down the police: A protester in St. Paul, prepared for
the possibility of tear gas, is blocked from the Republican
Tale of Three Cities
McCain, and Ron Paul all rally their troops in the battle
for the White House
and Photos by Chet Hardin
Everyone knows how this is going to end: A thousand people
on an illegal march after six long days of intense activism
under harsh police retaliation square off against riot police
on a busy intersection in downtown St. Paul. Everyone is tired,
worn out from the sun. But they are angry, righteous, here
to act upon their beliefs. There is a palpable fear in the
crowd, and among the police, that this riot will be put down,
will need to be put down, through draconian means. A group
of young protesters start to sing “The Star-Spangled Banner”
in defiance of the overwhelming show of force.
can’t be good.
you don’t want to get tear-gassed, if you don’t want to get
pepper-sprayed or arrested, then you need to leave,” I was
told earlier by a legal observer, a dire old man in matching
neon-green hat and vest. “These protesters have made it clear
that’s their goal—to get arrested.”
Nearly two hours into the march, the protesters have met an
impassable line of riot cops, bike cops, horse cops, and bulldozers,
and now—trapped on a busy intersection—they are refusing to
back down. Behind them looms the Capitol of Minnesota, where
the march began. A half-mile in front of them, out of sight,
is the Xcel Energy Center, home of the Republican National
Convention. The protesters, armed with nothing but their slogans
and banners, are matching flesh against armed riot police,
protected by full turtle suits of black armor and gas masks,
in an effort to exercise their right to petition their government.
The protesters may have the numbers, but the cops have the
batons, the tear gas, pepper spray, concussive weapons and
guns, and they don’t intend to let this go on much longer.
me what a police state looks like!”
is what a police state looks like!”
A man sings though his cupped hands: “Sit down, sit down.
Sit down, sit down. Sit down, sit down.” And hundreds of protesters
have done just that, filling the intersection.
The organizers of this march are well aware that their permit
to march ended at 5 PM—that’s why they picked that time to
start. Tonight, McCain is accepting his party’s nomination
for presidential candidacy, and these antiwar activists want
to be there to greet him, to show the delegates and moneyed
supporters of the GOP that there are thousands of people who
want to see an immediate end to the occupation of Iraq.
are seeing the real violence and the real criminals in the
city right now, here in the streets and in the Xcel Center,”
says the Anti-War Committee’s Thistle Parker-Hartog, one of
the protest organizers. “The police are attempting to intimidate
us, and we can’t let it happen. They denied us the permit
we requested so that we could raise our voices against McCain
while he was speaking, and to raise our voices against the
Republican agenda. Giving us a permit until five is ridiculous.
There isn’t even anybody there. The whole point is to go down
to the Xcel to show our opposition to the war and to the policies
of the Republican party. If the city of St. Paul and the po
lice are not willing to grant us our rights, then it is incumbent
upon us to demand them.”
Late last week, as protesters began to arrive in the Twin
Cities from across the country, police greeted them with raids
on apartments, houses, and a warehouse, looking for organizers,
facilitators, anarchists. On Friday, roughly a half-dozen
organizers with the RNC Welcoming Committee were arrested
and booked, their possessions seized, witnesses say. The warrants
claim that the committee was planning to attack the convention
with Molotov cocktails, to kidnap delegates and sabotage buses.
The people who were arrested sat in their jail cells for days,
sleeping on the concrete floor with nothing more than a wool
blanket, and many have been charged with felonies.
Four vans of riot cops roll up and empty out, flanking the
nearly 200 protesters on three sides. There is only one way
out, and they aren’t going to move. There are more protesters,
hundreds more, watching from the corner of the park, waiting
to see who will strike first. So far, there has been no violence,
but the peace is about to break. Blocked off at 12th and Cedar,
the commuters and city buses are backed up for blocks.
streets? Our streets! Whose war? Their war!”
going to get interesting,” a protester says nervously. “I
got pepper-sprayed on Monday. I had nothing on me. I was by
a fountain, so I was able to submerge myself, but it burned
all day. One girl with me, blond hair, about five foot tall,
just so cute, got pepper-sprayed in her eyes and all over
her skin, cause she was just wearing a tank top. She was just
holding a lily, which, of course, is one of the most dangerous
A calm settles over the crowd as they finish: “O’er the land
of the free-ee. And the home of the brave.” The cops have
been moving inside their ranks, repositioning—horse and bike
cops pulling back, riot squads moving to the front.
Allen sings to thousands of Ron Paul supporters in Minneapolis.
more attentive protesters are bracing themselves.
think they are about to tear-gas us,” someone shouts near
me, as a cop shoves himself into the crowd, and opens an arching
stream of pepper spray into the air that strikes us across
our faces. We run, trampling the still-sitting protesters.
In the confusion, a line of riot cops seals off the human
cage around reporters and protesters. The authorities have
recaptured the intersection and broken the back of the march.
They begin to arrest each trapped person, one at a time, cuffing
them and moving them into their waiting vans.
The darkened room is electrified—10,000 people wait anxiously
to see the man they want to call president. It has been a
heady, speech-filled afternoon. The economy, the war, immigration,
personal liberties and the constraint of government have been
the chosen themes of the speakers. Floating overhead is a
The crowd is a racially and economically varied group of men
and women who carry copies of the Constitution and the Bill
of Rights in pockets and purses and ride their motorcycles
without helmets. Antiwar activists who cling to the Second
Amendment as the last barrier between freedom and dictatorship.
Anti-tax advocates who want to abolish the Federal Reserve
Bank, the IRS, NAFTA, and the United Nations standing beside
college kids and 9-11 truthers with the writings of George
Orwell, Thomas Paine, and the Anti-Federalists stuffed in
their bags, seething with outrage at the inability of their
parents to see with clarity the perversity of the destructive
government that is steadily enslaving them. It’s a disparate
grouping of the disillusioned and the angry, and they are
huddled at the feet of pencil-necks and nerds, think-tank
soldiers, obscure writers, and leaders of marginalized organizations
who are laying out their visions for the Ron Paul Revolution,
here in Minneapolis at the Rally for the Republic.
And our guide: Tucker Carlson.
Across the river in St. Paul, the Republican National Convention
is holding its four-day celebration while these Ron Paul acolytes,
the fringe of the Republican party, are busy drawing the blue
prints they believe will help them seize leadership of the
GOP. Bring the “Ole” back to the Grand Ole Party. Had Paul
been invited to speak at the official Republican convention,
many say, there would have been no need for this counter-convention.
But he wasn’t invited.
There are pitched battles going on throughout the country
between Paul supporters and mainstream Republicans and, in
some areas, the Paul followers have lodged successes. In Jefferson
County, Iowa, during the primary, Paul won the party’s nomination
with more than 280 votes. McCain drew less than 40.
movement can win in four years,” says Edward Noyes, an author
and one of the organizers who helped secure Paul’s victory
in Jefferson County.
movement can win the presidency,” he boasts. “I am a Republican,
and I went to the county convention and the state convention
in Iowa. I found that the Republicans were uneducated. They
didn’t know why they were there—they didn’t care why they
were there. They didn’t know what they believed. They didn’t
believe anything. They were pawns of the system.”
The founding fathers predicted that eventually the federal
government would grow too large, eventually gobbling up the
people’s rights, he continues, and that there would need to
be another revolution to reclaim those rights. “And that’s
where we are today. There has to be a revolution, but the
only way to do this effectively is through the purification
of the Republican Party.”
It’s what, he explains, Paul has instructed his followers
to do. A wise strategy, too, considering the sometimes difficult-to-follow
beliefs in this crowd, a crowd that will cheer pro-immigration
rhetoric as easily as it will cheer anti-immigration rhetoric,
just so long as the speaker is condemning Washington in the
Former Minnesota governor and pro-wrestler Jesse Ventura rattles
the arena in a rollicking, off-the-cuff speech that treads
concerns dear to the assembled.
Other notable speakers take the podium: Barry Goldwater Jr.;
John McManus, president of the John Birch Society. (“If you
like Ron Paul, you’ll love the John Birch Society,” says McManus.).
Even the great nerd-warrior of the anti-tax movement, Grover
Norquist, who has been effecting nationwide tax policy for
years with his highly exclusive Wednesday-evening D.C. meetings,
spoke before this crowd.
Paul’s a candidate of common sense,” Norquist says later.
“I would like thousands of Ron Paul supporters to run for
school boards, and sheriff, and county commissioner and state
legislature. A movement cannot be based on the electoral hopes
of one man.”
Though his affinity for Paul runs deep, Norquist has endorsed
McCain. The senator has seen the light on Bush’s tax cuts
for the wealthiest Americans and has pledged “five times on
TV” to not raise taxes, Norquist says and adds, naively perhaps,
that when election-time rolls around, the large, active GOP
voting bloc of Paul supporters will throw their support behind
is everybody? The Republican National Convention had trouble
filling the seats in the Xcel Center.
luck: I haven’t met a single Paul sycophant who doesn’t intend
to write in their candidate.
The Republicans have more to worry about than a bunch of wild-eyed
Constitution-quoting Libertarians or anarchist protesters
ruining their convention. They have a hurricane bearing down
on the Gulf Coast. And a president whose popularity polls
in the 20s, and a vice-president so unpopular that no one,
absolutely no one, dares speak his name. Inside the Xcel Center
for the first two days, it’s more like a wake than a celebration.
The delegates are bummed, in need of some good news. Even
Arnold Schwarzenegger has found a reason to back out. Laura
Bush and Cindy McCain are left alone Monday to try to rally
the troops, which works for the small number of people who
actually show up.
the Xcel Center earlier in the afternoon, there is a permitted
march happening. At one point, a skirmish erupted, ending
with pepper spray and arrests. Now, the protesters are marching
through the designated free-speech tunnel of meshed steel
fences, chanting, “Who is a terrorist? Bush is a terrorist.”
ridiculous! Bush is a terrorist. Do they expect me to take
that seriously? They need to start thinking a little bit,”
a middle-aged woman, the fabled hockey mom, says. “We can
see in history that when countries have been pacifist, they
have been taken over. He is not a terrorist, he is standing
up and saying, ‘No.’”
She is part of a counter-protest, a supporter of Bush’s war.
She is holding a sign that reads: “Fight the 1960s juggernaut.”
What is this 1960s juggernaut? It’s a dark force that has
taken over the colleges and universities, the media outlets
and entertainment industry, the ivory towers, and is spreading
its communistic, anti-American propaganda to our children.
Democrat [sic] party doesn’t exist anymore,” she says. “It’s
really just the Liberal party, now,” the party of MoveOn.org,
George Soros, and Sean Penn.
An aged hippy, one of the creators of this juggernaut, confronts
her. “Do you want us to be warmongers? Do you want us to have
have reverse racism,” she counters. “The liberals are practicing
reverse racism. It’s racism against whites.”
on, wake up. Give me a break,” he waves her off and moves
back into the flow of the march.
need to study more Muslim history,” she tells me. “Mohammed
said, ‘Go forward to all the world and convert them by sword.’
Convert them by sword! And it’s OK to lie to get what you
say that they are peace-loving—that’s garbage. They aren’t
peace-loving, not if they accept the full teachings of Mohammed.
The ones we call radicals aren’t radicals—they are being good
Muslims. If we pull out of Iraq, it isn’t going to stop,”
she says. “You notice that while we have been in Iraq, the
attacks here have stopped, but they will start again if we
Ask anyone in this convention and it is agreed: There is a
real war being waged between Islam and democracy, between
the forces of evil and the forces of good, and the Democrats
just don’t get it. That’s why Texas delegate Tom Holmsley
is voting for McCain. “He understands the fight we have to
Holmsley holds personal freedoms above all else, he says.
That is why he is a Republican, and as for the Patriot Act,
the Military Commissions Act, the FISA bill, our country bleeding
$12 billion a month in Iraq and devastating our economy, he
says, they are a necessity.
But the war and government spying aren’t on the old Texan’s
mind. Soon Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin will be taking the stage,
and Holmsley is eager to see her speak. He has high hopes
for the little-known governor of the United States’ third-least
populated state. A pro-lifer, she is exactly what the McCain
ticket needed, he says. Plus, she dilutes Obama’s appeal as
a historic candidate.
The delegates have embraced the former unknown with religious
zealotry. Armed with her down-home pluck and a speech written
by Bush’s writers, she will feed the loyal enough red meat
and take enough bitter swipes at Obama to work the crowd into
a welcome frenzy. She is the new star of the Republican Party,
giving the one-note campaign of John McCain an infusion of
excitement and optimism.
are running out of great words for her,” says Texas delegate
Tom Holmsley. “She is exactly what we need in government today.
She’s honest, hard-working, not afraid to attack big problems.
She is not a typical political-type person.”
No matter what the biased liberal media says about her. “The
way they have been reporting about Sarah has really pointed
out the short-sightedness of the press. They are trying to
influence us. They are trying to tell us what to think about
her. They should be listening to what we think of her. Cause
we love her.”
press is going to lose this election,” he jabs.
The night of McCain’s acceptance speech—the busiest night
of the Republican convention—there are still thousands of
empty seats. But the night wouldn’t go on without interruptions.
The protesters have their victories at the RNC, shutting down
traffic, disrupting the ability of Republican guests to get
into the convention. And tonight, three protesters make it
into the convention hall during McCain’s speech and two unfurl
anti-war banners that draw the attention of CNN cameras before
the protesters are dragged from the arena to the disdainful
chants of angry Republicans: “USA, USA, USA.”
my country,” a Croat reporter tells me, “if we started chanting
like that, we’d be accused of being fascists. But we have
a history of that sort of thing.”
As the convention center empties out, I corner a group of
Texans and ask them if they are worried “that when America
sees that the Republicans were unable to fill the Xcel Center,
even for McCain’s acceptance speech, and compare that to the
80,000 people who came out for Obama’s speech at Invesco .
Democrats were just handing out tickets,” a woman interrupts.
“Those people were there because it was like a concert. I
mean, do you really think all those people are going to vote?”
you think,” I press on, “that the American people might see
that show of support as a success for Barack Obama?”
mean, Hussein Obama?” another one corrects me.
uh, no. Barack Obama.”
honey,” she condescends in her Texan drawl, “you mean Hussein
is bigger: A member of the Missile Dick Chicks hoists
her gun proudly in Denver.
is overwhelmed by the cult of Obama. Downtown is filled to
its limits. Out-of-town pedestrians overrun the sidewalks
and spill out onto the streets, traffic cops try to contain
the mayhem and manage the congestion, but the public buses
seem to be nearly killing someone everywhere I look. Riot
police are stationed on every street corner with tazers and
tear gas and machine guns, as protesters and merchandise hawkers
struggle to get attention. Every bar, every restaurant is
packed with delegates and Democratic loyalists all saying
the exact same talking points.
The Obama campaign has manufactured and disseminated throughout
its ranks an impenetrable message. For three nights at the
Pepsi Center, home to the Democratic National Convention,
party leaders and luminaries will repeat that message over
and over. In the hundreds of forums, policy discussions, and
parties held throughout the city, you hear this message: Obama
is the agent of change. Obama is the product and presence
of the best in the great American experiment.
is possibly the most extensive field operation of any presidential
campaign in history,” says Democracy for America communications
director Daniel I. Medress. Through canvassing and phone banking,
the campaign has embraced the strategy of the person-to-person
sale, and you only need to look out on the streets or to standing-room
only Pepsi Center to see the results.
give people ownership,” says Medress, “they are going to volunteer,
they are going to turn out, and they are going to vote.”
This is what it looks like when a brilliant community organizer
runs for office, Medress and other Obama supporters, argue.
It’s that experience that has given him an advantage in this
race. It taught him valuable lessons about bringing people
together under a common banner, teaching people to take control
of a movement that you help envision and that they want to
was in Iowa when Obama won in the caucuses. A friend of mine
turns to me and is like, ‘Imagine it. An organizer. One of
us.’ Obama is a guy who knows what it means to put on a community
meeting and only have two people show up. But then at the
next meeting, there are four, then eight, and it grows from
there. And every state I was in, Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada,
Illinois, he was empowering, engaging and energizing voters.
Somewhere along the way, we got hustled into believing that
this isn’t a government of the people, by the people, and
for the people, and here is a guy speaking right to that notion.
And you don’t see that with John McCain’s campaign.”
people in this country are hungry for change!” shouts William
McNary, president of USAction, into the crowd of progressive
foot soldiers, bloggers, and media. We are in the Big Tent,
a two-level makeshift structure hosted by Daily Kos, Digg,
Google, and others. On the first floor is a ritzy blogging
arena that daily attracts politicians and leaders of the progressive
movement for group interviews. There is a buffet, free smoothies
and massages. Bands, beer, respect—bloggers have never had
it so good. Upstairs, there is a stage where dozens of forums
and discussions are to be held surrounding the issues that
have shaped the Democratic party’s platform for the November
election: civil liberties, restrained foreign policy, the
environment, alternative energy, progressive taxation, education,
and health-care reform.
have a historic opportunity right now in our grasp to shape
our future. And the 2008 elections will be an important mile-marker
on the journey for profound, progressive social change. Make
no mistake about it, activists. And our opponents understand
this,” he says. “Why do you think they spend so much time
discounting, miscounting, and under-counting our votes? Minimalizing,
marginalizing, and criminalizing our votes? They know that
in a democracy that power equally distributed through votes
can be used to increase public control of wealth and resources.
They know that an election decides who gets how much of five
things: Who gets how much income, who gets how much education,
who gets how much housing, who gets how much health care,
and who gets how much justice.”
He sees the progressive concerns as the concerns of middle
America, and it is the responsibility of Democrats and progressives
to get representatives elected that share their values, and
then to hold them accountable to living up to their promises
when they are in office.
need to change our nation’s priorities. It is time, past time,
to bring . . . our brave sons and daughters, our heroic sons
and daughters home to us. Not 100 years from now, not 10 years
from now, but right now!”
And although Obama has never said that he would bring the
troops home “now,” McNary urges the crowd to support Obama
anyway, because he sees an Obama administration as at least
the opportunity for progressive change. Having someone in
the White House who is at least sympathetic to the progressive
movement is vastly better than the alternative.
will only get made as history always gets made: when ordinary
people get in motion. We need to be aggressive progressives,”
he says. “The most pitiful sight I have seen in my life is
an army of progressives suited up for battle with no expectation
It has been a long four days, six hours, and eight years,
and the thousands of people who have filled the sold-out Invesco
Field have traveled the world. They are anxious and fawning,
screaming and shaking as though at a religious revival as
Obama walks to his podium. The sun is setting, the weather
is perfect: dry and warm. The enormous political gamble that
will define Obama’s presidential campaign is paying off.
he bellows, his words moving through the hushed crowd, bracing
them with the force and subtleties of great oratory. Victor
Navasky, publisher emeritus of the The Nation magazine,
calls Obama the greatest political orator of a generation,
and here, now, his ability to capture and enliven is evident,
compelling, even chilling.
After the streamers and explosions and confetti are finished,
we empty out onto a darkened interstate. No buses, no taxis,
nothing. I count roughly 10,000 people coming up behind me,
and the entire city of Denver in front of me, and we are two
miles away from downtown. We start walking, through the cops
and T-shirts sellers. The people with me are young and old,
black and white, Latino and Asian. Some have been crying,
others are jubilant, everyone is in the uniquely beautiful
moment after reverie. Obama has given them the catharsis they
had hoped for, the opportunity to purge their terrors and
disappointments over a world that is full of threat and an
American government that was hijacked by rich thugs with an
insane vision of world empire.
But it isn’t Obama that I am thinking about, nor is it any
of the other elder statesmen and women who took the stage
this week to stump for their latest leader and his running
mate. Instead it’s Rep. Dennis Kucinich’s animated plea for
America to “wake up!” that I can’t shake.
His early afternoon speech to a half empty Pepsi Center days
earlier was a token given by the Democratic Party to a progressive
politician who is equally respected for his ability to stay
in office as he is for unblemished career—he never had to
lie to explain why he voted for the Patriot Act, or the war
in Iraq, or the Military Commissions Act, or the FISA amendment,
or any of the other moral failings written as law by complicit
Democrats. He is viewed as suspiciously in his party as Paul
is in his because he has a proven commitment to a sacrosanct
ideology, a quaint idealism. If Kucinich is the progressive
movement’s ideologue, Obama is the movement’s sober calculation
On the light rail back into downtown, a middle-aged black
woman sits among the cluster of Obama supporters and clutches
her American flag and Obama-Biden posters. She is wearing
a shirt so popular in Denver this week: a silk-screen of the
images of Martin Luther King and Obama, together. She has
a pin on her chest that reads: Nurses for Obama.
She is telling the people around her that when Barack Obama
won his party’s nomination, she cried. “My momma told me that
she never thought in her wildest dreams that she would live
to see a black man get to be president.” And she says it again,
what everyone is thinking, because, she says, it’s her victory,
too: “Tonight, this was history.”