I climbed half way up the old War statue and hooked my arm around the horse’s leg, with the green copper, slouch-hatted and sword-yielding war hero looming above me. From my perch high above the crowd, I could get a better look at Ted Kennedy, but from anywhere I could hear the speech he was making. It was the same as the last speech, and it was great, and there were no surprises, until he mentioned S.1. Then I was surprised, and worried. And I still am. Only now I’m also really pissed.
[A repost, as some of you were interested in this story]
S.1 was a bill introduced into the United State Senate again and again during the 1970s and 1980s, which provided the government with extraordinary powers to investigate, arrest, detain, and prosecute individuals who were vaguely suspected of working against the government. It was a bill that grew every year like fungus from the fertile manure of fear and hatred manufactured by those who controlled most of the resources in the United States and who wanted to make sure that this did not change. Every year the bill would sprout, like the first whiff of mildew you encounter when you revisit a home closed for a period of time, on the restart of Senate business. It was called S.1 because it was the first bill the right wing (mostly Republicans but some Democrats) would introduce into the senate at the start of the season. And of course, it smelled much worse than mildew.
Ted Kennedy and the other liberals, including moderate and liberal Republicans (yes, in those days there were quite a few liberal Republicans), would hurriedly squash the annoying and embarrassing bill, and normal Senate business would continue. Eventually, the yahoos stopped introducing the bill. But it didn’t go away. It did what fungus does. It stayed hidden in the ground, out of sight, invisibly growing and refining and waiting until the right conditions above ground came to be. Hijacked airliners flown into civilian and military targets by crazed fundamentalist Muslims on September 11th, 2001 produced those conditions, and S.1 was introduced again and passed.
You know of it as the Patriot Act.
And many states enacted their own versions of the same bill, and the society we live in now has this as one of its properties: criminal “justice” agencies and police forces around the country have ample funding, legal basis, and legislative and executive encouragement to directly repress individuals and groups who might disagree with the government. They can use spying, coordinated dissemination of illegally obtained information, harassment, home invasion, falsification of evidence, physical intimidation, arrest, and prosecution.
I hope you understand the great irony of all this, which I shall only mention once before moving on. The right wing and libertarian gun nuts and yahoos (and apparently everybody who lives in Texas and Florida) have been fighting all their lives to keep the government from having these very powers, but they did so by using only one, single utterly ineffective tactic: guaranteeing that they (the yahoos) would have the right to bear arms. All other tactics to minimize the ability of the government to control and repress protest, disruption, or even shouting in frustration or producing subversive art were ignored. As a result, the right to bear arms as a means of keeping the government under some sort of control in the political and social arena has been obviated by the Patriot Act. And the Patriot Act exists (here comes the irony) because George W. Bush stole one presidential election and lied his way past another. He was voted and then kept in office by the aforementioned yahoos, Texans, and Floridians. Thus proving that the yahoos and gun nuts are, by and large, morons.
~ ~ ~
I know some people. These people are between 20 and 30 years of age. They dress as postmodern hippies. They are smart and well educated. They are critical thinkers (except about certain things, depending on the individual), and they tend to be activists. They ride bikes, not cars; they eat more organic and less processed; if they smoke, they prefer Indian tobacco; they make zines and volunteer their time for good works; they tend to be atheists; and they hang out in coffee shops. They live all over the place, but most of the ones I know live in South Minneapolis, where they represent the third generation of political activists grown up in this more-radical-than-most-people-realize city. Their parents were all about Hubert Humphrey and Anti Viet Nam, the Utne Reader and the Mother Earth Catalog, Radical Theater and holding the line at the second Red Barn in Dinkytown.
They are the aging youth of a liberal city and I know them (well, some of them) because they found out that I was teaching radical ideas that interested them, so they came to gawk and sometimes talk, and to introduce themselves to me, in some cases to become my dear friends, and sometimes to tell me to fuck off, and sometimes to get inspired.
A subset of these people are more politically active than others, and when the Republican National Convention was planned for Saint Paul last year, they (and by “they,” I mean people from around the country sharing the same Venn diagram) organized protests and modest disruption. They also did something very humorous and intelligent: the production of a low-end, symbolism-rich, faux threat against the authority of the government, the Republicans, the police, and the military. I have it here, and I need you to watch it from beginning to end before you read the rest of this essay.
Did you spot the symbolism? The Molotov cocktail is obvious. The bowling ball may be less so. We will not all agree with the symbolism, but I saw 1984, ablution, anarchists bicycle movement, anarchists of yore and brats on the Weber of more recent times, awakening, the labor union wars, innocence of youth, Kafka, Marathon Man (the movie), more Kafka, Ralph Nader, several references to earlier protest movements in Minneapolis (a sort of “Hi, Mom and Dad!”), the Beaver Cleaver family representing the inured middle class, the Big Lebowski, the coffee shop trope (in several forms), the environmental movement, the holocaust, the local food movement and the old “food not bombs” trope, the more peaceful messages in the Bible, and more. And I laughed the whole time. I love this video. I love the kids who made it. I love the message it gives and the way it is given.
But the Saint Paul Police Department saw it differently.
We now know, because of the release of previously secreted information and some excellent reporting at MinnPost, that this video was the primary piece of evidence used by the police to argue before judges, city officials, state officials, and federal authorities that they needed funding, warrants, and overall administrative support as well as coordination at the federal and state level to spend $300,000 invading several homes, harassing several people, confiscating truckloads of stuff that police claimed was either evidence or dangerous materials, and ultimately arresting over 800 people.
OK, have you stopped laughing? Have you stopped screaming? Have you cleared the tears from your eyes? Yes, it is true. This video scared the authorities into spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to carry out dozens of blatantly unconstitutional acts and hundreds of inappropriate activities. Thousands of law enforcement officials were involved. It was almost like a municipally organized pogrom pitting the police against the populous. The mayor of Saint Paul and the chief of police saw this video, shat in their pants, and the smell is still ripe.
The vast majority of the arrests were the sort of arrests that happen at protests, where protesters are carted off to prison for a few hours or a day and released. But many arrests stemmed from pre-Republican National Convention raids on homes (or other places) in which, it was thought, the ring leaders of a movement that would “destroy the city” of Saint Paul were jailed and charged.
Almost every single charge against almost every single individual has been dropped because there was no case. The vast majority of the confiscated evidence has been shown irrelevant. A very small number of individuals, who are now known as the Saint Paul 8, are still charged with a reduced number of crimes. These charges are likely to be further reduced or dropped. In addition, several quite viable lawsuits are now in play against the police and the city of Saint Paul.
The culture of citizen criticism, positive collective action, and thoughtful radicalism that defined this subculture within Minneapolis has always scared the authorities. Especially the authorities in Saint Paul. The restless spirit of Minneapolis has been used, rather than repressed, by the city itself more often than not, and brought to bear to solve many social problems. But this subculture has always frightened the more conservative, the less informed, and frankly, the less intelligent. When the national movement teamed up with the local to move on the Republicans, it was not enough, apparently, to put up some extra defenses. What had to happen is that this spirit had to be crushed. The free thinkers had to be punished. Those who dared to question the very questionable authority of a rogue political party and a pretender president needed to be labeled as the same ilk as “Al Qaeda” and silenced, even at the cost of our national sense of liberty, and even by a Democratic mayor.
Below I provide a list of resources for those interested in catching up on what happened, what is now known about what happened, and what is ongoing. The Saint Paul 8 have their next hearing in court scheduled in about a month. The prosecuting authorities seem to keep putting it off as though…as though they just want the whole problem to go away. It is widely accepted these days that the highly effective and very repressive actions taken against the RNC protesters (and journalists, and others who were unrelated to any of this) were by and large illegal, inappropriate, retrospectively embarrassing, un-American, and just plain wrong. Almost no one believes that what was done was in any way okay.
At the same time, it has also been said that these activities by the police have put a damper on future protests and broken the spirit of those who might think again about disruption and civil disobedience against an oppressive government.
This, I doubt with every fiber of my being.
News and Resources
Two-part article from MinnPost. This is a must read. Start here.
Details on the Joint Analysis Center: What’s the Minnesota Joint Analysis Center?
Democracy Now reporting on the charges:
Journalist from above report getting busted by the cops in Saint Paul:
Just for fun: Watch Naomi Wolf use the word “permiticization”…but seriously, this is interesting: