I started out at East Fourth Street since the buildings tend to provide the most shade and the side streets in a large city will often act as wind tunnels for any slight breeze. It was full of the usual suspects: media personalities, people-watchers, convention attendees heading out for lunch, the occasional protester (the Jesus people tend to favor this area), and of course, cops.
I stopped to have a smoke out of the way of traffic and overheard a man talking with what I knew to be a distinctly South London accent. I casually asked where he was from – turns out he’s from South London and is here in Cleveland working on a documentary about the American Dream. I have some very strong personal opinions on that and immediately shot back with “Well, just so you know, the American Dream is dead.”
And from out of seemingly nowhere, a voice says, “No it is not. The American Dream is not fucking dead and I’m so tired of hearing people say that, it’s misinformed.”
Looks like I pissed somebody off. If this is any indication how the rest of the day is going to be….
The filmmaker and I both turned around to see a small blonde woman, mid-50’s, wearing a NRA T-shirt and carrying a picture of Jesus on a stick. She was quite angry, so of course he put her on camera. She calmed down only slightly, almost yelling her views into his mic. At some points, I thought she sounded like she might start crying. She explained that America is the greatest country in the world, that there is opportunity for everyone here regardless of race or class, people work very hard here, that all lives matter and the Black Lives Matter movement is racist.
The filmmaker asks her what she does for a living. She says she’s a stand-up comedian.
Really? All that passion, all that anger, and you’re a fucking comedian?!?! I have to wonder if she’s actually funny. The filmmaker asked her for a good joke. She couldn’t come up with one, and started asking around to the small crowd that had gathered if anyone had a good Hillary joke. I did, so I gave it to her.
I was on camera next, so I shook her hand, told her it was a pleasure to meet her and thanked her for stating her views. We even hugged each other. She didn’t stick around to hear my speech. She didn’t try to kill me, either. After she walked away, my filmmaker looked directly at me and said, “These people terrify me.” He said it twice.
Did not get dead. Check.
The documentary was being made for a primarily British audience and I had lived in London, so my job became to explain the things about the concept of American Dream that British people don’t understand just because so many of the thoughts behind it are not part of their culture. According to the filmmaker, I did well.
Oh, and he was hot. Sort of hipsterish, a bit of that London snootiness, but not enough to be a turn-off. I asked if he would take me back to London with him and he said he actually wanted to move here. Bummer.
We both moved on to our next assignment. I met up with the PressureLife boys getting video coverage and we ran into two “protesters” from what we’ll call the “signs-against-signs” movement. They were walking along Fourth – one sign said “I Made A Sign”, and the other, “I Thought There Would Be More Single Women Here”. Funny, I had been thinking the same thing about men. Maybe he and I should have hooked up.
I followed a protest march of anarcho-syndicalists, a branch of anarchism with special attention to labor, all through Public Square into the Mall toward City Hall. Their black and red flags, all black clothes and bandanas covering their faces, they looked like a fight waiting to happen. They were followed by a small group of capitalism supporters trying to drown them out with shouts of “socialism sucks”, and a train of police officers that outnumbered all the protestors by at least three times.
The digs back and forth between both parties got a little personal; several statements were made about the capitalists being young, white and wearing polo shirts. Nothing got out of hand though – neither side was aiming to physically attack each other. All in a day’s work, I suppose.
I went back to Public Square to hit Starbucks before making another run to 4th Street for the procession of delegates going into the convention center for the night’s final events. Louisville, Kentucky officers had formed a long line along the side of the Huntington Building where Starbucks is, and I was now aware that long lines of cops means you ain’t gettin’ through. I stopped at the Starbucks entrance and decided now would be a great time to get arrested. It’s Day Four and I’m running out of time.
“I really need a cup of Starbucks. Lives are at stake. I don’t want to cause a problem, but I will do what I have to do here so I can have my coffee.”
“Fair enough.” They smiled, separated and let me in.
I placed my order and moved aside to wait. A Secret Service agent was behind me with a large order: grande skim latte, venti caramel macchiato with an extra shot of vanilla, tall iced coffee with a shot of hazelnut. A customer behind him started poking fun at all the “foo-foo drinks” being ordered for these tough Secret Service guys. I chimed in, “I am soooo putting this in my article.” My notebook was already out and I was scribbling away.
“Make sure you put in there, Secret Service guys are human, too.”
I walked back out past Louisville police. “There’s a Secret Service guy in there buying a bunch of fluff drinks, make sure you all give him some shit for it when he comes back out.”
Did not get arrested. Check.
The parade of convention-goers down East Fourth Street had already started. This was my first real up-close look at them. I noted that the further south these people come from, the more Botox and big hair appears. The lips on some of these women almost look swollen, like lipstick covering several bee stings. And big shoes. One very slight woman, a delegate from South Carolina, took a dive right in front of me and the police line. They helped her up and I got a glance at her shoes – strapped wood wedges with a minimum 5 inches of height that looked like they weighed equally as much as the entire body they were carrying. I spotted Georgia delegate Betsy Kramer talking to police on her way in and went over to take photos. She was about mid-50s, had red white and blue sharp colour in the front of her hair and was wearing a matching long-sleeve shirt dress. She looked like she wanted to be fun but wasn’t going to try too hard to outdo the Botox-and-big-hair set. She looked like a real person. I snapped several photos of her.
She looked down at my press badge and said, “You look like you want to ask me something.”
“No, I just wanted to tell you how adorable you look.” She smiled, said something about having a set of heels she wasn’t wearing (she had on flip-flops) and thanked me for the compliment. She was quite the breath of fresh air.
I walked a little further down Fourth Street following a line of Cleveland Police officers. Loud cheers and claps went up along both sides of the road as they made their way through. Very well-deserved. Our hometown police force took the brunt of the workload for managing the safety of this event with the eyes of the world on them and the expectation of riots and general police dickishness. Not only did this turn in to one big party, but never once at any time during the last four days did I see a Cleveland officer, or any officer for that matter, do or say anything that could be perceived as an even slightly dick move.
I made my way back to Public Square as the convention activities got underway and darkness settled in. A smoking hot protester caught my eye – well-coifed blonde hair, beautiful eyes, trim beard, lots of tattoos, wearing a “Flint Lives Matter” T-shirt and a Guy Fawkes mask wrapped around his leg. I took a photo of him but didn’t directly speak to him, just stood back and stared at him so I wouldn’t look creepy. It didn’t occur to me until after he was long gone that I’m a fucking reporter and could have used that guise to get some info on him, a mistake I’m still totally kicking myself for.
A group of protesters had light-up signs and took over the far corner of Public Square chanting “Love Trumps Hate” and various messages of support for Muslim doctors and loving thy neighbour. All doctors from the Cleveland Clinic and University Hospitals; the police didn’t even bother to follow them. Because Doctors.
I took my last photos of them and sat down behind them in our newly-rebuilt Public Square staring at the Terminal Tower thinking about what the last four days have meant for my home town. I checked my phone for updates and found an article being posted around by the Wall Street Journal titled “We were promised a riot. In Cleveland, we got a block party instead.”
This is truth. This was one massive, four-day long block party. I dare the DNC in Philadelphia to try and outdo us. People protested each other and then hugged it out. Police took photos with little kids and people with autism. Delegates in cowboy hats fist-bumped with Black Lives Matters protesters. Volunteers handed out free waters to everyone whether they looked like they needed it or not. Mounted police let us pet the horses. Music filtered out of everywhere, from country to techno. Media and celebrities posed for photos and shook hands with people-watchers. This is the Cleveland rarely shown to the outside world. This who we really are.
In real news, Donald J. Trump was given and officially accepted the Republican nomination for the Presidency of the United States. The confetti and balloons fell from the ceiling of The Q and the party officially ended.
Catch all of PressureLife’s off-beat RNC coverage on our website and social media pages. And keep rockin’ Cleveland!!!