Saturday, August 30, 2008

Two messages from Starhawk at the Republican National Convention

Starhawk is a friend of mine, and one of my spiritual teachers. She sent the first essay out yesterday. The second, late last night/early this morning. You can find links to these blog posts and others on her web site, www.starhawk.org. I'm sure she'll be adding more daily.


First Post from the RNC “On the Bad Side of Town”
Aug. 29, 2008

By Starhawk

If they wrote country songs about organizing mobilizations, they might sing something like this:

“It’s just one more earnest meeting…
How do we turn this country ‘round?
In one more dusty warehouse,
On the bad side of town…”

I’m here at the preparations for the protests against the RNC, the Republican National Convention, in the Twin Cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis. It’s a familiar scene: half a dozen of us early arrivals and locals huddled around a giant map of the downtown area. Twenty seven years ago, when I took my first nonviolence training in preparation for my first nonviolent direct action at Diablo Canyon in central California. The thing that most impressed me was the maps.

“They had maps!” I told everyone when I got home. “We never had maps in the ‘sixties! We just showed up—the cops chased us, sometimes we chased the cops, and that was that!”

The RNC Welcoming Committee has the best maps—larger than life, and laminated—and the least dusty warehouse I’ve seen in a while. Actually, it’s not a warehouse but an old theater, with a fully-equipped commercial kitchen, and such dust as there might have been has been cleaned before I got here, for which I’m devoutly grateful. I’ve cleaned up more than my share of pigeon dung from abandoned warehouses in preparation for one mobilization or another, and instead of coming weeks early to this one, I stayed home with an urgent mission to evict the mice from my desk drawers and clear the wood rat’s nests out of my battery box after a summer away from home.

I am here at the RNC for reasons both strategic and personal. “Why didn’t you go to the DNC?” some of my friends asked. The two conventions were timed so close together that even I, with my tendency to be obsessive and driven, felt I couldn’t really plan and train and organize for the RNC and do both. Moreover, it was clear to me that the only real drama at the DNC was going to be inside, with Obama. While the Democrats sorely need to be taken to task for many failings—funding the war while railing against it, voting for immunity for wiretapping for AT & T while proclaiming their allegiance to our civil liberties, failing to impeach Bush when they had the chance, just to name a few—if I had to make a choice it seemed to me that the sins of the Republicans were far greater, and the chance of having an impact slightly higher.

And I’m not immune to Obama’s appeal, and the historic significance of his nomination. When I was born, Obama and I could not have had a sandwich together at a lunch counter in the South, nor sat next to each other on a bus ride. His parents could not have married in many states. I was just a couple of years too young to be part of the civil rights movement—I remember watching it on TV at thirteen in L.A., begging my mother to let me go to the South. But the courage and sacrifices I saw, the struggles and successes of that movement profoundly shaped my own life and changed our country forever.

That today, Obama can run for President is something progressives should be celebrating. It’s a tribute, not to the Democrats, but to decades of grass-roots organizing and agitating that we can trace back to the days of abolitionists and slave rebellions and the underground railway. It’s the powerful people’s movements that pressured Democrats and Republicans into ending segregation, and the ongoing work of decades of challenges to more subtle forms of racism that have opened this door.

And we need to own and celebrate our victories. It’s always easy to focus on the lacks, the betrayals, the faults and failures. Our successes will never be perfect—and as progressives, we tend to be perectionists, always demanding more of ooursleves, and the world. This is something I noticed about myself after I downloaded a Solitaire widget to my computer—how easily I can be addicted to frustration. Alcohol, I can take or leave. Drugs were fun in my youth but fortunately none of them stuck, and I was blithely convinced I just did not have an addictive personality until I realized how strongly frustration can hook me. Give me a lost cause, a hopeless endeavor, an impossible task—as Gimli says at some point in Lord of the Rings: “Almost certain death, small chance of success--What are we waiting for?”

My mother used to tell me how she’d watched me, as a baby, trying to cross a threshold, tripping and falling, getting up, and trying again, over and over. So I guess the predilection is inborn.

Frustration addiction—where is the twelve step program for that and how do you go cold turkey? I don’t know, but it explains a lot about me and I suspect that progressives as a whole are subject to it. Yet if we don’t acknowledge and honor our victories, we lose heart and burn out.

And I want to celebrate this one, not protest against it. Obama will certainly not be our savior nor fulfill all our hopes. But let’s just take one moment and recognize that he is an extraordinary human being, and to honor all those who marched and spoke out, who took risks and went to jail, who suffered beatings and who died, to clear a path before him.

But back to the RNC. Draconian police forces, world class security with infinite resources, FBI, Secret Service, Homeland Security all on full alert; small band of intrepid protesters—What are we waiting for?

I’m here really just to bring home to the Republicans the truth that wrecking the country might have some negative consequences. The Democrats have failed to hold them accountable. Most of the country is wrapped in a sullen, smoldering anger that does not yet lead to action. But some of us are here, plotting and planning our marches and counter conventions and direct actions. And while it may prove to be a major slip in my ongoing struggle with F.A., I’m glad to be here with a crew of old and new friends, those buddies I’m bonded with in the way you only get to be when you’ve stood shoulder to shoulder as some cop shoots you in the face with pepper spray.

And, on a personal note, I was drawn to the Twin Cities because this is where I was born—in St. Joseph’s Hospital, a few blocks away from where the Republicans will meet. Although we left here when I was nine months old, my father’s family is from here, and they have roots in the radical community here that go back to the communist movements of the ‘Thirties. My father himself died when I was five—like Obama my life was also marked by a fathers’ absence. But my Uncle Hi and Aunt Ruthie carried on the tradition. They beamed approval at all my political endeavors. My Aunt Ruthie loved to sing the satiric political ditties of the ‘forties and ‘fifties, filling me in on the now almost forgotten events they memorialized. They were friends with people like the great author and activist Meridel Le Seuer. When my Uncle Don-Don was in the hospital recovering from a heart attack, we went to visit him, closed the doors, and regaled him with a rousing chorus of the Internationale.

Aside from their politics, they lived otherwise utterly conventional and blameless lives, dull, really. They had a small tract house in St. Paul, and worked at the V.A., my aunt as a secretary, my uncle as a recreation therapist. Aunt Ruthie said she liked the V.A. because it was the closest thing we had to socialized medicine. My father and his brothers, like virtually all the men of their generation, were veterans of World War Two. My Uncle Hi always said that he joined the navy because it was a clean life, but he never knew who cleaned it until he got in. As he slipped into the fog of Alzheimer’s, he said it over and over again. He was fond of recounting how many situps he had done, and how many miles he had jogged.

So I’m here, maybe, because they would have wanted me to be here. They’re gone, now, and I miss them. Were they alive, they’d undoubtedly be hosting the entire Pagan Cluster camped out in their back yard, my Aunt Ruthie whipping up little treats of Ritz cracker and peanut butter sandwiches dipped in chocolate.

And I’m here because I have good friends here, and because this city has a tradition of nonviolent direct action organizing that goes back decades. When we were blockading Livermore Labs in the ‘eighties, protesting nuclear weapons, they were organizing in the same way against Honeywell. There’s a spectrum of events being planned, from legal marches to nonviolent direct action, and a wide range of people planning.

Okay, more later.


Copyright (2008) by Starhawk. All rights reserved.
This copyright protects Starhawk's right to future publication of her work. Nonprofit, activist, and educational groups may circulate this essay (forward it, reprint it, translate it, post it, or reproduce it) for nonprofit uses. Please do not change any part of it without permission. Please keep this notice with it.

* * * * * * * * *

RNC Post #2 “Raid on the Convergence Center”
Aug. 30, 2008

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 cansee 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, protestors 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 ‘bombmaking’ 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.

FLOOD THE MAYORS' OFFICES ASAP
St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman
651-266-8510

Minneapolis Mayor RT Rybak
(612) 673-2100
(612) 673-3000 outside Minneapolis

Copyright (2008) by Starhawk. All rights reserved.
This copyright protects Starhawk's right to future publication of her work. Nonprofit, activist, and educational groups may circulate this essay (forward it, reprint it, translate it, post it, or reproduce it) for nonprofit uses. Please do not change any part of it without permission. Please keep this notice with it.

1 comment:

Marge Clark said...

Totally and completely unbelievable... I could have sworn the Constitution gave us the right of peaceful assembly.

Guess that's kind of old fashioned tho, to remember the Constitution.

Marge Clark
www.naturesgift.com