Tuesday, September 02, 2008

RNC & the Battle of St. Paul - Trying to Make Sense of it All

It's been a very tough 24 hours for me. Labor Day at the RNC was very...well, I really don't know what it was. It was emotional. It was intense. It was scary as hell.

I went to the state capitol to cover the peace marches, which were peaceful and fun, full of street theatre, impressively inventive floats and props, and droning speeches that went nowhere. That was certainly the fun part of my day.

Then I travelled towards downtown St. Paul and found myself in the middle of a war zone.

I'm very thankful to be alive and well. I'm still trying to deal with it emotionally today. I didn't allow myself that luxury when suddenly faced with an army of riot police, swat teams, and paramilitary units armed to the teeth. If you find yourself in that situation, on a day like yesterday, then God help you. You are in more danger than you realize, and only a damned reckless fool would venture any closer.

I found myself on the upper sidewalk of Kellogg Avenue, on the block before the barracade that surrounds the Xcel Center. There were several brigades, countless squads, a small army. The police I can handle. They're okay, they're fine. I can even deal with the police in standard riot gear. I've seen them before, and you will be safe as long as you stay out of their way and do nothing stupid. When you walk past them, past the riot police on horses armed with metal visors, walk up to the old Radisson Hotel, and see several squads of black-armored soldiers, you are in trouble. You are in very serious trouble. If your fight-or-flight instincts don't kick up to maximum immediately, you have some serious brain issues.

When a man on a bicycle was tackled, smashed to the ground, by a gang of police, and what looks like an army of Darth Vader clones stars marching ominously in your direction....do I really have to go any further? This isn't a game, kids. This isn't a thrill ride. Get your kicks some safer way, like jumping off of cliffs. This is the real deal. You will know fear. Most of your old phobias will melt away in seconds. Get back home alive, and you will welcome the basement bats with open arms. I don't know if nothin' scares me anymore. The American Police State scares me to my core. Everything else is burned away.

I don't have any words to describe what went down. I somehow managed to snap photos and shoot short videos on the digital camera, as many other people were. That is a remarkable act of bravery if you don't know. It will take all of your strength, or all of your stubbornness, to lift up your cell phone or digital camera and document the advancing armies. And armies is what they were. Don't kid yourself. This was not the police. This was the swat team, or something worse. Something much worse. Thank God the situation was not worse than it was. It could have been a bloodbath, if only the masked, armored troopers made it so. We were at their mercy, and it is a frightening thing to realize your powerlessness. All you could do is swiftly, quietly, get the hell out of the way. Find an escape. Find a safe place. Pray to God the crowd moves back. Pray to God no stupid punk kid decides to be a tough man and throw a rock. Fear and tension, my friends. Fear and tension thicker than I've ever known. You better get back and find safety in the crowd. The situation could become ugly in a second. Be prepared for anything. Remember to breathe. Breathe. Slowly. Exhale slowly. You'll have time to panic later. But first there has to be a later.

I'm walking back, away from the hotel, still looking around for these anarchists and violent rioters I've heard about. I'm seeing no one but myself and others who look like me. A generation of young Americans who have taken up the crazed idea of petitioning their government. We had this insane notion of Democracy. And everything must be shown to the world. Pull out your camera, everyone. Start taking pictures. Stay calm. Don't get in the way of the tear gas.

I'm still trying to work all this through. One minute you're snapping photos of happy hippes and their parade floats. The next you're standing ten feet from a squad of soldiers armed with machine guns, tear gas, concussion grenades. Good lord, they're carrying machine guns.

Something is dangerously wrong with America. This nation is veering off a cliff. We're staring into the abyss, my friends.

I'll try my best to upload the videos and photos, or at least pass them along to others who can. Now I really hate to lose my YouTube account. Stay tuned. Stay safe.

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