Something didn't strike me quite right when I read Katherine Kersten's column in the Strib this week about what the delegates from Minnesota went through at the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York.
Annette Meeks has seen these tactics before. In 2004, she was a delegate to the GOP convention in New York City.
Meeks, my former colleague at Center of the American Experiment, said that many of the protesters in New York differed markedly from their predecessors.
"It used to be peaceful ex-hippies with placards -- they're almost quaint by today's standards," she said. "In New York we saw a professional class of protesters, with an angry, violent mob mentality. Their goal is not to be heard. Their sole purpose is to create anarchy in our streets."
Meeks saw protesters use burning trash bins in an effort to shut down Manhattan's theater district. Swarms of bicyclists blocked traffic, crowds of protesters harassed delegates at their hotels.
"They screamed obscenities -- any way they could conjugate the F-word," she said. "Then they grew weary of yelling and started spitting and throwing things at us."
Meeks saw the tip of the iceberg. During the convention, demonstrators rampaged through Midtown Manhattan, throwing traffic cones and other objects at cars and windows. A policeman was kicked unconscious. Protesters attempted to take over hotel lobbies.
To be sure, there are some elements of reality in the article, but Kersten worked overtime to create an image of New York that would make it easier to make her point.
I covered that convention and stayed in the same hotel as the Minnesota delegates and I don't remember any attempt to take it over. And there was a good reason for that: there were cops out front and cops in the lobby. It was so quiet, the only action was delegates petting police dogs.
But the comment about being spit at is the one that caught my attention because delegates didn't mix with protesters. See, the way it worked was a "tiered" security area was placed around Madison Square Garden... the closer you got to it, the tighter the security. Protesters were eliminated from as far away as the outer ring.
The delegates were taken to the Garden every night by bus. The bus went directly to the most secure area -- at the very entrance to the Garden -- and no protesters were in the area.
Clearly, there were protesters in New York. There were battles with police in New York. But in the week I was there, the only incident I saw that suggested the chaos in the column was after Bush's acceptance speech. Some delegates elected to walk back to the hotel. As they passed into the less secure area along the street, they got closer and closer to the protesters.
I was walking behind a couple of delegates -- they weren't from Minnesota -- who were pretty brazen when they were in the more security area. "Get a job," they shouted while they were still in the high-security area. But as they got to the less secure area, it was clear they were scared -- very scared -- and were no longer interested in a "discussion" with the protesters. Welcome to New York, boys.
I don't recall the degree of use of the "F" word, but it's New York City and I used to work there and the "F" word is New York's version of "doncha think, then?" I also don't recall efforts to shut down the theater district -- although I'm sure there were. But neither Madison Square Garden nor the Minnesota delegates' hotel was (is) located in the theater district.
Traffic disruptions. In New York? How would you know? And Minnesota delegates would board buses (one cop assigned to every bus) and a separate lane on -- in our case -- Lexington Ave all the way to the Garden was sealed off for nothing but delegate buses, with cops about every 100 feet. There was never any disruption -- even by Minnesota standards -- for delegate buses.. at least on those occasions when I took one. Although, for the record, I often walked or took the subway, and I wore my credentials just to see what the New Yorker reaction would be. It was a non-issue.
The question of creating "anarchy" is one worth discussing, and one worth preventing -- political conventions should obviously allow for free speech while maintaining safety. The '08 convention is going to be expensive as all getout and it'll be a great week to speed on Minnesota highways because there won't be a cop within miles (and the ones that are will be working on security).
But in discussing how to prepare for it, it's important to be accurate about what has gone before. New York was actually relatively tame, especially when you consider the Republicans were in "enemy territory" in the first place (there's no bluer city in America, perhaps) to take advantage of the 9/11 imagery.
And Kersten leaves out the fact an estimated 100,000 people marched on the Sunday before the convention started and it was -- as far as the eye could see (my eye anyway) "foreceful" but peaceful, a credit, I think, to the spirit of free speech.
San Diego ('96 GOP) was probably the quietest convention I've ever covered with Chicago ('96 Dems) and Boston ('04 Dems) not far behind. I'm pretty sure Minneapolis and St. Paul can handle it.
Most folks who lives here, of course, wants a peaceful week. No doubt there'll be a few who'll want to disturb the peace in illegal ways. They obviously should be dealt with.
But let's not let the Chicken Little squadron make us do something stupid.
Why would any thinking person take Kersten or anything she has to say seriously? She's print concession to the fact that the Strib is trying to broaden its readership; by appealing more to morons who rely on conservative talk radio for their political worldview.
This kind of "pundit" wakes up every morning and asks: "What's the "next big thing" that I can panic my stupid paranoid white working class audience about that will distract them from the fact that I've been telling them to vote for a bunch of corrupt incompetent right-wing morons for years now?"
Sure, that's a long question to ask yourself every morning, but then people like Kersten and Soucheray etc get down to business and come up with that paranoid style question du jour. In the column you cited, it was "the threat posed by anarchists." In past Kersten columns, it was Muslim cab drivers at the airport who might be refusing to pick up fares on religious grounds, because they were carrying a bottle of wine.
She's always scared of something, she's probably scared of her Cuisinart. But for some reason she's never scared of the anti-social and bloodthirsty conservative goons she supported for high public office. The people who take Kersten seriously are worse than nuts, they're terrified ignorant nuts who put right wing fear mongers in power. Of course there will be arrests at anti-war demonstrations, but keep your skirt on, Katherine, stop promising your audience Chicago '68 in advance of the event. That's *making* trouble, not reporting it.
My only comment on Kersten is to again repeat her status as an "activist-columnist".
While I hardly ever read any dead tree media, from the excerpt you provided, her account about the f-word and being spit on pretty much matches what national delegate from several states have told me about the GOP 2004 convention. The rest, her commentary, seems a little far off (or perhaps the term should be a little to the right?).
One thing you might have not seen, or perhaps the folks you followed didn’t carry them, the “goody” bags were a give away that you were a delegate. So if you went sight seeing during the day you were a target. Many delegates or alternate delegate did not stay all day every day for the “business” side of the convention. While, I would guess, being the diligent political reporter / commentator that you are, you did stay and watch the “business” of the convention. So you would have missed seeing this kind of action, I also would guess that the folks you “hung out" with were of the ilk that would stay all day for the “business” of the convention, or where not alternate delegates, and did not sight see during the day with their “goody” bags.
While I am no fan of over blowing news to cause political gain; I want to make sure my friends who are of the type that might visit Minnesota in 11 months, have a wonderful experience and want to come back.
Actually, when I cover convention, I almost never go to the evening sessions or any other "business" stuff for that matter. I look for other stories to tell.
I, too, got a goodie bag and used it to lug around my equipment.
I'm not saying nobody got spit on, I presume that's possible. But if the delegates -- those from Minnesota -- were being spit on and victimized the way Kersten describes, I didn't see it and they weren't talking about it. If it was as bad as Kersten described, you'd think it would have risen to the level of being a "what happened to you today" story. Never came up.
I didn't (and don't as a matter of principle) hang out with anybody at the convention, by the way, I move around and view things from as many perspectives as possible. When you hang out with same people -- media, delegates, others -- you end with just one view of an event. Bad thing.
The one time -- and I can't remember why -- the bus let everyone out outside the security area -- there were plenty of people. And they were certainly vocal and I can't say it was an entirely enjoyable experience, but there's a big difference between that and what Kersten describes.
Frankly, the one thing I remember more than anything else about the entire convention, was how the Minnesota delegates wouldn't walk another 2 minutes at the WTC site to talk to the relatives of those killed in 9/11. They were staging a very peaceful protest against the mayor, and for a convention that cloaked itself in 9/11 imagery, that told me a lot more about the week than anything else.
I was speaking in more general term when talking about "Hanging out". I meant that you were more focused inward, looking at the convention. But, as you wrote, you were looking at other things as well.
As a side note, I wonder if you are in the majority in that regard. We never really hear a lot, or if we do it is a page 2 or deeper type story, about the inconsistency with party platforms and what the endorsed candidates portray? We do hear some but….
Bob - Politics in Minnesota (PIM) gave you an shout out for this post.
Oh come one - no Republicans ever behave badly?
"professional protesters"? How about the manufactured "protests" in Florida, over the recount in 2000?
anarchy? How about the arrests of people wearing t-shirts critical of the Bushies at public Bush appearances?
obscenties were shouted - at a political event??? What about warrentless surveillence?
Even if Kersten's correct - and toughgirl Annette Meeks has never been intimidated by the F word or anything else - there is "spitting at us" and then there is "spitting on us all" -
A few protesters want, she says, to shut down the theatre district and some harrassed delegates to a political event (not voters at polls): what about habeas corpus????