RNC 8 tours colleges to raise awareness, funds

Schools set aside honorarium dollars for student groups to invite speakers — like the RNC 8.

Two of the RNC 8 have embarked on a âÄúmini-West Coast tourâÄù that they hope will raise awareness of their case and funds to help compensate for the expected $250,000 price tag attached to their legal proceedings. Following the Republican National Convention, activists Max Specktor and Rob Czernik were each charged with four felonies âÄî including conspiracy to riot and conspiracy to damage property, both in furtherance of terrorism âÄî along with six co-defendants. They say the charges are trumped up in an attempt to stifle dissent. Their trials are expected to start this fall. This week, Czernik and Specktor, a University of Minnesota cultural studies junior, are visiting the Pacific Northwest, including two colleges, to tell their story. And beyond simply conveying that they believe the âÄúterrorismâÄù counts leveled against them have wide-reaching, negative implications on activists everywhere, they hope to net some money for their defense. âÄúWeâÄôre building a movement around building awareness,âÄù Czernik said. Supporters of the RNC 8 sent an e-mail to other backers a few weeks ago, suggesting student groups invite the co-defendants to speak. Most schools set aside funding âÄî called honorariums âÄî to allow groups to host notable guests. The money would help the RNC 8 cover mounting legal fees. Monday night, Specktor and Czernik presented at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash ., after a student group there invited them. From the school, the group secured $1,500 to pay for basic expenses for Specktor and Czernik âÄî and then some. The $1,500 honorarium covered flights for Specktor and Czernik, who are staying with friends in Washington, Oregon and California during their week-long tour. Between that honorarium, one from a second stop at Reed College in Portland, Ore. , and donations, Specktor expects the RNC 8 will come away with roughly $3,000. âÄúItâÄôs not like this money is just going to me and Rob,âÄù he said, noting that recent fundraising efforts, such as concerts and other events, have yielded sizeable contributions to the RNC 8 defense fund. Attorneys for the RNC 8 are essentially working pro bono, Specktor said, taking whatever payment the co-defendants can offer. Still, working the case is time-consuming and has the added pressure of being a possible precedent-setter. âÄúI donâÄôt think weâÄôll ever be done [fundraising],âÄù he said. âÄúItâÄôs pretty surprising how much weâÄôve been doing.âÄù Police arrested the RNC 8 preemptively for allegedly planning to violently disrupt SeptemberâÄôs RNC in St. Paul. The never-before-used terrorism charges are extreme, they say, backed by overzealous prosecutors who used invasive and inappropriate statutory law, the Minnesota version of the PATRIOT Act. Their first speaking engagement Monday night at Evergreen State drew about 50 people who listened and asked questions, Specktor said. He and Czernik spoke about their case and crackdowns on dissent. Especially for people in the northwest who do similar organizing to the RNC 8, Specktor said thereâÄôs a lot that can be learned from the case involving him and his co-defendants. âÄúAlthough we are being targeted for doing public organizing, people should not let it get them down,âÄù he said. Despite the highly political nature of the RNC 8 case, Specktor and Czernik say there has been little reluctance by institutions to have members of the RNC 8 speak, except for a church in northern Minnesota that backed out of hosting an event because of a fear of counter-protesters. âÄúColleges are always supposed to be this bastion for free thought,âÄù Czernik said. âÄúIt wouldnâÄôt look good for an administration to say we couldnâÄôt speak.âÄù Evergreen State spokesman Jason Wettstein said by state law, the school is required to remain politically neutral when it comes to guest speakers on campus. Reed College spokesman Kevin Myers said itâÄôs hard to imagine that the small liberal arts college wouldnâÄôt welcome the RNC 8. The RNC 8 are beginning to plan a late April tour of campuses in Colorado. For now, the activists are enjoying the warm reception theyâÄôve been shown in their first days on the West Coast. âÄúIâÄôm just excited that people are really concerned about whatâÄôs going on,âÄù Specktor said. âÄúPeople out here are genuinely concerned and genuinely supportive.âÄù Specktor and Czernik will stay one more night in Portland, Ore., where Tuesday they spoke at Reed College. Then, itâÄôs on to San Francisco and Santa Cruz, Calif., for a couple of events before they return to the Twin Cities early next week. âÄî Karlee Weinmann is a senior staff reporter.