Barking Pigs and GOP Elbows: A personal reflection on the RNC riots

Left to make our way to the undisclosed location of our affinity group’s action on our own terms, Monday began as all others did since Frenzy and I arrived in St. Paul, MN to protest the Republican National Convention: late starts, unfocused meetings, and the untrustworthy gaze of someone I am supposed to be trusting to save my ass in a dire situation. Instead, I only feel my ass would be served on a plate to the cops. There was such a strong presence of cops on East 7th Street where we got off the bus, much further from our sector and downtown than we’d originally expected.

I walked with another person, S and met up with H on our way there. He came by bicycle and reported back to us about the plan. “We’re fucked.” We couldn’t think of what to do. A mustached older man rolled up on his red motorcycle. “Lookin’ fer a protest?” he inquired behind dark sunglasses. H mumbled no and the man revved off, perhaps in search of others “lookin’ fer” RNC-related mischief. We decided to split the scene, go to a cafe, and reconvene. S and I only got as far as the cafe, Frenzy would meet up with me later afterwards to do some legitimate scout work around Sector 2ish with the Communications group. On foot we headed toward downtown, toward the sirens, toward the helicopters. Toward the police. Toward the mayhem. Toward the battle against the state, the corruption, the hypocrisy and teargas, the fences and retaliation, the horses and the dumpster barricades, the apathetic and active native Minnesotans. Toward the beauty of fighting for what we stand for.

I want to preface what I did and saw next by saying I really miss my bicycle, Priscilla. I can ride smoothly and swiftly and cover a lot of ground on that vintage 5-speed. Today I felt lame, my feet hardly moving, my legs making the pedaling motion they’re so used to, but not succeeding in the way they’re used to. Either way they learned to book it once we saw three cop cars heading west, or south, or east. We were continually on the move, from West Kellogg Blvd. to East 6th Street.

We even had a chance to rub elbows (literally) with Republican delegates. After walking a few blocks from the grocery store we spotted charter bus after charter bus filled with what we knew to be delegates. We crossed the street with them, smiled at them, and almost made it to the first checkpoint across the street from the Excel Center. We were mesmerized at the giant FoxNews screen that projected a foxy blonde anchor in a red dress reporting Republican rhetoric spun more than a salad mixer. Along our detour into the “battlefield” of downtown St. Paul, we met up with a Democrat who was very active in following us around to each action, if not just to observe the sheer number of cops present.

So there was the peace march that we slipped into. And there was the Anarchist Anti-Capitalist bloc we marched alongside. It was glorious and I almost forgot how badly my feet hurt until the hill we had to climb up to the Capitol building. Turns out we both needed rest. Then . . .

Enter The Crazy Anarchists! Staking out the Crowne Plaza on Kellogg where delegates were being bused out. There was a sound system, a row of mobile riot cops, and, before long, horses. I felt sorry for the horses. Such a beautiful animal shouldn’t be used to make a menacing figure more menacing. It’s like associating butterflies with the plague.

So there were the horses. Then there were the full-on riot police, with shields. Whew! I did what I could to stay away from the frontline as I was not wearing black and had a very awkward tote bag to carry around. Nevertheless we remained with them as pepperspray shot through the air. A stream of Silly String quickly followed in pursuit. All the while I’m thinking, “So THAT’S what teargas feels like . . . ” Frenzy, though not directly tear-gassed, felt its stinging effects carried through the strong wind as we were alongside the Mississippi River. Still we followed not too far behind the black bloc, and the cops.

The final showdown that brought our day to a close was the closing in and execution of a mass arrest attempt by the police. I myself nearly panicked. First they moved west. Then the National Guard moved in, weapons drawn. I remember hearing three shots — there may have been more. I just wanted to run. I still only felt comfortable observing. I didn’t want to be arrested today.

There were two parking lots separated by a street. Frenzy and I were walking east, I’m planning an escape route so we can book it if need be. I’m still consciously in “Activist Mode.” Where the road curves to the south, a line of mini-vans stop as if at a traffic light, and out of each minion comes six to eight cops in full riot gear, bats drawn. The crowd disperses quickly. I begin to sprint. Frenzy screams, “STOP!” and I freeze. I watch as all the people with dental-floss applied patches are run down and thrown to the ground. Medics are not resisting arrest. I can’t say what I would have done if that had been me. You feel so brave until terror comes at you with zip-tie style handcuffs and a wooden bat. But I was still. I was silent. And I was dressed in pink and yellow. I think these three components made me invisible to the police force taking over St. Paul that day. There was a lady cop barking orders, stalking back and forth like an angry bull ready for the opportunity to charge a matador. She didn’t so much as glance my way except to view what was beyond me — protesters dressed the way protesters are supposed to be dressed. I wanted to punch her, she was attacking people I associated myself with and loved. When she looked in Frenzy’s direction, he mustered out in a cracked voice, “Thanks for all your hard work.” I wanted to punch him. Later he told me he said it out of fear, to make us appear as if we blended in more.

Once the crowd cleared except for those lying on the hot asphalt, Frenzy said with exhaustion, “I’m done for today. Let’s go.” I found myself speechless, both at the apparent failure illuminating Frenzy’s words and the leftover scenery of the raid. People were up against a wall, hands up, their backs to the police. A plain-clothed citizen stood by as a medic and a protester had their faces in the asphalt, a cop approached with a pair of those zip-tie handcuffs. I regretfully turned my head the other way and began to our next task of finding a bus that would stop for us and deliver us back to Minneapolis.