Monday, September 1, 2008

My First Protest (part 1 of 2)

Yeah, honestly, I'd never been to a protest before and Rebecca insisted I should go to this one. I had no moral compunction against it: I think Bush rigged his elections, he lied to get us into war with Iraq, Cheney and Rove are crooked as all hell, and McCain's a sellout where he isn't oblivious. All I've seen of Republicans is that you need to lie or be a hypocrite to be one. The Republican who isn't lying is quoting a news source he knows is lying, to do the lying for him. That's what life and the news have shown me.

But did I want to get arrested for peacefully protesting the Republican National Convention in St. Paul? I saw what happened in Seattle, I saw what happened in Denver, and this weekend I saw the rampage of that Ramsey County sheriff. Why would I volunteer to be a part of that?

On the other hand, it's a life experience and I'm supposed to be a writer, experiencing life so I can write about it. I did join in one protest: I participated in an Environmental Impact Statement as a last-ditch effort to prevent the Dayton-Hudson Phase II Project. Obviously, this was a round, solid failure. The building was constructed and then handed over to Target for their headquarters. Still, I enjoyed the effort. I gathered some pamphlets and listened to other speakers, then did some quick math. When I took the microphone I discussed how clotted traffic was already and how the Dayton-Hudson Phase II Project would further complicate that. I broke down, even in an ideal situation (four people carpooling in each car, filling their proposed parking ramp) there would be a thousand extra cars taking up space in the downtown area. Even if six people carpooled in an armada of minivans (garnering a little laughter from the audience), the difference was negligible. One of the members of the Dayton-Hudson board, present, flippantly suggested that we simply incorporate more Metro Transit buses. I responded to him directly and said anyone who suggests even more buses has never attempted to catch a bus on Nicollet between 4:30-6:00 PM, provoking a good round of applause. Also, this would be the first sighting of me for a woman who later dated me for some time. That was nice, much more positive than those harrowing dates I attempted through FastCupid and

So last night, Rebecca and I drove out to Walgreens for poster board and Sharpies, and we crafted our posters. ...Or, I crafted my poster (see) and she reviewed a lot of interesting quotes from historical statesmen and philosophers but I ended up drawing her a huge peace sign this morning, scant minutes before running out to catch our bus. My sign, obviously, was not intended to be incendiary or alarmist, just a clear representation of my discontent with the current presidential administration. Originally I was just going to write "DISCONTENT" but then came up with an umbrella statement that represented me accurately.

I didn't plot it out very well and kept running out of room, which was embarrassing. Despite, it was legible and looked nice. Better than angry ballpoint or something, I guess. A more practical problem came up later, once my plan was in the implementation stage. Also, the tricorn was just supposed to represent my self-proclaimed status as a patriot, but a friend pointed out tonight that it could be interpreted as an extra layer of pun in conjunction with my sign (in that I'm wearing three "points" on my head). I tried very hard to not become upset at this realization, but I hope to gods no one who saw me thought this was the "gag." I believe the pun is the lowest form of humor and would never willingly perpetrate such an unhappy stunt.

Rebecca had protested in the past but said she'd never gone to one this huge. While 50,000 people were "anticipated" to show up, according to local news sources, I wouldn't say more than 20,000 were there. Tonight's dinner table estimate placed it between 5,000-10,000, actually, but the local media really wanted to hype it up like a potential disaster (especially in light of the to-do out in Denver). I'm guessing local news sources are entirely staffed by melodramatic teenage girls, who could turn tripping on a crack in the sidewalk into "Omigod, Chelsea! This morning I literally almost died."

Rebecca had been to larger protests, but I'd only attended an air-conditioned room of 30 seated protesters who signed up for a couple minutes at a microphone. I'm all listening to NPR's "what to do if you're arrested" segment, and when the ACLU handed out their pamphlets, "What To Do If You're Stopped By The Law Enforcement," I almost took two: one for my pocket for the pigs to find and confiscate, and one to hide in my lower colon for later reference in my detention cell, if I survived the ritual beating attendant with arrest. I was in a heightened state of paranoia--William S. Burroughs said, "Paranoia is the highest state of consciousness."--and Rebecca did nothing to allay my fears beyond pooh-pooh them. There would be too many of us for the cops to arreest and we probably wouldn't be involved in it. I thought our sheer numbers would only provoke a proportionately violent response from police in full riot gear. I erred on the side of conservancy and couldn't believe how nonchalant my wife was being.

We packed a bag with water bottles and Luna bars and ran out to catch the 4 northbound. On the way we saw this sign plastered over the hardware store on Lyndale around 25th St. It reads "Run Away Slaves / Make Art Not Condos" (division mine). I tried to get a shot of it but it was through a bus shelter. Rebecca supposed that the sign would not be there by the time we returned home. As it turned out, a different vandal (other than the one who placed it there) had made a casual attempt to tear it down but only removed a narrow horizontal strip in the upper third of the poster. It occurs to me now that my interpretation may be inaccurate and it could be a racist statement, suggesting that only runaway slaves make art instead of contributing to society with condominiums. However, there are way too many condos here already, and Art vs. Condos is a counterintuitive dichotomy to draw.

We bused downtown, stopped at Starbucks for a quick caffeine jolt, then caught a 94 bus eastbound. I ended up sitting next to what looked like a couple of independent journalists (they were wearing large press badges on lanyards that read "I used to be a bottle" (a comment on recycled products)). Rebecca struck up a conversation with them and we learned they were from the European Broadcasters Union: the guy next to me was from London and the one in the corner, from Germany. We asked the London guy (the German was reading a paper) what he thought of the Twin Cities and he compared it to Denver, having just come from there. He asked our impressions of our own city: Rebecca disagreed with my statement that Minneapolis wishes it were New York (I call it "little brother syndrome"), and I disagreed with her assessment that there is no diversity in ethnic cuisine. We're pretty useless to talk to, as a pair: any opinion will immediately be countered and nullified by the other and nothing is gained in the end. Still, we recommended our favorite restaurant, Peninsula, which the London reporter was pretty interested in.

None of the usual buses were driving through the Capitol area so I'd downloaded a PDF map of the alternate routes and navigated us close enough to the Capitol. We were impressed by the ocean of people in attendance and waded our way up the hill to where the speeches were taking place. There was a large stage of risers and a shelter set up, housing two huge banks of speakers that should have carried each voice across the entire crowd but somehow this didn't happen. Maybe a physicist can explain to me how humid air dampens sound, or how a field of human heads prevents the travel of sound. I do know that there are correct and incorrect ways of holding and speaking into a microphone and that the laity are largely ignorant of these. If you give the average joe a microphone (see also: karaoke), he will probably hold it less than an inch from his lips, point it straight into the back of his throat, and scream into it. This is incorrect technique. Indeed, the woman who was speaking when we walked up was shrieking ineffectually into the microphone, and the huge banks of speakers did nothing to remedy the situation. And the angrier she got--which was quite--the higher her voice went. The microphone and speakers were redundant as the only people who could hear her were those standing just in front of her.

It went on like that: a lot of fervent and unprofessional speakers misusing the microphone. I feel like I'm not supposed to criticize this because, duh, of course they're not professional: they're just average citizens. I also feel like I'm not supposed to complain because we're supposed to be on the same team, like I'm holding back progress by not supporting everyone at that rally. But I honestly couldn't understand this frenzied woman who could shout in a range only dogs could hear. The only speakers I cared about were the few who spoke well and clearly. It's like playing soccer in elementary school. You're on a team you're all wearing similarly colored shirts and you all have the same enemy. But some of the players can't kick the ball or direct it well, and others trip after a few steps or running. You're stuck swallowing your laughter because someone else is going to angrily inform you "at least they're trying" and kick you off the team. I don't want to be kicked off the Minnesota Liberals. So here I'll confess to being a cad and tonight I'll pray for a grander spirit.

This is going to be a huge entry so I'll break it up into two chunks. Sorry, two people that ever read this. Sorry for testing your patience. I will actually continue this tomorrow, for real.


Xiane said...

The humidity should have helped the sound to carry! I suspect that you're on to something with the observation about how the speakers held their mics.

I am looking forward to your continuation of this adventure!

Rebecca said...

A few minor corrections:
I have been in a larger protest. I was in NYC at the start of the war in Iraq, which was one of the largest protests in history or so we'd like to think.
I did do much to discuss the irrationality of your paranoia including discussing all the negoatiations that went on over the last few months to get an agreed-upon march route, the relatively mainstream nature of the protests (relative to Denver) and the specifics in Denver that forced people to be in places where they weren’t supposed to be, which provoked the cops.