I arrived in St. Paul on Friday, August 29 and was surprised to see how much the city resembled a police state, even then, when demonstrators had yet to assemble in number. On Tuesday, September 2, I spent the entire day in downtown St. Paul. It was hard to go anywhere without seeing people expressing their political views in one way or another. As I wandered around the city, I stopped to talk to nearly every person I saw holding up a sign or passing out information, whether they were progressive students from Milwaukee with a sign that read “Fund Education, Not Occupation” or a man who was trying to convince me that Barrack Obama had a gay lover. It was a great place to hear and to be heard.
Later that day, I walked to the Minnesota State Capitol Mall where the Substance RNC Music Festival was taking place. The event was nonpartisan and the feeling of it was different than that of the city. Speakers, who took the stage between musical acts, continually stressed the importance of togetherness and being peaceful, which made the sight of a large group of police officers on bicycles rather off-putting.
When I arrived back at the capitol, after a brief break from the festivities there, a crowd had gathered in front of one of the stages. I stood toward the back, trying to figure out why the crowd was chanting, “Let them play!” After a while, a small number of people ran toward the capitol building in what looked like the start of a riot. That was the first time that I felt that something might happen, and I was not even sure why. That was when I heard that the police were refusing to allow Rage Against the Machine play a short set on the stage (and made a good number of people very angry in the process). Luckily, a riot was avoided, because the band decided to perform a two song set, a capella with a megaphone, among their many fans who had gathered.
After Rage Against the Machine made their getaway, the crowd moved toward the street where a group of demonstrators, led by members of the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign, were heading toward the XCel Energy Center. People were chanting “Stop the war on the poor!” and I quickly decided to join in the march, along with a large number of people who had just watched the a capella show.
We filled the streets and reporters lined up on the sidewalks taking video footage and snapping pictures. Other people could be seen looking out from inside stores and restaurants, seemingly afraid to venture outside as we marched.
When we finally reached the XCel Center, a few of the protesters contemplated scaling a chain link fence that separated us from the XCel Center, but nothing came of it. The leaders of the march then issued a citizen’s arrest for the Republicans, whom they announced had committed numerous crimes against humanity. The demonstration began to dissipate at that point, after the leaders urged the participants to be wary of violence because there were children in the crowd. It had been a long, but exciting, day. As we walked away from the XCel, we watched as S.W.A.T. began arriving in large numbers. The next day we found out that the police had clashed with another group of protesters and ended up using smoke bombs and tear gas to break them up.
Looking back at my experience at the RNC, it is interesting that I ended up participating in a protest march. It was not the biggest demonstration that was witnessed in St. Paul during the convention, but it was a cause I was proud to support, even if it had not been in my original plans. It was hard not to get involved when so many people were feeling the same way I was.