Dallas Does Denver: Singing a Protest Song

It was a simple question. “What are the protests like?” The caller from Dallas, a freelance photographer who sometimes shoots for D Magazine, had herself been working on obtaining an off-the-books press pass for the convention. Surprisingly, yesterday she was told that her contact had scammed one photography pass for Obama’s Invesco Field speech tonight. She wasn’t interested in shooting that, though, for the same reason we weren’t interested in attending: like with a rock concert, stadium shows are decidedly less interesting than those held at more intimate venues. (And the pass, sadly, was not transferable to me or Lavin.) So, she said, she was only interested in paying for a last-minute flight and coming here if the reports of dozens of violent protests were true and, as important, would produce dramatic images. I was sipping a triple-shot iced vanilla latte in the 16th Street Market area on a patio on a picturesque day. I looked around. There was one anti-abortion protestor, sitting on the curb, taking a break from yelling at disinterested passersby. I took another sip. “I dunno,” I said. “Maybe it’ll get crazy later. But I wouldn’t count on it.”

All week long, we’d been reading about protests here, and watching TV commentators wonder if there was a possibility that ’68-style Dem convention riots would break out. We were certainly hoping so. Something to write about occurring outside the security zone around the Pepsi Center seemed to be the only thing that would possibly save my job, given the general irritation this trip has engendered back at the D Empire. (Note to 5280, the fine Denver city magazine: if there is an opening for which I qualify, please let me know before I head back; really don’t want to make this drive again unless I have to.)

As soon as we arrived, it looked as though Denver was primed for some Chicago-style billy-clubbing. On our first walk along 16th Street, a series of trendy shops, eateries, and bars that cuts west-east through downtown like a rolling version of Dallas’ West Village, we saw hordes of cops in full riot gear at intersections. Sometimes they were actually keeping pedestrians from straying into chanting protest groups (which usually numbered about 20 and which most often had all the spitfire and venom of a tabby asleep on your chest); most often, they were sitting on curbs or leaning against parking meters, alternately bored or eying young women in sundresses. But maybe they were just getting warmed up, we thought. Before attending the Denver Museum of Art speech by Hillary Clinton on Monday night, we wandered by the last moments of a hippie-filled peace rally/concert, where the organizers were reading to the shaggy-haired crowd, detailing where they were to meet the next morning for a series of scheduled protests. I should have known by the generally disinterested attitude of the crowd and the couple making out next to us that no one’s heart really seemed to be in causing trouble.

Lavin has friends at the Associated Press office in Denver, and they kept her informed of reports of potential possible riot-like situations that appeared to be developing possibly and maybe throughout Tuesday and Wednesday. She would run over there to shoot and, by the time I sauntered up a half-hour later (usually with some sort of coffee beverage or ice cream treat in hand), the protest’s lameness had already been determined. Usually it was a few dozen, at best 150 people, chanting about how we need to get out of Iraq (are there people who disagree with this?) or their general dissatisfaction with The Man and his cronies.

By yesterday, though, word was that some serious monkey business was going to go down. We spent the morning and afternoon calling and chatting (read: harassing) with Texas delegates, trying in vain once again to bribe them for some floor passes so we could hear (warning: personal hero alert) Bill Clinton speak that evening. We figured if we didn’t secure said passes by 4 p.m. local, we would head back to Dallas. (Side note: Columbia Journalism Review says there are about 500 journalists and bloggers here trying to scam passes, so we weren’t the only lame-o’s. Just the only ones brave/honest/dumb enough to admit it.) As you probably realize, we failed. So Lavin headed to the AP office to say goodbye to her friends, and I waited outside the downtown limits at a Starbucks so that I didn’t have to fight the horrible traffic in the city.

An hour later, I got these six texts, with a break of about five minutes between their arrival:

“heading towards a riot”
“give me 30”
“I want to get tear gassed”
“looks like people will riot”
“come and get gassed”
“o m g”

My head dropped. Sigh. I guess I had to try to hoof it into downtown, toward the Pepsi Center, because there wasn’t parking within blocks of that, and just getting into downtown was a 45-minute ordeal. After about a half-hour, I wandered through the empty campus of the downtown college, continually hitting blockades where police had cordoned off the area. Finally, I came upon the crowd: hundreds, perhaps a thousand, of anti-war protestors, marching and chanting to “stop the war.” I tried to get around the police lines to get a better look. I jumped up on some steps about 15 feet above the scene. This was the biggest protest to date, and I wanted to see me some rioting.

What I saw was this: hundreds of kids in fashionably frumpy attire, giggling, smiling, chanting pre-scripted lines. I saw hundreds of expertly trained police armed with rubber-bullet rifles, not allowing themselves to be engaged by people screaming in their faces or the occasional rock-thrower. I saw a posse of hard-news photographers with gas masks hanging off their backpacks and helmets with “Press” written on them. And I saw a Spider Monkey in flip-flops and a bright orange halter, jumping up and down, antsy for action.

Alas, it was it not to be. The crowd finally dispersed and headed back toward downtown. We followed. On the street corners, you could hear them talking to each other about their big march, the prevailing sentiment being, “Dude, so awesome, dude.” Since Clinton was about to speak, we headed back up the trendy area a block outside the Pepsi Center security zone. It was filled with yuppies, suited bigwigs, and granola kids. We passed a Cru, a Samba Room, and a Capitol Grille on our way to Martini Ranch, where we sat at the bar next to a Dallasite/former Aggie who now lives in D.C. and works for the guvment. She was drunk on politics (and several beers), discussing everything from the importance of the NASCAR demo to the lingering resentment of the Hillary Clinton camp. Throughout her commentary ran this thread: the convention is ridiculous, because it’s so scripted and fake that there is no real emotion to it. No passion. “At least with the protesters, they have passion. They’re fighting for something. They’re searching for meaning, and that’s inspiring.”

As she turned her attention to the single attractive and also drunk man to her left, I looked across the bar. There were three kids who had been in the protest we just walked from. They were ordering Ketel One martinis: one dirty, two straight up. They each threw out a credit card. Later, we all watched Clinton. The protesters clapped with the entire bar at every high point. We ended up staying downtown late because of the convention traffic. As we sat out on a patio at another super-trendy restaurant with the Denver fete set, eating saffron pasta and drinking red wine, we heard a man on a bullhorn, headed our way. We saw people along the street turn and stare, and traffic stopped. Maybe this was finally The Big One, rebels intent on upsetting our elitist apple cart, shoving our plates of grilled peaches and Italian cured meats into our fat, happy faces.

Oh. It was a convertible Cadillac from Shotgun Willie’s, the popular local gentleman’s establishment, telling people drink specials were available until close. Now that would’ve made a good photograph.

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Comments

33 responses to “Dallas Does Denver: Singing a Protest Song”

  1. GoodGrief says:

    Wick, are you paying for this?

  2. Trey Garrison says:

    Readers certainly are.

  3. Tim Rogers says:

    @ GoodGrief and Trey: Right now. Find me a better story written about the “riots” at the DNC. I’ll sit right here, in the comments section, waiting.

    Because as much as it pains me to say this, I think Eric did some good work here. That it was done on a blog, without aid of editor, makes it all the more impressive.

    Now, is it worth what we’re going to spend on this little excursion? Eh, prolly not. But that’s our business, not yours.

  4. Tim Rogers says:

    … still waiting …

  5. For the record says:

    Point taken, Tim. Would that my previous managers had seen the other side of the coin sufficiently to back me up when the butter had dripped off the plate.

    Now how about the hooker count? However will we compare the Dems to the GOP convention?

  6. Trey Garrison says:

    Like I’m going to give Eric an easy time of it.

  7. TLS says:

    Were I to be a protester, and believe me I have it in me I just don’t have the time, I would be protesting NEXT week. More bang for the buck. More people to irritate. More issues to complain about. Oh, it’s on.

  8. Story Lover says:

    Me likes!

  9. D says:

    Who cares who is paying for their trip? I for one have been anxiously awaiting updates and have been entertained by each one. It was worth the cost I paid for them to go there.

  10. James says:

    Let’s wait until we see D’s coverage of the Republican Convention before we criticize. Since their readers are typically older, more wealthy, and white, I bet one of them could swing credentials, if needed. IJS.

  11. GoodGrief says:

    Calm down Tim. It was like a joke. Kinda.

  12. Davie Dave says:

    Still could have used less Eric, more often, and MORE Lavin (in front of the camera).

  13. j.d.w... says:

    Sometimes you send some folks to cover an event that turns out to be a non-event. Those folks then feel compelled to file some sensationalist bs story to save face and/or job. I prefer Eric’s angle. Or non-angle. uh oh… treading into Gordo land

  14. Tim Rogers says:

    @ GoodGrief: I’m sensitive to this. You didn’t have to listen to Eric Tuesday morning, as he went on and on about how this trip had made him feel like a total failure, how he was worthless, how he ought to find another line of work. He was a broken man.

    So when he put on his big boy underwear and finally turned in a couple posts worthy of the Eric Celeste byline, I cheered for the old guy.

    I just want to see him succeed. You know? [giggle]

  15. Trey Garrison says:

    And he has. But no reason not to keep torturing him.

  16. Amy S says:

    EC & SM – Please tell me you brought spf 30 or higher – and are using it?

    I for one have loved these posts, and have been checking them over and over on my I-Phone.

    Would Eric consider being a judge in our homecoming parade? He seems fun.

  17. JS says:

    I, for one, am very disappointed in Celeste. I mean, an ABC News producer gets arrested for standing on the sidewalk and then being pushed by a cop out into traffic and Celeste can’t even get a good clubbing out of this trip? Come on.

  18. Jay says:

    I’d like to break me off a piece of Captain Kangaroo. Rawr!

    [throws up in mouth a little]
    (mmmm, gazpacho)

  19. Mapquest says:

    Denver to Minneapolis = 865 miles

    Good luck.

  20. Zac Crain says:

    I second Tim’s emotion. Eric has done, over these last few days, what Eric is best at: telling a good story from a different point of view. And also cataloging every single thing he drinks and eats.

  21. jrp says:

    while it’s not exactly been groundbreaking nor really newsworthy stuff, i’ve checked back regularly to see if anything did happen and applaud Eric and Elizabeth for getting out of the office and into the fray

    so it’s not Chicago in 1968, but i doubt we’ll ever see a repeat of that, and there was never going to be much edge-of-the seat stuff anyway, as Denver ’08 is just a coronation, so what else is there to do but party and schmooze

    and Eric certainly keeps a good journal and relay that in simple, readable prose

    hope you guys do send someone to Minnesota next week

  22. mm says:

    While I appreciate the word picture of “Spider Monkey in flip-flops and a bright orange halter, jumping up and down, antsy for action”, an actual photo would be nice.

    Or maybe video.

  23. CT says:

    Darn good work
    If readers are paying for this, send me my portion of the tab

  24. bleacherbum says:

    Actually, Celeste is one of the few reporters in Denver writing truly unique stories. Everybody else is writing the same story. Eric, I applaud your willingness to stick your neck out in the spirit of the Gonzo man himself. Having said that, you need to go outside the box, er dance floor, a little more. Have you talked to any prostitutes yet?

  25. doug says:

    Want some good reporting from a protest?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RU42hL0T18c

  26. SRP says:

    Not funny in the least. This had amazing potential. Even Keith Gordon could have got a chuckle or two out of it. Here is your problem. Your utter arrogance gets in the way and you ego will not allow you to have a sense of humor. It is not to late to let go of ego, take some comedy classes, and stop trying to be so chic and pissy. You two are the biggest sissies on the planet earth. I bet you both squat when you pee.

  27. Jay says:

    @ SRP

    Mom?

  28. Nancy Nichols says:

    Standing, clapping. EC wins championship on a 3-pointer at buzzer in triple overtime after being down 0-3 in the series. Anybody who can type that much on an iPhone deserves a smooch. Spider Monkey, miss you.
    XO, Monkey Paw.
    BTW, protests are not what they used to be. I still have a ripped bra from one in the early 70s to prove it.

  29. One Hot Mama For Obama says:

    Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

  30. grrgle says:

    @jay

    You are my hero

  31. Guess you missed the ‘fun’ of the CodePink chick getting her neck cracked by a SWAT armoured & pink-enraged ‘Community Peace Officer’ or the fun of watching her get hauled off like a strapped terrorist for *debriefing the Press* on their violation of her human & civil rights. “DNC Protests: Protester and police confrontation“- RockyMountain News

    you missed the ‘fun’ of the beatings, pepperspray & rubber bullet tissue necrosis?

    Police Arrest at DNC August 24th”
    Police Trap Peaceful Protesters in Denver by American News Project
    – the ‘scary anarchists’ in Denver: “Dissent in Denver” – Brett Story for ‘The Nation’ video coverage

    yup… all that ‘two-party’-“you’re with US or you’re target practice”-democracy is just wonderful to watch as the Press dance merrily in self-congratulatory smugness at the AT&T GreenZone…

    Democracy as corporate-funded theatre & rock-party.

    yup.

    ┄┄┄┄┄┄┄┄┄┄┄┄┄┄┄┄┄┄┄
    BlueBerry Pick’n
    can be found @
    ThisCanadian
    ┄┄
    … tolerance of intolerance is cowardice…” ~ Ayaan Hirsi Ali.
    We, two, form a Multitude” ~ Ovid.
    ┄┄
    Silent Freedom is Freedom Silenced
    ┄┄┄┄┄┄┄┄┄┄┄┄┄┄┄┄┄┄┄

  32. Daniel says:

    BlueBerry,

    Bullying rednecks is who and what police are, and have always been. No news there.

  33. Mark says:

    Hell, it’s not our nickle, quit bitchin. I looked forward to every update, though some fell short. I did learn to beat the breathalizer with peanuts in the shell. This will be a good weekend to try out my new trick. Spder Monkey, I need clarification on how well the peanut trick works on a blood test. ASAP!