Welcome to NYC


It takes a second to wreck it, it takes time to build.
-The Beastie Boys


Welcome to New York City and the Republican National Convention protests. This letter comes out of organizing efforts in NYC to make opposition to the Republican National Convention (RNC) a lasting success. In planning your protests we think it’s important that you have a general lay of the land. We tried to address issues of repression, police, prisons, and the media, as well as some ideas about the way New York is set up geographically.

We hope you find this useful for planning your protests of the RNC.

I Location
If you’re coming in from out of town, you’ll probably be staying somewhere outside of the Madison Square Garden area. You’ll notice that the area around the RNC is different from the rest of the city. Less than 20,000 people live in the area surrounding the Garden and the vast majority of them are white. Compare this with most of the neighborhoods uptown and in Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx, where 40,000 to 60,000 people live in a comparably sized area, and most of them are Black, Latina/o and Asian. Many studies show incredible gaps between rich and poor in this city: 5% of New Yorkers have incomes 10 times higher than the poverty line, while about 30% of New Yorkers live below the poverty line. That’s about twice the national average. Thousands of homeless people who usually find refuge in the area of Madison Square Garden have been displaced by the increased security.

II Background of NYC
New Yorkers have been planning protests against the RNC for over a year. Various groups organizing protests have tried to emulate successes and address mistakes of the past. There will be people with a range of experience at protests against the RNC, from the newly active to the extremely experienced. This could be a moment to help unify radicals nationally, but especially in NYC.

There have been intentional efforts to build relationships, coalitions, and collaborations between mass mobilization, community based, and union activists. There remains a lot of work to do on this. We hope that whatever happens during the RNC will help contribute to that effort.

There are many opportunities for groups to support each other’s work. We hope that you will join and support the actions planned by the different groups: United for Peace and Justice March on August 29, the Poor People's Still We Rise March on NY: Still We Rise on August 30, the August 31 Day of Direct Action, and the Labor Day Protest on September 1.

III Media and Messaging
In NYC there is a media campaign that aims to put New Yorkers at odds with out-of-town protestors and to criminalize dissent expressed against the RNC. It attempts to portray dissent as being from out-of-town and the fringe as opposed to local and mainstream. This diversion marginalizes or completely erases the issues. It puts the protester, instead of the policies we are trying to critique, on the defensive.

Despite media attempts at criminalizing dissent, many people in NYC are pissed that the RNC is coming here. You will hear folks talking about it on the subway, in the corner deli, on stoops, and on busses. Listen to what they have to say. Everyone has their own reason to be angry with the Republicans. While there is a crackdown on dissent, the Republicans are leading an ongoing attack on oppressed communities, which include: people of color, poor people, queer folks, non-citizens, transgender people and women. The RNC presents an opportunity to build dissent in alliance with those most affected by these oppressive policies. To be effective we should focus on four or five concrete messages. For example we could focus on the violation of civil and human rights pertaining to the detention and deportation of immigrants, the diversion of domestic spending to a military budget, and economic draft of poor people into the army.

How could our message be proactive, critical and demanding? Does our message build the movement or does it alienate people? How does it push a progressive politic debate beyond the election? The same local media is also engaged in a white-out* of local opposition to Bush. There is a vast grassroots movement challenging the daily enactment of Bush’s policies in NYC. This movement is made up of those bearing the brunt of these policies. They are oppressed communities including poor people, people of color, women, queer people, non-citizens and transgender people. Not only does the mainstream media white-out the dissent coming from these communities, it criminalizes them daily. This reality doesn’t end when the protests are over. How can we challenge the media-led criminalization of dissent? How can we challenge the white-out around local opposition to Bush and the criminalization of communities? These are questions we should always keep in mind when doing media work.

IV Prison and Jail Solidarity
Safety from police, prisons, and surveillance will be a concern for us all during the RNC. We should be prepared to keep others and ourselves safe. We have to be responsible and communicate our concerns and needs.

The RNC will bring a heightened police repression of dissent. It will amplify the already overwhelming impact of policing and prisons on oppressed communities in the city. There will be way more cops on the street in midtown than is usual for any neighborhood, but in areas like Crown Heights and Bed-Stuy in Brooklyn, neighborhoods targeted by the NYPD’s Operation Impact, it’s not unusual to see 8-10 cops on every block, every day of the year. Manhattan D.A. Robert Morganthau announced that the city is anticipating up to 1,000 daily arrests during the RNC. He did not mention that daily citywide arrest rates of almost 1,000 adults per day are business as usual for the NYPD.

Police will try to pit arrested protesters and their cellmates against each other. We can’t let this happen. Solidarity means more than supporting folks who share your political agenda. It means standing with all people who are surviving the violence of police, jails, and prisons. This means staying attuned to the needs of everyone who is being held in police custody. If you get arrested, you can expect that the officers won’t always act according to the law. They will privilege white folks, traditionally gendered folks, citizens, and the rich and middle class. During the RNC, many activists will have access to media attention, legal support, and financial resources. We have to recognize the privileges that activists can have within the system, and support other folks inside with the resources we can access.

When you consider the actions you take, please remember that the NYPD has a history of using unbridled force against protesters. An arrest in NYC could mean a night in jail or more and return visits to court for months to come.

V Repression and Aftermath
The city has already spent $25 million on security for the RNC. There was no public process, no discussion and no parameters put on what that security will entail and certainly no limit on the future use of whatever new toys this money will buy the NYPD.

In the run-up to the WTO protests in Seattle, the police force contracted with a local club-maker to outfit the entire force with new, improved clubs. All of these clubs are still in use. The SPD was also supplied with a modified street tank with tear gas and pepper spray cannons, which are also still in use. And that's just Seattle, with a police force less than 1/10th the size of NYC's.

Protesters are coming and the city is using this to justify flooding the NYPD with numerous new repressive tools (while not offering them a contract).** Here in NYC, the police force is more like an army. The cops will not just be out in force for us. They're sweeping the streets right now, just as they did yesterday, and the day before. Now they use new equipment.

We will only experience a fraction of this use at the RNC. Oppressed communities will see them from now on. We can’t take action to change this on the streets, but we can use this information when we’re talking to the media.

VI. Tying It All Together.
In our organizing efforts around the RNC we are trying to fit the protests into a long- term strategy for change. We feel we can do this is by supporting the organizing efforts of oppressed communities through out the RNC and after. We plan to: participate in demos organized by community based groups, make links between Republican led international, national and local policies, and lend skills learned at past mobilizations to support the organizing efforts of oppressed communities. We are also trying to not dominate oppressed community-led initiatives through silencing and marginalizing their continued efforts. We hope that the radical movement, locally and nationally, is stronger after the RNC protests because of the bonds created by grassroots, labor and mass mobilization activists. The RNC is one event in the long fight for a new society. We hope to continue to learn from the success and mistakes in order to build a larger, stronger, and smarter movement.

We hope this letter helps spark discussion and raise ideas. We look forward to seeing you all at the RNC.

Good luck, and stay safe,
The Basement Cluster

Thanks to the various folks outside of the Basement Cluster who put time and energy into giving feedback for this letter.

The Basement Cluster is currently a cluster of white identified affinity groups and individuals. We have come together around the RNC to engage in movement-wide conversations of mass mobilizations, long-term strategy, and racism; and to take action against the RNC.

*We use the term “white out” because the media often shows only white people when it covers stories about protests.

** The police and fire departments and teachers union are all fighting for new labor contracts. It is likely that if you’re protesting in front of an RNC event, there will be cops, firefighters and teachers protesting next to you.



Informant: John Vance


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August 2004

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