St. Paul, MN - Even though the 2008 Republican National Convention (RNC) has been over for a year, eight Twin Cities activists are still caught up in its aftermath. The weekend before the RNC, local police led raids on the Convergence Space and the homes of members of a group calling itself the RNC Welcoming Committee. Eight Twin Cities activists (Monica Bicking , Robert Czernik, Garrett Fitzgerald, Luce Guillen-Givins, Erik Oseland, Nathanael Secor, Max Specktor and Eryn Trimmer) were arrested pre-emptively and held for the entirety of the convention. Despite these arrests and other acts of intimidation, thousands of people turned out to protest all four days of the convention and a groundswell of community support has grown surrounding the group now known as the RNC 8.
“Members of the Welcoming Committee were used as a part of the Saint Paul police’s campaign to scare people from coming out to protest on Sept. 1 and to keep people from taking militant action during the convention,” said Jessica Sundin, a member of the Anti-War Committee and spokesperson for the Coalition to March on the RNC and Stop the War. “But protesters refused to be bullied into silence, were militant, and came out in thousands to oppose the war on Iraq.”
Members of the RNC Welcoming Committee were targeted for their work as open anarchists who were organizing awareness of anti-RNC events and for planning support such as housing, food, etc. for anti-RNC activist sponsored activities. They each face the potential of five years in prison and a $10,000 fine according to Garrett Fitzgerald, one of the RNC 8. Fitzgerald asked “Are we guilty of a crime? I don’t believe so. I don’t believe we did anything criminal. Ultimately when we go to trial the jury is going to have to decide at what point is feeding someone a felony offense?”
The RNC 8 were originally charged with the felony offense of conspiracy to riot in the second degree in furtherance of terrorism. This was the first ever use of Minnesota’s PATRIOT Act. In December, Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner added three more felony charges: second degree conspiracy to riot, first degree conspiracy to commit criminal damage to property in furtherance of terrorism and first degree conspiracy to commit criminal damage to property.
Supporters organized to pressure Gaertner, who is also running for governor of Minnesota as a Democrat, to not prosecute the RNC 8. She has been plagued with pickets at fundraising and campaign events throughout Minnesota and even in Chicago. On April 9, due to political pressure Gaertner’s office dropped the two terrorism enhancement charges but she plans to still prosecute the RNC 8 on the remaining two counts of conspiracy.
Luce Guillen-Given, one of the RNC 8, explained, “Dropping the terrorism enhancements was definitely a victory for grassroots organizing. It wasn’t a victory achieved through litigation but something that came from mobilizing all sorts of different people and communicating to Susan Gaertner’s office what the people of the Twin Cities want to see happen.”
Rob Czernik, another of the RNC 8, explained why they have received so much support, “One of the amazing things...was with the Duluth Board of Trades and Labor who put out a statement of solidarity with us asking Susan Gaertner to drop the charges. There have been a couple of other unions that have recognized that while they didn’t agree with our tactics and didn’t agree necessarily with our ideology they saw that what was happening was something that could happen to them.”
Guillen-Given also addressed the diversity of their support, “We have the support of people’s families, the friends that they bring along, different political groups and communities that each of the eight have worked in, and a lot of people we don’t know who have heard of the case and can recognize that there is something significant, not just for the eight of us, but for everyone.”
Guillen-Givins theorized about reasons for this broad base of support. “This could be anybody. We’re really being targeted for open public organizing. There are a lot of people who engage in that sort of activity and every time there is a political prosecution and they succeed with that it lays the ground work to continue that and to broaden the targets.”
Guillen-Givens added, “We’re at a moment where anarchism is considered inherently criminal. You can see that in the first press release that (Sheriff) Bob Fletcher released the morning after the Convergence Center raid and right after the house raids where he referred to the RNC Welcoming Committee as a ‘known criminal enterprise.’ I guess it’s just really threatening to think of anarchists working across ideological lines. They’re [the government] really afraid of that sort of solidarity in building resistance. So I feel like they think they have a lot to lose if movements for social change are strong enough to cross those lines and like they have a lot to gain if they can zero in on the anarchists and kind of isolate us and cut us off from the movement - which I don’t think they’ve been successful at.”
The RNC 8 were supposed to have a hearing on August 19 but it was postponed. At their future hearing they urge their supporters to come to a pre-hearing rally and as much of the trial as possible. In the meantime, the RNC 8’s defense committee is planning to keep up their pressure on the Ramsey County Attorney’s office. There is currently no trial scheduled but it could start as late as spring of 2010.
Go to rnc8.org for more information about their case and to get involved.