BOSTON -- It has been well noted that the "free speech" area at this year's Democratic Convention is not all that free. In fact, it looks like the DNC hired a sadomasochistic interior designer for their protest needs. Walking into the area from the back side feels like stepping into a post-apocalyptic action movie.
A low hanging green support beam is the demarcation line between the well-rehearsed insanity of the official proceedings outside and the approved dissent inside. Somebody has spray-painted "Watch your head" on the bar in orange, and after ducking in you are standing under spirals of hanging razor wire. When the breeze shakes the wire, reflected shards of shimmering light create a strobe effect.
This nightmare tunnel dumps into the zone itself, where you are greeted by several signs, among them: "Mr. Kerry, Tear Down This Wall!" "Kerry=Bush=Hitler" and "Cages are for Animals." Honestly, I'd rather be in a cage with wild animals than a bunch of anarchists. Animals don't wear bandanas menacingly across their faces or carry megaphones to scream at you.
"Don't give the pigs an excuse!" one young man was shouting. "They want an excuse to beat you, hurt you, and jail you!"
I'm afraid I'm not even baptized, so my suggestions carry no weight with the powers-that-be, but the Vatican should look into canonizing some of the cops who had to deal with these miscreants. I know many of these officers have foul mouths and are probably guilty of the normal run of human failings, but the restraint they showed was nothing short of miraculous.
Masked boys and girls got inches from their face bellowing, "That's right! Protect your wall of fascism! Nice work! The wall is safe while the Constitution is in the toilet! You're some public servant!" and lived to tell the tale.
GOD BLESS FREEDOM of speech, but these folks came to make trouble, not a point. The Seattle riots have been romanticized, internalized, and for disaffected youth, resistance has become a rite of passage.
Standing in a government-designated pen is not very romantic, so the younger, self-respecting protesters soon slinked out of the sanctioned protest area, ceding it almost entirely to anti-abortion protesters who know they'll be pretty much ignored anywhere they go in Boston this week.
Soon a group of 40 or so masked protesters were harassing delegates trying to get into the convention, circling them, shouting that Kerry was a war-mongering Nazi. Then the chant started up: "Vote Kerry, vote Bush, you get no solutions! Fight for the communist revolution!" Others in orange jumpsuits sat in wire cages, demanding the release of Guantanamo Bay prisoners. Many railed against Zionism and Israel, some waving Palestinian flags.
There is a restraining factor working against the protesters here that is even more of a deterrent than the police and walls: the media. Finally, we serve a useful purpose! Everywhere 50 protesters swarm, 100 folks with cameras, microphones and notebooks descend on them. The reporters do things so maddening that even the will of an anarchist cannot hold up in the face of it.
One of the reporters' favorite tricks, in a strange mimic of Jeopardy!, is to rephrase protesters' signs in the form of a question. Example: A sign reads, "KERRY-BUSH: Not A Dime's Worth of Difference." Reporters swoop in. "Do you believe there is any difference between George Bush and John Kerry?" one asks. "Exactly how much difference is there between George Bush and John Kerry?" another follows up. "Do you think George Bush and John Kerry are much more alike than either party will admit?" a third wonders. The protester's eyes glaze over. Soon he only wants to return home and be with his video games.
I began to understand why the Department of Defense embedded reporters in Iraq. They should send them to all the world's hotspots and bore the terrorists to death.
IN MID-EPIPHANY, a twentysomething guy ran toward me with a megaphone. He was wearing a T-shirt that depicted row after row of gravestones with the caption, "We've Found New Homes for the Rich."
"A couple years from now maybe you'll understand what happened here," he shouted at me. "Keep drooling. Keep buying what they're selling. You know how many kids died of diarrhea today? Huh?"
"Um, nope," I said.
"Ten thousand!" he screamed. "But that's alright. Sandy Berger's the enemy, right?"
Bored, I walked away, and he no doubt took his megaphone to go look for other reporters to harass. With 15,000 or so ink-stained wretches wandering the city in search of a story, that shouldn't be too hard.
Of course, some protesters have started to figure out that we're starved for interesting copy and decided that they might be able to use this. Yesterday morning as I left my hotel, for example, a convertible with two young, pierced ladies pulled up to the curb, and shouted for me to come over. Believe it or not, this is a pretty rare occurrence for me, so I walked over a bit nervously.
As I got to the car, a man in a giant carrot suit sat bolt upright in the seat, and told me he was running for president. I was given a pamphlet. His name is Chris P. Carrot and his running mate is an ear of corn. "Look at me and you'll see," he said. "I hold no bias for or against black, white, or yellow."
This carrot, it turns out, works for PETA, and is pushing a 28th amendment to the Constitution requiring that we "treat animals with kindness and respect" and that we "make restitution to our Native American animal citizens who had their lands taken from them."
"I have found the weapons of mass destruction, and they are in your kitchen drawer," Carrot writes. "America, we need to remove the terror from the kitchen table!"
LATER, WALKING THROUGH Faneuil Hall in search of lunch I was enveloped in a sea of yellow shirts. I soon figured out that I was in the center of 400 practitioners of Falun Gong. An old Chinese woman handed me the same pamphlet over and over again. Each time she cackled, revealing a mouth free of teeth. "Take more," she said, over and over again.
I followed them to a park where there was an even more intense concentration of yellow. As some protesters went through the slow, meditative practices of their religion, others made angry speeches about the repression of the Chinese government.
Oh, and the Lyndon LaRouche folks were there hawking "Children of Beast Man III," their autobiography of the "anti-Christ" Dick Cheney. Most people were ignoring them, but then some shouting broke out. Two girls in Dennis Kucinich shirts were going at it with two LaRouchies.
I bought some popcorn and a Coke while I watched. If only we could move this over to the protest cage, I thought.
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