Solidarity in the Aftermath of the RNC

By Kate Bonner-Jackson

Although the Republican National Convention happened nine months ago, the St. Paul/Minneapolis activist community is still fighting the same corrupt structures of government that it fought last September. There were over 800 arrests of resisters during the RNC, but it's the unseen and daily struggles, long after the glorified showdowns with cops on the streets, that show the true strength of the St. Paul/Minneapolis community.

What characterized the RNC resistance as meaningful and significant on a large scale was not necessarily visible from the streets or even on Indymedia.The strength of the resistance was in the convergence space in which people could meet, eat, plan, read literature and pamphlets, attend trainings, use the Internet for free and hold consensus-based spokescouncil meetings; it was in the free, healthy, delicious vegan meals provided twice a day for over 300 people; it was in the communications collective that used Twitter to send text-message updates on the whereabouts and actions of police throughout the convention; it was in the trained medics out on the streets each day, risking their safety to flush out pepper-sprayed eyes or tend to wounds left by tasers and other weapons on which the police spent $50 million; it was in the legal observers on the streets and in court proceedings, and the Coldsnap Legal Collective, coordinating a myriad legal issues and maintaining the vigil outside the Ramsey County Jail; it was in the bike collective that provided safe and free transportation for out-of-town resisters; it was in the wellness center, the wonderful safe space staffed by physicians, massage therapists, counselors, acupuncturists, medics and allies, and stocked with healthy food, tea, herbs, a decontamination zone, quiet and green spaces, information and a change of clothes.

This list, far from exhaustive, fleshes out how multi-faceted and holistic the resistance last summer was. It is with this same spirit of mutual aid, self-reliance and solidarity that the residents of St. Paul and Minneapolis are helping each other through the aftermath of the RNC.

The Community RNC Arrestee Support Structure -- or CRASS -- is an organization created to ensure that the momentum and rage sparked by the convention remain constant. They hold regular community meetings, send out newsletters, and provide legal and financial support, information, court solidarity and housing for those people who are fighting charges from the RNC. CRASS is divided into the working groups of Courtwatch, Felony Support, Media, Pressure Campaign, Civil Litigation, Hospitality, Spokescouncil and Fundraising. Thanks to the well-organized structure and sincere assistance of CRASS, there have been many victories, dismissed or dropped charges, and much support.

CRASS has raised funds, awareness and support in creative ways, including the Tour de Fletcher -- a bike tour of the houses that were raided before the RNC -- a Mardi Gras Civil Litigation delivery party, a Drop the Charges dance party outside of Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner's campaign fundraising event, crashing the St. Paul Mayor's Holiday Sledding Party, a National Day of Solidarity for the RNC 8 (one of the day's highlights being a pillow-fight protest in Flagstaff, Ariz.).

CRASS mainly works with RNC arrestees, but has also done important solidarity work with other groups such as Communities United Against Police Brutality and the Anti-War Committee. Members of both groups had trials in the beginning of the year that were well attended by CRASS court watchers, and both cases were either dismissed or acquitted.

There has been a lot of positive news. For instance, almost 85 percent of the original 672 misdemeanor cases have been dropped or dismissed. The state has declined to charge 323 of the almost 400 people who were corralled, attacked and arrested on a bridge on the last day of the convention. All of the people arrested at the Rage Against the Machine concert during the convention who have fought their charges have gotten them dropped. All of these failures and withdrawals demonstrate indiscriminate abuse of power on behalf of the police and the use of bogus criminal charges to threaten and squash dissent.

Eight members of the RNC Welcoming Committee, known as the RNC 8, were originally charged with two counts of conspiracy, which in December became four counts, two with terror enhancements. These charges were brought under Minnesota's version of the PATRIOT Act, which was the first time this act had been used. Thanks to an abundance of pressure on Gaertner, the terrorism-related charges -- Conspiracy to Commit Criminal Damage to Property in Furtherance of Terrorism and Conspiracy to Commit Riot in Furtherance of Terrorism -- were recently dropped. Since Gaertner is running for Governor of Minnesota, her decision to drop the charges is likely a political move based on the intense public pressure and scrutiny of her usage of the Minnesota PATRIOT Act. This reduction of charges also suggests the state's lack of evidence and shows that adding and trumping up charges is nothing more than a threat tactic.

In other positive news about the RNC 8 case, one of the main FBI informants in the case, Andrew "Panda" Darst, was found guilty in late March of three criminal counts, including damage to property and assault. The charges are from an incident that happened in January and undermine Darst's stance and credibility as a witness.

Although there is much good news, there have been quite a few plea deals and guilty verdicts as well. In many ways, fighting these charges is a privilege that not all can afford. Many of the arrestees are from out of town and simply do not have the time or money to fight the charges, even with support from CRASS.

Others, like David McKay, pleaded guilty after what seems to be FBI coercion. Much of McKay's case was based on proving that Brandon Darby, an activist turned FBI informant, entrapped him and his co-defendant Bradley Crowder, convincing them to make Molotov cocktails. McKay, after his first trial ended in a mistrial, pleaded guilty shortly before his second trial was to begin. The FBI, realizing that their informant for the case has been prone to violence himself on many previous occasions, and that the defense was prepared to demonstrate this, threatened Crowder with a longer sentence if he did not testify against McKay. There is speculation that perhaps McKay pleaded guilty to avoid putting Crowder in this position.

CRASS is also working on creating a zine to share its strategies and stories of supporting people who were arrested. By keeping the energy from the RNC going and documenting the victories and defeats, CRASS is strengthening not only their local communities but also our collective and national movement.

In the past 10 years, there has been a noticeable increasing and intensifying of police brutality in everyday life, as well as during conventions and summits. The more organized we are, the more we share our experiences with each other, the more we see patterns in our struggles, the more we create continuity in our movements and our communities, the better prepared we will be to fight back. Through continuing the work of the RNC Welcoming Committee, CRASS is proving that it was never simply about resisting a four-day symbolic convention; that the threat is much greater and we must therefore resist in kind. In the face of a system intentionally designed to demoralize and isolate each of us, CRASS is demonstrating that, once again, solidarity is working.

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