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Monday, July 26, 2004

Volunteering Day 1

I spent the day directing people who were lost in the streets around the Fleet Center. I ended up with a sunburn and a good view of some protests.

Will update this post later on with details. Enjoy the speeches.

MORE: OK, I'll type some more in the lull of speeches before Hillary now. God, I wish Al Gore were president.

I began the day with a non-eventful commute on the T to the Hynes Convention Center. The public transit system is running fine from what I saw riding three trips today. Arriving at the Hynes at 9:30, I checked in with a registration desk and headed to an on-call volunteer lounge that had couches, TVs, newspapers, coffee and donuts. There were some computer terminals with pretty slow Internet connections, so I didn't try blogging (I also had nothing much to say at the time). After sitting around a bit with many other people dressed, as I was, in the volunteer t-shirt and khaki pants (why we're required to be in khaki pants, I'm not certain), some staff woman went to the microphone in the room and announced the need for numbers of volunteers to go to various hotels. Eventually, I left with a large volunteer group for the Fleet Center area. We were told we would be helping to explain security measures to people around there, and that sounded rather interesting, so I went down to Haymarket with the rest.

Instead, it turned out we were just needed to stand around on the various streets ouside the security perimeter to tell people where to go. We got maps with markings on them of the different entrance gates. Most people were delegates or media, and I got to speak with passers-by and direct them on their respective ways. Others wanted to know where Kerry HQ was, while some needed to get to the credentials office. Beyond that, I got a few bizarre Q's that I couldn't answer. I met a few very naive tourists who didn't realize they weren't allowed to enter the Fleet today. Some of them were lefty protest-oriented types who thought the security was appalling, and I noted that I couldn't get beyond the fences either. I was only cursed out once, by some media bitch with a NY accent, who was raging about how there was a lack of signage and she had to walk around a long way. Fortunately there were several other volunteers right where I was (more than we really needed, so the work wasn't too hard or constant), and they dealt with her.

By 2:00, I had completed my required shift. I took a walk with another volunteer I met through the "free-speech zone", which really is a farce. The complaining in the media about the place looking like a prison camp is entirely justified. The razor wire and enclosed feeling has really pissed off the protesters--probably not the smartest move by the organizers, really. When I went through there, a guy was on the mic with a sarcastic schtick about the place's appearance. The numerous causes also seem to have been united to some degree by their shared sense of being oppressed.

Heading back toward Haymarket, we saw the day's biggest protest march heading toward the Fleet. It actually wasn't that big, if you only count the protesters themselves, but there were tons of cops, media and onlookers there. Video you see on TV is probably misleading as to the march's size. Atrios has pictures and comments to this effect.

Cops were massed and waiting, presumably trying to intimidate the protesters a little. It didn't work, and the crunchy kids stopped in the road at one point that was blocking a small amount of traffic, and some of them sat down at the prompting of the chick at the megaphone, their leader. The cop in charge, an old guy with white hair, had a confrontation with the leader chick soon after this. I was standing at the side of the road, and initially I could hear some of their conversation. He wanted her to take her people to another street over that didn't have any traffic to begin with. She didn't want them to go to the "free-speech zone" since some of the people were carrying banners with sticks, which aren't allowed in the zone (nor are super soakers, among many other things, according to the signs).

I guess they eventually worked something out, though I lost track of the discussion because pretty soon the protest lady and the top cop were literally surrounded by cameras. The march moved on, with cameramen and onlookers like me mixing in with protesters--streets were narrow and partly blocked by trucks at points to prevent vehicles from getting anywhere near the hall. This renewed movement only came after an attempt by marchers to vote on a bunch of different options about where they could go--not great organization, I thought. During the delay, I did manage to have a nice, respectful chat with a stoner about the merits of anarchy, at least.

We made our way over to Canal Street, home to Boston Beer Works, Hurricane O'Reilly's and more. That's where another truck was in the way, forcing people to go close to single-file, and some protesters weren't let through on their bikes. So they chanted about the injustice of this and sat down again. By now the thing was splintering, some people in ratty clothes were talking to reporters off to the side, and I was getting bored. I returned to do more directing of people at my old location.

A few other non-anarchical highlights included the people walking around dressed as a giant pair of flip-flops. ... (to be continued...)

... Back (did a bit of editing above). Yes, the flip-flops. There were actually a few pairs of people dressed like this I saw at different points, one pair yellow, another red. Photographers, predictably, lapped the gag up, asking them to pose for numerous photos; you'll see that in every newspaper Tuesday. I said to another volunteer that flip-flops are better than Bush, who as president has simply been a flop. Am I the first one to come up with that? (Probably not, even though I came up with it on my own--feel free to spread it around.)

Some small collections of protesters did eventually make it all the way down to Causeway Street, as far as you could go until you hit the fence, where I was stationed. A few of the smaller groups were the far-right protesters, people who we generally associate less with chanting in the streets but were present nonetheless. One guy had a big poster with pictures of tanks and guns, arguing we need to kick ass abroad to be safe. I heard him being interviewed and he was convinced we would be under the control of Chinese gangs if Kerry were elected. The anti-abortion people are around too, and they've written "Abortion is murder!" and many similar things in chalk along Canal Street (I saw some chalk scrawlings on various topics there and near the State House yesterday too). Also, when I went back to the free-speech zone around 4:30, an anti-gay rally was going on. The group was literally called "God Hates Fags" and their web site, which I won't link, has the obvious URL. An old man in a cowboy hat was up on the stage screaming that homosexuals should have to identify themselves as "unclean" when meeting other people, like lepers. His group had signs saying awful things, such as 9/11 being God's vengeance on America's gays, and one even depicted Kerry and Edwards engaging in cartoonish sodomy. A few people near me asked if they were serious, and I said that frighteningly yes, they appeared to be. In short, we have the crazies on the far left and far right walking the streets.

One other thing to note is that the administration of the work is rather incompetent. It took forever to show the volunteers around the neighborhood, instruct them and give them maps. Then some were stationed in places without much traffic while other areas were overloaded--eventually those in the dead spots moved. And the plan initially was for everyone to do this same work every day of the week, but I pointed out that after today, everyone will have found their way and they'll just do the same tomorrow, not needing our help. That bit of reasoning got me out of having to do the same thing all week, so its back to the Hynes tomorrow morning for me where I'll seek a new assignment (Hynes is also a little chaotic). I will try to get to one of the hotels where I can snoop on caucus meetings perhaps. More tomorrow evening.

UPDATE: A map of the area I was describing. The security perimeter runs along Causeway Street. There are lots of barriers in the triangle, making moving about more difficult than it would appear.