September 14, 2008
Report by B. Dolan
Photos: Jonathon Hoffner
Special to the Knowmore.org Blog
On September 2, 2008, a peaceful concert on the Minnesota State Capitol lawn featuring Dead Prez, Rage Against the Machine, Anti-Flag and others, was brought to a halt by state and city officials, leading to an impromptu march, multiple arrests, and a teargas attack by police.Â The concert, called Ripple Effect and organized by the activist group Substance, took place during the Republican National Convention.Â I was asked to be part of Ripple Effect as a performer and Knowmore.org spokesman,Â and am filing this report in an attempt to clarify and raise awareness of the day’s events
According to an article in Minnesota’s Star Tribune, the Ripple Effect concert was cut short when Rage Against the Machine made a surprise appearance “close to the 7 p.m. curfew time and without a proper permit.”
The Tribune also quoted Capt. Mary Schrader of the Minnesota State Patrol as saying “the band could not take the stage because it was not included on the permit for the concert.”Â Capt. Schrader also denied that the power to the event was cut prior to the permit’s 7pm curfew.Â Earlier this week, however, I spoke on the phone with Jim Forrey, Ripple Effect’s Chief Event Manger and Organizer, who offered a very different version of the day’s events.
Jim Forrey and Substance maintain that Ripple Effect had all of its permits in order on September 2nd, and that neither the permit nor an additional agreement they signed required any notification of performers or provisions for “allowable speech.”Â They argue that it was in fact the authorities who reneged on the permit and agreement; by threatening to cut power due to artists’ cursing, and later attempting to stop a specific band-Rage Against the Machine-from performing.Â Police also significantly tightened the ‘invisible’ security perimeter organizers and officials hadÂ agreed to.Â Â Instead, the peaceful gathering was subject to a rapidly escalating and aggressive police presence throughout the day.Â I witnessed some of this escalation and asked Jim about it during our interview.
J: What they’d discussed with us previously was that State Patrol would be doing security and that we wouldn’t see them, unless there was a huge problem… If we saw them it’d be bad news.Â It was implied that we would be shut down then … if things were out of control…And so… it became a huge concern of mine when riot police started circling the place and they started sending different brigades of cops into the grounds with their zip-cords.
B: I was noticing helicopters overhead…
J: Exactly, there were snipers on the roof…Then, I started hearing about people getting profiled as anarchists and searched as they were coming into the grounds.Â Shortly after I heard that, I saw them surround a guy in the middle of the grounds and search him head to toe and search his bag.Â It was an illegal search and seizure.Â The fella did not consent to it at all, but he went along with it peacefully.
According to Jim Forrey, these violations came to a head when Rage Against the Machine, the concert’s surprise headliners, arrived on the scene.
Jim Forrey: So then, we got ready.Â Anti-Flag went on… Rage’s management got prepped, and they showed up on site around 6:30pm and were greeted by a line of state troopers who wouldn’t allow them onto the stage… Rage had been stopped by the State Patrol.Â We had people watching the power board, but then I had to go negotiate with the State Patrol… As that was going on, the crowd was chanting various things… And then we heard the whole power got cut.Â That was about 6:45.Â The capital staff came and cut the power and locked the box.Â And then it was kind of ‘what to do we do now?’
What happened next has been reported widely and Youtubed extensively: Zack de la Rocha and Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine walked into the middle of the assembled crowd with a bullhorn, spoke briefly, and performed acapella renditions of two songs.
When they were finished, the band reportedly walked off towards the nearby Xcel center, where delegates were gathering for the Republican National Convention, and were followed by the crowd.
By chance, this sudden movement of people met up with the Poor People’s March, a like-minded demonstration that was making its way toward the Xcel center simultaneously.Â The two marches found themselves spontaneously combining, creating one massive movement of people.
By this time Jim Forrey was back at the capital, making sure that the Ripple Effect event was properly cleaned up and dispersed.Â I had left about an hour before, heading to do my second show of the day in Minneapolis.Â What news we had of Ripple Effect’s conclusion was secondhand, though in the coming days we would both witness equally harsh tactics from the authorities in St. Paul.Â According to Jim’s sources at the scene, protesters marched downtown to find the Xcel convention center gated.Â Police gave a dispersal notice, after which protesters were first penned, then teargassed and arrested.
Jim Forrey and Substance now contend that it was Minnesota state and city authorities who were in violation of the law of that day; violating not only the group’s permit, but first amendment rights to speech and peaceable assembly. The group wishes to take legal action against the city but sites a lack of resources (the group’s organizers shouldered massive debt to make the free event happen) and the fact that, after the RNC, “all of St. Paul’s civil rights attorneys are very busy right now.”