Friday, September 5, 2008
RNC 2008: Flash Bang Grenades! Green, Glowing Smoke! "Devil Man" Walks The Earth! A First Hand Account Of Thursday's Marches And Arrests!
Photo by John Hoff, September 4
Like the grand finale of a patriotic fireworks show, Day 4 of the Republican National Convention brought mass arrests, tear gassing, pure mayhem even as John McCain took the podium to give his acceptance speech. A surging crowd of demonstrators converging on a line of police in front of the Greyhound station in St. Paul cheered madly as cops let loose with percussion grenades, smoke bombs and tear gas...
...and I was right in the middle of it all.
The Nature of Protests (Star Tribune Blows It Again)
A demonstration this large is a massive, complex event. No media account, including this one, can capture the full scope and spectacle. All the same, the Star Tribune account was woeful and it's one of the few times I'm glad their links go dead after a while, because such a garbled, incomplete and confusing account does a major injustice to the sincere people who laid down in front of massive, incredible force in the name of peace.
An account in the Minnesota Daily was much better, but that just goes to show how sometimes it's necessary to get arrested to tell the story instead of tip-toeing through the protester tulips.
Marching Without A Permit On "Activist Time"
The Anti-War Committee March was looking like a disappointing bust as of 3:30 PM, when a crowd no larger than 200 milled around on the state capitol grounds in front of an empty stage. I knew my real estate agent, Juley Viger, had voiced an idea of coming...I started to hope she wouldn't, because I thought it was going to be lame and might turn her off to the idea of going to demonstrations altogether.
Thinking the rally might start at a different time--since my information about the 4 o'clock start time came from the Star Tribune, and that publication had messed up the Poor People's Protest by, oh gee, FIVE HOURS--I started asking around for the start time of the rally.
"Four o'clock," I was told. "But that's, you know, activist time."
Ah, yes, I thought. OK, so this thing will probably kick off at 4:20 once the organizers calm their nerves with some doob-age. It still didn't look like THAT many people could show up, there being so few a mere half hour before the scheduled time. My judgment of impending lameness was unchanged. I called my new friend, NBC News Producer Charlene Gubash, to tell her I was at the State Capitol and give an account of the situation.
Gubash said it was looking big. MASSIVE police force was being arrayed downtown.
"Massive force?" I laughed, breathlessly. "Against who? Against what? There can't be more than 200 people up here right now."
"TWO HUNDRED?!" she replied. "You're kidding me."
I told her I wasn't. I added, however, given the spirit and mood of the crowd which I was picking up, something newsworthy would probably happen at this rally, but I figured it would be "passive," civil disobedience "some kind of laying-down-in-front-of-a-horse thing."
I told Gubash I'd call if anything noteable started to go down. She said she was coming to the State Capitol, anyway, despite the low number of protesters.
"Your Permit Only Goes Until 5 O'clock"
Despite that talk of "activist time," the rally kicked off a bit before 4. Music, speakers, people mad about the war, that kind of thing. I was standing atop a massive decorative stone feature of the State Capitol, where I could take photos and videotape, when I saw approximately 6 bike cops pedal through the central sidewalk--unbothered, nobody even chanted--and pull over to an area off to the side. They were looking, intently, at the crowd. I figured they were just tactically assessing the crowd to keep it orderly.
Suddenly, the bike cops moved forward into a crowd of people gathered, sitting casually, in the grass of the capitol lawn. At least one but apparrently two folks were snatched up, very much like the situation two days before at Mears Park. Instantly, individuals in the crowd began to surround the bike cops and their prisoners, chanting "let them go." Media surrounded those doing the surrounding. Media ducked in and out of the circular mess. More police force was arrayed...squad cars, horses, more bikes.
(Note: The Star Tribune states a male was arrested on suspicion of breaking a window at socially-irresponsible chain store Macy's, and also a female who was with him)
The stand-off went on for as long as ten minutes. Protest organizers on the stage began telling rally participants the police were trying to "steal the show" and people should come back toward the stage. She kept reminding them "We have a permit for this rally."
There was, however, a lot of intense discussion about that permit going on. Behind the stage, a high-ranking police officer (name and affiliation unknown, but appearing to be a Latino male in his early to mid-50s) had a discussion with one of the organizers, and could be heard to say, repeatedly, "Your permit ends at 5 o'clock." Massive amounts of police in full riot gear were arrayed all around the capitol grounds as speakers tried to, among other things, talk about the impact of the mortgage crisis on ordinary Americans and give the crowd a "pop quiz" about "Whose Quote Is This, Bush Or McCain?"
"American troops will be welcomed in Iraq as liberators."
Bush--! most of the crowd yelled.
Sorry, it was McCain.
Oh, Bush said it, also, the speaker assured the rally, but John McCain said it on the TODAY show. There was laughter from the crowd at the "trick question."
Loudly "Outing" An Undercover Police Officer
Shouting and movement rippled through the crowd as a suspected undercover police officer was "outed." A stocky male with relatively short hair, perhaps in his early 30s, carrying a black supply bag with much-too-neat, much-too-brand-new red duct tape in the shape of a cross, like he was a protest medic, yes sir, walked quickly ahead of several individuals who followed him, shouting and pointing. He went to the line of police in front of the state capitol and there was some kind of crowd, some kind of confrontation...and then the medic ended up behind the police lines, whisked away as though he was being arrested...but far too gently to make the arrest look real. (Click here for video somebody put on YouTube)
I reported this stuff to Gubash by cell phone, but she was already on the capitol grounds, she said, and I had a more pressing concern: tell Juley Viger NOT TO COME to the protest, this time for a different reason.
Chilling Effect On Free Speech
No, the protest wasn't going to be lame. It was going to be all-too-exciting. I must have left about three messages for Juley, all variations on the theme of stay-the-hell-away, lots of people are going to get arrested and I didn't want her among them. But the sounds of a roaring crowd makes a voice mail system think you're pressing some random button, and "sorry, that's not a valid entry."
I couldn't be sure if I got through to Juley's voicemail. But the sight of all those officers surrounding the peaceful crowd would have intimidated most citizens from walking over to join the rally, and knowing Juley's nearly-pathological fear of bullets, I figured she wasn't anywhere in the crowd.
At some point a female state patrol officer walked up to the members of the media using the stone features of the capitol steps for photographic vantage points--including myself--and said, "I'll have to ask you to get down from there, sir."
"Yes, ma'am," I said.
Taking It To The Streets
A little before 5 o'clock, the rally organizers said they were going to march to XCel Center, to h*** with march permits, how were the police going to stop so many people from exercising their right to free speech, free assembly? Just then, one of the dark green police "golf carts" came bouncing up across the sidewalks and lawn, and I could hear something like "Attention, attention..." but then the wild cheers of the crowd drowned out the warning--whatever it might be--completely. One of the organizers said the "green banner" would lead the march. I managed to catch THAT much amid the noise.
The crowd on the capitol steps surged southbound on Cedar Avenue, walking on boulevard grass, through parking lots, picking up numerous individuals who had apparently been hanging back, staying away from the tension on the Capitol grounds, but waiting to join the march. The march at that point appeared to consist of several thousand and could rightly be called "massive."
Police forces already in place, waiting, blocked the march from continuing south on Cedar. The march did not stop to confront the police, but turned to its right and happily continued on 12th Street with all the concern of taking a walk in the park. There was a sense of jubilation in the air--they were marching, and without a permit, yet the police were not stopping them, not using force. Flags and signs waved, including a version of the Star Spangled banner which featured corporate logos instead of stars. I didn't see THAT one at the Ron Paul rally.
Apparently, at some point early in the march near 12th and Cedar, police seized the green banner and an effigy of John McCain, according to the Star Tribune. I wasn't near it. Didn't see it. Too many people surging, spilling down the hill from the Capitol. And I'm not entirely sure the banner seizure didn't happen AFTER the beginning of the Rice/John Ireland stand-off.
An Endless Stand-Off At Rice And John Ireland
Police forces blocked John Ireland Boulevard, keeping the march from crossing the bridge over Interstate 94 and continuing in the direction of St. Paul's cathedral. The massive array of force included orange state-owned dump trucks with snowplow blades mounted to the front, a blue dump truck atop which police commanders stood, bicycle police, mounted police, officers in riot gear, even what appeared to be National Guard troops in gas masks.
Now a long, tense and at times tedious standoff began at the place where John Ireland Boulevard meets Rice. The crowd stopped marching. They started standing in the middle of the intersection.
An organizer with a bullhorn--short, female, with a red bandanna around her neck but not covering her face--assured marchers that simply by standing at this location, although temporarily thwarted from marching, their mere presence was snarling up St. Paul traffic which included delegates on the way to the Republican National Convention.
I found a good camera vantage point on the stone bridge railing and figured out my line of retreat in case the tear gas started flying. I could jump from the bridge approximately 10 or 15 feet to the hill slope, then run up the hill to a triangular hole in a fence, through the fence and an incredible number of only-slightly bramble-looking bushes, and then through some relatively open, grassy areas along Rice Street following the rest of what promised to be a massive and panicked retreat if the police let loose with gas.
Yeah, I just had to avoid hitting that small tree when I jumped. The trick was to get enough video footage, but then retreat. Another member of the "independent media" shared the railing with me, saying her name was "Kriston," and spelling it for me. I told her what I had in mind, as far as retreat, but said, "If you decide to go that way, I'll let you go through the fence first, because you're a girl."
Kriston wondered aloud whether the bridge wasn't too high to jump from. I pointed out how the hillside below was quite near where I was standing, but the drop became more severe even five feet away, where she was.
"I've done worse jumps for small amounts of money, on a dare," I informed her. I avoided mentioning the cape and purloined goggles from 8th Grade shop class, or how long ago those jumps were accomplished. Kriston wondered aloud whether she should "stand right here and smoke some pot."
She eyed the police lines. Uh-uh. They had cameras.
Holding The Bridge
Bicyclists--possibly affiliated with Critical Mass--wheeled around the intersection in a fast circle, like circus clowns in a parade. One had an effigy of John McCain on a pole. (See picture at the top of this article) A man on stilts in an outrageous costume walked around with the bicyclists. (I'd learned at the Capitol his name was "Adam," and sometimes he'd talk to organizers about how they needed to use more "peaceful" tones of voice. Adam, himself, had a voice that could give you a "contact high" just by hearing it, the way little children imagine Jesus must speak while peacefully petting a lamb.
Some protesters hung signs over I-94 and got traffic to honk. Traffic appeared to slow up and snarl in one lane, but it was rush hour. When DOESN'T that happen? Poor organization and leadership skills were in evidence by the way individuals with signs milled about in the street, while relatively few signs were deployed to wave at traffic and produce a traffic-slow-down "rubberneck effect." If one stated intention was to snarl up traffic to thwart the Republican National Convention, then why did organizers present appear to have NO FREAKING CLUE how to pull that off through a relatively simple and well-known tactic?
I'm a blogger. I'm in sympathy, but it wasn't my role to tell 'em. A couple of motorcycle police watched from below, apparently to keep demonstrators from getting the (simple, effective) idea of surging off the bridge to block rush hour traffic. A whole lot of young people wearing black kept eagerly looking down and around the bridge--and you could see the wheels turning in their head to the tune of a song by Rage Against The Machine--but nobody seized on the tactic of stopping rush hour traffic--already slowed to a crawl in one lane--by hopping off the bridge and walking down the weedy slope.
The numbers holding the intersection of Rice and John Ireland consisted of most of the march near the beginning, but gradually decreased until it seemed, at one point, police literally outnumbered the protesters holding the intersection. The protest backed up to the intersection, ceding the bridge, until the place where I had been in front of a railing was far behind police lines. The police seemed to pull this off by moving forward, imperceptibly, inches at a time. If I noted where their black, booted feet were in relation to the white lines of a crosswalk, then looked about five minutes later, I could see the "inching" tactic happening, like sand through an hourglass.
Another tactic which seemed to work--and I can't tell if this was an accident or purposeful--was for the police to make movements like something was about to happen. They would put masks on, secure their gear in small groups, basically make members of the crowd--except for the bravest, most defiant ones--want to back away several paces. And then the inching would happen, until the inch given would become a mile. Well, half a block, anyway.
Repeatedly, police told marchers "if you stand blocking the intersection, you will be arrested." The first time this was said, the crowd shifted around quite a bit. The second time, there was less shifting. The third through possibly ninth time, the police may as well have been making quacking noises.
"Devil Man" Makes His Debut
Using their super-secret spy-ring decoder methods, individuals in the crowd once again "outed" somebody they believed to be an undercover officer. This individual was a white male, late 40s, and built like the trunk of a tree; solid professional body-builder muscle, like the creatures which crawl into the ring of "ultimate boxing" matches.
He was dressed all in black--black shorts, black shirt, black boots, black sunglasses which are the dead giveaway accessory of many undercover officers--everything black except for a silver pentagram necklace. He had a short Mohawk haircut, very fresh, like he'd gotten it this morning. It was REALLY short, like a military crew cut which had been "Mohawk-inated."
Instead of walking away briskly but without projecting panic--the way I've seen other undercover officers do when outed in a demonstration--Devil Man crossed his arms and repeatedly shouted, "(Expletive) you." He didn't really have any good denials, just shouted expletives and sheer body mass. He paced, he taunted, he DARED somebody to do something about him. If this was an undercover, I thought, he was playing to the hilt and refusing to break character.
"Devil Man" held aloft a book, which I recognized to be a standard-issue copy of The (so-called) Satanic Bible by Anton LaVey. (A very lame and disappointing book, I might add, which I once had the misfortune to find in a dumpster) He waved it around, he pressed it toward people's faces but he wasn't really, you know, QUOTING from it like he'd ACTUALLY READ IT or anything.
"So who do you think you are?" a young anarchist in the crowd shouted in the face of Devil Man. "You think you're some (expletive) magician? What are you going to do, cast a spell on me, magician?" Dozens in the crowd taunted him, one saying, "Why are you even here? You think you're COOL and that's why you're here? Want to be the center of attention? Want to provoke something in front of all the cameras? (Expletive) you."
Who Is "Devil Man?"
This taunting continued, with Devil Man defiant, walking around in the crowd, walking in a circle, DARING somebody to hit him. The lines of officers--some atop a blue dump truck--pointed their black tear gas launchers and a variety of other weapons toward the crowd when there was a lot of yelling and running, but lowered their weapons when things calmed down. Sometimes the crowd lost interest, entirely, in Devil Man; but then new individuals would filter over to the crowd from somewhere and begin taunting and challenging him anew.
At some point, an individual circling the intersection on a bike managed to kick Devil Man in his maxed-out glutes and whizz away down Rice Street, with devil man running behind him shrieking, "I curse you! I'll rip your heart out." Individuals standing around near bikes, sitting on utility boxes laughed, some literally rolling on the ground, and more than one individual--tipped off to what was coming--apparently managed to get cell phone video. Jake and Gabe of 612 Authentic were in the crowd at this point, and it was this ridiculous comic pursuit by the body-builder undercover "Devil Guy" chasing a teenager on a bike--the bike successfully eluding him--which caught their attention and made them start rolling tape.
Devil Man stood in the middle of the middle of the intersection--with members of the crowd all around him, with a police officer filming the pseudo-Satanic standoff shaking his head and openly laughing--and began to perform some kind of "ceremony." A young protester in a gas mask stood directly in front of Devil Man, imitating his every move, monkey-see, monkey-do.
Except when Devil Man removed his sunglasses. The protester wouldn't do THAT. Devil man glared, gritting his teeth, and you could see the pulse throbbing in his temple. My assumption at this point was Devil Man is an unstable personality but I didn't take him for an actual Satanist or an undercover officer, but possibily some kind of fanatical right-wing Republican, taking it upon himself to "assist" the police.
His performance was over-the-top and another thing I figured out right away: Devil Man's costuming (for that's exactly what it was, no matter who he was) had the intent of discrediting the march. Like, oh sure, look at this news photograph of the protesters. There's one with a PENTAGRAM, for crying out loud.
"Don't you see?!" one young protester shouted. "He's here to distract us. While we pay attention to him, the police are moving forward. They're taking back the intersection."
Some in the crowd took note of this and moved about, uneasily, but the ceremony continued. I grew bored with the so-called Satanic ritual and walked back toward a utility box vantage point, trying to stay in compliance with the listless "you risk being arrested" warnings directed to folks who were in the intersection. The warnings grew more frequent, however, and I started expecting the tear gas to go off, soon. I was figuring out my line of retreat, once again. I informed Gubash of the situation by cell phone, and then suddenly there were screams and scores in the crowd started running.
"It's going off!" I yelled to Gubash, running up a grassy knoll...but then I heard clapping, cheering. I dashed back forward, to figure out what was going on, but I already knew, intuitively, what had happened: Devil Man had been removed from the crowd. From my vantage point I managed to get a look as he was pulled, backwards, through the police line. I was able to see the look on his face: disappointment.
Not fear. Not surprise. Not the constant rage he was directing in every direction, including toward God himself in a theatrical kind of way. No, just a kind of DISAPPOINTMENT.
And at that moment, I knew or at least I made up my mind: this guy was indeed an undercover cop. The crowd cheered wildly and clapped for the police. Some said "thank you!" And, amazingly, the police did not try to keep anymore ground in the intersection. It was like there was a subtle understanding between the crowd and the police: Devil Man needed to go. He's a loose canon, damn it. He's getting pulled off the case.
The Implications Of Devil Man's Performance
What is this, I wondered, that movie Donnie Brasco? Or Rush? The undercover officer is given special license to do outrageous, technically-illegal things to support his phony cover story? In the middle of a peaceful (albeit un-permitted) demonstration, the police can send an over-sized body-builder agitator who taunts, who swears, who waves a copy of the Satanic Bible, who says "I'll rip your heart out!" and chases some kid on a bike; the whole time clearly trying to set off the whole mob?
I'm wondering precisely how this happened in St. Paul, Minnesota, (part of America, technically) and who specifically gave license to do this kind of stuff, and I'm waiting for answers about "Who was Devil Man."
Where Is Everybody?
The mystery of the missing population was solved when individuals in the crowd checked "Twitter" and found out a crowd had formed up elsewhere, was trying to march again, and many were getting arrested. Word also came by cell phone, and I found out from my own precious source, the NBC producer.
Numerous individuals broke off from the intersection holding action, heading back toward the State Capitol. Word came of medics being needed in that direction, because of so much exposure to tear gas. But die-hards continued to hold John Ireland/Rice. Small, incredibly brave actions took place: a young woman walking to each officer with a peace sign. A young man offering a flower to each officer, all of these protesters close enough--ALONE enough--to be snatched and detained.
The numbers at the intersection grew so low that a line of five vehicles snaked down John Ireland, carefully driving through, apparently with state employees inside trying to head home though at least one truck bore a Minnesota State government insignia. A bearded male protester laid in the street in front of one of the vehicles. Carefully, the vehicle went around him. This was undoubtedly the lowest point of the occupation of the intersection, when those vehicles got through. But everything was about to change.
A Surging Mob In A Spray Of Sprinklers
We saw people...fives and tens, then a solid line of dozens, then hundreds or perhaps thousands...advancing from the direction of the State Capitol, chanting, cheering. As the crowd hit the grassy boulevard of John Ireland, sprinklers were turned on full blast or, perhaps, some sprinklers were damaged and water sprayed upward but to me it looked like sprinklers being turned on all at once, hitting black hooded jackets and turning them blacker, making the few signs in the crowd soggy. Who cares? Toss the sign aside. Advance.
Leadership By He-Who-Possesses-The-Bullhorn
The march barely paused at the intersection which had been held so long, with so much effort and boredom, except perhaps to exchange a few jubiliant greetings. My phone rang. Gubash. NBC needed to know what was where, and I was determined to make myself useful to NBC, which was like making myself useful to my country.
We went past a sign which was made to show automobiles, not political marches, the way to Interstate 94. I thought the crowd was heading for the freeway. Gubash gave me some info: you are still about three blocks from the Interstate, John.
Good to know.
Now having broken free of all police for a moment, the crowd was jubilant and running, dashing like a stampede of people. I told Gubash the crowd appeared to have one small advantage: it could move quickly, while the police required intelligence, orders to deploy. I had seen the same tactic in Seattle in 1999 on December 1: let the police form their hard lines, then at a key moment the crowd begins to flow like water, not pausing to confront police lines but flowing around them, flowing toward its primary goal but taking note of secondary targets of opportunity, whatever those might be, in case its primary goal is utterly thwarted; which it most likely will be.
The march was led by a guy in an orange suit, with a ring of gray hair, a slight beard and--most important of all--a megaphone and mild recognition by the crowd of his ability to function as a sort of leader. Much later that night I found out the backstory as members of the Anti-War March were released from jail. This guy in orange was named Carlos, and he was from Los Angeles. He didn't, um, actually know much of anything about St. Paul streets but all the primary leadership was arrested and in jail at that point, so Carlos was a second or third string leader still in possession of a bullhorn...all the other bullhorns probably in the hands of police at this point, "People's Exhibit A" and all of that.
Grave Tactical Error Number One: Slowing Down The March
The only advantage the march had was LACK of leadership, and therefore no hierarchical and hidebound operating procedure; a sort of yin-yang ability to flow like water around hard stones.
Speed was essential at this point and slowing down would be a repeat of the mistake committed in Seattle in 1999, when a similar spontaneous march broke loose and headed toward the WTO on December 1.
At that moment there were no small children, no wheelchairs, no people inside large puppets who had to proceed slooooowly. So normal march protocol of slowing down the front of the march to tighten up and keep everybody together MADE NO FREAKING SENSE, here. RUNNING was the only way to avoid the police units from getting their orders and moving rapidly to block the march at key points. The ONLY advantage the march had over the police--and it was a perilously slim advantage--was its LACK of centralized leadership, and therefore no hierarchical and hidebound operating operating procedure but, instead, a sort of yin-yang ability to flow like WATER around HARD STONES, Grasshopper.
So, of course, Carlos From Los Angeles slowed down the march at this point. I reported what I was seeing to Gubash and called it for what it was: a grave tactical error. As Minnesota Governor Pawlenty knew in his heart he had been "passed over" in his bid to become John McCain's running mate, I knew at that moment the march leadership had just frittered away their one moment of opportunity--a window of opportunity perhaps 25 seconds long--to actually get anywhere near Xcel Center. And for what? The people all have to be "united" and sing Kumbuya together.
The "rally" ended at that point, and a "March Toward The Meat Grinder" began.
Grave Tactical Error Number Two: Failure To Turn Left At Marion And Fuller
Some of those hierarchical hard stones now arrived in the form of motorcycle cops, squad cars, even one of those green golf carts; a wild mishmash of whoever was available to physically block the crowd from continuing on (what I think was) St. Anthony, and force a turn up (what I'm sure was) Marion. I told Gubash it was like "Task Force Smith." I don't think she caught my obscure allusion to the early, messy defeat of American forces in Korea at The Battle of Osan.
When I was in the army in the early 1990s, I went to some sort of training where I was told "No More Task Force Smiths" would be our new motto.
Eh, I don't think that motto ever really caught on, yet the story sure stuck with me of the tossed-together mish-mash of units (ill-equipped and vastly outnumbered) sent to hold off the North Korean advance. In this case, however, Task Force Smith won; the rummage-sale assortment of various police units managed to block the march and turn it along Marion. But that was only because Carlos From Los Angeles slowed down the march to let everybody form a prettier parade and feel good about themselves.
Grave Error Number Two: Failure To Surge Around Three Squad Cars And Snarl Up Interstate 94 During Late Rush Hour
Carlos or somebody with the bullhorn announced "We won't confront the police, we will just go around them" and the crowd cheered wildly, those few in the front who could hear anything while the human freight cars in the back just rattled along, pulled by the front, probably not aware somebody from Los Angeles was doing the driving. (But that leads you to wonder why he wasn't driving MUCH FASTER?)
This announcement made sense and was consistent with the "flow like water" strategy of an unpermitted march continually blocked by police, but moments after announcing the strategy the march was immediately confronted with what should have been THE EXCEPTION TO THE FREAKING RULE. A mere 3 squad cars blocked the next road on the march route. I saw one officer--one officer all by himself, with no protective gear--get out of his car. Perhaps he waved something in the air. I didn't see if he drew a weapon but if he had, what was he going to do? SHOOT EVERYBODY?
At that moment--as confirmed by one of the arrested leaders who was later released from jail--one of those squad cars broadcast their location and said, "There's only three of us, here, we could use some back up."
Well, not really. Incredibly, the presence of 3 squad cars turned the march. Behind those squad cars was Interstate 94, and the ability of the marchers to completely snarl up the city, possibly flow up the other side of I-94 and get within blocks of their goal. Instead, Carlos continued the March To Hell on Marion.
Grave Tactical Error Number 3: Failure To Hang A Left At Marion And Fuller
Having been routed by 3 squad cars--and, really, people in the back of the march who knew their way around the Twin Cities should have just had sense enough to ignore the front of the march and surge around the 3 squad cars, but they didn't, very much like the hierarchical command systems they are quite fond of criticizing--mine is not to reason why, mine is but to do and die, into the Valley of Death Rode The 600 and so forth--the march continued with its back turned to the Republican National Convention.
I'm sure the symbolism wasn't intentional. Somebody just didn't have GPS and even activist leftist men hate to ask for directions.
"Pussies!" shouted somebody who broke off from the march and walked beside it, gesturing wildly. "You (expletive) pussies. THE REPUBLICANS ARE THAT WAY!!!!!"
So I had to wonder--and I was wondering aloud to Gubash--why didn't Carlos take a left at the first street which presented itself, so he'd at least be going SIDEWAYS instead of the OPPOSITE way? The first left would have been at Marion and Fuller--much later that night when I retrieved my bike from the State Capitol I retraced the March Into A Meatgrinder--as much as I could--but Carlos didn't turn the march here. He continued along Marion toward University Avenue.
Grave Error Number 4: Turning The March Back Toward Massive Police Forces Arrayed At The State Capitol
At this point, there was only one decision left to make: at the intersection of Marion and University, should the march turn right, and start going around in circles like Devil Man casting his curse on the crowd--a curse that seemed to be working, I might add--or should the march turn LEFT?
Consider what would be to the left. The University of Minnesota campus was a substantial distance away, but is it possible the marchers would have been allowed to march, unmolested, to the campus? Unlikely, but possible. Would it have been possible to rally the campus, to bring out students in droves who would say, "Oh, yeah, let's join the march, let's protest the Republicans." At that point, could a greatly-increased crowd of thousands have surged out of the campus, back along University, and managed to march into downtown St. Paul via Interstate 94?
Well, it's hard to know. The most maddening aspect of RNC 2008 had to be the completely passive campus. Hotbed of radicalism? Hardly. For every poster urging participation in a student strike, there were about 100 posters urging students to "Go Greek" and seek membership in a fraternity or sorority.
In any case, Carlos took the march RIGHT on University. A McDonalds restaurant glowed in the distance and I thought, "Oh, now the crowd will start smashing all the windows." But no such thing happened. The crowd marched toward the overwhelming police forces back at the State Capitol, chanting, singing, smiling like a saint going to execution.
Was Mass Arrest The March Goal All Along Or Was Carlos Just Lost?
Was the leadership of Carlos from Los Angeles REALLY all that bad? From a certain perspective of complete peace and passivity, it makes more sense to have a march turned by a mere three squad cars, to march AWAY from the Republicans and say, "How could we possibly be a threat?" Of all the places you want to march, going past the State Capitol makes sense because it would be a First Amendment attempt to seek redress of grievances from those in power, even in a symbolic way...since it was getting late and few power brokers were hanging around the State Capitol Buildings. (The Star Tribune says many of them fearfully baled at about 3 to avoid disrupted traffic)
But here is the problem with that kind of justification: were all the people who spontaneously joined the march eager to get hit by gas, percuasion grenades, taken to jail and charged with various offenses? If the stated goal was to get to Xcel--which becomes like a promise to the crowd--then how did it make sense to march AWAY from Xcel?
My conclusion: Unfamilar with St. Paul Streets but not COMPLETELY lost, the only way Carlos knew to get to XCel from the State Capitol was by going on Cedar, and so Carlos was trying to take the crowd the long way back around the State Capitol to get to Cedar, even though this meant going where the police were STRONGEST.
The Importance Of Knowing The Terrain
I'd never noticed it before that night, but there are a lot of FENCES on University near the Greyhound station. If police block the street near the Grayhound station with, oh let us say, HORSES which they've had plenty of time to bring up from the State Capitol, then there isn't really anywhere for a crowd to run, not all in one piece.
By cell phone, I was reporting this to Gubash in a chipper tone from "in front of the Grayhound bus station, the site of so much misery during the two Bush administrations, displaced families who have lost their homes and so forth and so much of that misery ends up right here." I was getting ready with my video camera while talking to Gubash. I'd already figured out my line of retreat, which involved going in the opposite direction over a low but very wide cement barrier, with trees planted in the barrier but plenty of space between the trees. From there I would keep running down University--way, way, way, waaaaay down University, like the heck back to Minneapolis, baby.
The crowd was blocked, there was nowhere to go, it is like when flowing water meets something which dams it and the water swirls, in little eddys, but can only rise, not move forward. The line of horses snorted, winnied, you could hear their hard hooves hitting the pavement. But there didn't seem to be much behind those horses. The only way was forward, THROUGH THE HORSES. I couldn't see if anybody was trying to get past the horses when I heard loud explosions and saw a sickly miasma of green, glowing smoking rising amid running bodies.
"Gas! Gas! Gas!" I told Gubash and (I think) shoved the cell phone in my pocket, then shot some video--all several seconds of it, and I can tell, in retrospect, I was pressing the record button over and over because the red REC indicator wasn't coming on fast enough--though the subjective sensation of time was slowing down considerably, and I had all the time in the world to notice that a wild, primal cheer of ecstatic joy ripped through the crowd.
CHEERS at the gas and explosions, shouts of HAPPINESS that police were finally CUTTING LOOSE WITH EVERYTHING THEY HAD into a crowd that was passive, except for its emphatic insistence on marching and/or standing in protest.
I think trying to vault the cement barrier in one move was my own little tactical error. I crashed to the ground, rolled it through, and got back on my feet to run clutching the video camera. I ran between some buildings.
Behind me, a sight straight out of the myths of Camelot, including Merlin the Magician: troops on horses, confronting footsoldiers in earthy-colored clothing, green glowing smoke and explosions to frighten the superstitious footsoldiers. LOOK AT THE COLOR OF THAT SMOKE. It is a sickly green color, like crops which are not yet ready to eat and will turn your stomach. So the green smoke must be very, very bad for you and it makes you want to run away.
But where was I supposed to flee?
To Be Continued Tomorrow...