RNC: The Moment, the Repression, and the Need for Resistance

by Linda Flores and Osage Bell

Revolutionary Worker #1252, September 19, 2004, posted at http://rwor.org

"A handful of people have tried to destroy our city by going up and yelling at visitors here because they don't agree with their views...this is the city for free speech if there ever was one and some people think that we shouldn't allow people to express themselves. That is exactly what the terrorists did, if you think about it, on 9/11. Now this is not the same kind of terrorism, but there's no question that these anarchists are afraid to let people speak out."

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, in the September 2 New York Times

The narrow-mouthed ghouls that rule this land desperately needed for the streets of New York to be silent as the graves their bombs dig. New York City, which has had a seriously increased presence of police and National Guard since 9/11, was to be so locked down, the security so tight, that any protest against the RNC was supposed to be minimal or isolated. They tried to create a climate of fear, warning about possible terrorist attacks during the convention and even equating protesters with terrorists.

The rulers of this country are seeking to carry out an endless, unchecked war on the world, free to rain down destruction at the push of a button. And in order to do this, they urgently need the silence and the acquiescence of the population here.

But the powers-that-be have a problem: Millions of people here and around the world loathe George Bush and what he represents. In the wake of the massive anti-war protests around the Iraq war, Bush and his team lost a lot of legitimacy, which they desperately need to regain. So they brought out an unprecedented level of repression to ensure that this most hated ruler would be given the ground to be "re-legitimated," "crowned," and "mandated."

The "New Normalcy"

First, the city denied United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ), the umbrella group organizing Sunday's "NO" march, a permit to rally in Central Park. There was a campaign of insinuation saying that the UFPJ should be held responsible for police who had been injured at previous demonstrations. It was also hinted that by calling out crowds of protesters, they were giving potential "cover" for terrorist attacks.

For a week or more, the media promoted the idea that people should fear black-clad anarchists, who would wreak unwelcomed havoc on streets, cause traffic jams, be violent, and simply make people's lives unbearable. This is the same media that hides the truth from people about the violence, havoc, and completely unbearable living situation of the people in Iraq, Afghanistan, and around the world, through U.S. sanctions, invasions, and occupations. The ruling class knows that it's dangerous for them when people start to concern themselves en masse with these realities.

Before the protests, the NY Daily News ran screaming editorials equating anarchists and other protesters with terrorists. And during the RNC week, NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg said that protesters yelling at Republican delegates was "exactly what the terrorists did.on 9/11."

In coordination with such slander and dissent-bashing in the media was the extreme levels of police-state mechanisms and apparatus that was deployed. Even before protesters arrived in town, cops with automatic weapons and flak vests began appearing in the subway stations. Nearly all of the NYPD's 37,000 cops were deployed during the convention week. The cops warned everyone to expect searches at any time, especially those traveling on subways and trains. They brought in new weapons and tools, such as hand-held radiation detectors, mechanical barriers, nets (normally used on construction sites), to arrest hundreds at once. The Associated Press reported that the NYPD would be using a Long Range Acoustic Device (used by the military in Iraq!) that can blast 150 decibels of painful sound. According to the Aviation International News , this is the equivalent of standing next to a jet engine as it takes off. In addition to all this, there was open involvement of federal agents in the infiltration, stalking, and interrogation of activists and the security surrounding the convention itself.

All this is part of what Dick Cheney has called the "new normalcy." Cops in military gear in the subways that are full of signs warning riders to "report suspicious activity or persons." Unmarked cars and undercover cops skulking around the city. Helicopters buzzing overhead. New York Police Commissioner Kelly openly bragging to the New York Times : "There's strategic intelligence and tactical intelligence. You can get that a variety of ways.. We have scouts running around, the blimp in the air, helicopters, cops in static locations."

The authorities fought to create a suffocating atmosphere during the RNC week--forcing immigrant vendors and others to guard their words and talk in whispers. When teams went out to store owners with flyers that read "NO" to be displayed in windows, more than one owner said that they would like to put them up--but they were afraid of repression just for displaying a flyer! One immigrant told us he couldn't wear a "NO" sticker--he was afraid he would get arrested and be deported.

The Reality Behind Police "Restraint"

The police started their crackdown early, even before the big Sunday march, to set the tone that if protesters so much as thought about moving an inch in the wrong direction, they would be arrested. On Friday, Aug. 27, Critical Mass, a monthly mass bike ride, was attacked and 250 bicyclists were arrested for "obstructing traffic."

Nearly every single protest during RNC week was attacked by the police in some way. Sunday's march, which drew out more than half a million people, was portrayed in the media as a remarkable sign of "police restraint." (This is after the authorities had tried to hem in the entire protest within their terms; to divide protesters into "peaceful" and "violent"; and to corral protesters into a long, narrow trap of a space between the West Side Highway and the Hudson River.) The organizers fought successfully for a march route that went right past Madison Square Garden, the site of the convention. But the entire march was hemmed in on every side by barking NYPD and metal barricades, and not one deviation from the route was permitted. Helicopters buzzed overhead, undercover police officers milled through the crowds, and snipers waited on the roofs above. More than 250 were arrested that day, and some groups of protesters were charged with assault after officers got injured charging at them.

If this is what they call "restraint," we should be very afraid of what would happen when they get "serious."

Over 1,800 people were arrested during the entire RNC week. Tuesday's day of direct action alone saw several unpermitted marches all over the city, resulting in more than 900 arrests. This set a NYC record for the largest number of people arrested in one day.

Most of those arrested were taken to a cavernous former bus garage on Pier 57, complete with barbed wire, chain-link fences, arrestee pens, and floor covered with motor oil and grease. Water, food, and medical attention were given out on the whim of the police. When confronted about the conditions at Pier 57 by the New York Times , the president of the prison guard's union issued a thinly veiled threat that if detainees at the pier didn't like conditions there, they could always be taken to Rikers Island Prison, with "rats, roaches, mice, alleged rapes and sodomies. They should count their blessings." (See sidebar for more on the arrests.)

A press release from the Independent Media Center said that one protester was maced in the eyes and then left in a hot van for two hours, heat blasting, windows shut, in the 80+ degree summer heat. Cops taunted him, saying that he deserved this treatment for allegedly spitting on a cop; another jeered that they planned to let this guy's contact lenses "melt onto his eyelids." When he was finally allowed to wash out his eyes, he had to be taken to the emergency room for eye damage and a scratched cornea.

And while the police were doing all this, they continued in their murder and terrorizing of the basic masses. In the space of one week, the NYPD shot three people, killing one. On August 30, Brooklyn police shot two youth who were accused of stealing $36 from a car wash--one died. On Sept. 4, Brooklyn police shot and wounded a mentally ill man, Richard Figueroa, for allegedly waving a weapon at the cops.

The police--uniformed and not--were everywhere you turned. Members of the Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade were arrested for selling the Revolutionary Worker newspaper and "I Say NO" T-shirts. Activists reported to the New York Times that they had been followed around the city by undercover cops who knew their names. Barely disguised police cars cruised around anywhere activists converged.

Union Square became symbolic of much of this. All throughout the week, this place was at once a gathering spot, a debating circle, an organizing center, and a meeting point. People played drums, sold a never-ending supply of creative anti-Bush T-shirts, listened to planned and unplanned speakers. Whenever people got too lively or too many were gathered around one place, the cops' ears would perk up and a uniformed officer would slink over.

If anyone is tempted to think that the police state was not in full force during the RNC week because the tear gas and beatings were not as prevalent as some had feared, they need to understand that what many are now calling the "Kelly Doctrine" (after the NYC police commissioner) is not a lighter level of repression, but a much heavier and much more sophisticated one. They employed everything from blatant police infiltration (the police admitted to the New York Times that they infiltrated protest groups and spied on their communications) to the massive weight of the entire NYPD, buttressed with other kinds of police. (Bloomberg bragged that over 23 different agencies were employed in the week of the RNC.)

The cops' main tactic was simply to immobilize protests before they even got anywhere important. Many marches during the week did not have permits. The cops would often announce that they were planning to tolerate the march, or would give the appearance that they wouldn't crack down. They would then "escort" the march, appearing to give it safe passage by riding along ahead, clearing traffic with their motorcycles and blocking traffic from side streets. Nearly every time, this was revealed to be a trap--the protests would turn a corner or reach the end of the block and find that they had been led straight into a barricade or a net, with cops closing in right behind them. And any time a protest might have gotten near Madison Square Garden, where the vampires roamed freely, the cops slammed their metal barricades and blocked passage.

On Thursday night, Sept. 2, thousands of protesters marched from Union Square to the Garden, where supposedly a rally permit had been granted to UFPJ. When they got there, it became clear that the "permit" meant the "right" for people to weave from blocked street to blocked street, looking for an entry to one of the "free speech zones"-- a single block area, surrounded by highrises, metal barricades, and uniformed cops. A protester on the scene remarked, "This is what it looks like when they're rounding people up before they take them away on trains with undisclosed destinations."

If all of this is what they call "restraint," we cannot allow them to get serious.

In addition to the crackdown on demonstrators, it is also clear that the state kept a close eye on independent and radical news services and websites. Many reporters, especially those with cameras, were attacked or arrested, and their equipment damaged or "lost." Calyx, the ISP that hosts the website of NYC's Independent Media Center (IMC), was hit with a government subpoena because someone anonymously posted the names, phone numbers and hotel locations of the 2,200 delegates and people running the Republican convention. According to the New York Times , "The subpoena seeks subscriber information and contacts and billing records for the Indy Media site." Calyx has refused to speak to federal agents and is fighting the subpoena--a courageous stand that should be supported and promoted.

Fascistic Police-State Measures

These attacks on protesters during the RNC should be seen in the context of a whole new effort to legitimize and extend police-state measures and apparatuses in the wake of 9/11. The same FBI that has been stalking and interrogating RNC protesters has been knocking on immigrants' doors in the middle of the night and disappearing them, gathering up book-lending information from libraries, and investigating clinics who perform late-term abortions. This is the same FBI that conducted the COINTELPRO program during the upsurges of the 1960s and '70s, which surveilled, hounded, even killed activists and revolutionaries.

The Bush administration has created the Nazi-sounding Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that functions as a clearinghouse of security forces and information, combining 22 federal agencies into a single operation designed to wage the "war on terrorism" at the U.S. borders and within those borders. Recently, the New York Times reported that the Immigration and Naturalization Service (which is under the DHS) now has the power to snatch immigrants right off the streets if they can't show proper identification and proof that they have a "right to exist" in this country--and deport them without a hearing.

The climate of fear and criminalization of dissent is ever-growing. It's not just the Michael Moores, the anarchists, or the communists who are feeling it. Meryl Streep, one of the most respected actresses in the United States, has been viciously attacked in the media for a remark at a John Kerry fundraiser: "Through the shock and awe, I wondered which of the megaton bombs Jesus, our president's personal savior, would have personally dropped on the sleeping families in Baghdad."

We Must and Can Resist

The intense repression during the RNC week revealed something about the reality of "free speech" under this system. Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, pointed to an aspect of bourgeois democracy/dictatorship by paraphrasing a Bob Dylan song: "As long as you don't say nothing, you can say anything you want." (From his historic talk "Revolution: Why It's Necessary, Why It's Possible, What It's All About," available on DVD/video from Three Q Productions.) Any time you get to the point where your speech or actions might actually influence the direction of things in a real way, you come up against one or several arms of the state--the police, the political police, the FBI, and so forth--as well as the distortions and outright lies in the media attacking you and your cause.

This is especially sharp now because of the times we're in. As Lenin pointed out in "The Collapse of the Second International," in times of war the bourgeoisie more than ever needs the tame silence and the acquiescence of the populace. But it's also true that the more the forces that rule this country repress the people, the more they reveal their true nature.

The week of the RNC, protesters encountered new levels of police-state repression. But people stood up to this with creativity and determination. In one example, at the end of the week one group of three protesters wrapped themselves in orange netting, ridiculing the tactics of the NYPD, and snuck into the hall of Madison Square Garden itself, shouting messages before being tackled down.

Tame silence is what the rulers need the most--and it is what the people need to deny them. All through the week of the RNC, the rulers got anything but such silence. Despite the best efforts of the rulers, the streets of New York echoed with the fierce, determined and exuberant NO! from hundreds of thousands of people. We can celebrate this and be inspired to take things much higher--to fight for a world we all would want to live in.