RNC DAY 1: Protesters, Palin, and Paranoia

 

 

 

By
Ben Westhoff

 

Let’s
get one thing straight: I did not get Sarah Palin’s daughter pregnant. Although
I have been to Alaska and enjoy the occasional Mooseburger, I did not have sex
with that woman. Girl.

 

I
will admit, however, to being wild and on the prowl on the first day of the
Republican National Convention, held in downtown St. Paul. The atmosphere was
almost exactly like that of a post-apocalyptic movie, with giant fences
separating the privileged controlling elite from the screaming masses, some so
poor they apparently can’t afford deodorant and even rummage through dumpsters
for bits of tofu burgers. (Red eyed folks in tattered clothes stumbled around
as well, although they were less “infected” than “sprayed with tear gas.”)  

 

‘Twas
a different scene entirely inside the Xcel Energy Center, where the Minnesota
Wild normally play hockey, and which adjoins the hall where my high school
graduation ceremony was held. The convention floor was as quiet as a mouse, or
perhaps a rat, as President Bush and VP Cheney had opted out of their speeches to
go battle Hurricane Gustav. (To quote The Church Lady: “How conveeeenient.”).This
left us only with Cindy McCain, who spoke about the relief effort, and Laura
Bush, who spoke about her battle fighting an addiction to Capri Menthol Lights
cigarettes (just kidding).

 

The,
um, elephant in the room that the 17-year-old unmarried daughter of McCain’s
unvetted VP pick, Alaska governor babe Sarah Palin, was preggo. This was the
third game-changer of the week, following the hurricane and the initial announcement
that the VP slot was going to a creationist nut job who until recently was the
mayor of Cicely, Alaska or some such. (Speaking of which, somebody really needs
to get John Corbett off of those Applebee’s commercials and back in the DJ
booth where he belongs.) Word from nearby adjoining red states was that the
baby bump could spark a poll numbers bounce, leaving the mainstream media
liberal elite scratching their bald spots.

 

Outside,
anarchists busted a few windows and declined my interview requests. (They think
they’re so cool.) The rest of the 10,000 protesters marched in well-behaved and
confusing fashion. I for one never did understand what running your car on
vegetable oil, universal health care and medical marijuana have to do with
“Israel out of Palestine” and the war in Iraq, but whatever. Riot-geared up
police lined the streets; most of them were apparently from out of town because
no one could tell me how to get to Harriet Island, where the Service Employees
International Union protest concert was being held across the Mississippi
river.

 

I
eventually made it over there, though, only to find that the performer I was
most looking forward to seeing had canceled. (Someone speculated that Lupe
Fiasco is a disenchanted Hillary supporter won over to McCain by the Palin pick,
but that’s probably not accurate). Though fairly subdued, the crowd seemed to
enjoy political ramblings and occasional guitar strumming of folks like Tom
“The Nightwatchman” Morello, Billy “why couldn’t I have been born 80 years ago
goddammit” Bragg, the delicate, beautiful Allison Moorer and her hideous beast
of a husband, Steve Earle. (Apparently Mos Def and The Pharcyde came on later,
but I was too busy leaving comments on the Stuff White People Like blog to pay
attention.)  

 

Morello
tells me beforehand that he’s not there to support Barack so much as to support
the union and fuck with Republicans. “I feel much more comfortable on the other
side of the barbed wire fence lobbing musical Molotov cocktails in,” he says.
“The only candidate that I’ve publicly endorsed in my life is Cindy Sheehan
when she was running against Nancy Pelosi.”

 

He
and Earle became buddies about five years ago on the “Tell Us the Truth Tour” (something
about media consolidation, abolishing the death penalty and organic arugula,
probably). They bonded over their mutual love of Lord Of The Rings, annoying Billy Bragg
by watching the six hour extended version of The Two Towers over and over on the
tour bus. Since then the pair have continued their activist ways, although
their actions have not always been appreciated.

 

“I witnessed Al and Tipper Gore practically levitate to avoid
having their picture taken with me,” remembers Earle. “[Al] was speaking at a
place called The Belcourt Theatre in Nashville, and a couple friends of mine
tried to drag me into this photo op. You should have seen the look of terror on
their faces. They were horrified. I’m sure the camera was tracked down immediately
after I left.”

 

Recalls
Morello: “At the SEIU mayday rally in Chicago, Mayor Daley was on stage waiting
to speak after I finished a rousing version of Woody Guthrie’s ‘This Land Is
Your Land,’ complete with all the censored verses. It turns into a real
class-war anthem, and at the end of it I asked everybody up on stage to jump up
in down in solidarity with workers’ rights. I think the mayor was kind of
caught of guard, but he did jump up and down, to his credit.”

 

The
pair certainly seemed a bit more committed than, say, Atmosphere emcee Slug,
who like the protesters downtown has a tendency to stray a bit off message. “I don’t rock their name in interviews or anything like
that,” he says of the union, “but I’m not necessarily against what they stand
for.” That’s quite an endorsement. He goes on: “Quite honestly, it didn’t have
to be this cause, it could have been fucking Haagen Dazs. If they were out
there throwing a festival across the river from the RNC, and they had Tom
Morello, I still would have done it.”

 

After the show, I ghostwalked a bit more around the perimeter of
the convention center, 28 Weeks Later-style, and then went back inside. Bill
O’Reilly announced on one of the overhead screens that Obama’s convention
bounce had all but evaporated, and the race was now neck and neck. I think it’s
fair to say Sarah Palin’s grandfetus is holding all the cards right now.   

 

 

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