Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Why March on the RNC? Seven Reasons

(Just a little something I wrote. Feel free to forward, debate, etc.)

Why March on the RNC? Seven Reasons
by Kyle "El Guante" Myhre

It’s really the fault of the activist community that so many people outside of that community think we’re a bunch of naïve hippies. We haven’t done enough to make the connections between what the majority of the American people want and what our goals are—a connection that desperately needs to be made clear. When I tell people that I’m planning on being there for the big Sept 1 march on the Republican National Convention, I usually hear the same counterarguments. They assume we’ll all be there to:

1. Throw rocks at the police and deface property out of some misguided sense of youthful rebellion. Or…
2. Hold hands around the Xcel Energy Center and sing folk songs until it turns into a giant sunflower. Or…
3. Use brute force to shut down the Republican campaign and silence their opinions because we disagree with them.

These are all fallacies perpetuated by people who either don’t understand the purpose of large-scale protests or explicitly want them to fail. As activists, we are not simply flailing our arms about and shouting at the wind so we can feel good about ourselves. The goals, benefits and reasons for being there are numerous; here are just a few:

1. Because it will be a concrete example of democracy in action
Democracy is, in many ways, an “active noun.” If it isn’t regularly practiced (in ways more meaningful than just voting once very two or four years), it withers. The RNC protest will feature a vast array of voices, tactics and examples of democracy in action. From education (workshops and conferences), to resistance art (guerilla poetry, big concerts) to liberation healthcare (Northstar Health Collective Free Clinic, various street medics), to childcare, to legal resources (Coldsnap Legal Collective); even down to food (Seeds of Peace, other free mobile kitchens)—the RNC protest has democracy built into its very infrastructure. It’s about practicing what we preach and bringing into existence the kinds of systems and institutions we’d like to see.

2. Because it will energize community activists from around the country
Real change often comes through community organizing—a counter-recruitment effort, a city council or mayoral campaign, a local movement for affordable housing, a living wage or any other important goal. Big national rallies are great catalysts, energizing and inspiring activists who will march for a few days, network with like-minded people and then return to their home cities ready to get down to business. Being an activist is often exhausting, thankless work, so this kind of communal experience is invaluable—for the concrete benefits of networking and trading tactics, but also for the intangible benefits of seeing that you’re not alone.

3. Because we need to send a clear media message to the world
The media can be a tricky thing for progressives to deal with. Too often, the media will distort coverage of events like the RNC counter-protest and focus on the bad apples, or the crazies, or basically anyone who doesn’t know what they’re talking about. At the same time, however, this event is a great opportunity to show the world that a large number of American people do not agree with the direction the country is headed in. Citizens across the country need to know that their uneasiness with the government is not unwarranted paranoia, but a very common attitude. People in other countries need to know that George W. Bush is not the face of the American people. People everywhere need to be reminded that there is a very real power in numbers, in people coming together for a common cause and exercising free speech.

4. Because it will inspire young and/or inexperienced activists
Everybody seems to support “change,” but few people are really committed to creating it. I’ve seen big rallies crystallize young activists’ impulse to be change-makers. There’s a certain energy you can only experience at large-scale events—you see with your own eyes what the police are capable of, you talk to and learn from professional, experienced organizers, you feel the excitement and much more. It’s a commitment just to attend a large march—a crucial first step in the journeys of many future leaders.

5. Because we need to build a real movement
The RNC protests will feature a multitude of tactics and goals that reflect the multitude of activists and activist organizations coming together. Again, the RNC was/is a catalyst for these myriad issues, organizations and individuals meeting, working together and interlocking further. If the Republicans have been good for anything, it’s that they’ve made stronger allies out of anti-war activists, immigrant-rights groups, anti-racist organizers, the LGBTQ movement, universal health care advocates and a wide range of other progressive activists. The RNC protest—not so much as an ideological focus but as a real, physical space—will further cement these incredibly important bonds.

6. Because voting is not enough
It’s up to the citizens of a nation to hold its leaders accountable. Of course, damn near every progressive in the country will be voting for Obama this November. No disrespect to the Greens, but it’s true. At the same time, few of us are naïve enough to believe that the Democrats are fully able—or even willing—to undo the damage done by eight years of Bush/Cheney. If we’re serious about change in this country, that change has to come through a smart, organized movement on the ground pressuring our elected leaders no matter what party they belong to. The RNC protest will be a major step in that direction, a testing ground for new tactics, a networking space for activists and an experience to ignite our passion for creating change beyond the ballot box.

7. Because the Republican agenda is one of hatred, greed and suffering
Obviously. This is the reason most people will be marching—not out of some big-picture movement-building political analysis, but because they simply want to exercise their free speech. This is perfectly valid. The Republicans have set the war agenda, attacked women’s rights, actively oppressed the LGBTQ community, ignored the environment, given tax breaks to the rich, locked up millions of non-violent offenders, gutted our public schools… this depressing list could go on for a long time. While marching on the RNC won’t magically fix all these things, it will—for the other reasons stated above—make a real difference.

Of course, there are activists who really want to run up the costs of the convention, throw wrenches into it wherever possible or completely shut it down. All I’m saying here is that whether you’re a hardcore freedom fighter who wants to smash the state or simply a soccer mom who is worried about the war, there is a space for you at the march. We all don’t have to be there for the same reasons; what matters is that we’re there for reasons that we believe in.

Assemble Monday, September 1 at 11am at the Capitol in St. Paul for a march to the Xcel Energy Center.

And though it’s technically a non-partisan event, you should also check out RIPPLE EFFECT, a free music festival organized by SUBSTANCE on Tuesday, September 2 at 12:30pm on the Capitol Mall. Featuring dead prez, Michael Franti, Anti-Flag, Wookie Foot w/ Matisyahu, I Self Divine, the Tru Ruts crew, Indigo and more. I’ll be performing there as well. www.rippleeffect08.com

See http://protestrnc2008.org for a full schedule of events, news and updates.

(Kyle “El Guante” Myhre is an emcee, poet, educator and activist currently based in Minneapolis, MN. Contact him at www.myspace.com/elguante, or guantemail@yahoo.com)

4 comments:

Sarah said...

Well said Kyle...I have to admit, I am one of those progressives who has lost interest in the protest movement. I guess after 10 years my cynical nature has taken hold and I have a lost a bit of faith in protests. Yet, your article gives me some hope in what is possible and I am excited to see what can come out of this. I think the important piece is engaging activists from all over the country, people forget that connections and building coalitions is how we create real change, people spend way too much time talking about how shitty things are that they don't act on it..you offer some good pointers for new activists as well. A lot of times college kids will go to these protests and do a lot of shouting and then go home and forget why they even went. You should market your "Seven reasons" and pass it out to as many protesters as possible!

The Right Reverend Blues, ULC said...

“Because the Republican agenda is one of hatred, greed and suffering”?

You say that as though you believe that the Democratic agenda isn’t.

“And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye.” [Matthew 7:3-5]

For most of my life, I refused to join a political party. When campaign season rolled around, I supported the candidate that I felt was best for the job. I voted a split ticket, and refused to support either party. When I ran for office, I did it as an independent. When the voters put me into office three times, I served as an independent. Then, about two years ago, I joined the GOP.

You see, I did not want to join or support a party that took positions and supported causes that I objected to, and both parties where guilty of that. That part hasn’t changed, both parties are still guilty of that, and while I am now a Republican, I openly oppose the party on the issues where we differ. What has changed is that our people are more polarized and divided than at any other time within the span of my memory. Rather than differing opinions on differing schools of political thought, things have become more like tribal warfare, and anyone who fails to pick a side is fair game for both sides.

In my case, the side picked me. My issues with the Republican Party tend to be matters of principle that don’t tend affect me directly. Conversely, my issues with the Democrats tend to be matters that directly affect my freedom and quality of life. The people in life who treat me fairly or are at least willing to leave me alone tend to be on the right, while the people that treat me unfairly, and target me for hatred, derision, and bigotry tend to be on the left.

I did not come to the GOP as a born-again true believer, I came as a refugee seeking safe haven from the storm of abuse, hatred, demonization, and hypocrisy of the left, and I am not alone.

el guante said...

"You say that as though you believe that the Democratic agenda isn’t."

Not at all. I'm a firm believer in the failure of the two-party system. Both parties support awful policies.

That being said, i plan on voting Democratic... but that's another article entirely (which will be coming eventually).

The Right Reverend Blues, ULC said...

"Not at all. I'm a firm believer in the failure of the two-party system. Both parties support awful policies."

We're on the same page there, my brother.