Thursday, November 13, 2008

Criminalizing of Dissent: Defend the RNC 8!

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Unfinished Business
-by Coleen Rowley



Sorry to have to remind you all of some of the bad stuff that happened a couple months ago during the RNC (and for interrupting the better mood and additional hopefulness many of us find ourselves having post-election), but there’s an important reason.



If you haven’t seen the just released film “Terrorizing Dissent," please take two minutes to at least watch the trailer. (The full movie can also be watched on-line too.)  The juxtaposition of McCain’s phoney speech-making inside the Republican National Convention with the violent reality that was unfolding outside is quite eye-opening, isn’t it? (The fact that TV and other mainstream media only carried what went on inside the RNC and not outside, contributed to creating the public approval “bump” for the Republican ticket-- certainly not unexpected following such televised extravagant displays but which was critical in 2008 for McCain-Palin to have any chance after Bush’s eight disastrous years.)    

I know many of you who did not participate in the various activities held at the time of the 2008 Republican National Convention (Aug 31- Sept 4) and who did not witness it first hand, may have a hard time believing what an awful combat zone St. Paul was turned into much of the time that week; how pre-emptive raids effectively criminalized dissent; how community police were turned into militarized, dehumanized (and non-identifiable) robo-cops, equipped with tasers, pepper spray and tear gas; and then (unsurprisingly) pushed to over-react and use their chemical weapons and arrest over 800 non-violent citizens, including 40 some journalists. (For more, see this great insider viewpoint by William Cox, RoboCops: Professional Policing of Political Protest-- An Insider's Viewpoint; the Sept. 1st Democracy Now interview of National Lawyers Guild Attorney Bruce Nestor and myself; and "Storm Troopers At the RNC" by Ray McGovern.)

All kinds of irregularities and bad departures from St. Paul’s community policing model occurred.  And the more we learn about the heavy-handed involvement of the Twin Cities’ two (Republican) Sheriffs: Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher (whose deputies were convicted of corruption the week right before the RNC as a result of an FBI sting investigation) and Hennepin County Sheriff Richard Stanek (a McCain Campaign Co-Chairman), as well as diffusion of responsibility amongst a number of federal agencies, the more likely it appears these repressive police actions could have been politically motivated-- deliberately intended to intimidate citizens from exercising their first amendment rights and to convey a false impression to the larger American public of little widespread opposition to the right-wing policies being promoted at the RNC. 
 
Unfortunately the intimidation did work, scaring thousands away from protesting and other activities in St. Paul that week. Watching the surreal scenes that unfolded outside the RNC, it’s amazing any of us citizens had the courage to try, isn’t it?  In fact our little Peace Island Picnic group was only a block away from Mickey’s Diner on Tuesday night, Sept 2nd (having just left the St. Paul “Free Speech Stage” outside the RNC) when police over reacted and shot their chemical weapons into the people on the street.    

Help Defend the RNC 8! Sign the Petition to Dismiss Charges.

If you’re like me, you’ve probably signed hundreds of petitions in the last few years but I believe this one can really impact the situation because it’s focused on one individual (Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner) who possesses the legal wisdom to recognize the wrongfulness in proceeding with a criminal prosecution of this sort that would set dangerous precedent-- dangerous to constitutional rights because it would broaden terrorism to include mere property damage instead of acts dangerous to human life (a provision of the Minnesota Patriot Act that Richard Stanek himself was responsible for pushing through the Minnesota’s legislature after 9-11 when he was the Republican leader of the Minnesota Senate) and blurring terrorism with what was, at most, acts of intended civil disobedience. Most noteworthy is the fact that, once this plan of smearing protesters as terrorists succeeded at the RNC, Republicans carried their McCarthy like tactics a step further, and tried it with Obama himself, alleging that he had “palled with terrorists.” That’s when their bluff was called.  But it was too late for the RNC 8 who were already charged with felony “conspiracy to riot in furtherance of terrorism."

As an aside, I did not know any of the RNC 8 personally before this unprecedented attempt to use the expansive Minnesota Patriot Act to essentially “terrorize dissent” but you can hear them tell their own stories of what happened on this pretty good (35 minute) video at the bottom of the home-page of Friends of the RNC 8. If you’re like me, you can sign their petition on the basis of principle alone: upholding the First Amendment and need for authorities to not blur what was at most planned acts of “civil disobedience” as opposed to acts of real terrorism. 
 
A lot of people from all over the country have already signed the petition but we need thousands more (including you!) to sign it to have a better chance of arguing the charges ought to be dismissed against the eight young people that have become known as the “RNC 8." So please sign the petition and then send it on to others you know who might sign. Also we are trying to get names of people that the District Attorney might recognize as carrying special weight due to their past accomplishments or experience. So if  for example, you’re a retired judge or law enforcement officer or government leader or something like that, please e-mail me so we can highlight your signature when the petition is finally presented.

In case any of you forgot these last few years, dissent IS patriotic.  Protest should not be confused with terrorism because as Thomas Jefferson said a bunch of times in different ways, “Dissent is patriotic!” 

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2 Comments:

At 9:10 AM, Blogger Coleen Rowley said...

"...Just Denounce the Pacifists for Lack of Patriotism..." was the right wing talk radio plan begun, months before, by Chris Baker, the hate talk host who precedes Rush Limbaugh. Our complaints to the police and FCC in April of this year went unanswered about Baker's incendiary radio comments calling for the "good ole boys to hand out ax handles" and machine guns to "mow down" the protesters at the RNC.

Just listen to these excerpts of Baker's comments: "KTLK-THUG RADIO". A couple of the radio station's commercial sponsors were shocked and dropped their ads but no law enforcement or FCC authority took any action against him.

In hindsight, Baker and other right-wing media were paving the way not only for the violent policing fiasco that occurred at the RNC but also for the Joe McCarthy-like hysteria that occurred at Palin and McCain's rallies and came out of Michele Bachmann's mouth during her interview with Chris Matthews.

 
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