After posting that navel-gazing blog entry a few nights ago, I found some time to wander over to my favorite places in the blogosphere to read entries from Pod and Chris Carlsson. Both of them had mentioned the political spectacle which I’ve dived into. I looked back over my entries and realized that I don’t have much commentary on what’s going on on the ground here in the DNC/RNC circus. I touched base a bit in Denver, and my food poisoning caused me to miss the main day of protests here in the Twin Cities. But, I must admit, the Roadshow has caused me to have an insular angle on the media frenzy. I have a few highlights that might give reflection on what’s been happening.
Basically, there is no room for the radical element in USA’s two party political system. The US government on down is not allowing dissent of any kind unless it is properly permitted and well behaved. Civil disobedience is not an option at all and we all know that millions of tax dollars have been thrown at the issue and that, since the WTO protest in Seattle in 1999, creative ways to be heard by a jaded media are all moot.
Back in Denver, during a two hour break from my toil at the Roadshow, I hopped on a Freewhel!n free bike and went downtown to flyer for our festival. I wanted to see some of the action, since all my visits to Tent State had proved to be bummers (visit one: couldn’t find it; visit two: showed up at night and got ran off by police; visit three: most people were in line to sign up for the Rage Against the Machine raffle), I decided to find the freedom cage, a small fenced off area where protest was allowed. I rolled up to a Denver Sherif and asked, “excuse me, could you tell me where the protest cage is?” I got vague directions and biked that way as best I could.
I didn’t find it. Instead, I ended up at a gate into the DNC. Surprisingly, I saw some protest at this area. One man held huge portraits of late-term aborted fetuses (these were all over Denver), a lesbian couple wore white masks and cryptic anti-war signs, and Code Pink seemed to be on every corner. I barely saw the Pepsi Center where the DNC was held and I saw no sign of a protest cage. Undaunted, I asked a DNC worker at the gate entrance where the protest cage could be found. He gave me further directions to follow.
Clearly, no one actually knew where the small protest space was. I felt like a Kafka character, forever looking for a part of myself in a byzantine city and wondering if it actually existed. After skirting barricades and pedestrians headed to the convention, I stopped at another part of the walled off space, near a huge carport with bomb-sniffing CIA dogs, and couldn’t find the protest cage. On the third try, I asked a pedicabby who had just dropped off two delegates. She said that she didn’t know where the cage was but did know that protesters had been meeting at the Civic Center Park. She gave clear directions and I had it on a crappy map that I had picked up at Tent State. I biked over a block or two, realized that I didn’t have the time to go that far away from the convention area, and biked back to the Roadshow.
Sorry, dude, no protest cage for you 🙁
Random protesting seemed to be allowed in Denver, but any group protest was quickly squelched by the riot cops hanging off the sides of station wagons. Denver had helicopters and SWAT transporters. Police were at every intersection, on radio, and ready to pounce at any sign of dissent. I think the Roadshow got away with some stuff that night we wore animal masks and rode the tiny trike out to create spectacle. The cops mostly laughed at us and treated us like drunk delegates.
When Obama arrived to the city, walls went up wherever dissent was present. Tent State disappeared after hurricane fences went up for a “food festival.” Fences showed up around Civic Center Park too, so I guess the small level of tolerance was over. I got a report from a concert goer who said the free Rage Against the Machine concert rocked, but the 9AM entry for raffle winners meant that they’d lose a full day of any dissent in the street. They did march after the concert, with Iraqi Veterans Against the War, and I was told that the protest dispursed after their needs were met by the Denver Police. All was peaceful.
The Twin Cities, and the Republicans, proved that preemptive is the tactic for the GOP machine and the police who protect their interests. While chilling in Clear Lake, IA, Zach began to get reports that houses were being raided before the RNC began. The Roadshow met up, and I got online to find the ticker for Indymedia full of reports about these raids. Authorities once again went after the radical elements of dissent, taking down the Convergence Center and at least closing off four houses where groups were meeting and organizing in. This totally smelled of authoritarianism, and the shock and awe on Baghdad, so the Roadshow went into a frenzy about how to enter the area.
An inexperienced member of the group got worked up and we seemed to spin off into fear until another member brought us back by yelling “If you want to give up on America, then move to Canada! I haven’t given up on my country!” Discussion about going into the Twin Cities without fear ensued, and we all agreed to at least expect anything but not to worry. Later, we also heard that a family driving Starhawk’s Permibus got pulled over on the freeway, searched for three hours, and then towed away while the family was stuck on the side of the road. We drove into the city, thinking that we’d spend the first night in a Wal*Mart parking lot, with no problems. Saw no cops, ended up with a nice crash in Lynlake, and got in fine.
Later we found out that the Permibus had to be towed out of Minnesota since it wasn’t registered as an RV, and no one from the family had a business class license. During my sickness, the main protests went off, and it was mostly the same old thing: protesters marching without permits, riot cops using pepper spray and tear gas. Again, all dissent must be packaged and peaceful or it won’t happen. Seems like the GOP got a smaller budget for supporting the cops. They drive around in mini-vans, only one helicopter has been used, and the National Guard has stepped in several times to back up the squads.
Yesterday, the Roadshow set up at the Ripple Effect festival. Cold, windy, and raining early in the day, the weather may have held off the crowds. Maybe the crowd they expected just didn’t show up. Could the preemptive raids have kept people from going to a free concert? Turnout was below estimates, but fun was had by the small crowd of about a thousand. Police presence was thick throughout the day, but nothing happened. I saw Tom chatting with two bicycle cops at the Toss Out Fossil Fuels game, and also saw Sara chatting with some of the riot police.
The radical element, whatever that means really, was present, complete with tall bikes, a stencil-making station, Backbone Puppets, and a meditation area. All was chill until the end of the Anti-Flag set. Rumors flew through the area that Rage Against the Machine planned to play the last 30 minutes of the festival. The Roadshow had just began to break down when we heard the Rage rumor. Most of us dropped our tasks and went to the main stage. Once there, looking backstage, we saw Rage, standing by their body guards. A line of Minneapolis Deputy Sheriffs stood between the band and the stage. Towards the back fence behind them stood a row of riot cops. In front of the sheriffs stood a group of Iraqi Veterans Against the War. Boots from the Coup hung out. So did Matisyahu.
Nothing happened for about 15 minutes except an angry crown chanting and singing (they sang the “Star Spangled Banner” even!). I assumed that the promoters were negotiating with the police, but then the band turned left and started walking to the edge of backstage. The exited the tall fenced area and walked around the side to the front of the stage. A body guard got a huge section of people to sit down, and Zach de la Rocha began to talk. A bullhorn appeared and Tom Morello began to beatbox the guitar riff for “Bulls On Parade.” The crowd sang along with Zach. I couldn’t hear much of what they were saying (I was behind the bullhorn), but did pick up bits that said that St. Paul was afraid to allow a voice like Rage Against the Machine to speak freely in front of the Capitol Building. Though bands and flipped off authority all day, the police decided that Rage was too much.
By then, the Poor Person’s March had showed up behind where the Roadshow was set up. Rage led most of the crowd at Ripple Effect to the streets and they headed down the hill towards the RNC. The Roadshow continued to break down, and things got a bit tense when protesters started trickling back messed up from pepper spray and tear gas. Then a squad of riot cops lined up in front of the Capitol. Rumors flew that a sweep was planned, though I saw very few protesters to sweep. The rumor was enough to freak out a few of the crew, so packing sped up. The more level-headed among us tried to keep things calm, but the no-leaders framework caused some of the more frenzied folks to spin out the energy. All was well for us after seeing the riot cops sit down, and then leave, as we finished packing. We circled up briefly to figure out a plan to pick up our generator, which was right beside the police line. But the cops just wanted us out, so all was cool.
One of the Ripple Effect promoters showed up to tell us goodbye, so we got to hear his story. He had lied to the sheriffs earlier in the day and told them that Rage wasn’t going to play. RE had people on the power and boards to keep the cops from pulling the plug but they did it anyway. Their excuse to the media was that Rage wasn’t on the permit, but the organizer told us that the permit didn’t have any bands listed. Had Rage played, they would’ve gone on before the permit expired at 7PM and nothing would’ve gone crazy. Instead, the police refused to allow a famous band a place to play and express themselves, and thus went down in history as being stupid about squelching dissent.
Meanwhile, the Capitol building looks on……
This morning, after two days of hard work, the Minnesota Police woke us up at our buses. They’d “gotten a call that people were trying to set up a permanent residence” in our lot. Zach popped out of bed and laughed when they said this. He informed them that we’re here until Friday at the latest and that we had permission from the landlord. The cops went over to our host’s house and woke them up to get their story. It was the same, so all seems good for now. Zach even gave them a flyer, and one cop said that his girl friend runs a book store down the street. “You should put a stack out there,” he offered. I also overheard the other cop say “Intergalactic Hydrogen?!” in response to Tai’s hydrogen-fueled pick up. Guess he needed to check it out.
Anyway, still here. Politics rolls on. Enjoy the spectacle. Sorry I’m out of the loop while inside the beast. All is normal. Do not adjust your TV set. Continue to receive signals from the commercial-web. Keep shopping. Your products love you. Your politicians love you. Your party loves you. Smile for the tear gas and pepper spray. Happy happy.