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“We Are Not Terrorists”: Activists with the RNC Welcoming Committee Speak Out
September 05, 2008: “We Are Not Terrorists”: Activists with the RNC Welcoming Committee Speak Out Against Police Crackdown & Terrorism Charges
William Gillis, member of the RNC Welcoming Committee
Betsy Raasch-Gilman, member of the RNC Welcoming Committee
Shamako Noble, member of the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign
Elliot Hughes, 19-year-old activist who said he was beaten and tortured inside Ramsey County Jail.
Related: Eight Members of RNC Activist Group Lodged with Terrorism Charges (9/4/2008)
AMY GOODMAN: On Wednesday, prosecutors formally charged eight members of the RNC Welcoming Committee with conspiracy to riot in furtherance of terrorism. The eight activists are believed to be the first people ever charged under the 2002 Minnesota version of the federal PATRIOT Act. The activists face up to seven-and-a-half years in prison.
On Thursday, other members of the RNC Welcoming Committee spoke to the media for the first time. The group, along with the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign, held a news conference at their convergence space to discuss their group and the charges against the so-called RNC Eight.
WILLIAM GILLIS: My name is William Gillis. That’s William G-I-L-L-I-S. I’ve been organizing with the Welcoming Committee for the last two years. And I am, in fact, an anarchist. I believe the government is organized crime. I want to see a world of anarchy without domination, without thugs, without warlords, without tyrants and without politicians. And as an American, I believe in actively resisting those who would rule us all.
The brutality and the lies of the state this week are not a surprise, but they are still deplorable. Police kicked down doors with guns drawn on families with their children at dinnertime. Reporters and the media at large have been repeatedly target for repression. Activists have been abducted off the street in unmarked vans and political prisoners held without access to medical attention.
The state has never really bothered with ethical justifications for its violence. But now we see that the agents of the law don’t even bother with internal consistency, ignoring the few rights they have pledged not to violate. Sheriff Bob Fletcher has unleashed a degree of repression that should embarrass and anger us all.
BETSY RAASCH-GILMAN: My name is Betsy Raasch-Gilman. That’s R-A-A-S-C-H-dash-G-I-L-M-A-N. I’m a lifelong resident of St. Paul. And I am a nonviolence trainer. I’ve been working extensively in the global justice movement since 1999. And I have been doing training and activism for social change since 1978, so thirty years now.
I want to pick up on what Celia said about there are no terrorists up here. There are no terrorists in the Ramsey County Jail. There are terrorists in the Xcel Center. There are terrorists in the White House. And that’s why we organized these protests.
The house raids that we saw in Minneapolis and St. Paul this week are very similar to the house raids that have been carried on by our Marines in Iraq and in Afghanistan and in other places around the world. We cannot—the government cannot carry on a repressive foreign policy without it coming home to roost in the United States, as well, and that’s what we’re seeing this week, not only in the repression that’s been targeted towards us, but more generally, ongoingly. We have the conditions that are caused by the neoliberal agenda: lack of affordable healthcare, criminalization of immigration, and gentrification of New Orleans instead of true reconstruction and returning New Orleans to the people who used to live there before the hurricane.
So, when the people who are directly responsible for this, these acts of abuses of power, come to the Twin Cities, to my hometown of St. Paul, I need to speak up. I owe it to my friends in other countries. I owe it to the people of New Orleans. I owe it to Native Americans. I owe it to everyone. And that’s what I’ve done. I have a responsibility here.
Now, personally, my age and my background would have probably led me to organize with the Coalition to March on the RNC and Stop the War, which had a legal, permitted, peaceful march on Monday. And I personally feel very happy that that march happened. I feel proud that 10,000 people marched in the streets of my town, St. Paul, in protest of the Republicans. And I’m very glad that went off well. I made a personal choice not to organize with the Coalition to March on the RNC and Stop the War. Rather, I chose to organize with the Welcoming Committee. And I’ve been doing that for eighteen months.
I believe, in my capacity and my identity as nonviolence trainer and as pacifist, I believe that the limits of what we—the kinds of tactics that we talk about when we think of nonviolent direct action need to expand. We need to escalate, in view of the rather serious, serious crisis that our country is facing. We need to improve our ways of non-cooperation. We need to take it further than has been taken so far. And that’s why I organized with the RNC Welcoming Committee. I’m interested in expanding and improving the kind of nonviolent direct action that we do.
SHAMAKO NOBLE: My name is Shamako Noble. I’m president and executive director of Hip-Hop Congress, and I’m also a member of the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign.
UNIDENTIFIED: How do you spell your name?
SHAMAKO NOBLE: S-H-A-M-A-K-O, last name N-O-B-L-E. We’re not out here because we just want to complain. We’re not out here because we just want to like create chaos or a ruckus. We’re out here because people are dying. People are dying. This is not a game. Why does everyone think this is a game? Why do these politicians think this is a game? Why does the sheriff think this is a game? Why does the mayor think this is a game? This is not a game. Quote me on that. This is as real as real gets.
They are manipulating. They are lying. They are cheating. And unfortunately, they are using the media as their pawns to do so. And we can only go so far. We can only write a press release so well. We can only craft our message so clearly. At one point, there’s not much more we can do.
Now, I think I’ve said this in two different press conferences, and I’ll say it one more time, because it doesn’t seem like it’s sinking in. We are in a country that has the remarkable—and believe me, I just want to clarify something—I’m a proud American. I love America. I’ve been all over this country. I love the people of America. I love the people over here. They’re Americans. You might not like that. It might bother you. But they’re just as much a part of our country as anybody else. So this is not some sort of anti-American, “oh, I’m all upset” kind of commentary here. But the reality of the situation is that we are in a country with a history of political repression. That’s very—it’s very—I mean, I’m not like—I’m not like making this up. You know what I mean? Like there is an entire—and I’m not trying to detract from what happened today either. But if you think that what’s happening today is separate from the entire history of this country, I don’t know what to tell you. I don’t even know what I can do with that, because the reality of the situation is—the reality of the situation is, you only have to ask yourself one simple question: who has the power and the legacy to put $50 million on the table to put fences all around the streets of a city that the people have paid for? Period.
UNIDENTIFIED: It’s interesting that after hearing everything that’s been said, the questions are about violence on the protesters’ side, when really the hurt that was done in the streets—I mean, did any of the protesters shoot rubber bullets at the police? Did any of the protesters fire concussion grenades at human beings to explode right next to them? I mean, I think that the questions here are way off, and people aren’t looking in the right place. That’s all.
BETSY RAASCH-GILMAN: The definition of violence itself is very slippery. In some cases, property destruction is considered violence; in some cases, it’s not considered violence, by the very people that I work with the most closely in the peace and justice community. The definition of violence itself is slippery.
Second point, tactical innovation, that I spoke about before, for nonviolent direct action is not going to come from the center. It’s not going to come from the folks who have been organizing marches and rallies and doing a good job of it and doing it well. It’s not—but they’re not the innovators. The innovators are the people who are dissatisfied with that model. And that’s the people in the Welcoming Committee. And that’s the people we invited to come here.
I can tell you that I personally did not and probably wouldn’t smash the Macy’s window. But I’m not going to condemn the person who did it.
BETSY RAASCH-GILMAN: I don’t know what’s going to come of this. I think that the—
UNIDENTIFIED: The window was replaced. I mean, that was what it resulted in.
BETSY RAASCH-GILMAN: Yeah, yeah, OK. I think that there’s a good expression—a good argument that capitalism is a problem. Macy’s is a capitalist—I personally find capitalism a real problem.
AMY GOODMAN: News conference of the RNC Eight. During it, a nineteen-year-old activist named Elliot Hughes said he was beaten and tortured inside the Ramsey County Jail.
ELLIOT HUGHES: My name is Elliot Hughes. E-L-L-I-O-T, H-U-G-H-E-S. Me and some friends were chanting for—so that we could receive food in Ramsey County Jail, because we hadn’t been provided food. And six or seven officers came into my cell, and they took—one officer punched me in the face, right here where you see this bruise. And then they slammed—and I fell to the ground, unconscious. And the officer grabbed me by the head, slammed my head on the ground and re-awoke me out of—to consciousness. And I was bleeding everywhere. They dragged me to another detaining cell. They put a bag over my head that had a gag on it. And they used pain compliance tactics on me for about an hour and a half. They pressed—they separated my jaw as hard as they could with their fingers. And they bent my ankles back. They basically bent my foot backwards. I was screaming for God and like screaming for mercy, crying, asking them why they were doing this. And I’ve never been so violated in my life.
AMY GOODMAN: That was nineteen-year-old Elliot Hughes, speaking at a news conference on Thursday. Sheriff Bob Fletcher told the Star Tribune that Hughes was, quote, “extremely disruptive in jail,” and that, quote, “it took some force to control him.”