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Thursday, July 29, 2004

Day 4 at the Convention

I could call the post "volunteering" day 4, but I didn't actually do much of anything in terms of work today. I stayed in the on-call lounge up until 11:00, reading the papers and some blogs on the computer terminal, then I took off. The assignments were all small stuff I'd basically done already. Word was they needed a lot of volunteers for the UMass-Boston concert tonight. I didn't stick around to do that, though, since I'd rather watch political speeches than a James Taylor concert.

I had read in the Globe that the Black Tea Society was starting a rally in Copley Square at 11:00, so I walked over to find not so much going on. There were some kids dressed up in pirate hats. One was dancing and had a fake hook on his hand while several others drummed on cans homeless-person style. I got bored after a few minutes and went back toward the Hynes Convention Center in order to see if the Sheraton had any caucus meetings like yesterday.

I went in and encountered the women's caucus meeting in the big mezzanine room where I had seen the African-American caucus the previous day. On each chair there was a subscription card for Ms. Magazine featuring Camryn Manheim with Margaret Cho hanging around her neck. Many buttons and stickers from the likes of NARAL were being handed out at the door. "Auntie" Carol Moseley-Braun, who was endorsed in the primaries by NOW, was at the podium, delivering a very strong pep talk. It was more effective oratory than I could recall seeing from her before, and it included some red meat, such as a complaint that certain leaders on the far right "want us in burkas." She said things were so bad that women who cared about abortion rights were stuck lighting a candle for Chief Justice Rehnquist's good health. She was quotable, funny and got the crowd going. I wondered what job she might get in a Kerry administration.

Moseley-Braun was followed to the podium by John Kerry's sisters, and I left the room to see what else was happening in the hotel. Out in the hall, I saw a table that I neglected to mention yesterday, where volunteers were collecting books from delegates for a literacy drive initiated by Christie Vilsack, the first lady of Iowa. Yesterday at the table, I spotted a copy of Michael Moore's "Dude, Where's My Country"--God help the person who tries to learn to read from that. Across the hall from the women's caucus, people were setting up for a seniors caucus slated to start at noon. On each seat in there was a pill container with each day of the week marked (in letters and braille) and a Kerry-Edwards logo on the back.

Back in the hall, I finally was interviewed. After days of seeing people all around me being interviewed, I was feeling a little bit left out, and it felt good to be recognized. The woman claimed to be from the New York Post, even though she couldn't have been much older than I am. I never got here name, nor she mine, so I don't think I'll be quoted; while she could've read my badge, I suppose, she seemed more to be mining for a general feel of the opinion in the area. We chatted about Teresa Heinz-Kerry for a good five minutes, as it turned out, I made a bunch of points, and I'll check the Post tomorrow to see if any of them get into print. I saw Massachusetts Congressman Ed Markey moments after leaving the interview, and then I ducked back into the women's caucus because I heard a loud cheer go up.

I reentered to see Elizabeth Edwards taking the podium. She was just there to introduce Teresa Heinz-Kerry, who of course I had seen on three occasions yesterday and had just discussed with a reporter. It was all Teresa all the time. In this speech, as in her discussion of Head Start to the African-American caucus yesterday, Teresa got very academic, citing recent research from professors of biology and psychology about differences between men and women in responses to stress. This was all a roundabout way of making a point about the way government needed to treat women. This academic approach to issues strikes me because material that is so overtly intellectual is highly unusual in the world of political stump speeches. I also think it is easy to lose people this way; maybe she just thinks she can do it in front of specialized audiences with a particular interest in one topic. Teresa did do some pumping up of the crowd too, at one point praising Barack Obama (and stating how hard he was to follow Tuesday), adding emphatically, "He will be president." When a few in the front rows yelled back that she should run for president, Teresa joked, "Arnold comes before me," a reference to her foreign birth and the need for a constitutional amendment to make her eligible. "I'd be too old anyway." I was surprised she would dismiss the idea on grounds that it's impractical rather than poo-pooing it altogether.

After taking lunch, I walked toward downtown. The pirates were still drumming and dancing in Copley Square, and there was little protest activity on the Common, other than the same Falun Gong people I saw yesterday. Down at Quincy Market, I watched an MSNBC segment with Chris Jansing and some analyst I didn't recognize. You can stand directly behind the set and watch the anchor read the intros to taped bits right off the TelePrompTer. They were all just single sentences, and I figured it wouldn't be too hard to ad-lib these things, so the producers must really think the anchors are dumb if they keep them so scripted. I guess it's not always like that, though, and the questioning of the analyst was done from paper notes, not the screen. Only about ten feet from me watching the MSNBC set was David Aldridge, the ESPN NBA reporter. I have no idea why he was there, maybe to try to get into political reporting, and I wanted to say hi, but I got vibes from him that he didn't want to be bugged. He's got a little more padding around the middle than you notice on TV.

At this point, I headed for the Fleet Center area a little after 2. Along the street, I saw two guys in small bathing suits with brown liquid smeared all over their bodies. To people looking out from a restaurant (not an appetizing sight), one said, "I'm sorry, but when I heard John Kerry voted for the Iraq War, the Patriot Act, the No Child Left Behind Act and NAFTA, we just lost control of our bowels." The other held a sign that read, "Bush and Kerry, two turds in a bowl." I have a feeling that one won't make it onto the news.

In the free-speech zone I saw some PETA people, with one dressed up as a carrot being interviewed and filmed. I realized this was part of the Chris P. Carrot for President campaign that has advertised on this page before. I returned to my location from earlier in the week and learned that a fellow volunteer had made a Charlie Rose sighting last night. It was looking rather dull until 3, when another volunteer came by and said there was a big protest going down on Canal Street.

I hurried over to find those pirate people and a bunch of other crunchy protester types. There was some smoke wafting up, so I knew they were burning something in the street, a move that I figured was not legal. As the news later reported, they were burning a two-faced effigy of Bush and Kerry. Someone threw a flag on top of the fire as well, I saw on TV. By the time I arrived, onlookers were gathering and the police stood menacing, watching along the security fence attentively. The media building was on the other side of the fence, about 100 feet back, and reporters were standing on the steps outside watching. Soldiers on the elevated platform above also were looking down, as were working people from their windows in the building at the end of Canal Street.

They had their drums going and a person yelling stuff on the loudspeaker. Black Tea is a group of anarchists, and they were angry about the "police state" and "fascism" on display with the heavy security presence. After a few minutes, police in full riot gear came out from behind the fence, setting up a line across Canal Street, blocking access to Causeway Street. This closed off one of the gates entering the security zone around the Fleet Center, which was located at the Canal-Causeway corner. A woman on the megaphone tried to convince the police and soldiers to go away--as if that might possibly happen--saying, "They don't care about you! You'll lose your jobs too!" It was interesting to me that she even considered that getting the security forces to switch sides in the battle against state power was feasible.

So there we were, in a crowded street, with lines of cops in riot gear on both sides, protesters getting in their faces, and a ton of onlookers warily taking in the scene. Many media were present. There was a feeling that something was going to happen as the minutes passed, and finally I saw people starting to push and shove further up the street. At this point, the people who wanted no trouble quickly moved away, while the reporters rushed forward. The shoving quickly flowed around, making it hard to get out of the way. I was bumped, ironically, by a pair of cameramen rushing in to get the shot.

The jostling quieted down a bit with some of the cops and kids still somewhat entangled. "Let them go!" came up a chant, and that was a clue that the cops were detaining someone. (One local guy said "Beat his ass!") I really have no idea who initiated the violence since there were so many people around and things happened so fast. I angled myself closer to the stalemate, trying to get a look at the proximity of the cops and protesters. I got rather close when suddenly a policeman's hat flew through the air and landed on the ground pretty close to me. As the crowd shifted, I caught a glimpse of a hatless old cop with white hair wrestling with one of the protester kids, who had to be about 18. I backed up fast.

As I moved away, I noticed how so many cameras were surrounding what was then a small, momentary brawl but that could easily have gotten worse fast. There were several pairs of arms holding cameras aloft right next to the police-protester line. That's some rather risky work the reporters do in covering urban unrest.

At that point, the show was basically over. The word went through the crowd that three people were arrested. The early one, based on my reading of the news, was when the police removed a guy with a fake molotov cocktail. The latter arrest was for attacking an officer, according to the police. Upon watching the evening news, I saw both the policeman and the protester woman who had a heated exchange during a march on Monday, described in my post on that day.

I loitered around in Canal Street for a long while after that, in case something more occurred. The line of cops in riot gear blocking the way to Causeway Street remained in place, and there were plenty of onlookers gawking at them. Some of the other protesters took advantage of the additional attention now generated. One particular guy was dressed in a costume like what fans wear to Oakland Raiders games. He had shoulder pads on, with red pom poms sticking out from under the shoulders, along with a clown nose and a devil mask on the back of his head. He had a loud speaker that he used to read laws and treaties concerning riots, implying they were being violated. He had a fake night stick that he used to beat himself over the head for the cameras while standing in from of cops who had their night sticks in hand. A great line he had was, "Ladies and gentlemen, if you feel intimidated by these police standing in line with their riot gear, do what I do: picture them naked."

Another highlight was the guy standing in the middle of the street reading Biblical verses. He happened to be wearing a Pittsburgh Steelers jersey. One of the protester kids yelled at him, "God doesn't exist, it's all fairy tales." Another random person yelled back, "How do you know?" These are not typical conversations you see in the street.

As time went on, reporters were filing their reports. I stood next to one guy who did a live report to a news radio station, noting that several people were on the patio in front of Boston Beer Works "enjoying an adult beverage" and watching. I did see Jack Harper of channel 5 and Dan Hausle of channel 7 there, among others. Thanks to the grungy protest kids, the warm weather, and the tight space, there was pretty bad BO wafting in the air.

Finally, it looked like there wouldn't be another flare-up, given that most of the protesters had left for a march back to the Boston Common. I saw Jeanne Shaheen on the street on my way out, and back at Quincy Market, by the Hardball set, even the establishment kids supporting Bush and Kerry were yelling at each other, with people encircled around a few who were getting into each others' faces. I guess since this was the last day, everyone decided they needed to get their licks in.

There are many more anecdotes and details I could pass along, but that's more than enough. It was a memorable week on the streets of Boston, the likes of which I doubt we'll see for a long time here. Regular blogging (i.e. short posts on a variety of topics) will now be resuming.

MORE: The cop and protest lady pair I mentioned are pictured together in the CNN story.