Let me begin this piece by stating that I don’t give a rat’s ass about the Jerry Springer-like drama playing out around the GOP vice presidential pick Sarah Palin. Let me also state that I seriously wonder how long it will be before the folks that vote for the Republicans year in and year out realize that the men and women they are voting to rule them are part of the Washington elite just as much as the democrats they despise? As for the rest of the lies and bombast coming out of the XCel Center in Minneapolis this week–it is as if the producers of the convention combined a megachurch service, a high school pep rally, and the spirit of Leni Riefenstahl.
No, I don’t care about Sarah Palin and the shotgun wedding she and her husband are arranging for their daughter and her boyfriend. Nor do I care about whether or not she was vetted by John McCain. I do admit that I get a kick out of the fact that John McCain has no idea of how many houses he and his wife own, yet he is portrayed as someone who is not part of any elite. I also get a bit of a kick out of the fact that George Bush and Dick Cheney have not (and seemingly will not) appear at their own party’s convention. It is as if these two men, who have kept their party in power for the past eight years,are now disowned by the very same people that put them there in the first place. Or, perhaps, like so much else in US mainstream politics, the absence is part of the illusion voters are being fed: the democrats have a candidate of change and so do the republicans. See, the old guard didn’t even show up in person at this year’s convention! John McCain and Sarah Palin are new and improved, just like the cleaning product you have always bought. Familiarity improved!
What I do care about in terms of this week in Minnesota is what is going on outside the convention. From all reports in the media outlets that cover that which is not scripted by the GOP, the streets of the Twin Cities have been turned into a zone where police terror is permitted and even encouraged. If one is a protester, it is even expected. Prior to the convention itself, a series of raids were conducted against people involved in planning protests against the convention and the policies of the Washington and the GOP. These raids were coordinated by federal, state and local authorities and involved procedural and constitutional violations by the police. On Sunday and Monday, police attacked protesters and arrested hundreds. Tuesday and Wednesday saw more of the same. A small concert attended by a few hundred people was attacked on Tuesday and, on Wednesday, police prevented the popular rock group Rage Against the Machine from performing at an outdoor show because “they would incite a riot.” (They did play a free show later at the Target Center and then joined in a march to the XCel Center.) In addition, police have attacked protesters, journalists and bystanders with clubs, pepper spray, and tear gas. So far, close to five hundred people have been arrested. Most of them are being held in open air detention centers.
These arrests, while certainly of questionable legality, are but the tip of the iceberg. On September 3, 2008, eight members of the RNC Welcoming Committee– some of the primary organizers of the protests–were formally charged with Conspiracy to Riot in Furtherance of Terrorism. These eight were among those arrested in the pre-convention raids and, according to the National Lawyers Guild (NLG), face up to 7 1/2 years imprisonment each. For those of us around forty years ago, the indictment of eight people on charges of conspiracy to incite a riot at a national political convention is a n ominous deja vu. For those who need a reminder or who don’t know the history I’m referring to, eight men were charged after the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago with (among other things) conspiracy to cross state lines with the intent to incite a riot. These eight became known as the Chicago Eight. Of course, in today’s more enlightened world, authorities didn’t just charge men this time around. At least two of those charged were women. The charges against the RNC Eight (as they are being called) were brought based on the testimony of informants and provocateurs that infiltrated the loose knit organization. As the NLG news release makes clear, “None of the defendants have any prior criminal history involving acts of violence. Searches conducted in connection with the raids failed to turn up any physical evidence to support the allegations of organized attacks on law enforcement. ” Because no physical evidence of this nature was found, police seized common household items like lighters, cleaning fluid, some nails and a couple hatchets and claimed that these items were to be used to incite insurrection. In addition, police claimed they confiscated two buckets of what they called (I’m serious here) “weaponized urine.” What these buckets actually contained was gray water used to flush toilets at the house where they were found. According to police, other seized materials included other types of household tools, padding (probably to protect people from police truncheons), some pvc pipe and an army helmet.
At this writing, the charges brought against the eight are state charges. It is unknown whether or not federal authorities have any plans to charge these eight or any of the others arrested. What is known is that, much like Chicago forty years ago, the primary cause of any riots that might occur in the Twin Cities are the result of unconstitutional police actions supported by local officials, the national party nominating its warmongering candidate, and the federal police state apparatus. Indeed, the events of forty years ago were termed a police riot by a federal commission formed to investigate the disturbances.
RON JACOBS is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground, which is just republished by Verso. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. His first novel, Short Order Frame Up, is published by Mainstay Press. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org