Post 1 “On the Bad Side of Town”
If they wrote country songs about organizing mobilizations, they might sing something like this:
“It’s just one more earnest meeting…
How do we turn this country ‘round?
In one more dusty warehouse,
On the bad side of town…”
I’m here at the preparations for the protests against the RNC, the Republican National Convention, in the Twin Cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis. It’s a familiar scene: half a dozen of us early arrivals and locals huddled around a giant map of the downtown area. Twenty seven years ago, when I took my first nonviolence training in preparation for my first nonviolent direct action at Diablo Canyon in central Californai. The thing that most impressed me was the maps.
“They had maps!” I told everyone when I got home. “We never had maps in the ‘sixties! We just showed up—the cops chased us, sometimes we chased the cops, and that was that!”
The RNC Welcoming Committee has the best maps—larger than life, and laminated—and the least dusty warehouse I’ve seen in a while. Actually, it’s not a warehouse but an old theater, with a fully-equipped commercial kitchen, and such dust as there might have been has been cleaned before I got here, for which I’m devoutly grateful. I’ve cleaned up more than my share of pigeon dung from abandoned warehouses in preparation for one mobilization or another, and instead of coming weeks early to this one, I stayed home with an urgent mission to evict the mice from my desk drawers and clear the wood rat’s nests out of my battery box after a summer away from home.
I am here at the RNC for reasons both strategic and personal. “Why didn’t you go to the DNC?” some of my friends asked. The two conventions were timed so close together that even I, with my tendency to be obsessive and driven, felt I couldn’t really plan and train and organize for the RNC and do both. Moreover, it was clear to me that the only real drama at the DNC was going to be inside, with Obama. While the Democrats sorely need to be taken to task for many failings—funding the war while railing against it, voting for immunity for wiretapping for AT & T while proclaiming their allegiance to our civil liberties, failing to impeach Bush when they had the chance, just to name a few—if I had to make a choice it seemed to me that the sins of the Republicans were far greater, and the chance of having an impact slightly higher.
And I’m not immune to Obama’s appeal, and the historic significance of his nomination. When I was born, Obama and I could not have had a sandwich together at a lunch counter in the South, nor sat next to each other on a bus ride. His parents could not have married in many states. I was just a couple of years too young to be part of the civil rights movement—I remember watching it on TV at thirteen in L.A., begging my mother to let me go to the South. But the courage and sacrifices I saw, the struggles and successes of that movement profoundly shaped my own life and changed our country forever.
That today, Obama can run for President is something progressives should be celebrating. It’s a tribute, not to the Democrats, but to decades of grass-roots organizing and agitating that we can trace back to the days of abolitionists and slave rebellions and the underground railway. It’s the powerful people’s movements that pressured Democrats and Republicans into ending segregation, and the ongoing work of decades of challenges to more subtle forms of racism that have opened this door.
And we need to own and celebrate our victories. It’s always easy to focus on the lacks, the betrayals, the faults and failures. Our successes will never be perfect—and as progressives, we tend to be perectionists, always demanding more of ooursleves, and the world. This is something I noticed about myself after I downloaded a Solitaire widget to my computer—how easily I can be addicted to frustration. Alcohol, I can take or leave. Drugs were fun in my youth but fortunately none of them stuck, and I was blithely convinced I just did not have an addictive personality until I realized how strongly frustration can hook me. Give me a lost cause, a hopeless endeavor, an impossible task—as Gimli says at some point in Lord of the Rings: “Almost certain death, small chance of success–What are we waiting for?”
My mother used to tell me how she’d watched me, as a baby, trying to cross a threshold, tripping and falling, getting up, and trying again, over and over. So I guess the predilection is inborn.
Frustration addiction—where is the twelve step program for that and how do you go cold turkey? I don’t know, but it explains a lot about me and I suspect that progressives as a whole are subject to it. Yet if we don’t acknowledge and honor our victories, we lose heart and burn out.
And I want to celebrate this one, not protest against it. Obama will certainly not be our savior nor fulfill all our hopes. But let’s just take one moment and recognize that he is an extraordinary human being, and to honor all those who marched and spoke out, who took risks and went to jail, who suffered beatings and who died, to clear a path before him.
But back to the RNC. Draconian police forces, world class security with infinite resources, FBI, Secret Service, Homeland Security all on full alert; small band of intrepid protesters—What are we waiting for?
I’m here really just to bring home to the Republicans the truth that wrecking the country might have some negative consequences. The Democrats have failed to hold them accountable. Most of the country is wrapped in a sullen, smoldering anger that does not yet lead to action. But some of us are here, plotting and planning our marches and counter conventions and direct actions. And while it may prove to be a major slip in my ongoing struggle with F.A., I’m glad to be here with a crew of old and new friends, those buddies I’m bonded with in the way you only get to be when you’ve stood shoulder to shoulder as some cop shoots you in the face with pepper spray.
And, on a personal note, I was drawn to the Twin Cities because this is where I was born—in St. Joseph’s Hospital, a few blocks away from where the Republicans will meet. Although we left here when I was nine months old, my father’s family is from here, and they have roots in the radical community here that go back to the communist movements of the ‘Thirties. My father himself died when I was five—like Obama my life was also marked by a fathers’ absence. But my Uncle Hi and Aunt Ruthie carried on the tradition. They beamed approval at all my political endeavors. My Aunt Ruthie loved to sing the satiric political ditties of the ‘forties and ‘fifties, filling me in on the now almost forgotten events they memorialized. They were friends with people like the great author and activist Meridel Le Seuer. When my Uncle Don-Don was in the hospital recovering from a heart attack, we went to visit him, closed the doors, and regaled him with a rousing chorus of the Internationale.
Aside from their politics, they lived otherwise utterly conventional and blameless lives, dull, really. They had a small tract house in St. Paul, and worked at the V.A., my aunt as a secretary, my uncle as a recreation therapist. Aunt Ruthie said she liked the V.A. because it was the closest thing we had to socialized medicine. My father and his brothers, like virtually all the men of their generation, were veterans of World War Two. My Uncle Hi always said that he joined the navy because it was a clean life, but he never knew who cleaned it until he got in. As he slipped into the fog of Alzheimer’s, he said it over and over again. He was fond of recounting how many situps he had done, and how many miles he had jogged.
So I’m here, maybe, because they would have wanted me to be here. They’re gone, now, and I miss them. Were they alive, they’d undoubtedly be hosting the entire Pagan Cluster camped out in their back yard, my Aunt Ruthie whipping up little treats of Ritz cracker and peanut butter sandwiches dipped in chocolate.
And I’m here because I have good friends here, and because this city has a tradition of nonviolent direct action organizing that goes back decades. When we were blockading Livermore Labs in the ‘eighties, protesting nuclear weapons, they were organizing in the same way against Honeywell. There’s a spectrum of events being planned, from legal marches to nonviolent direct action, and a wide range of people planning.
Okay, more later.
Starhawk is a lifelong activist in peace and global justice movements, a leader in the feminist and earth-based spirituality movements, author or coauthor of ten books, including The Spiral Dance, The Fifth Sacred Thing, Webs of Power: Notes from the Global Uprising, and her latest, The Earth Path.
Starhawk’s website is www.starhawk.org, and more of her writings and information on her schedule and activities can be found there.