Community, Solidarity, Resistance: The Conclusion of the RNC 8 Case and Some Lessons Learned
See also: Blinded by "The Law" by Steve Clemens | Infographic: History of RNC 8 Case
from the RNC 8 and RNC 8 Defense Committee
More than two years after the 2008 Republican National Convention, it appears that the last legal and political defense work is finally reaching a conclusion. Two years of standing together, not always in agreement, but bound by our outrage against a state which systematically destroys our supposed rights. Two years of coming to understand that we are not exceptional and that these rights do not actually exist for anyone except the richest of the rich. Two years of standing and fighting together anyway, retaining our dignity and our strength in our own separate ways.
Earlier today (October 19, 2010), Max Specktor and Rob Czernik pled guilty to gross misdemeanor Conspiracy to Riot, and Garrett Fitzgerald and Nathanael Secor pled guilty to gross misdemeanor Conspiracy to Damage Property. These are all non-cooperating plea agreements; they will not be called upon to testify against anyone else. All of them received 100 hours of community service to be served over 10 months, no jail time or restitution, and a $200 fine. Max and Nathanael were sentenced to one year supervised probation; Garrett and Rob, two years. We recognize that the plea deal may come as a surprising development to supporters, especially considering that the prosecution originally branded the RNC 8 “terrorists” and was still committed to securing felony convictions for certain defendants only two weeks ago.
This is not a rallying cry or a desire to spin a victory from this development in the case. There is no value now in spin, no worth in declaring victory when the situation is more complicated. Rather, this is a moment for reflection upon all the tensions and trade-offs of these last years, and a call for renewed dedication to our highest ideals.
This reflection comes a day before Erik Oseland will turn himself in to serve the time to which he was sentenced when he accepted a plea agreement on August 27th. We encourage everyone to support him by writing him letters:
Ramsey County Correctional Facility
297 Century Ave S.
Maplewood, MN 55119
You can find out more about how to support him by visiting http://supporterik.wordpress.com or emailing email@example.com. The Defense Committee will be sending some funds that had been donated for trial expenses to support Erik during his time in captivity. We are glad that the funds are available to help support him since they are no longer needed for their original intention. In the near future, we will send a more detailed message about the remaining funds that have been donated to us and our plan to be transparent and accountable to all of you concerning them. In the meantime, we are no longer accepting donations for legal defense, and encourage you to donate to others facing charges who need it.
The plea agreements that Erik, Max, Nathanael, Rob and Garrett have accepted are an indication of the realities of the judicial system and our limitations in fighting back against its repressive maneuvers. We regret that the RNC 8, while better positioned than most to fight against this tide, still succumbed to it. The RNC 8 never asked to be placed at the center of this issue, but worked to make the best of the legal battle that they were thrust into. The 8, even at the times of greatest solidarity, had differing analyses, backgrounds, and perspectives on their positions in (or outside of) movements for revolutionary change. They brought different privileges, needs, strengths, and weaknesses to the battle. Some may see this as a tension between the personal and political--that is, what is best for the movement might not be best for their life journeys. Others see themselves so tied to the revolutionary movement that the two are indistinguishable. The only certain truth is that there is not now nor has there ever been absolute agreement amongst the defendants in this case (or their supporters, for that matter).
There are several factors that contributed to how things ultimately played out in this case. Not everyone is in agreement on these factors, but there are clearly some tensions we can identify.
Amongst the defendants there was a tension between solidarity and autonomy. This tension is not unique to the RNC 8 case and, while there were breakdowns in the feelings of solidarity at times, there were also things gained when co-defendants stood together and when the broader movement came together to support them. While the defendants can’t claim full responsibility for the State dropping the charges against three of the eight, the majority of the defendants standing strong together certainly contributed to this outcome. But there were times when some of the co-defendants saw themselves as being in different positions based on numerous actual differences. Individual defendants’ relationships to the RNC Welcoming Committee, their relationship to the State’s evidence, and their differing political analyses and varying commitments to a trial made it even more difficult to navigate the already treacherous terrain with a sense of togetherness. In light of this, how can we ensure that an individual’s autonomy is secure while building the strongest base of solidarity possible? When is it appropriate for an individual to remove themselves from a group? For some of us, these are lingering questions.
Our experiences also lead us to ask: What is solidarity? How can we avoid “lip service solidarity” that covers up using the group to serve individual ends? How can we practice solidarity in a way that it supports both our revolutionary movement and the individual revolutionaries in our movement?
There were tensions pulling on the defendants from the outside as well. One of the most significant was the tension between political support and legal support. The political support around the RNC 8 case has been some of the most phenomenal in recent history. Part of this is because, with the hard work and at least small successes of the RNC Welcoming Committee, the RNC 8 seemed like the best anarchist pony in the race. Many, if not most of the 8 believed this case was going to go to trial. That’s what the 8 and the Defense Committee told all of you, and part of the reason we received so much support was that people believed us. And many people dedicated a lot of their time and energy to making this political support as strong and effective as it has been. We are deeply sorry for those who feel deceived or as if their pony gave up the race.
There is another component, however, that is less visible--the legal support. The official stance of the United States judicial system is that all defendants have the right to trial and to have counsel represent them at trial. However, this is rarely the case. The use of trumped up charges, economic hardship, isolation of defendants, and fear are great tools used to bully and coerce defendants into plea deals. Part of what we have learned is that this coercion doesn’t just come from the State. It’s true that the State would rather folks take plea deals, but for many of the same reasons, defense lawyers also prefer them and work towards them. Lawyers at both tables are ultimately officers of the court. This situation creates a sort of Judicial-Industrial Complex, in which all the suits often have a vested interest in efficiency, expediency, and getting the most amount of money for the least amount of work.
Defense attorneys’ sacred mantra is to work in the best interests of their clients, but they usually perceive “best interests” in very different ways than their clients, especially political clients. When a client puts as much or more weight on the best interests of a revolutionary movement, or makes those revolutionary interests their own, lawyers whose home turf is the system against which their client struggles can have a difficult time understanding.
The court system is also well adept at isolating defendants, even when they receive vocal and active support outside the courtroom. Defense attorneys are able to leverage defendants’ need for lawyers and their specialized knowledge to separate the defendants from other people who care about them and the outcome of their cases. This is a sort of backwards way for lawyers to grab power and attempt to control defendants who are positioned at the center of the political campaign. As such, our movement needs defense attorneys who can recognize this reality and use their skills and privileges not to work out the least painful resolution but to further the struggle in dismantling the system that forces these resolutions.
We have also learned that our movement needs people who are committed to retaining their own agency as defendants and to furthering their political goals through their legal battles. Defendants must be able to set firm boundaries with their legal defense teams, support each other through the legal proceedings, and listen to and hear the advice of their friends and closest political allies as they work to make the best decisions for the movement and themselves--even if these decisions are counter to the advice they received.
Between the defendants and others working on their case/campaign, there was also a tension between support and accountability. Those of us who are anarchists (and even some who aren’t) believe that, in decision making, the most weight should be given to the opinions of those who are most affected. In cases like this, it makes sense that the defendants be allowed to guide their own defense as best they are able. Affectedness, however, is a spectrum. One need not be the most affected to have a stake in a choice. If the case was more straightforward--say, the 8 were all charged with an actual act of property destruction--the political ramifications would not be as great and so political supporters (or the movement) would have less at stake. But, because this case has been about taking a stand and resisting the state’s ability to throw people in jail for thoughtcrime, people beyond the defendants have something to lose. As the Defense Committee has been saying from the beginning, they are coming for the anarchists today; tomorrow it could be any of us.
Many of us draw a hard boundary on withdrawing support from snitches--folks who cooperate with the state to hurt their “friends”. (Luckily, this didn’t become a concern in this case.) Many of us have come to believe that there is also some grey area wherein we can ask and expect those whom we support to handle themselves with integrity and be mindful of the movement that stands behind them. This doesn’t mean that support will be withdrawn or that defense committees get to make defendants’ choices for them. It simply means that it is legitimate for supporters to have thoughts and feelings about the campaign they are working on and to ask that those thoughts and feelings be heard. And it means that the defendants have the responsibility to be accountable to the people supporting them.
As the cases are being resolved, we are focused on being accountable to everyone who has supported the defendants and the work of the Defense Committee. Thank you for being there. Thank you for your donations, for your time spent in the kitchen at our community meals, for organizing and participating in rallies, fundraisers and other events. Thank you for continuing the fight around the issues that led us to resist the Republican National Convention in the first place, and thank you for raising the next generation of rebels and revolutionaries while keeping the struggle going. Thank you for standing not just with the RNC 8, but with all the RNC arrestees and with all targets of state repression. Thank you for remembering the St. Paul Principles--that despite our differences and misgivings, we are strongest when working together as one movement united for radical social change and determined to win.
Thank you for taking the high road, speaking up for true justice and liberation through the good times and the bad, demonstrating the world we will see rise from the ashes of the old. Thank you for the work you will continue to do against politics as usual, against the farce of the criminal injustice system, and against the police and prison industrial complex. And thank you for the work you will continue to do to take direct control over our lives, to fight for social and environmental justice, and to create organized dissent everywhere.
The RNC 8 and the RNC 8 Defense Committee