Within two hours of being here in St. Paul, I witnessed tear gassing, pepper spraying, and concussion grenade firing. I had never seen police use any of this on protestors before and for myself, I sadly must admit that I felt this desensitization and wondered what to do next.
Strangely, I did not think about the people who could not see out of their eyes and who were running or walking quickly towards me. I just wondered what had started it all as if a person had something to do with the police deciding to fire upon protesters.
Also, the incident that broke out between protesters and police happened as people were leaving a march down to Xcel Energy Center. To me, the fact that protesters were not attempting to communicate a message when the police fired upon them affected how I took in the situation.
At about 6:30 pm, I was down in front of the St. Paul capitol building where people had gathered expecting Rage Against the Machine to perform. IVAW members, press, and others were hanging out waiting for Rage Against the Machine to come on stage.
The police went behind the stage and informed those handling the concert plans that Rage Against the Machine would not be allowed to play. A standoff occurred between protest event staff (Members of Ripple Effect?) and police that the press swooped in to capture.
Rage Against the Machine were denied. Upon denial, the band and Boots Riley from The Coup made their way through the crowd and came around to the front of the stage. The band began to chant verses of their songs with the crowd and offer their take on the situation between the protesters and police in St. Paul.
The band then led the people out into the street. They peeled off and went back to the stage as the Poor People’s Campaign led what I believe was a spontaneous march down to the Xcel Energy Center.
Along the way, I took notice of the riot police, National Guard, and bicycle cops I walked past. Compared to Denver, nothing looked to out of the ordinary except for the fact that the National Guard was on the streets in St. Paul. In Denver, the National Guard pretty much stayed put at Johnson & Wales ready to deploy when needed.
The march of about 1,500 to 2,000 made its way down to the Xcel Energy Center relatively smoothly with few problems from police. But, at this point in the game, the sight of police in riot gear is enough to evoke disgust in the minds of the people.
Leaders of the Poor People’s Campaign took charge down in front of the Xcel Energy Center declaring that they were here to deliver a citizen’s arrest for Bush and were charging him with crimes against humanity.
The leader led people in a pledge that others would let her go risk arrest as she delivered the citizen’s arrest and not crowd around creating a riot situation with police that could potentially harm newborn babies and adults with disabilities.
The leader made her way to the fence and asked a cop to take the citizen’s arrest and deliver it. She was refused. She moved down to another end and attempted another time. She was refused.
All of this seemed to be a little bit naïve to me and like something out of fantasyland. But, with press there, a stunt like this did have the effect I think the campaign was aiming for.
The Poor People’s Campaign came together with a sense of demoralization, talked about sadness, sang a song of freedom, and then thanked people for being peaceful. The march and action was over. So we thought.
I must pause for a moment and say that I have been to enough of these protest actions now to know that the endings of actions have a way of turning into a situation where the police are guaranteed to do something that makes the action more interesting than it really was.