A Wednesday afternoon press conference touting big statements from various anti-Republican convention factions started out as some sort of Rush Limbaugh dream. Speakers from no fewer than five organizations took turns behind a podium in the Walker Community Church in south Minneapolis. The statements were prepared and read, and heavy on the type of college-dorm rhetoric — “Republican virus,” “comfort zone of diversity,” “one stripe in the resistance rainbow”— that makes the right salivate.
To top it off, the press conference was really just to announce an upcoming “Town hall meeting” at the church Saturday, where protest groups of all stripes will brainstorm how to best go about their brands of civil disobedience and hash out other minor details — like, how to get a permit to protest, and where to actually do some protesting. The media will not be allowed at the Saturday meeting.
So the conference was pretty much a dud at the outset, leading one to believe that all cops and GOP revelers can rest easy — there will be nary an organized peep from any opposition to disrupt the RNC the first week in September. Most questions were met with vague or no comments.
Then Meredith Aby of the Anti-War Committee spoke up, and with some help from press conference organizer Kim DeFranco, clarified some things about the protests for the big event. For starters, Aby and some other groups are actively negotiating for permits from the city of St. Paul and working with various law enforcement agencies. Even so, thus far only one permit has been issued — to Aby’s group, for a protest on day one, Sept. 1, that will begin and end at the Capitol grounds. Aby said she expects about 50,000 people to turn out for that.
Approval has been granted to no other group or entity, however. What’s the holdup? According to some in attendance, the St. Paul charter calls for permits to be considered six months before the event, which means, according to Aby, the city isn’t even looking at applications until March 1. Another issue is that there are so many groups clamoring for footing during that week that forces need to be aligned and some sort of organizational plan hatched — thus Saturday’s meeting. That factor, Aby agreed, is somewhat akin to herding cats. And certainly there’s some bureaucratic foot-dragging.
Still Aby remained optimistic that city and law enforcement officials were going to be cooperative, and she was “confident we’ll be successful” in securing a number of permits to assemble in places like Mears Park and on Harriet Island. Officials, she said, were “feeling heat” from activist groups and citizens who want to ensure that First Amendment rights are guaranteed that week.
But there’s a long way to go, and Aby at one point sounded a note of cynicism that rang true. “We have to move ahead, our plans can’t be contingent on the city of St. Paul,” she noted. “If we do wait for the city, it will be August 30 when we find out [about permits]. We’re not stupid.”