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(en) US, Anti-Capitalist Bloc @ the RNC: An I.W.W.* Report

Date Sun, 28 Sep 2008 00:22:18 +0300

During the first week of September 2008, Republican Party delegates gathered in
St. Paul, Minnesota for the Republican National Convention (RNC) - the media
spectacle and corporate sleaze-fest that completes their nominating process. An
army of armor-clad riot police, National Guard, and private security with their
humvees, rubber bullets, and tear gas protected them. FBI-assisted sheriff's
raids at more than a half-dozen activist homes and organizing centers in
Minneapolis-St. Paul sought to hinder opposition. But thousands of protestors
still took to the streets to emphatically reject the Republicans' vicious
policies of war, discrimination, and attacks on the working-class and poor.

Among the more important mobilizing efforts against the RNC was the
Anti-Capitalist Bloc, an initiative of the Industrial Workers of the World
(I.W.W.) union - Twin Cities General Membership Branch. The
Anti-Capitalist Bloc was conceived as an organizing front for the week of
the RNC that would unite those anti-capitalist activists with an
orientation toward organizing. The Anti-Capitalist Bloc issued a "Call"
and adopted a set of "Solidarity Principles" that made clear our
opposition to not only the Republican party but the whole system of
capitalism. Ten other groups signed on including three other I.W.W
branches. Approximately 1800 full-color posters with the Anti-Capitalist
Bloc message were distributed over the course of the week.

But as Wobblies, we know that words are not enough, and so a series of
events, actions, and contingents were organized by the Anti-Capitalist


Police Raids and preemptive arrests:
In the days leading up to the RNC, police, sheriff and federal officers
conducted raids on several activist's homes and organizing centers. The
main target were members and supporters of the the anarchist umbrella
group the "RNC Welcoming Committee". The Welcoming Committee promoted and
provided logistical support for a strategy of shutting down the RNC
through direct action blockades around the convention. Eight core meembers
of the group were charged with felonies and accused of "terrorism" by the
authorities. The activist Convergence Center rented by the Welcoming
Committee was raided by the police, who detained, photographed and ID'd
the dozens present. The media largely went along with the police story,
presenting tires in garages, grey water sceptic systems, and kerosene as
dangerous weapons.

One raid in St. Paul hit the home of a large group of activists including
one of the main Anti-Capitalist Bloc organizers. Police with assault
rifles raided and detained several activists present, searched the house
and copied computer hard drives. The police eventually backed off,
releasing everyone without charge, after a large number of media, legal
observers and activists arrived on the scene.

The Circus before the Circus - Benefit Concert:
A benefit concert organized by the Anti-Capitalist Bloc at the Bedlam
theater featuring the Rude Mechanical Orchestra, the Brass Messengers, and
Mic Crenshaw brought folks together in the wake of the police house raids
and raised needed funds for the defense of protesters and the I.W.W.'s
active and public campaign at Starbucks.


I.W.W. Starbucks Ra1ly:
The next day, the day before the RNC officially opened, approximately 75
supporters of the I.W.W.'s local Starbucks campaign rallied. One of the
worker-organizes who had been fired for union activity had just won
re-instatement. Rank & file activists from AFSCME, CWA, MAPE, SEIU, and
Wobblies from across the country spoke, chanted and waved picket signs.
Labor Professor, author, and activist Peter Rachleff spoke. A heavy police
presence monitored the rally.

At the close of the rally, an invitation was extended to those assembled
to accompany the I.W.W. barista back to his first day of work at the Mall
of America Starbucks. In an orderly fashion, so as not to provoke police,
folks left the picket signs, bought tickets and boarded the Light-Rail
Train from Minneapolis to the Mall of America. Aboard the train, wobblies
and their supporters, spirts high, belted out "Solidarity Forever" and
other songs, and engaged the other riders who wondered about the police

The Mall of America is located in Bloomington, Minnesota, a suburb of
Minneapolis. At the first LRT stop in Bloomington, a contingent of
riot-police stopped the train and engaged the I.W.W. about our intentions
at the Mall. When it was made clear to Bloomington PD that we were merely
accompanying our Fellow Worker back to his job and that we did not intend
to picket, protest, riot, or engage in any of the other disruptions being
bandied about the media, they allowed us to continue.

At the Mall of America, it was a different story. As the train pulled in
to the Mall station, dozens of fully-equipped riot police were visible.
When the doors opened, an armored cop stood in front of each door
preventing anyone from leaving the train. Attempts to negotiate were
fruitless. No one, either with the I.W.W or passengers completely separate
were allowed to leave. Police at first refused, then finally relented to,
our demand that a woman and her child be allowed to exit as the woman was
having a diabetes emergency.

Mall officials were calling the shots and the police were enforcing them.
Eventually, the doors simply shut and the train pulled out of the station
back toward Minneapolis to the chants of "Bullshit!Bullshit!" from the
unionists and the other passengers alike.

Although we did not enter the Mall in force as planned, we were able to
mobilize a good group of people in support of the I.W.W. Starbucks
campaign. The action highlighted the crucial role workplace organizing
must play in anti-capitalist strategy - something that would not have
otherwise happened during the RNC protests.

The reaction of the police at the Mall reinforced our perspective: The
police answer to property, not "public safety"; the bosses fear workers
organizing as much as they do protests and blockades on the streets.


Anti-Capitalist Bloc:
The first day of the Convention, Monday September 1st, Labor Day (and so a
legal holiday in the U.S.) was always going to be the biggest day of
protest against the RNC. Both the major permitted march (March on the RNC
and Stop the War) and the anarchist-inspired blockade strategy were
scheduled for Labor Day.

The Anti-Capitalist Bloc contingent in the permitted march was conceived
as a visible organized contingent promoting the politics of working-class
direct action anti-capitalism to the mass of anti-war, labor, immigrant
rights, and other demonstrators. In this it was quite successful.

Over 300 people eventually joined in with the Bloc over the course of the
march. The Bloc was led by Red & Black "DIRECT ACTION AGAINST CAPITALISM"
banners in front, on the right by the new Twin Cities I.W.W. banner
proclaiming "SOLIDARITY" in 5 languages (English, Spanish, Hmong, Somali
and Finish - Ojibwe or Dakota will be added soon), and flanked on the left
by Solidarity & Defense's tri-lingual (English, Spanish, Arabic) banner
against the raids on immigrants. A "NO WAR BUT THE CLASS WAR" banner took
up the rear. This "wall of banners" system kept the Bloc cohesive and
visible, and gave participants a sense of security. A 5-person
"tactical-team" from the local committee was in place to make emergency
tactical decisions should that have been neccesary.

The Bloc was loud and feisty. "Capitalism? NO! Patriarchy? NO! Racism? NO!
Revolution... Yeeeaah!" "No War, But Class War!" "No Justice, No Peace!
Police off the Streets!" "Ah!An-ti!Anticapitalista!" were some of the
chants that caught attention. At different intervals during the march the
Anti-Capitalist Bloc would come to a halt to give short speeches and allow
space to seperate in front of us, a countdown would ensue and then the
Bloc would charge forward to the cries of "Revolution!" The Bloc recieved
compliments from many observers of differing political stripes. One union
staffer offered this gem: "The IWW...you guys are like the black bloc of
the labor movement."

The full-color poster/statement of the Anti-Capitalist Bloc was
distributed to 1000-1200 people at the March on the RNC. The professional
look of the poster helped the Bloc stick out and was incentive to
onlookers and demonstrators to hang on to it. This helped on a day when
they were being inundated with literature from the full spectrum of the
Left. Many of the participants asked for extra-copies to bring home, or
share with friends - a sign that the Anti-Capitalist Bloc will retain some
memory within the movement. The poster was worth the high cost and should
be seen as part of any succesfull future major mobilization.

The Bloc consistenly announced its intention to be a space where all
anti-capitalists could be present including people with kids, elders, and
people with differing abilities. It was not significantly different in
composition from previous efforts however - majority young white guys with
a bit of a Black Bloc look. This was by no means exclusively the case -
lots of women participated and a few people of color. Only a couple young
children and a few older people marched with the Bloc. The Bloc made a
serious effort to vocally oppose all oppression, but clearly our movement
still has a lot to overcome before it will look like the whole
working-class, especially its most exploited and oppressed sections.
Interestingly, a clear majority of those that marched with us were not
members of the I.W.W. or any of the other endorsing groups.

The Anti-Capitalist Bloc organizers stressed on multiple occasions that
the purpose of this Bloc was not to engage in physical confrontations with
the huge numbers of heavily armored police and Guard, but to help expand
the base and popularity of anti-capitalist ideas and methods. At the same
time it was stressed that we were not opposed to or in competition with
those attempting to blockade the Convention. The logic of the
Anti-Capitalist Bloc was embraced by all the participants - even among
those that had clearly come ready to rumble.

As the march finished up back at the state Capitol, the Anti-Capitalist
Bloc came to an official end. A meeting was convened for those who wished
to attempt to go back into downtown St. Paul and unite with the the
blockades. A large percentage of those on the Bloc plus some others headed
back down. One estimate put the returning group at 200.

The returning march group soon met a sizable police force who eventually
began shooting tear gas, rubber bullets, bean bags, and concussion
grenades at the crowd. Police eventually gave up trying to detain the
whole group, picking off a few for arrest while most escaped, ending one
of the largest stand-offs of the day.

Across the Mississippi River within view of the clouds of tear gas and
confrontation, SEIU was holding a huge "Take Back Labor Day" concert with
Billy Bragg, Mos Def, Steve Earle, Atmosphere, and others. Concerned that
the concert crowd (nearly equal to the size of the whole anti-war march)
may be tempted to join the fray, police blockaded the main bridge into
downtown St. Paul. Hopefully some of the performers and concert goers (and most
importantly their rank & file) wondered why SEIU had decided to schedule their
concert to conflict with the march, and even more shamefully, become the only
union listed as one of the corporate sponsors of the Republican National
Convention its self.


Poor People's March:
The next day, Tuesday September 2nd the Anti-Capitalist Bloc had called
for another contingent in the Poor People's Economic Human Rights Campaign
March for Our Lives. This march was much smaller than the previous day's -
approximately 800 at the start, but included a more significant percentage
of working poor and people of color. The Anti-Capitalist Bloc gathered 50
around the I.W.W. banner - including wobblies from several states,
Solidarity & Defense from Michigan, a couple NEFACers (and Jeff Monson the
anarchist UFC mixed martial arts fighter!).

Riot police again had a heavy presence and made several provocative forays
into the rally to nab individuals ID'd in actions the day before, or in
one case to grab a flag pole deemed larger than city regulations allowed.
Several undercover/plainclothes police were quite obvious in the crowd as

The Poor People's march weaved it's way through downtown St. Paul. The
Anti-Capitalist Bloc marched and sang (at one point the Manu Chao lyrics
"We are the workers/and we are marching/bella ciao, bella ciao, bella
ciao!") Another 300-500 posters were distributed by membeers of the Bloc.
The march continued up to the state Capitol lawn, where the "Ripple
Effect" concert (featuring Dead Prez, Anti-Flag, Michael Franti, and
others) was winding down. The police were refusing to allow Rage Against
The Machine to perform as the concert permit had expired. Members of Rage
Against The Machine encouraged the hundreds of young people there to join
the march. They mostly did, and the march easily tripled in size.

The march permit held by the Poor People's Economic Human Rights Campaign
did not prevent police from again opening up with their full barrage when
demonstrators ended up back outside the Xcel Energy Center where the RNC
speeches were happening.

Truckers Fuel Protest:
The Anti-Capitalist Bloc did not end up participating in the independent
truckers fuel protest that we had endorsed and promoted (other than one
SDS/IWW member from North Dakota who was a key organizer of the truckers
action). There had been both logistical and political problems. None of
the IWW OTR truckers were able to make it - originally we had thought a
few were coming - and the main Truck Driver organizers had been insistent
that all vehicles in their convoy prominently fly the American flag. In
the abscence of actual revolutionary unionist truckers present for the
action, we did not feel we had the capacity to challenge the American flag
"rule" for the convoy.

The convoy ended up being much smaller than hoped for and, like the other
actions of the week, heavily policed.


Anti-Capitalist Bloc meeting:
The next day two dozen participants in the Anti-Capitalist Bloc gathered
at a meeting hosted by the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) chapter
at Macalester College. Besides SDS and the I.W.W., members of Solidarity &
Defense, NEFAC, Class Action and WSA were also present. Discussion ranged
from "big picture" analysis of the current situation to an evaluation of
the RNC action that week to more general info-sharing on the respective
groups' activities and plans. While obviously incomplete, the meeting was
an important opportunity for folks who'd been running around together for
several days to take a moment to introduce each other and exchange ideas
and experiences.

Rage Against the Machine:
While their efforts to take the stage at one of the free outdoor concerts
of the week were consistently snubbed by the police, Rage Against the
Machine did play a scheduled show Wednesday night at the Target Center in
Minneapolis (at $60.00 a ticket!). When the crowd of 10,000 emptied the
arena at the end of the show, police in riot gear were there to meet them.
Many of the Rage fans chanted defiant lyrics at the police and hundreds
occupied the street around the Target Center, many of them sitting down to
get arrested civil-disobedience style.

Whatever one thinks of Rage Against The Machine's sound or their place in
the music industry, there is no doubt that they are treated as dangerous
by the police. Their political message and attitude has struck a nerve
with a sizable fan-base who seem willing to follow Rage's lead out into
the streets. Tom Morello, the ground-breaking guitarist for Rage,
explicitly promotes the I.W.W. with his solo side project, the


No Peace for the Warmakers:
On the final day of the RNC, while John McCain prepared to give his
acceptence speech, the final official action opposing the convention also
took place. Organized by the local Anti-War Committee (one of the main
groups behind the Monday anti-war march also) the demonstration was boldly
titled "No Peace for the Warmakers". Some 800 protestors left the State
Capitol grounds in an unpermitted march toward the Xcel. Individuals from
the Anti-Capitalist Bloc were present but were not organized into any
contingent this time. Riot police blocked every path toward the Convention
and succeeded in sealing in the march several times long stretches of
time. Despite the march's theme, the march organizers were not preopared
for direct action confrontations with the police, but did encourage a
massive sit-in to block one bridge (already blocked by police). The
stand-off ended when police moved to make mass arrests, and one final time
attacked with pepper spray, tear gas and rubber bullets.

The Anti-Capitalist Bloc @ the RNC was a succesful intervention by a small
revolutionary workers organization and our allies in the week of protest
and activity in our Cities. The hard work achieved results. The
Anti-Capitalist Bloc was able to articulate a popular revolutionary
militancy through a number of different types of events that involved
hundreds and communicated to thousands more.

At a time when the State was seeking to take advantage of some of the
weaknesses of the RNC Welcoming Committee's strategy and base, the
Anti-Capitalist Bloc conveyed in a non-sectarian way another approach for

While the number of people from endorsing groups that came from out of
town was small, those that came contributed significantly to the
collective success. In this way it was an important continuation of the
new spirit of collaboration among the groups and militants of the "Red &
Black" revolutionary anti-authoritarian movement.

We welcome comments, clarifications, questions, and criticisms.

Solidarity Forever!


Links and multimedia:

Anti-Capitalist Bloc
Call, Points of Solidarity, endorsing groups & poster:

Benefit Concert:
http://vimeo.com/1649987 (RMO at March on the RNC)
(Mic Crenshaw)

I.W.W. Starbucks Rally:

"Labor Day":
http://vimeo.com/1657220 (ACB starts at 2:53 S&D banner visible)

SEIU corporate sponsor of RNC:

Poor People's March:

Final Day:
* An antiauthoritarian anticapitalist syndicate

http://vimeo.com/1657220 (ACB starts at 2:53 S&D banner visible)
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