"Canning the Klan"
in the Twin Cities

Revolutionary Worker #1118, September 16, 2001, posted at http://rwor.org

Flying squads have been taking the new Draft Programme of the RCP out to cities in different parts of the country as part of engaging in a coast-to-coast, border-to-border revolutionary conversation. The following correspondence is about a recent anti-KKK demonstration that members of one flying squad went to in Minneapolis. A report on the work of this flying squad will appear in a future issue of the RW.

Our flying squad came to Minneapolis-St. Paul to take the Draft Programme out to an anti-Klan rally, "Can the Klan," which was held at the state capitol in St. Paul on August 25th.

As we drove into Minneapolis before the protest, the shimmering towers of downtown gleamed coldly and we talked about how at first glance, this seemed like a very clean, well off, and white city. But our days in the Twin Cities proved that it isn't much different here than any other large American city: while the percent of African Americans in the city is relatively low, almost every police murder over the past 10 years has involved a Black person. Homelessness has doubled since 1990, and rents have doubled in the last three years. A large amount of public housing --and affordable housing--is being torn down. At the same time, many more poor people from Wisconsin are arriving in Minneapolis because Wisconsin's five-year limit on welfare benefits expires in September. All these conditions are downpressing poor white people in the Twin Cities, and are especially harsh on African Americans, Native Americans, Latinos, Somalians, Vietnamese, Hmong people, and others who make up the diverse minority population here.

The anti-Klan rally was the largest protest in the Twin Cities in many years. More than 3,000 protesters drowned out a handful of KKKers and Nazis who were pressed against the top steps of the state capitol. Some 50 State Troopers guarded the fascists, making a fashion statement in uniforms that almost matched the Nazi brownshirts. Sharpshooters perched on top of the capitol building and hundreds of St. Paul police waited in the wings and were deployed nearby, including a SWAT-type unit.

People came to the rally from many sections of the community, including movement groups, anarchist youth, community activists, punk rock musicians, basic Black youth, church groups, Latino teamsters, and Black nationalists. For many people in the crowd, this was their first political protest. One 20-year-old white guy said, "I only live a mile away, and I could hear the Klan from my house. I couldn't sit in my front yard while the Klan was demonstrating, without coming down here to express my disgust." Several people told us that they had decided to come after hearing the politicians and media telling people not to go.

When the Klan made their appearance from inside the capitol building, anti-Klan demonstrators pushed against the metal police barricades and chanted down the KKK, banging on drums and pots and pans. Demonstrators hurled eggs, bread, and fruit at the fascists, an effigy of a Klansman was burned, and a handful of reactionaries who had filtered into the crowd were confronted and chased away. One of them was tossed over the barricade and made it to safety behind the line of troopers, and the chants changed to "Blue by day, white by night," and "Cops and Klan go hand in hand."

The whole battle to have this rally and take on the Klan raised some deep questions. As the squad went among the people at the rally, we had many deep conversations about sections of the Draft Programme on what it will take to end white supremacy. People wrangled with why, here in the 21st century, the KKK and Nazis think they can come out and rally. In May the Ku Klux Klan from Mercer, WI, the National Socialist Movement based in St. Paul, and the Aryan Nations from California publicized a plan to organize in the five "whitest" states in the country, with Minnesota as one of their target states. The reactionaries opened their "campaign" here, in spite of the fact that the anti-white-supremacist movement has been active in Minneapolis, and Minnesota as a state has a more liberal reputation than Idaho, for example.

As soon as the activists heard about the KKK plan, they said "people from the community started calling us, asking if we were going to do something to stop the Klan from achieving its ends. A couple of us from the radical community come from the South, and even though this was the Klan's first major appearance in Minneapolis, we knew what we needed to do." They launched "Can the Klan" (CTK), which brought together members of groups such as Communities United Against Police Brutality (affiliated with the October 22nd National Day of Protest), anarchist youth from the punk scene, community organizers, welfare rights activists, and others. The youth group Radical Offensive Against Racism (ROAR) held a punk rock/hip hop concert the night before the rally, and the radical youth contributed to the protest's "edge" by attempting to get right in the face of the Klan.

Another sharp lesson from this protest was that the hand that is holding the leash of the KKK belongs to the capitalist system. Almost as soon as CTK formed up, it came under attack from the government, including agents from the US Department of Justice (DoJ), the state troopers who were the police agency responsible for the capitol grounds, politicians, and media commentators. The Klan was granted a permit months earlier, but CTK did not get the final permit until less than a week before the rally.

A Latino union organizer explained why he came to the rally: "For me, it's a moral question. If it's bad for humanity, I have to do it. It's a way to unite the community. It'll deliver a message and bring people together. The Klan represents the powers in this country. If we, as a people's political group, were to have such a rally, the police would give us no protection, but they gave it to the Klan. That indicates to me that the power is closer to the Klan."

The state told CTK representatives that they would be held "responsible" for any violence that might occur, and tried to get them to give the police a guarantee and to finger people who were putting up posters for the rally. They tried to prohibit CTK protesters from using microphones and noisemakers, and to force the rally to start one hour after the Klan rally was scheduled to end.

The spokesman for the state troopers said he was "more worried about violence from Can the Klan...than from the Klan." St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman claimed that protesters would aid the Klan by providing more publicity for the rally, and could "endanger police officers."

During the permit negotiations, the DoJ informed the lawyer for CTK that the leadership of the CTK was under surveillance by local, state, and federal law enforcement, and by the reactionaries. This not-so-veiled threat caused activists to take measures to ensure their own protection, including making sure to travel together and not talk over their phones, and taking measures to protect their families. During the same time, the answering machine for CTK received frequent racist threats.

Politicians, reactionary columnists and media commentators, and many who should have known better in the liberal community tried to persuade people that they should not protest the Klan, and to demonize the CTK for organizing the rally. An activist painted this picture: "About two weeks before the rally, the media pressure became intense--'don't come to protest the Klan, they said; ignore the Klan and they'll go away.' The mayor of St. Paul called for people to come to an ice cream social and avoid those radicals at the rally, and various liberal community organizations sponsored a 'peace' rally the day before, where politicians and others tried one last time to discourage people from coming."

A CTK leader stressed that throughout this permit battle CTK remained firm and fought for the permit so that the rally could "bring out the broadest, most diverse group of people from our community to show the Klan and other white supremacists that they're not welcome here." Activists agonized over how to hold the unity of CTK in the face of all these attacks. We had a dialogue about how difficult it is--yet how necessary--to "keep it broad but keep the edge"--to unleash the youth and strengthen the anti-capitalist edge of the protest, while not rupturing the unity with the broader middle class forces.

Not surprisingly, news coverage of the CTK rally was sparse to none. A Black man who came with 100 people from his church described the TV coverage: "They said on the news that you couldn't hear the Klan speech over the roar of the protesters, then they made sure to air sound bites from it! I was really shocked to hear, for the first time in Minneapolis, the 'n' word used on TV. The media had a responsibility to cover this--and instead they offended us all and hardly had anything from the anti-Klan side."

The free publicity for the Klan dovetailed with an increase in hate attacks in the area. On August 19 a white man approached four Black teens, poured flammable liquid on one teenager, and ignited it, sending the youth to the hospital. The police refused to treat this as a hate crime because the man (who is still at large) had not used any racial epithets in the attack. Right after the rally on August 25, two white reactionaries who had been at the Klan rally attacked a 4-year-old Black boy. They pushed him off his bike, yelled racial slurs, and punched the little boy in the head! Only one of the men was arrested so far. And on August 26, the bodies of two men were found in or near the Mississippi River. The mainstream media has not identified their race.

It is significant that the reactionaries were hit with powerful resistance to their effort to get a foothold in the Twin Cities. The cooperation of the three fascist groups is new here: a CTK spokeswoman pointed out that "In the past these groups have not normally worked together. They've competed for the same members and there's been some elements of infighting. The fact that these groups are working together now is a sign of how very serious they are about taking root in our community and a sign of how seriously we need to take it and how much we need to work to stop them."

In the wake of the rally, questions percolated among the activists about how to go forward and build a movement of resistance against all these attacks--the struggle against reactionaries, police brutality, the war on the poor, and the struggle to free Mumia.

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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