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The Big Successful DNC '08 March - Continued

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With all the strict threats of arrest stated and restated, the beginning of the march is extremely tense. The protesters, oiled in sunscreen and markered with legal phone numbers, trudge forward.

Two friends talk: "You gonna get arrested?"
"I haven't decided yet. I support the action but...."

Finally one of the organizers offers the crowd this one comfort: "Okay, we have a police escort on this" (you can hear the entire relief breathed in) "But that means WE ALL HAVE TO FOLLOW THE RULES" (all collectively breathe out) "WE HAVE TO STAY ON THE RIGHT HAND SIDE OF THE ROAD -- OBSERVE THE DOUBLE YELLOW LINES -- OKAY, WE CAN DO THIS!" The crowd cheers.

A police escort. How pleasant! Despite the threat of arrest at the beginning it looks like the cops are right here and willing to help this be a peaceful organized event. I look back and I do see about 200 cops in riot gear and knightsticks. But they're just standing there like statues, or diverting traffic. I think the police see the benefit of a 'game over' compared to Monday, so we're presented with day two of Denver's peaceful Riot Police presence (see day one)

The march stalls. And moves a little, and stalls. And moves. And stalls. And moves. It feels like it's struggling to go from Neutral into First Gear, dropping the clutch, re-revving the key, that kind of thing. Suddenly some comedy. About fifteen very sweaty teenagers come storming through the crowd, all wearing the same Rage Against the Machine concert t-shirt. The freckled one with red hair spits on the sidewalk and argues into his cel phone: "Fuck mom, don't you hear me! it's through the march! You have to walk past this bullshit to get to the bus!"


One of the megaphone men state: "THIS IS A NON-VIOLENT ACTION" and the entire crowd screams, delighted. I look behind me and lo and behold what was at first 500 has, almost like a Katamari ball, seemed to have grown half in size to 750. And the march halts again. Each halt is an opportunity to show off the message banners.

and, the one I respond to:

Just then the crowd starts walking again and an aggressive surge of people storm from the rear. It's a pack of guys. They're walking like they're in a bar about to deck somebody. Most of them are shirtless. A young kid, trying to keep pace with the crowd says 'excuse me' to one of them, trying to quickly walk to the side of the road. The guy's answer, 'sure, get the fuck out of here', storming off topless to the front of the crowd in the dumbest looking sports sunglasses I've seen in years. But it's ominous, these guys. They disappear over the horizon, and thankfully I never see them again, nor do I see any other kind of confrontation with other marchers.

Police, at this point in time -- which is about forty minutes in, are no where to be found, except for in the far rear of the march, and along the side of the road. They're presenting themselves as if their number one concern is the march staying safe. A wonderful turn of face from the march must be pepper sprayed and maced. All through the afternoon you hear in the calmest police broadcast:

Most of the police are on bicycles. The crowd has doubled in size now, and the harmony with the police does feel cool. But I keep on returning to the original warning about everyone being prepared to be arrested. I wonder if that's gonna happen, and if so, at what point. We keep on walking.


An interesting thing takes place as the march passes through the industrial area of Denver - machinist shops and that sort of thing. First, this is really the first crowd the march has encountered, short of security guards protecting property. Second, six or seven machinist shops are opening their doors for water breaks. Scores of marchers file into garages to be greeted with cold water and shade. At first I'd think this was a single-business phenomenom, but this gesture repeated itself with six or seven businesses, almost as an indication that this is the way heavy labor responds to a scene like this. I can't help but think of the wobblies, and wonder how long-standing this tradition of welcoming in protesters might be. Hundreds of marchers replenish themselves. Soon a march organizer busts a couple of them. "HEY GUYS A MARCH IS AS SLOW AS ITS SLOWEST PERSON! PLEASE REJOIN THE MARCH."

heavy jam shoved underneath overpass, more people on the way

At about the two hour mark, now much farther into the city, the first test to the marchers nerves occurs. There's a jam of people, and the cops are not allowing them to move forward. This happens, as shown above, at a weird space that's dips into a sort of pit, surrounded by high metal fences, and continues to shove people deeper into a cavernous overpass. For about twenty minutes the march is stalled. A lot of people are getting paranoid, too. "Man I'm getting out of here" says one guy, very red in the face. "They can arrest the whole group if something happens." and then adding conspiratorially, "the cops can even start the riot themselves."

I ask someone else what the hold up is, or if this is the end of the line. "No, the Iraqi veterans are up there - also with Zach Laroche" (I hold back my chuckle that the Rage singer is leading the march) "They're negotiating to still move forward to the Pepsi Center ... To demand to talk to Barack Obama and have their demands be heard."

the bottleneck continues to worsen

and worsen

cue: the asshole.

Just then, from a tacky condominium balcony overlooking this exact spot, comes a potbellied heckler. And he heckles endlessly. He's wearing a McCain shirt and is calling everyone the worst stuff he can think up. The crowd is already tense and taxed by the roadblock. And the worst thing happens. A large group of the trapped crowd begins to yell back at him. Directly in front of cops. "COME DOWN HERE COME DOWN HERE COME DOWN HERE" the worst of them shaking their fists and spitting. I genuinely worry to myself that this is the end of the march. I can't believe how dumb these kids are for not only responding to this one dumb fucker in a condo - but to respond as a group and shake their fists right in front of the cops. Talk about tense.

Just then a row of cheers. The roadblock has been cleared. Checkpoint Number One has gotten the okay. The Iraqi veterans (and its tagalong crowd of 3000 at this point) can procede further into the city.

Bye, asshole.

Traveling under that overpass was genuinely terrifying. It was like a funnel to the very large crowd - and the distance from the start to the end of it felt like an eternity to slowly shuffle through. I kept on imagining something stupid that might happen that would force either panic or police, and that everyone, myself included would be trampled. It was the tensest moment of the entire day.

But emerging from this weird mousetrap, and after a block or two, I got the best joke of the visit. Also, a possible explanation for why the peasants were kept for such a delay. We were at Larimer St.

Now this takes some explanation. I grew up in Denver and Larimer is a pretty abnoxious place, notorious for maintaining status quo. If a wealthy Senator wants to have an invite-only party, he does it in a wine bar off Larimer. If a gallery wants to sell a spraypainted tumbleweed for 15,000 dollars, the transaction is handled off of Larimer. I have no problems with personal wealth, just find fault with arrogance, and it was a genuine kick to realize the never-happened had just happened: The grubby threatening masses had been allowed to march off of Larimer Square. Or more politely, the rich must be shitting themselves. I mean this is a lot of fucking people. I look to my left and imagine the spirit of Larimer street with its mouth agape. A mimossa nearly dropping out of its hand.

A new chant: "SILENCE IS VIOLENCE" etc etc etc etc... But hey! This march, which I was convinced would be stopped Waaaay early (like miles ago) has now made it into downtown Denver. Especially with the 'you might be arrested' speech that started this whole thing, and with Monday's altercation, I was almost 100% sure that the march would stop very prematurely. Guilt trip of Iraq war veterans, or not guilt trip, I just couldn't see it. But here we are: about to walk clear into the center of downtown. A sudden tangent: I look to the left of us, and see, yes, it's the Inflatable Christian Porno Elephant.

After the porno van, the march officially crossed into the business district. And the protesters were officially met with a now very visible police presence. This would only increase by the block.

It's at this point that I should describe the noise. The chanting, hollering, and general loud spirit of the march took on an overwhelming level once the protesters had made it this far. And with each block, chanting "Off the sidewalk and on the street" they seemed to pull in more and more additional participants. Within a few blocks the decibel level would become even louder.

It was at this point, about two hours into the march that the protesters achieved a key visual victory of sorts by making it all the way down to Speer and Arapahoe, a major Denver intersection. It would be only one turn now to make the short trek to the Pepsi Center. There had already been three moments that felt like the end of the line for the march. But each time they had negotiated with the police, mainly using the leverage of the Iraq veterans as the parade lead, to continue.

There was a sense at this point, regardless of what heartstring or sense of patriotism that they were exploiting, that the Iraq veterans march would manage what other actions had not:

Full compliance of the police and access to the convention itself. You could hear it in the screams of the march participants. Only a few more checkpoints to go....

The first obstacle to achieving the goal of entering the convention space opened right up, but it was menacing to enter: a very narrow path, even narrower than the previous bottleneck a few hours ago. This one however led straight to the Pepsi Center itself. And despite numerous jokes/fears about it being a trap, the whole gigantic group squashed itself in through the narrow path. But you felt extremely trapped in, and as entrances go, this was extremely foreboding. The cop presence was ridiculous at this level, too. But the march, now very strong in number after grabbing thousands from the Denver streets, was allowed to advance.

What would follow would be a number of waits and stalls, followed by an incremental step closer to the Pepsi Center. Like a tease, the cops kept permitting some movement, then a halt, then a discussion with the veterans, more movement, more stalling, all that.

At that moment, in this squashed space I enjoyed another comedy moment. In this huge cluster of people - this giant mass, I look over to the right and see a pedi-cab. The bicycle driven taxis. And there's a guy on the pedicab screaming, "Hey see that guy in the red shirt, he owes me money!"

Another halt that feels like the end of the line. But after twenty minutes, once again, the march is unbelievably allowed to proceed. Okay, this is getting ridiculous. How close are they going to let the vets get to the Pepsi Center? As it is, they've now been allowed access to all but the very last security gate before entering the complex.

And for the most part, that's where it would end. But not without a lot of emotion and some screaming. The final resting space for the march was on a blocked off street right outside Pepsi. But for hours people had been thinking they had gotten to the end of the march and then a door would open once again allowing more and later, even more. It was a great success to have gotten to Pepsi itself. No arrests, no harassment - and even during the thickest part of the march, which included hundreds of weapon-wielding cops along the side of the street, not even a documented argument. I should mention some of the marchers did their best to antagonize the police this time, too. The most hostile was a guy with a camera who ran up to riot cops poking his finger in the air and screaming at them, taking a photo of their face from an inch away. I was behind him for a second and couldn't believe how restrained things had become. Which is just a fair way to say the cops did a fine day today handling the largest crowd of the convention.

So, finally, after close to four hours of marching, and a half an hour of waiting at this final gate, people start to leave. Just like Sunday's practice march to Pepsi, once at the gate all energy fizzles. But what about the Iraq veterans?

I see a few people leaving and ask why. "The vets and protesters are at the gate, requesting Obama come out to talk." Referencing her nearby friend, "I keep telling her it's not going to happen."

"Yeah, he's not Nixon" I tell her, to some laughs.

A few minutes later, things went from waiting to tense. The crowd was leaving, and the vets were needing them to stay. "EVERYTHING IS GOING WELL. We're just waiting for a response from Mr Obama" "EVERYTHING IS GOING WELL. We're just waiting for a response from Mr Obama - You've had a long march, Sit down and be comfortable"
"EVERYTHING IS GOING WELL. We're just waiting for a response from Mr Obama"
"EVERYTHING IS GOING WELL. We're just waiting for a response from Mr Obama"
"EVERYTHING IS GOING WELL. We're just waiting for a response from Mr Obama"
"EVERYTHING IS GOING WELL. We're just waiting for a response from Mr Obama"
"EVERYTHING IS GOING WELL. We're just waiting for a response from Mr Obama" ... a very stressed-seeming march leader keeps on saying, walking down the crowd, most of which are sitting now, and dissipated maybe down to 300.

I ask him what they're waiting for Obama, specifically, to discuss. The answer depresses me because no matter how much sense it makes there's no chance they're going to get any of it.

"We sent him a letter earlier, outlining our three main issues, and we're asking him to come out here and proves he supports us - and to endorse them."

What are they?

"1) Immediate withdrawl from Iraq 2) Care and support for all veterans and 3) Justice to the Iraqis"

Man - My heart sort of sinks for them. There's no fucking way they're going to get an endorsement like that, this fragile in the election cycle.

I look down at everyone again, all clustered in groups, waiting for Obama to come out, and it sort of hurts. And I leave.

p.s. I'd find out later that a representative for Obama, after quite a long wait, did appear to the waiting veterans and lingering marchers. No concessions were made - but there was an offer to bring the veterans into the convention center as an inclusive gesture. Which I consider quite a victory, especially when combined with the massive unprecedented victory of marching five miles through Denver. Quite a day.