What I wrote earlier about these conventions being a sort of “war gaming” exercise for federal, state and local law enforcement community seems to have been quite inspired. I spent a good deal of time yesterday in the “calm before the storm” in downtown St. Paul, outside the Excel Center, that is, as close as I could before the 10-foot steel gates that sliced the center’s parking lot in half and wrapped around like menacing fortifications kept me from getting much closer. Cops and apparently military, in all shades of tan and blue and black uniforms, many carrying long sticks, and donning riot helmets, others on horseback, still others packing plastic handcuffs and heavy weaponry, far outnumbered the curious conventioneers, media, and local onlookers wandering around yesterday.
The need to intimidate –much like the weekend police raids — was obvious, but seemed almost farcical given that there was hardly a hippie in sight and downtown St. Paul more resembled Crystal City on a Friday night than Chicago ’68. At one point in my wanderings, it seemed as though every available officer, agent and soldier had converged in a phalanx before the Landmark Center to fend off trouble. But it was just a “motorcade” snaking down toward the gate they were anticipating, like imperial guards. Police in riot gear lined up and glaring, daring that mom and dad with their kid in the stroller to make a move. It was very quiet, with the copters above and the water fountain below offering the only accompaniment to this National Security Event.
I wondered what the party faithful would have thought of this spectacle say 50 years ago? What struck me then — and this sounds cliche — was how undemocratic it all felt, and yet the media continues to cover these things like they are a party event. An American event. Truth is, unless you are ticketed, credentialed or one of the event’s Very Important Pols, go away. You are nothing if you don’t belong. In fact, you might be treated as nothing less than a potential threat if you get close enough to the perimeter. I’m credentialed, I will be inside, but until I had those tags swinging from my neck I might as well have been one of those dopes with the Che t-shirts just itching for the plastic cuffs. An entire city has been walled off, armed to the teeth and ready to wage war against fellow Americans need be. For what?