Unmasking the Man at the DNC and RNC

October 16, 2008

About a month ago, I was staring into the barrel of a gun. I remember the nauseating feeling in my stomach—an intoxicating blend of extreme fear, shock and blinding anger. During my time spent protesting the Democratic and Republican national conventions in Denver, Colorado and St. Paul, Minnesota, I felt these emotions many times: fear because of the burning sensation as my body was coated in chemical spray; shock at seeing clouds of gas, tinted red by the lights, engulfing us as we ran, coughing and gagging: even terror at hearing the concussion grenades bursting over our heads, making us stumble amidst the whirlwind of chaos.

I felt anger at the hand which held the gun, clad in riot gear, anger at the system which had made me believe that this hand was there to defend me and my civil liberties. Most importantly, I felt fury at my own naiveté for thinking that my freedom and rights to peaceful assembly and free speech were protected.

If you think that I deserved that pain and subjugation, deserved to be treated like an animal in the holding cages of jails in Denver and St. Paul, or if you think that those herds of riot cops were right in what they did to us protesters, then I apologize. I am sorry that you have been so deeply socialized by this system that you cannot see the world in which we live. Or, as I’ve witnessed, the police state in which we live.

We went to the conventions to exercise our right to disagree. We came from all over the country to demonstrate our opposition to the faults of the American political system. If you followed the mainstream media during the conventions, they did not tell the truth about the treatment of protestors.

You might have read that protesters, or “vandals,” were extremely violent and threw Molotov cocktails as well as bombs with feces.

In reality, protesters were handled violently and arrested for peaceful protest tactics.

We sat for hours, waiting to be booked during a mass arrest for a nonviolent march. Countless fellow activists, along with delegates and others, shouted “Let them go” behind the police barricade.

One of my booking officers initially stated that the protesters were warned to disperse. Later, after giving the statement, he agreed that what he had said was false; the warnings were never given.

I saw my friends charged with begging (eating from Food Not Bombs, a volunteer movement that serves free vegan and vegetarian food to protest war and poverty), assault (for hugging a friend) and throwing Molotov cocktails (never). I saw a man arrested while sitting with his three-year-old daughter next to the portable toilets waiting for his pregnant wife. Reason for arrest: “Suspicion of hiding a violent weapon in the portable toilet.”

The toilet was never searched.

I saw friends arrested while walking down the sidewalk and sitting in the park. I saw a friend crushed underneath ten cops after yelling for the protest to move away from the police blockade. I saw police arrest innocent medics who had been spending hours washing water from our tear-gassed eyes, only to place them under a two thousand dollar bond. I saw a judge deny a protester the right to move his arraignment date in order to avoid losing his job only five minutes after to the same thing for another protester of a higher social class. I saw another judge charge protesters with “conspiracy to riot with furtherance of acts of terrorism.” A five-year-old boy was woken up with a gun near his face during a police raid on the Food Not Bombs house. An elderly person was shot in the arm by a rubber bullet from a few feet away, while other friends were beaten to the ground and surrounded by military horses.

Many of these friends are people I do not know. I have never met them, nor do I know their names. But a little secret about the activist world is that there is something sacred and beautiful that exemplifies this community which I have yet to find anywhere else. These friends will wash the pepper spray out of your eyes before their own, will hold day and night jail vigils to welcome you with emotional support, food, blankets, free legal aid, and a place to sleep. It is an unspoken rule in the activist world that while we may come from different backgrounds and we protest for different reasons, we are all working to fix the system, a goal which is unattainable without working collectively.

During the conventions, I was constantly surrounded by the color black. On every corner were riot cops—those who were supposed to protect me, but instead hurt and arrested me and, worst of all, stripped me of my freedoms. But I was also loved and supported by activists, especially anarchist friends, their black bandanas so feared and stigmatized by society, labeled falsely as violent aggressors. In the end, they were not the violent ones. We were not the aggressors. We did not carry the violent weapons nor did we cause any pain. Things aren’t exactly as they’re presented on television.

Read More

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments