Politics of ProtestBy Seth Sandronsky
December 15th, 2015
In "Crashing the Party: Legacies and Lessons from the RNC 2000" (PM Press, 2015), Kris Hermes details the fierce state response to protest at the GOP National Convention in Philadelphia 15 years ago. A long-time activist, his purpose is clear.
“I wrote this book largely to preserve our shared legacy of political and legal resistance so that we can learn from these experiences and challenge ourselves to be more effective in achieving broad-based social change.” Hermes aims to sustain that activist trend of collective action against corporate-state power in the post-Sept. 11 era, from increasing the minimum wage to ending police brutality and the eco-crisis.
To this end, Hermes documents state infiltration and oppression of GOP convention protesters. Attempts to enclose them in fenced protest areas suggested a continuity of enclosures to separate peasants from common land to force them into wage-labor.
How and why the Phil. authorities proceeded against activists and their legal team is a cautionary tale to the Black Lives Matter and other current justice movements. The past lives in the present.
In summer 2000 in Phil., dissidents plan to protest GOP domestic and foreign policies and priorities. Preventive police raids unfold, Hermes writes.
Is there a corollary to the post-9/11 war against terror of preventive detention at home and abroad? I think there is.
Philadelpha authorities had studied the 1999 World Trade Organization protests in Seattle. That singular event spurred a policing model of mass arrests of political protesters.
Philadelphia police detain, violently, protesters at a warehouse where they build puppets.
Hermes follows the tax dollars flowing to private pockets behind the multi-agency government assaults on peaceful protesters.
He writes: “The likeliest reason for mass arrest on August 1 was the city’s desire to eliminate threats to the convention’s ability to attract tourists and “consumers.””
Business counts. Behind the GOP’s rhetoric of free markets and liberty, the political power of business shapes the capitalist state and public policy.
Hermes lays bare this tendency. Further, he shows and tells how legal activists and political protesters in Philadelphia responded to state repression in the streets, jails and courts.
The relevancy for today is clear. This is why a new generation of activists should read his book.
Solidarity can be an effective counter to the status quo in what Noam Chomsky terms “a corporate-run and propaganda-managed society.” Such collective actions challenge state-corporate power to control people, a vital underpinning of the capitalist economy.
Republican protesters practice solidarity in and out of jail. However, activists and attorneys are not always on the same page, and Hermes details the tensions, which might surprise some readers.
Activists win major victories. Their noncompliance with government procedures helps them gain ground in the court of public opinion.
Hermes explores the question of the media and political protest in depth. Who tells the story matters.
Under arrest, in jail and courtrooms, GOP protesters discover what many poor and nonwhite Americans know. That is, the criminal justice apparatus (extreme charges, violent arrests, high bail, etc.) is pitiless.
Hermes shows how in the face of such maltreatment, collective action can reap humane change. R2K Legal occupies no small part of section two in which Hermes documents the ebbs and flows of confronting the authorities hell-bent on neutering political protests.
Exposing abuses, shaping public opinion and reaching out to religious groups strengthens the uses of court solidarity. Hermes defines this term, and its applications, from misdemeanor to felony cases, a rough road, given defendants’ different aims and home bases.
In the third and last section of the book, Hermes analyzes the wins and losses of civil litigation. In part as a result of what occurs in Phil., protesters’ practice of jail solidarity changes at later GOP conventions.
“While the RNC 2000 case study mainly applies to mass mobilizations in which hundreds of arrests occur, it is still invaluable for understanding the motivations of contemporary political policing and for developing the means to challenge today’s National Security State,” he writes. Precisely.
Seth Sandronsky is a journalist and member of the Pacific Media Workers Guild. Email firstname.lastname@example.org