RNC2—Raid on the Convergence Center
It’s Friday night. Our Pagan Cluster is sitting on the bluff of the Mississippi having our first real meeting, when Lisa gets a call. The cops are raiding the Convergence Center, where we’re organizing meetings and trainings for the protests against the Republican National Convention. It’s not a role play, the caller says. It’s real.
Instantly, we jump up and hurry back the six or eight blocks to the old theater we are using for meetings, trainings and social gatherings. I‘ve spent the last two days doing magical activism trainings, teaching people how to stay calm and grounded in emergency situations and when things get chaotic. Now it’s time to put the training into practice. Aaron, a tall, red-headed young man who could be one of my nephews strides along beside me. “Are you grounded?” I ask him. He nods, and runs ahead.
Nobody can keep up with Lisa, who speeds ahead like an arrow, walking, not running, but still covering the ground quickly. Andy and I trail behind. We’re often street buddies, because we’re both big, slow, and supremely calm and stubborn, willing to wade into almost any situation and become the immovable object.
We’re stopped by a line of cops just before we reach the building. They refuse to let us through, or to move their van which is blocking Scarecrow’s car. There’s an investigation underway, they say, and won’t say more.
Brush, our dear friend, is inside, having gone to a jail solidarity meeting, ironically enough. So are two very young people who had just joined our cluster that night. I try calling Brush’s cell phone, but get no reply.
We wait. That’s what you do when the cops have guns trained on kids inside a building. You wait, and witness, and make phone calls, and try to think of useful things to do.
We call lawyers. We call politicians. We try to call media. We call friends who might know politicians and media.
Through the kitchen door, we cansee young kids sitting on the floor, handcuffed. We walk across the street, back, made more phone calls. An ambulance is parked in front, and the paramedics head into the building, leaving a gurney ready. Susu, from her car around the corner, reports that the cops have been grabbing pedestrians from the street, forcing them down to the ground, handcuffing them.
Song, one of the local organizers, calls her City Council member. She wants to call the Mayor, Chris Coleman, who has promised that St. Paul will be as welcoming to protestors as to delegates, but no one has his home number.
What I have forgotten to tell people at the training is how much of an action is just this: tense, boring waiting, with a knot of anxiety in your stomach and your feet starting to hurt. Song talks to a helpful neighbor, who’s come over to find out what’s happening. He knows where the mayor lives, says it’s just a few blocks away, and draws us a map.
We decide to go and call on the Mayor, who could call off the cops. About five of us troop down there, through the soft night and a neighborhood of comfortable homes and wide lawns on the bluffs above the Mississippi. The Mayor’s house is a comfortable Dutch Colonial, and lights were on inside. We decide that just a few of us will go to the door, so as not to look intimidating. Song is a round, soft-bodied middle-aged woman with a sweet face. Ellen is a tiny brunette with a gap-toothed smile, and Lisa, formidable organizer though she is, looks slight and unthreatening. The rest of us hang back. Someone opens the door. Our friends have a conversation with the mayors’ wife, who is not pleased to be visited by constituents late at night, and who tells us we should call the office. The Mayor, she says, is asleep, and she will not wake him up.
We think a mayor who was doing his job would get up and go see what’s going on. Nonetheless, we head back to the convergence space.
A protestor has been released from the building. A small crowd has gathered across the street, and Fox News has arrived. They interview Song, who does her first ever Fox media spot. She tells them the truth—that people were in there watching movies—a documentary about Meridel Le Seuer. Meridel would be proud, and I’m glad she is with us in some form.
One by one, protestor’s trickle out. Now we get more pieces of the story. The cops burst in, with no warning. They pulled drew their guns on everyone—including a five year old child who was there with his mother, forced everyone down on the floor. It was terrifying.
They had a warrant, apparently, from the county, not the city, to search for ‘bomb making materials.’ They were searching everyone in the building, then one by one releasing them as they found nothing.
They continue to find nothing, as we wait through long hours. Meanwhile, more and more media arrives. These cops are not as creative as the DC cops during our first mobilization there against the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Those cops confiscated the lunchtime soup—which included onions and chili powder, claiming they were materials for home made pepper spray.
We wait until the last person gets out. He’s a twenty year old who the cops have accused of stealing his own backpack—but apparently they relented.
And now it’s morning. I wake up to the news that cops have been raiding houses where activists are staying, bursting in with the same bogus warrant and arresting people, including a four year old child. They’ve arrested people at the Food Not Bombs house—a group dedicated to feeding protestors and the homeless. They’ve arrested others, presumably just for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The Poor Peoples’ Campaign, which had set up camp at Harriet Island, a park in the middle of the Mississippi, has also been harassed, its participants ordered to disperse and its organizers arrested.
Let me be perfectly clear here—all of us here are planning nonviolent protests against an administration which is responsible for immense violence, bombs that have destroyed whole countries, and hundreds of thousands of deaths.
This is the America that eight years of the Bush administration have brought us, a place where dissent is no longer tolerated, where pre-emptive strikes have become the strategy of choice for those who hold power, where any group can be accused of ‘bombmaking’ or ‘terrorism’ on no evidence whatsoever in order to deter dissent.
Please stand with us. Because it could be your home they are raiding, next.
Call the Mayors of St. Paul and Minneapolis. Tell them you are outraged by these attacks on dissent. Urge them to let Poor People encamp and to let dissent be heard.
FLOOD THE MAYORS' OFFICES ASAP
St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman
Minneapolis Mayor RT Rybak
(612) 673-3000 outside Minneapolis
Part 2--New Moon Ritual
We are gathered on sacred ground overlooking the Mississippi to celebrate the new moon and to begin this week of demonstrations and actions outside the Republican National Convention. We have an intention for the ritual, an intention the planners have been working with here in the Twin Cities for months: to court an upwelling of earth wisdom.
Magic, we say, is the art of changing consciousness at will—that’s Dion Fortune’s definition. Implicit in that is ‘art’, imagery, poetry, and we’ve been looking for the imagery that will embody our intention. The most powerful rituals are built around one clear image and one clear intention.
But we keep getting multiple images: webs, crystals, bedrock, surging water. The hurricane, roaring toward the Gulf, back toward New Orleans where many of us volunteered after Katrina. And dragons.
“Oh please Goddess not dragons!” I’m saying silently inside my own mind. “With or without dungeons—high wince factor. Overused. Disneyesque.” But dragons it is—protective Chinese dragons, ancient earth serpent powers, water dragons, fierce, fire-breathing guardians.
Many years ago, I had a friend who lived in a group house in San Francisco. He used to say that every collective needed a dragon who lived in the basement, someone really ill tempered who will emerge from time to time and drive off those people who come to visit for a night and end up staying for a month, eating up all your sweet pickle chips and losing your bicycle.
And so, when we do ritual in a public place, we always name some people as ‘dragons’, to guard the boundaries of the circle. This ritual coincides with the arrival of a group who has biked from a conference in Madison, Wisconsin all the way to the Twin Cities. Paul has contacted them, and asked them to be our dragons.
I am having a lot of trouble shifting my own consciousness as the ritual begins. It’s been a hard, tense day. All day we’ve been getting news that the police have been raiding houses, breaking down doors, arresting people, with or without warrants or warnings. We hold the morning meeting in a public park, because our Convergence Space has been raided and closed the night before. Someone says, “We’re a community that includes children—we can’t clear them out of their own living spaces. Remember if the police raid your space it’s important to have someone negotiate with them to get the children out.”
I am a tough person. I’ve been through a lot of these things and in spite of all my efforts to stay open I’ve grown something of my own protective scales. But those words pierce through them, and I find tears welling up in my eyes. It just hits me, that we’re standing here in the United States of America, in the liberal city of my birth, talking about how to protect children from armed police.
So this is on my mind as I try to center for the ritual, and then comes the news that our PermiBus has been pulled over and our friends in it are being arrested. My own organization, Earth Activist Trainings, has helped to build and fund this bus, and our dear friends Delyla and Stan Wilson and their daughter Megan have been traveling in it for seven months, offering trainings in Sustainable Skills, and tours of the bus itself as a living example. It has solar panels and graywater systems, a worm bin, hydroponic herb garden, composting toilet and three resident chickens. Megan, a gifted poet at sixteen, says: “We know the world is not as it should be: we want to live in a way that shows people what could be.”
So I’m trying to wrench my mind away from worrying about them, using all my magical tools to try to get calm and grounded and centered, and not having great success. I’m responsible for a major part of the ritual, and though I’ve been meditating on it and thinking about it for days, my mind is still pretty much a blank and now, as the ritual begins, I still don’t know exactly what I’m going to do.
And then the dragons ride in. Paul signals to them, and they ride down the hill and around and around the circle on their bikes, while we cheer and laugh with delight. For each of them has made a dragon costume. They have long snouts of painted cardboard and foam spikes in their helmets and wild wings of wire and gauze and webbing. They ride around and around, and just for a moment, the clouds of stress and worry roll away and I’m filled with wonder and delight. Three bald eagles circle above us. Magic.
As the ritual begins, I know what I am going to say, what images and energies are asking to be expressed. We honor the ancestors, and ask permission to do our work on that sacred land. We cast a circle, call in the elements of earth, air, fire, water. A young woman from the biking group has asked to spin fire, and her dance with twirling balls of fire on chains lights up all our hearts.All the while, the dragons stand guard around us, calm and still in their snouts and wings.
Susu, who is a poet, calls the Mississippi by having us all chant the letters of the mother river’s name, spelling a spell. We call in the earth spirits, and we call protection, for the circle, for all our friends in the street, and for our friends and all those in the path of the hurricane heading toward the Gulf.
My turn comes. Right away, I abandon my plans. This circle needs to move, to sing and dance, so I call in the drummers and we sing a chant to Spider Woman and to change.
“Spiders and webs are positive images for us,” I tell the group when the chant dies down. “The web is a symbol for the web of life, the web of connection. But there are other sorts of webs, too. Sticky webs. Webs of lies. Webs of entrapment. There’s a web of negative energy that has been covering this country, media webs that whisper to you day and night that you’re not good enough, not good looking enough, webs of scorn and judgment. And those webs get inside us.”
I ask people to turn to each other, to draw out the threads of those webs and let them sink into the ground as pure energy. To open up a space for something new.
If there’s a core belief in the Goddess religion, it’s this: that each of us is part of the web of life, and precious, bringing our own unique gifts to the world. We don’t ask people to believe in things, not even the Goddess who is simply our term for the great creative mystery that weaves the world. But we do ask people to believe in yourself, in your own deep work, in your sacred purpose. You are here for a reason.
And then I ask people to sink down into that web of life, to feel it beneath our feet, in the soil, in the web of waters that flow beneath us, in the very bedrock below us which was once living things and which in the fullness of time will return to life as soil and root and growing thing. To listen to that web of life, and to know that all we really need to do to court its upwelling is to open up a space for it, and listen.
Eagles circle, and then as the sun sets, so do helicopters, circling around us, their thrum making it nearly impossible to hear. But we begin to dance and drum, to weave a spiral and raise a roaring cone of power, and the helicopters finally move away. Energy pours through us, roaring upwards like dragon fire.
At the end of the ritual, someone calls for anyone who was in the convergence center when it was raided to come forward. A young woman steps into the center of the circle. She was in the building the night before, with her five year old son, who was scared and crying as the police drew their guns on his mother, handcuffed her, patted her down. Now we lay soft hands on her, chant and sing and send her healing. When it is done, she’s glowing; and immediately begins organizing housing for all the people who have been displaced by the raids.
I sit down, spent. A man and a woman come over to talk. They are thinking of offering housing, but worried. What about the anarchists? Won’t they destroy things, or bring down the police on their home? If they march with us, will they be in danger? They’ve heard that anarchists like to provoke the police to attack peaceful demonstrators, to radicalize them.
I explain gently that anarchism is many things—a political philosophy with widely varying strands, from nihilists to pacifists. But mostly a way of organizing, a stress on personal responsibility, on taking action oneself and not waiting for the government or someone else to do it for you.
A young woman from the biker’s group comes over. She’s dressed all in black—if ever someone looked the part of an anarchist, it’s her.
“We were just talking about you,” says the man, and soon they are deep in discussion. She tells him that yes, she is an anarchist, and so are pretty much all of the group with the bikes. And that for her, it’s about building community, looking out for each other, making decisions together, mutual aid and respect. They have a long discussion, in which magic is happening: consciousness is changing.
I talk with her and with some of the other dragons as we share food made by Seeds of Peace. A tall young man with golden curls tells me how much it meant to them to be dragons. “We really got into it,” he says. “We spent a whole day making our costumes, and getting into that guardian, protective energy. And now I don’t want to let it go. I’m going to keep my foam spikes in my helmet when I’m doing deliveries. We want to be guardians for the marches, for the city. For the world.”
This is how magic works.
The bikers are all hugging each other in a circle, reluctant to leave each other now that the ride is over. They have fulfilled their intention, built their community, spread their message, and brought us a gift of wonder and delight.
And as we prepare to leave, I get a new message. Our friends with the bus have not been arrested, although the bus itself has been impounded. They are free, although their home and all their possessions, computers, permaculture displays, worms and the contents of their composting toilet are now locked up somewhere in a police yard, with no explanation or reason. The police had no search warrant—indeed, they did not search the bus, but explained that they were impounding it in case they wanted to search it later. They did, however, release the people, the two exuberant Australian shepherd dogs, and the three chickens, with whom we are reunited back at our home.
Magic. Like so many things, it doesn’t work perfectly. But it works.
Part 3-Final Part
UPDATE: All our cluster is out of jail, the bus is back on the street, and I’m home in my own bed! But some of the young organizers who put together food, housing, and meeting spaces for the direct actions are facing trumped up charges of conspiracy to riot and ‘terrorism’ under Minnesota’s version of the Patriot Act. This is one of the clearest uses of this post 911 legislation to target dissent. The Welcoming Committee members are not accused of actually doing any rioting—indeed, they were all in jail during the convention, nor was any physical evidence found to corroborate the fabricated statements of the paid informants who infiltrated meetings. It’s vitally important for progressives to stand behind these young people who have been targeted mostly because they proclaim themselves ‘anarchists.’ If they can be targeted for their beliefs, so can any of us. If they can be held responsible for the actions of people over whom they have no control, so can anyone who organizes a march, a rally, a civil disobedience, or a protest where a provocateur breaks a window. The lawyers are estimating that to fight their charges may take $250,000 over the next several years. Hey, that’s only 1000 people who can donate $250 each. I’ll be one of them, will you? To donate any amount, go to:
And thanks again to all of you who have been so supportive and generous during this last week.
RNC9: The Last March
Thursday, September 4: Thie is the final night of the convention, the night that John McCaine is scheduled to speak. There’s also an antiwar march scheduled to begin on the steps of the Capitol—an unpermitted march. We make our way there through a city that has become an occupied zone. There are rumors that police are blocking the bridges, that the whole city will be under curfew from 5 pm on.
We gather up our cluster—only about ten of us. The Capitol is surrounded by clumps of riot cops and the tension is throbbing as speakers on the stage rile up the crowd. Jason and Riyanna are fresh out of jail, and not eager to go back, so they will stay on a safe edge and not put themselves into danger. At least, not if Lisa has anything to say about it—she’s snapping at them like a mother dog correcting her pups. She, of course, will snap equally hard at anyone who suggests that she ought to stay out of danger. Juniper and I together can sometimes corral her enough to let us watch her back—but not always. Andy and I have been remarking about how, even though our tactic of choice is to wade into danger and stolidly obstruct it, nothing seems to happen to us. This has held true for both of us, separately and together, in situations much more dangerous than this one. Is it something we do? Will naming it jinx it? How far can we trust it?
A few people in our group are having a moment of panic. Nothing’s happened, yet, but all our intuition tells us that something could, at any moment. They decide to go back, and be our support if something does.
I’m feeling the fear, but it’s a little bit outside of me. I’m trying to drop down below it, to the calm place where I can get information, or at least, a clear hunch. Is this going to go really badly? If so, do I want to be out of it, or in it, to try and make it less bad?
There are two great instincts that war in the human breast; not sex and death, as Freud maintained, but these: the urge to stay safe, and the urge to get into the action or at least, see what’s going on.
For the moment, the second urge is dominant in all of us who remain. The march starts off, and we join it. But we’re extra alert. We’re looking for the exits and the escape routes, positioning ourselves always so there is somewhere to go.
The march heads up the street alongside the Capitol lawn, and then tries to turn across one of the bridges leading into downtown. The police move in, and block us.
There’s a tense crowd of people on the bridge and filling the intersection. Around us are police in full riot gear and gas masks.There’s also a group of bike cops, looking slightly underdressed in shorts and gas masks. They’ve brought in the Minnesota specials—a line of snowplows across the bridge. On them are perched black-masked cops in heavy leathers holding thick-muzzled rifles that shoot rubber bullets.
The energy is unfocused. Nobody knows quit what to do. It could all fall apart, in a moment, with the cops attacking the crowd, or it could remain a standoff for a long time. I am softly drumming, not quite sure what to do, when a young, African American woman with long curls and a ring in her lip comes up and says, “Do you know how to sing, ‘Aint’ Gonna Study War No More?”
I shift the beat, we begin singing, and soon gather a small chorus that forms around us. A tiny, round, young black woman in spectacles steps in front. She has a large voice, and she takes over as lead singer. The chorus grows and a space opens up in the center of the intersection, that is soon filled with riders on bikes, circling around and around, counterclockwise. A young man turns a cartwheel. A clown on stilts appears, out of nowhere, and joins the ride. Suddenly, it’s a circus in the street. The mood shifts and becomes almost festive.
My own mood has shifted, too. I’ve been practicing a more Buddhist-style meditation lately, just watching my breath in odd moments and being present to what’s happening. I’m doing that now, breathing and drumming with the bikes and the song and the riot cops, and for no rational reason whatsoever I feel a surge of pure joy.
Two of the cyclists are punk kids covered with patches and graphics that I’ve seen at spokescouncil. One of them is named Maggot, and I’ve seen him sitting with his head down, mumbling his comments which always make sense. Now he’s on a bike, his head up, smiling.
The young woman in front of me turns and taps my elbow. “Let’s sing, ‘We Shall Overcome’”, she says.
I drum and the others join hands and sing.
“We shall overcome, we shall overcome,
We shall over come, someday…”
There’s some piece of magic at work here. The circling bikes remind me of our dragon-clad cyclists from the ritual that began this week. Now, after all the pain and the ugliness, the tension and the snatch squads and the media lies, after all the arguments and conversations about violence and nonviolence and tactics and accountability, after the splits between Obama and Hillary and the fruitless arguments about which is more crucial, gender or race, it seems deeply and oddly wonderful to be asked by two young black women to sing the old Civil Rights songs of the sixties here in the face of the riot cops. As if something is truly welling up from the earth, some spirit that knows and values rage but persists in remembering the power in acting out of love.
It’s a spell. For just one moment, in one place, we sing in spite of our fear, and the violence abates.
“Deep in my heart, I do believe, we shall overcome some day.”
It’s been a hard week. We’ve seen the full machinery of the violence of the state called out to quell any semblance of dissent. I’ve seen friends arrested, beaten, shoved, nearly trampled by horses, tasered, pepper sprayed, beaten and literally tortured in jail. We’ve seen organizers targeted for ‘terrorism’ and media lies paint a totally warped picture of what has happened here. They’ve tried to make us feel powerless and afraid, and at times, they’ve succeeded.
But we’re here, at the end, still singing.
Feel free to forward or repost this—thanks to all who have made calls already—it really helps! We got the convergence space reopened—but the raids continue!
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * Starhawk, a longtime progressive political activist and prolific writer located in San Francisco, is committed to the marriage of spiritual work and political activism. She is the author of "The Spiral Dance", "Dreaming the Dark", "The Pagan Book of Living and Dying", and other works of nonfiction and fiction. Her work as a modern day pagan, or earth-based spiritual leader, is driven by a love of Life and the desire to bring the “creative power of spirituality to political activism”. She has organized, trained protestors and has been in the front lines of global peace and justice movements around the world.
Starhawk, a longtime progressive political activist and prolific writer located in San Francisco, is committed to the marriage of spiritual work and political activism. She is the author of "The Spiral Dance", "Dreaming the Dark", "The Pagan Book of Living and Dying", and other works of nonfiction and fiction. Her work as a modern day pagan, or earth-based spiritual leader, is driven by a love of Life and the desire to bring the “creative power of spirituality to political activism”. She has organized, trained protestors and has been in the front lines of global peace and justice movements around the world.
Read about the permaculture bus. Please visit Starhawk’s website, find her rich permaculture resources page and read her writings frequently. Better yet, find a workshop in your area! Go to Starhawk's Goddess and Pagan Resources Page.
You can see more of Starhawk's articles here at Satya Center in the Global Visionaries Section.
[Photo Credits: clip art & the photo of the author from her website.]