RNC ‘08

December 9, 2008 | Leave a Comment

Category: Activism, Society

Way back before the election, I was a marshal for the protest march that occurred on September 1, the first day of the hurricane-impacted Republican National Convention.  I was assigned to follow the 45-minute long stretch of several thousand people with several other blue-shirted organizers.  From where we were, things were peaceful.  On TV that night, I watched video of pepper-spraying police, anarchist confrontations, unlawful arrests and varying degrees of chaos.  This conflict was all happening at other places in or near the march, which from the back end seemed characterized by calm.

In one mildly surreal moment during the march, I looked up to read the news ticker trailing across the side of a skyscraper.  In the blinking lights of the ticker I read that seven had been arrested in the march.

As an organizer, a lot of attention is devoted to designing events and preparing advisories that will draw cameras.  At the RNC, I observed more media in one place than I was aware was even possible.  Anybody that wanted to be interviewed could find one several times.  I read that there were 15,000 reporters, producers, camera people, lighting specialists and talking heads at the RNC.  That was more media people in St. Paul than there were protesters at the march, though maybe a tenth of them were in the streets covering the protest story.

In the streets, in the middle of the story being told, it becomes clear that experience is profoundly relative.  Beginning with a position to pitch, one can cut and snip experience and create a narrative that fits the perspective one seeks to propagate.  As an organizer with a viewpoint I wish to share, I work to create an event that suggests a powerful story that supports a specific interpretation of how the world works.  Watching a TV editorial on the local news the evening of the first day of the convention, I observed the commentator drawing conclusions based upon the behavior of a few activists, using information that was erroneous or outright lies.  Storytellers are not scientists.  We pick and choose the facts to fit our stories.  Not that scientists don’t often pick a study that will support desired facts.

At mass marches that I help organize or attend, I do head counts.  With high quality numbers I am able to assess the relative effectiveness of our organizing techniques over time and the mood of the activist community that we serve.  Organizers rarely do head counts.  Not knowing the real numbers, they can make an estimation that supports a story that is being told.

I’ve discovered the police numbers are also often inflated.  The police don’t do head counts.  I expect with inflated numbers it’s easier to get funding for these events.

Reality is relative in protest politics, even in the streets where pepper spray in the eyes feels pretty real.


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