, and it’s this farce of a so-called democratic government. We really hope that people bring their own issues.
B: I talked a little bit with our local chapter of ACORN, and they were not really thinking of the Republican Convention as a time to advance any of their own goals, so as I was talking with them I kind of suggested, well, what about the whole mortgage crisis or the foreclosure stuff that you’re working on already, would you like to use the opportunity of having all these Republicans here to kind of highlight that issue, so they started thinking, oh yeah, this would sort of be a great opportunity. And of course, we’ve got a number of anarchists and anti-authoritarian people in the city who might be interested in supporting a demonstration by ACORN and highlighting all these issues that Republicans have kind of been creating, creating this crisis.
C: Is there any sort of housing organizing or anti-poverty work going on?
B: Well, I think I’d point to the Poor People’s Economic and Human Rights Campaign…they have, to my way of thinking, rather a unique blend of thinking between the direct action that addresses specific housing projects or specific areas where people are being targeted, and then a larger kind of macro-view of where this isn’t just the bad luck of people in New Orleans or the bad luck of people in Minneapolis, but this is a whole big war against the poor. I know that there was an action here recently that they were spearheading locally, to get some folks back into housing units that were getting closed down. Four or five families were involved in that, and Poor People’s Economic and Human Rights Campaign came in to say, no, wait a second, you can’t just throw folks out. So I would point to them as having that kind of analysis of—you know, it’s individuals that are getting hurt, but it’s also this huge system, and you don’t address only one or only the other.
C: And they are a Minnesota-based campaign?
B: Uh, no, they’re a national organization. Their national organizer is living in Minneapolis, she moved here in order to organize against the RNC. She originally came from Minneapolis but she’s been living in Philadelphia.
C: Are you familiar with the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty?
B: No, I haven’t heard.
C: They basically deal with poverty issues, and they kind of insert direct action tactics into these everyday add-insult-to-injury things like evictions, cuts to state programs and the like. So that’s very interesting…I’d like to get some of your analysis of past actions. Obviously, we’re almost a decade gone by now since Seattle, which, I don’t know if you agree, is sort of a benchmark moment in recent years. I was wondering what your analysis is of those past actions, what lessons from these prior mobilizations do you feel you’re carrying through into these actions?
G: First, I want to say that the anarchist movement (or whatever you want to call it) sort of has a lot of burn-out and turnover, and it also has a short memory. Even when it remembers things, the answers don’t come out right and the memories get skewed. For me, I think a big challenge is that I wasn’t in Seattle, so I have to go on other people’s accounts of it, and I can be critical and try to put those pieces together and try to come up with an analysis, but it’s also just my own analysis, and so, other than the fact that in preparation for the RNC I’ve thought about it a lot, my analysis shouldn’t be given any more weight than anyone else’s. With that in mind, I think that all that Seattle showed—for me anyway, and especially compared to what’s happened since then—is that, to a degree, you may not reap exactly what you sow, but if you only put one foot in the ground, you might not get anything at all. Maybe that’s not the best metaphor, but it’s like, a lot of work went into Seattle from a lot of different groups that tried to maintain working relationships (even though they were tenuous at times), whereas I feel that in a lot of American protests in maybe the past five years I guess, people end up calling for, just to do decentralized direct action, and that frees the organizers up to not have to actually do difficult coordinating and strategic work and they can just focus on things like logistics planning, and I feel like what we’re seeing is a response to that now, like a lot of groups, like the Unconventional Action branches or NEAN (the Northeast Anarchist Network) or Midwest Action Network or even some of the newer SDS branches, I feel like we’re starting to see a lot of people starting to think more tactically and strategically, more than just wanting to do their own individual autonomous direct action and being a small blip on the radar, but actually wanting to work together to create more than the sum of our parts, which is what we saw in Seattle. Everyone thinks they’re going to recreate Seattle just by having a black hood on underneath their shirt and walking in the big marchers’ wing for just the right moment—I remember that’s what I hear people talking about at the DNC in Boston, that there was a lot of people just waiting for something to happen and it never happened. People think it will just recreate itself, and it doesn’t. So the planning is a big tactical strategic thing, that we’re planning two years ahead of time. Seattle also combined a diversity of tactics in a similar way to what we’re talking about, or what other organizers are talking about, where they had direct action, they had civil disobedience, they had marches, all in downtown Seattle, but then they way they played off each other helped make that what it was. Another model that I would hold up would be the Prague IMF/World Bank protest, which I also wasn’t at, but from my research and analysis, they had three different marches, with three different tactics, all with the goal of getting to this convention site. So, again, employing a diversity of tactics all together to achieve a common goal.
B: As Garrett really touched on, Seattle becomes this myth in itself, and we all do this, we all kind of write history in retrospect, who can say what happened in Seattle anymore, you know? And I was there. I would say the same thing Garrett said, don’t take my analysis of it as being the right one just because I was there, because it was one huge, huge, huge event. I can only speak to what my two eyes can see, and I can only see from the place where I was. So much happened there, it was just incredibly huge. I’m a nonviolence trainer, and so I went to Seattle as a nonviolence trainer, and I’ve been following the globalization mobilization since. I was in Washington, DC for A16, and I was in Cincinnati the following October for the Trans-Atlantic Business protest, and I was in Ottawa in advance of the FTAA protest in 2002, and in Miami during the 2003 mobilization, and in 2005 in Washington, DC for the IMF protest. So I’ve been kind of on the circuit of the globalization mobilizations since 1999. I think that the changes that we’ve seen—well, obviously, the militarization of our society and our world is most evident to us, I mean the weaponry and things the police are carrying, and much more aggressive tactics and crowd control. So that’s a big change that’s happened since Seattle. And I would agree with Garrett that Seattle was an absolute watershed, that was a real watershed. Things did change significantly. I agree with Garrett that Seattle was successful because of the planning that went into it, and it didn’t just erupt spontaneously; that was a ten-month planning process. The other thing about it, which unfortunately we can’t duplicate here, is that they had a lot of money they were organizing with; they had some real bucks, coming from policy institutes in Washington, DC, which did a lot of that organizing. We don’t have that kind of access to money. I think that the coalitions that we’ve built with the labor movement have been—I’ve seen progress there, the attitude of the labor movement in Miami was quite different towards the direct action folks, the attitude was a lot different than it was in Washington, DC in April of 2000. The labor movement—a large chunk of it—really wanted to have nothing to do with direct action for A16, but in Miami, the Steelworkers got together and brought over a whole bunch of bottled water over to the convergence center where the anarchist and anti-authoritarian organizing was happening. Sweeney and (???) came over the convergence center to take part in the meeting process. So there was a whole bunch of difference between 2000 and 2003 in the attitude around direct action, and certainly in Miami, the way that the labor movement was equally repressed, the Miami police force really made the labor movement realize, hey, we’ve got a real problem with democracy in this country. I think there’s been some real sea changes, some real fall-out from Seattle that is continuing to grow, and continuing to ripple out. It’s allowing us to organize across a broader coalition with respect for one another, and I think that’s a hallmark of what we’re doing here in the Twin Cities, where it seems to me like there’s really a basis of respect for diversity of tactics and for what people are bringing to the table—whether it’s anti-authoritarian/anarchist organizing like what we’re doing, or whether it’s peace and justice kind of organizing like the ones that are going to lead the march. There’s respect for the fact that we’re all organizing for the same thing, and we can do it together. I think that’s really been happening over the last decade.
C: The criticism has been leveled that capitalism doesn’t occur at summit protests, that it’s something that goes down in everyday life, that people struggle with, in the workplace, in school, that these summit protests fail to intervene in everyday life. I just wanted to get your response and thoughts on that criticism.
B: Well, that’s perfectly true, and I would be the first one to say, no, summit-hopping isn’t the way to bring about a revolution, it’s just not gonna happen that way. At the same time, there’s real work that they’re trying to do at those summits. We really have won on the FTAA; I mean, maybe I shouldn’t say that quite so loudly, but that trade agreement is not going to happen in anything like the form that was proposed at the very beginning, and it may not happen at all. That’s not an insignificant victory; that whole struggle against the regional trade agreements started back in the early 90’s, and with NAFTA, put forth by our dearly beloved Democratic president and dearly-beloved Democratic Congress, it looked like there was no way to stop those kinds of regional trade agreements, and that the FTAA was just going to be NAFTA on steroids and there was no way to stop it. Clearly, that’s wrong. We have stopped the progress on NAFTA, and the organizing that folks in Indiana are doing against the superhighway, the extension of Interstate 69, is just another example of how the issues that we’ve raised via these summit protests can be worked on and addressed in really effective ways between summits. In fact, we haven’t really had—the IMF/World Bank just met last weekend, and there wasn’t really a significant protest of that, largely because the movement has gone, as you suggest, towards the more immediate, more day-to-day. And I think that’s a fine thing, I think that’s a fine thing. The movement is addressing these issues in a much more grassroots and ongoing day-to-day way.
C: What are you speaking of, when you say that?
B: Like the effort against the extension of Interstate 69 in Indiana. Here’s another example of where people can begin to address the same issue, not from a global summit-hopping perspective, but rather, we need to stop that highway…the transportation of those goods from Mexico to Canada, that’s what we have to prevent. Immigrant organizing is a part of it, organizing low-income workers to stand up for themselves is a part of it, this is all part of a whole big-picture look at economic development policy. I would agree that summit-hopping isn’t the be-all and end-all of that, although I think it’s really important to point out that those summits—there was supposed to be work that was happening there which we prevented from happening. We saw that in Miami.
G: I would also reiterate that going to a protest of a summit shouldn’t be considered separate from engaging in day-to-day struggle; it’s all part of the same effort. But also, there’s a lot of reasons—the RNC isn’t a summit, and there probably won’t be any real work accomplished at the RNC, but I think there’s still a lot of reasons to do it, and actually, part of the analysis of the whole national situation of past protests, you need to take into consideration the energy and morale of your fellow anarchists and anti-authoritarian allies. I think that’s a big part of it. These big protests, they can bring people into being part of the movement that maybe weren’t before—a lot of people, a big protest or mobilization is something that pushed them and inspired them to become more active in their day-to-day struggle. It’ll be a great site for the capacity-building that we’ve talked about, where you can learn great skills to bring back to your community. It’ll show the strength of collective resistance, of all of us standing up together and saying, yeah, we have all these struggles back in our home areas, but they share common roots, and here is the place where the roots are being exposed.
B: And I think that the political party conventions will really be a target for anti-authoritarian/anarchist organizers. This is what is supposed to be democracy, the big idea of what democracy is like. It’s a really great time for us to be able to point out, wait a second, wait a second, what are we talking about here? This is a farce, this two-party system. If you think that democracy boils down to voting every two or four years, I mean, that is really a bad idea, if that’s how we’re going to promote democracy. This is really a great time for us as anarchists and anti-authoritarians to say, wait a second, there’s a lot more to democracy than this kind of charade we go through every two or four years.
C: Another criticism that’s been bumping around is that this is coming down to one spectacle versus another, that we’ve developed into ritualized protest at this point. I wanted to hear your response.
G: I guess I feel like we reached our rock-bottom in our ritualized protest…
C: Would you place that at the last convention?
G: I would actually place that three or four years into the war, where people were still marching. But then I feel like there was this die-off of involvement, where people stopped being engaged, stopped protesting to the degree that they had, and what we’re seeing now, I believe, is that the people for whom the passion didn’t go away, they stopped protesting because it wasn’t effective and they didn’t know what to do, so it just builds up and builds up and builds up. So now we’re getting things like the October Rebellion in DC, which I think is a good example of a small, very regional event—I guess people came from all over the nation but I don’t think it had the numbers of a huge Republican convention—but they thought ahead, they planned meticulously, and afterwards they compiled all sorts of accounts of what happened and theories to learn from. I’ve got a packet in my hand right now of 15 different accounts of the October Rebellion, that now I can read through and see everyone else’s strategic analysis of what happened there, so I actually think that the people who are still interested in being active, and those who aren’t totally burnt-out, and those who still feel empowered to act are beginning to collaborate on a whole new level, and I find that really really inspiring. To the burnt-out cynics who also have a lot of experience, I say, please, come join us in this new endeavor, this one that is engaged in planning two years in advance, is going through intense analysis to come up with the best-possible scenario and being really thoughtful, it’s not just calling for a day of decentralized direct action and throwing yourselves against the fence until you’re really bloody. We’re all thinking about this on a whole different protest. It’s not just gonna be the same-old ritualized protest.
C: What impact on the local level do you hope to get out of this? You spoke before about building infrastructure and spinning off new organizations…anything else to say about that?
B: Well I know that I hope—and I think it’s true that the anti-war folks also hope—that we’ll be a stronger movement afterwards. That we will not be divided, not allow the police and the press to divide us into good protesters and bad protesters and pit us against each other. We’re hopeful that we might come out without that kind of division amongst ourselves. I know that one of the leading anti-war organizers has really pointed to the state of the anti-war movement, and she’s hoping that this protest of the Republican National Convention might help to focus and direct and somehow regain the effectiveness for the anti-war protests, which I think she would agree with Garrett is pretty important at this point.
C: Taking off of that…when the war first began, when we had basically the largest-ever protest in American history, we were basically laughed at by the Bush administration. I just wonder what makes a powerful movement…
B: Here’s my thing. There’s a real place for mass non-cooperation, and the anti-war movement has mostly ignored the potential for mass non-cooperation. With something like 70 percent of the public now believing that, not only it is a bad idea to be there but it was also a bad idea to go there in the first place, I mean, that kind of public opinion has the potential for actually taking matters into our own hands and direct action in the most basic way to stop this war, because the war only goes on because we allow it to go on, the people do the things that keep the war machinery greased. I think it’s perfectly possible for the anti-war movement to take direct action, and there’s a little bit of that happening now—counter-recruitment campaigns to keep kids from joining the military in the first place, the blockades of ports in Washington State have been largely symbolic up until this point—but there’s really a definite possibility for really effectively stopping armed shipments, stopping the sending of more troops, having more rebellion on the army bases. There’s a real potential for direct action; I mean, forget Congress, forget the Democrats, forget that avenue and really go for the mass non-cooperation, and the anti-war movement has not had the imagination to really capitalize on that in a big way. And that’s what I feel is a real shame, a real pity, that that hasn’t happened.
C: We see this kind of cynicism and disillusionment with politics as usual, and I wonder if you have any response to where does that translate into the building of power on the other end of things, and the development of strong organizational abilities for the Left? Where does that dissatisfaction in the every-day life aspect of things translate into new organizations, new ways of life, new ways of struggling?
G: I guess that, at the point where people realize that no one else is going to solve their problems for them, that Barack Obama doesn’t have the solution, isn’t going to get you your home back, isn’t going to give you your dead child back from the war, might not even stop the war; that politicians are continually selling people out over and over and over again, and that’s one of our other societal problems, that we have such horrible long-term memory that we can’t even remember the last time that a politician promised something and lied. I think that’s what it takes, that people need to realize that they are the masters of their destiny, not anyone else, and that then compels them to organize with other people with whom they have affinity to make direct change in their lives.
B: I look at Argentina and the organizing that happened there as a result of the economic meltdown in 2002, I think. I don’t know nearly as much about it as I wanna know about it, but it wasn’t like it was easy, it wasn’t, in fact it was very very difficult, but where they went took a great deal of courage, to say, okay, we know how to run some factories, that’s what we know how to do, the stupid things are sitting there with all the equipment in them, we can figure this out, we can turn these things into working factories again. That’s the thing about these organizing in the factories—it came out of desperation, folks need to eat, they need to support their kids, so it came out of desperation. At the same time, those that planted the seed for turning towards cooperation and, well, let’s try to do this ourselves—that’s the seed that I want to be planting with this organizing around the RNC Welcoming Committee, and the general anarchist/anti-authoritarian organizing that I do anyhow. The seed is, we can figure this out ourselves if we put our minds to it; this is not about somebody else solving our problems for us.
C: What opportunities have been created by this organizing process around the RNC to build your capacity locally and channel energy into community assets?
G: I wasn’t an action theorist before working with the Welcoming Committee, so I think that’s the most immediate for me, just that through these organizing skills I’ve met people, I’ve become part of a network where I feel like if I wanna know what’s going on in Olympia, I can send off a couple of emails and find out what’s going on in Olympia, so that’s really empowering. Other local stuff, it’s sorta similar…just by having to go through these processes, we have local Food Not Bombs, and this summer they’re gonna be serving 5 times a week instead of one time a week because they’re getting more strength and more support. Something that I’m really hopeful that will come out of this event for the radical community is in reference to the Midwest Green Scare, that we’re gonna be stronger and more able to deal with collective repression that comes from that avenue. And with these other national groups coming in, that perhaps have more experience doing Wilderness First Responder training or setting up an Independent Media Center or what have you, all of those skills will be seeded in our community for anyone who wants to learn them and hopefully a lot of people will take advantage of that, the bringing of a lot of new skills and talents into the heart of the Twin Cities.
C: Any parting thoughts or other things you wanna say?
B: Come to the Twin Cities in September!
G: I think, because it seems that so much of what you are interested in is about how networks are organized, I think it’s really important that we recognize that our strengths as anarchists are, in a lot of ways, are organizing in mutual aid with a degree of autonomy, and that’s what we’re seeing and what we’re going to see be really successful with the fact that Welcoming Committee isn’t actually organizing any action at all. Maybe you’re going to see a lot of other small autonomous groups come into that space that we’ve helped lay out, and that’s what’s going to be really amazing and really anarchistic about this event, the small groups from throughout this country that decide to turn out.