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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

DNC Night Three: The Polite Demonstrators Edition

Heard in passing on the way to the Pepsi Center: Obama’s presidential campaign is the biggest things since the Cosby Show to happen to black Americans.

To tell the truth, covering events like the convention--especially if you are focused on the speeches--would be easier from home. For interviews, for taking photos, and for true believers, the event is a blessing. For content, assuming you’re a blogger at least, the long walks, the wasted time in line to get through security, the high prices, and the chaotic crowds just get in the way of divining the message.

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The biggest challenge is finding a reasonably quiet place to sit down, organize thoughts, and write something meaningful without being overwhelmed by the echoing voices, pushy reporters, and crowded halls. And don’t get me started on the fact that every bar in the area--and in the Pepsi Center--has been carved up by one of the big media outlets and there are only a handful of places for the second-class citizens (me) to sit and work. It’s left many of us poor bastards precious little room to maneuver.

Not that I blame the media outlets. If I had the wherewithal, I would do precisely the same.

Walking down to the Pepsi Center tonight after leaving the air conditioned wonder of the Founding Bloggers Secret Lair (check out their site for some great shots of what’s been happening around Denver this week and for exclusive video), I enjoyed the fact that big events bring out two things in modern Americans: their inner capitalist and their willingness to jump in and protest even when the protest has so little to do with the actual event. Like the gentleman protesting the Catholic church and the handling of the pedophile scandals of a few years ago.

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While I admire the work that went into his outfit, I couldn’t tell you what Obama’s coronation event has to do with that particular problem. It was perversely fun to watch him spreading his message contra Catholic Nazi Piggy Back Rides. He stepped carefully through the crowd and spoke to anyone willing to listen while the vendors hawked Obama action-figures, t-shirts, and bottled water. Funny stuff.

Not all protesters are made equal, though.

During the lull in the convention action, a walk out to Checkpoint Charlie proved to be providential. Or at least vaguely interesting.

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I caught the tail end of a little protest. Cops in riot gear, the equestrian troops, and a scattering of curious members of the media all converged on one section of the temporary barricades and fences. Led by the red-shirted Vets Against the War, the crowd was changing “Fuck you, we won’t do what you tell us.” Apparently they were still under the spell of Rage Against Decent Music.

Amidst the usual anti-war slogans and signs was one that always makes me giggle. “US Off the Planet.”

I wonder how many of them actually mean it? How many of them actually think that the world would be better off without the United States of America? My guess is that quite a few of them spout things like that at parties and protests, but they wouldn’t give up their coddled existence and good life here in the US to go live in, say, any nation in Africa. But what do I know? It seems like Recreate68 was more of a pose than an actual attempt to change our government.

Shawn Macomber says something similar in his piece tonight.

The essence of the infamous 1968 Democratic convention to the Recreate68ers tourists, it seems, was not philosophical, but cultural. The protestors aren’t really here to shake up the system or tear down the edifice of a decaying society. None, not even those designated to speak to the press and police liaisons, exhibit the kind of charisma or ambition necessary for something as grand as all that. The Zapatistas in Chiapas would surely accept their aid if these twentysomethings and younger wanted to trade their hovel in the ‘rents basement and an X-Box for a jungle bunker and war against the man. No, it’s more akin to the conceit of Total Recall: they paid the price to come travel to a city where, for a week, they can live an artificial—but lurid—version of a dangerous—but celebrated—time in history. They came to rub elbows with a story, to gain that “imaginary possession of a past that is unreal”; to be able to say, like the vets of SDS and the Weathermen Underground, “Hey, we were there when the s*** went down.”

Problem is, there are a few misdemeanor arrests, but no s*** going down in Denver.

I met my two favorite protesters (sorry about the poor pic, guys--I should have taken a few more for safety’s sake). Seth and Kiko, University of Michigan students, both trekked out for the demonstrations, but also admitted that they would be voting for Obama. When I asked them whether he thought that demonstrations like those could actually hurt Obama in the election, Seth, who stated that he has worked for Obama for more than a year, was adamant that wasn’t the case. “No, I don’t think so at all. I think it calls attention to what needs to be happening...the problem with politics is that it’s left a lot of people on the sidelines and people feel neglected. And this is a very good way to galvenize the people through civil disobedience.”

And for a moment I felt a little hope for these kids. They drastically overestimate the effect that their demonstrations will have on the political conversation taking place around them, and I would say that they are simply wrong on many issues. I would say that they are misinformed, mislead, and confused about what things truly have value in America, but I would also say that as they grow older they may well grow out of those things and find in themselves a passion for politics that is transformative without being destructive of the things that have made America such a wealthy, powerful, and, yes, good country.

I don’t agree with them, but it was nice to meet a couple of protesters who were polite, happy, and not as confrontational as I might have expected.

In a way, I preferred them to some of the supposed grown-ups making speeches inside the convention. At least a little bit.

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