Wazee Street in Denver, a stylish strip old brick warehouses that are now elegant little shops, yoga studios, and trendy salons, ends at Speer Boulevard and a metal barricade staffed by Secret Service agents in Kevlar. On the other side of Speer – closed for the Convention and acting as a sort of concrete moat – is the Pepsi Center where the Conventioon itself is held. At 10:00 AM, it’s sunny and already very hot. The Pepsi Center looks far away. Still, I trudge on with an assortment of journalists, photographers, film crews, and workers. We walk down a wide, empty street with fences and concrete barriers on either side that stretch as far as the eye can see. Everywhere there are barricades and men with guns. If the DNC were held in Beirut or, for that matter, Baghdad, security would look exactly as it does in Denver.
There is a second security gate, beyond which is the Pepsi Center itself. I want to head over to the so-called “Freedom Cage,” the moniker given to the enormous pen of chain link fence that is the only place the protesters are permitted to demonstrate. It is nowhere to be seen, however, and so I ask a Secret Service agent how I might get there. He thinks for a moment: “Head down this street a while. You’ll see a Conoco station. Turn right. Or maybe left. Anyhow, it’s that way.” In other words, well out of sight of the delegates and press.
I trek over to the Freedom Cage only to find it empty. It’s an enormous structure and resembles nothing so much as – forgive the classlessness and unoriginality, but it’s true – a prison camp. A few reporters mill around waiting for someone to show up and protest something, but no one does. It’s easy to see why. Only a masochist would intentionally put themselves in a cage in a place no one can see to shout chants no one will hear.
I make my way back downtown. It’s a long haul out of Denver’s very own “Green Zone.” You have to pass through two more checkpoints, but only the people coming in are searched. I feel bad for the men in suits and the film crews wheeling heavy cases of equipment. From what I can see, they’re mostly foreign press without the means to have a semi-trailer and on-site broadcast studio in the parking lot adjacent to the Convention.
Just outside the Green Zone, a church group has set up a little booth giving away glasses of water and sunscreen. I stop there for a bit, appreciating their hospitality but worrying one of them is going to start in on me about Jesus. You think it’s hot today? Just you wait, pagan! But they’re mellow about it and don’t even bring it up. God bless you, I want to tell them.
Recreate 68, the ad hoc assembly of anarchists, communists, and other assorted other throwbacks and anachronisms, are having a demonstration at Civic Center Park on the other side of downtown. Last night, there were 70-something arrests during a demonstration there, and the rumor was that R-68 had something even bigger in store for today. I arrived early and decided to stop by the Brown Palace Hotel for a quick coffee. Loads of Secret Service agents in their black Suburbans were on hand to protect the VIP’s inside. (The Clintons, someone told me.) Inside, Sean Penn was smoking at the hotel bar. He was sitting with Ethyl Kennedy. I don’t think they’re sleeping together, though.
Later, at the Civiic Center Park, things were pretty tame. A lot of puppets, a lot of crazies. There was a surprisingly large contingent of people shouting, “9-11 was an inside job!” and passing out literature. One of them carried a sign saying 9-11 was Mossad’s fault. I ask him if he’s an anti-Semite and he says no, he’s not, that he has nothing against Jews. Except, he adds, for the bankers and the high-ranking Masons.