From the classrooms to the streets

Most incoming freshmen have never known the insane waves of hope we felt following the so-called “Battle of Seattle.”

John Hoff

Let the countdown to chaos begin. The Republican National Convention is almost exactly a year away. Have you bought your gas mask yet?

From Sept. 1 through 4, 2008, our metropolis will be crawling with Republicans like a festering wound crawls with maggots. Massive protests and civil disobedience will take place, possibly rivaling Chicago in 1968 and Seattle in 1999.

Though protestors will converge upon the Twin Cities from all over the world, still the heart, soul and backbone of this necessary outpouring of dissent will most likely be Minnesota college students. It’s not too early to mentally prepare, fiscally budget and steel your nerves to claim a place in history.

For example, if you just signed a year lease, your apartment might be empty most of the summer and still lacking a sublet in late August. But a valuable resource like an empty apartment can be a tool of resistance. Maybe there are some nice young anarchists from someplace like Eugene, Oregon who need a place to stay while doing reconnaissance. Throw open your apartment door, I say, and point the anarchists to the nearest McDonalds or Starbucks.

Studying for classes becomes more fun when you realize everything you learn this academic year could, come September of 2008, become a lesson to be applied in the streets.

For example, one might learn about the storming of the Bastille while studying French history and think, “What insights are here that can be applied to the 2008 Republican National Convention?”

However, I find that writing history is more absorbing than reading about it. In the University Bookstore, I often see texts about issues surrounding globalization. Out of habit, I flip to the index to see if the book discusses Seattle in 1999 and the protests against the World Trade Organization. I was there, gassed twice and shot hard with some kind of rubber projectile in my left thigh.

In 1999, when the World Trade Organization talks collapsed, we literally danced in giddy circles and chanted “We changed the world.” Back then, it seemed like we had some kind of historic momentum going, the fiery dawning of an era of reform seen once in a generation.

Maybe, it seemed, if we massed up to meet evil forces where those evil forces were congregating, locked our arms, chanted until we lost our voices and politely returned tear gas canisters back to their senders, we could peacefully prevail.

Somehow, we could save sea turtles, turn back global warming and protect the rights of indigenous peoples. Yes, indeed, everybody could live large in a world of delicious rainbow stew distributed in an equitable, caring and sharing kind of way. But since September of 2001, patriotic dissenters live in fear of being wiretapped, arrested and tortured by a government supposedly founded on high ideals like, gee, torture is bad.

Too young to care much about current events in 1999, most incoming college freshmen have never known the insane waves of hope we felt following the so-called “Battle of Seattle.”

Back then my hair was a lot longer, and I went to many protests. I was arrested twice, once for sitting in front of a piece of heavy equipment. I learned to estimate how big a protest would be by the amount of buzz preceding it, and who was involved in the organizing. Let me whisper a little secret to you.

Closer, I’m whispering, here.

Nearly a whole year ahead of the fateful date, the estimated size of demonstrations surrounding RNC 2008 can’t be measured on the Hoff Protest Estimation Scale. This thing is going to be off the charts. Be there or you will still be feeling left out when you are, like, a grandparent.

I believe that in September of 2008, even the youngest students at this institution might know what it means to breathe the intoxicating smell of freedom, which smells surprisingly like a burning dumpster.

The pages of history are blank and not yet written. History asks a question that will be answered exactly one year from now.

“What are Minnesota’s college students made out of? Are they brave, or are they cowards? Do they have high ideals, or do they care only for themselves?”

I am eager to see the answer. I believe I know the answer already.

Some of the best organizing around RNC 2008 is taking place at the Jack Pine Center on East Lake Street. Check out their cool Web site at

John Hoff welcomes comments at [email protected]