Our Correspondent Covers the “Protests” at the GOP Convention





Our Correspondent Covers the “Protests” at the GOP Convention



Philadelphia — Initially, I attributed poor attendance at Sunday’s protests to the early hour and change of venue. The crowd was to coalesce at 9 AM at 18th and JFK, not 30th Street as had previously been publicized. After taking the [empty] Speedline into the city from New Jersey and walking through the [empty] streets to the [nearly empty] appointed intersection, I found myself with a few minutes to kill. A few minutes actually became a few hours as few protestors arrived. Was I lost, somehow, in the city of my youth? Had the meetingplace been changed again, overnight? The entire press contingent, some fifty of us, debated such logistical issues passionately as the few radicals who weren't being interviewed, photographed, or videotaped sipped coffee and smoked cigarettes self-consciously, ashing too often. At 8:30 in the morning, half an hour before the scheduled start of the scheduled march of a scheduled 30,000 protestors, media types far outnumbered communists, socialists, anarchists, and other radicals. The few who had dragged themselves out of bed found themselves media darlings, holding court on the corner before reporters hungry for any morsel of controversy, emotion, outrage, or something. The protestors, microphones thrust at them like knives, were neither lucid nor especially coherent:


            "The US needs to, like, get out of Viquez, y'know?"


            "We're here to protest the Republocrats, and then we'll be in LA to protest that other party."


            "It's like 'Free Mumia.' He didn't do what they said he did so they're gonna kill him so we've got to free him. Right?"


            Exactly. Listening intently to such drivel for nearly twenty minutes convinced me that some footwork might payoff. Small numbers of protestors were arriving, some walking down JFK, others walking up, in about equal numbers. I followed a particularly cute young lady (brunette, green "Stop Police Brutality" t-shirt, navel ring) up to 19th where, under an archway, five very efficient youths stapled protest signs — "Stop Police Terror!" — to cardboard sticks. Two stapled while the other three concerned themselves with managing supplies of the raw materials and finished products — no motion was wasted for the two minutes I watched, during which time they added perhaps 100 signs to the piles of thousands tied in bundles against a nearby building.


            Two blocks down the street, School of the Americas Watch constructed a ready-made media event: several hundred crosses, each marked with the name of a "victim" of the alleged US thug boot-camp, spread out on the street, around a plain pine coffin. Father Roy Bourgeois, founder of the Watch, arranged the crosses with purpose, just so, as the photographers shot away — hundreds of exposures wasted on an empty press event — all style, no substance — setting the tone for the day's festivities:


            An inflatable missile on an empty flatbed truck;

            The socialist flag drill teams;

            Communists tearing and then burning the American flag to the tune of the National Anthem;

            Puppets, so many puppets, of Clinton and Bush and the grim reaper, supposedly representing US corporate hegemony;

            Gush and Bore mudwrestling;

            And, of course, Free Mumia, Free Mumia, Free Mumia.


            All style, no substance — an empty event, media friendly, even media-centric. But, it didn't work.


            For all the complaints about the scriptedness and telegenicity of this year's conventions, at least something actually happens at each. The delegations vote, and the candidate defines himself, to his party and to the American people, most of whom have been pointedly avoiding election coverage up until now. We learn the party's thrust for this time around, whether they'll concentrate on crime, education, taxes, the environment, foreign policy, or some other issue. Behind all the posturing, there actually is a convention and it is an important event, no matter how much of its substance (and it does have substance) was determined beforehand.


            Far fewer protestors than the 30,000 the organizers anticipated (and still claim as the final count) participated in the Unity march — possibly as few as 3,000, according to several estimates.The march was anemic. The staging area, at the conclusion of the march, was a repetitive nightmare: I kept running into the same people to whom I didn't want to talk over and over again. Even lacking educational materials, any sort of entertainment, an attractive crowd, and a coherent message, Unity 2000 might have gotten its point across, whatever that point may have been, through sheer numbers but those numbers never materialized, opting instead to stay home, to sleep in, to watch television.


            And it makes sense. Who wants to attend a five hour press conference? Who wants to listen to 5 hours of mindless spin and slogans? Who wants to be soaked in a tide of misplaced self-righteousness? Finally, who wants to partake in all this nonsense out on the street on a hot day? Nobody and that's why they all stayed home and that's why Unity 2000 didn't make page A1 of any paper in the country.


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