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Demonstration at the RNC by Ann Treacy
September 2, 2008, 4:13 am
Filed under: St Paul

So I’m hoping that when the kids go to school tomorrow and the teacher asks – what did you do over your summer vacation – that they’ll think of the Fair. Today we went to the demonstration downtown St Paul that coincided with the Republican National Convention.

We don’t necessarily have extreme political views – but I think it’s important to exercise your right to voice your displeasure with the government. Our intention was to go to the demonstration for an hour or so and then hit the Take Back Labor Day celebration on Harriet Island.

It was quite a day.

We parked up on Summit and walked to the Capitol. Unfortunately we saw a bad accident on the way that sort of set the tone for the day. A van had hit a cyclist. We don’t know what happened; it wasn’t good but it was an accident, there’s no doubt about that.

We forged on. We’ve been to peace rallies before. On the way to the Capitol we saw plenty of police – but it was pretty normal. I have some pictures and videos included. We loved the rapping Bush and McCain. The speakers were riling people up. People had a lot of energy. But it was very peaceful. Even the girls started to relax. I pointed out that most folks just want to demonstrate peacefully. I did suggest that you didn’t want to hang out with the protestors who wore bandanas on their face.

Eventually we headed into town to get lunch. (In retrospect we clearly had no idea – but how were we to know?) On the way to get food we were interviewed by Annie Baxter from Minnesota Public Radio. So that was a thrill.

A couple blocks further, the folks from Central Presbyterian were giving out cups of water – to everyone. And they had lunch in the basement. So Patrick and the girls made the stop. These were the best church ladies ever! Clearly they were out all day. I could guess their political leanings but they were careful to simply give water and relief. The best line of the day was Lily’s observation that these were the Peace Makers.

While the rest of the family ate – I stood watch. We were keeping our eye on the big demonstration but quickly learned that the real action happens around the demonstration. First off, I was absolutely overwhelmed with the police and the riot squad and then the army. They were on feet, on bikes, and in vans. I was also amazed with the barricades – the reminded us of the peace walls in Belfast. Also there were a few groups – maybe 6 groups of fringe demonstrators. They wore bandanas. I saw a group that had been pepper sprayed. I also saw a bit of the cat and mouse game between the more spirited demonstrators, the cops and the reporters.

I told the girls that we should be pleasant to everyone because everyone had a job to do. So when people asked me to step off the steps of wall, I did it and smiled. I was surprised at the number of people who got snarky with the security guards and cops. It may be a free country – but the walls were on private property. Plus people were hot and hungry and looking for excitement. I just don’t know why you’d want to fuel the fire.

Well the real demonstration (10,000 people) eventually started. Our plan still was to watch for a few minutes and then sneak off to the event on Harriet Island. Unfortunately they changed the direction of the parade (or maybe I got it wrong; sometimes that happens) and we kind of got stuck.

Between the barricades and the riot squad we were really starting to feel boxed in. Unfortunately we also ended up deeper into the fringe than we really wanted to be. I spoke to a neighbor who had also been to the demonstration. She marched with the group and saw little to no violence. We also saw no violence – but we certainly saw the potential. We saw a couple of people get carried away. (We heard later that 283 people had been arrested.)

One thing I really didn’t like – we had no perspective. We really just wanted to get out of the way – but the riot squad wouldn’t let us out of the path. In fairness that’s their job and I did catch a few of the guys waving at the girls to be friendly – and at no point were they disrespectful of us. (And at no point were we disrespectful of them.) They tried to tell us how to get out – but it ended up getting us deeper and deeper in. Eventually we just slunk past everyone to get out. (I saw the guys in the black bandanas circling and decided we were getting out now – and after some serious hoofing it we were out.) Also we did end up on one block with the mounted police on one side of us and the bandanas on the other. But we walked calmly by the horses and on our way.

I never felt like we were in imminent danger – but I certainly felt like we were a few blocks away from it. (And watching the news I know see that we were.)

Anyways we eventually made it to the Take Back Labor Day party on Harriet Island. (I’ll write about that in a separate post.)

After the Labor Day gig we headed back to our car on Summit Avenue. Sadly there was no good way to get there. It started when we crossed the bridge and saw a full our army surrounding the Crowne Plaza (old Radisson) Hotel.

I suspected that they were just protecting delegates and politicians – but it didn’t bode well for an way to the car. We ended up walking along Kellogg to Rice Park. We were able to see how they had fixed up the park for the RNC. (No sign of the barricades here!) Unfortunately there was a definite line that we couldn’t cross to get home. Eventually we walked around St Joseph’s to the History Center and up past the Cathedral to the car.

The girls were troopers!! Thankfully we had tons of practice walking miles upon miles in Dublin. Once we were back home the girls admitted that they were glad they went.

(I feel like I should add that I appreciate the need for the bandana types to be squeaky wheels to get attention – but when you’re with your kids you don’t want to be too close to a squeaky wheel.)

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[…] – but I’m a sucker for taking my kids to big, historical events. I wrote about it in our personal blog, but even that entry is as apolitical as I could be. I made a conscious decision to not mention it […]

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