What's the big deal with the RNC 2000?

The Republican National Convention (RNC) was hosted by the City of Philadelphia, July 31 - August 3, 2000. For activists, it represented a national opportunity to oppose U.S.-led policies of trade liberalization, increased privatization, and other domestic and foreign policies. Understanding that activists had many reasons to confront Bush and his political platform, the City of Philadelphia poured vast resources into ensuring an unfettered convention.

From the outset, RNC 2000 protesters were vilified by local officials in the mainstream media as “violent anarchists” and “outside agitators,” while an expansive policing apparatus was established to spy on and disrupt political activity. In coordination with law enforcement, the city’s administrative agencies tried to stifle the demonstrations by denying permits and conducting preemptive raids on activist spaces. The police and FBI engaged in heavy surveillance and infiltration, and used targeted stops and searches to harass and intimidate protesters. On August 1, the day of direct action against the criminal justice system, police used oppressive crowd control techniques and were indiscriminately brutal. In the end, they arrested more than 400 people and detained accused protest “ringleaders” on bail as high as $1 million.

While still in jail, activists used solidarity tactics to agitate, achieve demands, and resist the dehumanizing jail experience. The camaraderie and solidarity developed in jail was quickly adapted and used in the courtroom to collectively refuse plea bargains and stage political trials. In the end, hundreds of criminal cases were dismissed or saw their defendants acquitted.

R2K Legal Collective was a collective of over 400 activists that were arrested during the RNC protests in Philadelphia, PA (the RNC 420). Along with supporters and attorneys, they took their legal defense into their own hands, and forcing the process to be political. This ad-hoc group of activists formed to staff a 24-hour legal office, coordinate Legal Observers, and track the status of arrestees to became a formidable defendant-led collective and the backbone of the legal support effort. R2K Legal successfully exposed abuse inside the jails, raised unprecedented legal funds, provided direct support to hundreds of criminal cases, and—with its “drop the charges” campaign—garnered widespread public support.

Philadelphia has a longstanding reputation for intolerance to political dissent. Nevertheless, what took place during the RNC 2000 protests and in the years that followed is important to our social and political history for at least three reasons: (1) the policing model that has now been used by the state to suppress dissent for more than a decade was developed in Philadelphia and honed shortly thereafter by John Timoney, one of the country’s most notorious anti–free speech police chiefs; (2) President George W. Bush, who was nominated at the RNC 2000, drew on this experience to expand the “security” apparatus that made Timoney’s repressive policing model possible and became crucial to what we now know as the National Security State; and (3) the stunning example of how activists came together in ways that were not only effective but also inspiring and life-changing.

Banner photo by Brad Kayal


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