RNC Day 2: Zack vs. Marge

 

The RNC
and its protesters, day two.

By Ben Westhoff

 

So much rage in downtown St. Paul, and yet not nearly enough Rage. In
town to perform at the Target
Center on Wednesday, Rage
Against The Machine was to play a free, unannounced show at the State Capitol on
Tuesday evening – at least according to teenagers on Twitter, in any case.

 

The day after the convention’s riotous opening ceremonies,
folks who didn’t have to go back to work (students, hippies and anarchist punks,
joined by about 500 police officers) gathered on the capitol lawn for something
called Ripple Effect. Most would call it a “free concert” featuring acts like
Michael Franti, Dead Prez, Anti-Flag and the unfortunately named Wookie Foot, but
organizers preferred “events” “embracing the core values of the environmental
and social justice movements, with a collective understanding that the
solutions to these problems will require us to break down issue and
generational barriers.” 

 

I’m not sure if any issue barriers were broken down that
day, but the great unwashed chillaxed as hard as they could, playing with those
green “floating” orb things, attempting (unsuccessfully) to double dutch and
meditating in a giant rectangle. Phone numbers were exchanged, utopian
alternate universes were contemplated, and the world’s only “Nader/Gonzales
‘08” sticker was applied to a backpack.

 

It seemed that everybody was still exhausted from the previous
day’s protest marches, window smashing and urine stockpiling. You know leftists
are tired when they can’t even get pumped up by a Medea Benjamin speech. But
when word of Rage’s imminent arrival began to leak across the internet, the
assembled (or at least those who could afford an iPhone) began to perk up. The
crowd began to balloon around 6, when folks got off from their jobs at the
skate shop and the juice bar and made their way downtown.

 

Anti-Flag had taken the stage in a flurry of black and pink,
and were now working the crowd into a frenzy with brief bits of inspiration
like, “The world sucks. So let’s party!” 
Folks moshed like it was 1999, and bassist/hype man Chris #2 dropped
hint after hint that something big was about to happen. When they departed the
stage they left all their instruments; the idea was that Rage would pick them
up and play four songs.

 

Though you wouldn’t think too many of St. Paul’s finest would have copies of Evil Empire (or be Twitter savvy), the
cops were wise to the plan, and — since they didn’t have the manpower to
accommodate such a hugely-popular act – moved to halt the proceedings. Upon Rage’s
backstage arrival at 6:30, they were detained by a group of Minnesota State
Troopers, of all people. As riot guard police and bike cops surrounded the
premises, a trooper wearing one of those sweet flying saucer hats (she looked
something like Marge Gunderson in Fargo) kindly informed Zack de la Rocha, Tom
Morello and the like that they didn’t have the necessary permit to go on stage.

 

Rocha didn’t get worked up about it – dude must meditate his
ass off – and instead, while the chanting crowd screamed for blood (or at least
for “Testify”), he plotted with his mates a way to keep the crowd from killing
anyone while simultaneously creating a sense of, um, collective understanding about
breaking down generational barriers.

 

The band exited past the police behind the stage and weaved
out to the front of the crowd, where they implored their delighted minions to
take a seat. Most everyone immediately sat; one suspects if Rocha had asked them
to poop in their pants they would have done it. Next, bullhorn in hand, the
group led those within ear shot in a short set of acapella sing-a-longs. Call
it Rage karaoke — sans machine, of course.

 

After twenty minutes or so of this, the band implored the
assembled to rise, and they lead them in a march towards the Xcel center, where
former lazy-presidential-candidate  Fred
Thompson was preparing to address another group of dogmatic people. The bike
cops pedaled nervously alongside the marchers (I’m going to suggest there were
about 3000 people), and guards wearing pads and gas masks stood nervously along
the route. No windows were smashed — that I saw anyways — but when they
reached the perimeter of the buffer zone in front of the convention center, folks
began shaking and rattling the fences. The police gave them a few warnings and
then, according to reports from the front line, began firing off tear gas and
those little bombs that make a lot of noise.

 

So, party over. Everybody hopped aboard their fixed-gear bikes
or skateboards and headed back home, just in time to catch Big Brother 10.

 

In conclusion, it’s fair to say that the day two protests
felt less like a post-apocalyptic movie and more like a professional wrestling
match. Though bloodlust was in the air, no one really got injured, and
observers couldn’t help feeling as if the whole thing was just a little bit
scripted.

 

[Photo Credit: Neil Reiter]

 

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