Friday, September 5, 2008, High Noon
ST. PAUL, MN -- This is a flower and a plastic band I picked up on my final walk around the Xcel Center perimeter a few minutes ago. The forklifts are busy loading the folded, black mesh fences onto flatbeds; the media is packing up all the lights, cameras and action into rented trucks. And it is actually a deceptively quiet, beautiful afternoon in downtown Saint Paul. With the fences down, it's easier to breathe a little better. But the sight of them is still unsettling; I know they did their job all too well.
I am so proud to know so many brave, honest people who showed up in Saint Paul to voice their opinions to their leaders -- to speak truth to power -- no matter what danger it posed to their own lives and personal safety. Thank you for your service and keep on marching. Please remember what happened to Carlos' son -- and the continuing plight of all our sons and daughters, in all occupied nations, who are lost or still facing horrific, life-altering situations because of the power and greed of a few. Bring them home now! (ivaw.org)
"Holli Drinkwine, spokeswoman for the Ramsey County Sheriff's Department, denied Thursday that police used excessive force. “The police showed great restraint in what they were doing," she said. "They were dealing with 300 criminals on the street while trying to protect the 10,000 peaceful protesters that were in St. Paul."
"Minnesota State Public Safety Commissioner Michael Campion said the arrests were made at an interstate overpass that separated the marchers from the Xcel Center, where Sen. John McCain was preparing to address the GOP faithful. He said the objective was to contain the protesters and keep them from reaching the convention hall."
Here are some closing observations, feelings and questions as I look back over the last few days:
The RNC security force was loaded for bear, heavily stocked and armed, and ran a very tight ship on the streets of Saint Paul. There was tolerance for protest within certain, very restrictive limits. Delegates needed to be protected, yes, but voices need to be heard in a place where so many of our elected officials gather. What is the cost to freedom of speech?
The show of firepower did not maintain the peace, it destroyed it – strengthening a “them and us” attitude and causing some people to feel obligated to fight back. The City of Saint Paul did a great job protecting the Xcel Center, but at what cost? Thousands came to show peaceful support mostly for the ending of the occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet many were turned back or arrested by heavily armed police, National Guard and others -- front line foot soldiers set up to take the fall for leaders hiding behind miles of barricades, scary rhetoric and misued American flags. Sound familiar?
The streets of Saint Paul felt progressively like an occupation. Instead of the “enjoy the RNC events,” publicity those of us who work in Saint Paul received from our companies, encouraging us to come to work and join in the spirit of the convention, the streets of Saint Paul felt progressively like an occupation. It was an occupation, mirroring the foreign policies of our government turned on its own people – for what?
Who is the bad guy? It is a very strange thing to be marginalized for voicing opinions to our own elected officials. To be portrayed (and protected against) as the bad guy by such powerful forces is crazy. Once again, the most sane people I know – the ones who attempt to live inclusive lives and continue to speak truth to power – are marginalized, bullied and assaulted. But why?
The turnbacks on the other side of the city impacted the Peace Picnic on Harriet Island. With the protestors trapped on the other side of the city, the heartfelt, inclusive, gathering designed to bring everyone together at the end was much quieter than anticipated. This was an event where people of all ages could converse with people like Carlos Arrendondo (whose son died in Iraq) and Hart Vigas (the first IVAW veteran testifier at Winter Soldier 2), Michael & Cynthia Orange who blogged for VetSpeak (and who continue to speak truth to power in their own writings and out in the world); Vets for Peace, and other peace organizations. The music played, the lemonade flowed, the children played, but the silence was deafening.
Love, Di Wood, 9/5/08, 11:43 AM, Saint Paul, MN