Wednesday, August 03, 2016

A "Protester's" Reflections on the 2016 RNC/DNC

During the month of July, I went to both national conventions to distribute my propaganda.  My pitch was pretty streamlined and straightforward.

If people demonstrated an interest, I'd ask them where they were from.  In most cases it was the hometown.  So for instance, let's use Cleveland.  I'd introduce myself and tell them I've been working on a public safety/human rights project for several years.  It's actually part of an ongoing cyber-security threat that is by nature... undiscussable.  Usually that would get their attention.

I'm sure you've been to First Energy Stadium.  Right over there (point in a Northerly direction).  Well, on gameday, there are 79,000 people in that venue.  And there are also 79,000 cell phones capable of receiving real-time, false information.  It is a wirelessly hyper-connective environment.

If you were to get a stadium evacuation order over your cell phone, it is part of a hoax designed to create a panic and a stampede.  There's no other logical explanation why something like that would occur. 

I know this to be a fact because if it's necessary to stage an evac, you do NOT use cell phones to deliver the order.  There is an incident command structure in place.  The established protocol requires using the public address, the jumbotron, the video monitors.  You alert the ushers.  There are things you say.  There are things you don't say.  The protocol is very specific.  It does NOT initially include cellular notifications.

But the NFL can't tell you this very generic public safety information because of the catch-22.  If you acknowledge a problem exists, you own it.  And if something bad were to ever happen, you're screwed... because you didn't do enough to prevent it.  It's a classic paradox.  It's about plausible deniability, hypothetical litigation and the lose-lose proposition.  Basically, even though the solution is free... nobody has the courage to tell people the truth.  In a word, it's about money.

I believe the NFL has a moral (and legal) responsibility to just tell fans the absolute bare minimum of public safety information.  They're well aware of this specific security disconnect --- 50,000 - 100,000 cell phones in every stadium capable of receiving real-time, false information.

So there are 2 distinct options here.  You either tell fans the truth or you make a calculated decision to remain silent and deliberately conceal it.  Right now, they're choosing the latter.  Hardly a surprise.  Obviously, this issue extends beyond the NFL.  The U.S. government and private industry have the same responsibility but nobody's allowed to openly discuss the problem.

This strikes me as an obvious cyber-security threat and serious national security issue.  Because if someone had malicious intent, it's reasonable to assume they wouldn't target just one individual stadium, but rather the Sunday 1 o'clock slate of games which normally has 7-10 simultaneous games and stadiums in play.  

Again, there are 2 very distinct choices.  You can do something about it.  In this case, acknowledge the problem and explicitly divulge the truth.  Or you do nothing, maintain the status quo and just hope that something like this never occurs, or at the very least, is attempted.  

Here's my card.  Any questions, gimme a ring.

So that was pretty much the extent of my pitch.  If they required a deeper explanation, I'd engage them further and go into the exhaustive specifics. 

Alright, enough with the stampede crap.  Here we go.

I did a few interviews, here and there, one of which I was told aired on C-Span.  I'm a little suspicious that my concerns were raised on national television.  I'll believe it when I see it.  Also did a few documentary requests, interviews and facebook live stuff.  Did a little "sign sabotage" as well.  Sneaked it into a few local broadcasts.  More importantly, I handed out a ton of cards to some pretty high profile characters --- politicians, reporters and delegates.

The vast majority of people who watched the conventions saw them on live television.  They were broadcast from inside a very restrictive, hermetically sealed environment.  But most observers have no idea about the prevailing atmosphere on the outside, in the city streets.  So that's what I'll mostly focus on.

For the RNC, I made the decision to drive up to Cleveland and back each day.  It was the only plausible option, as Gigi was stationed in Westlake, OH for the duration.  She was inside Quicken Loans Arena for all 4 days/nights.  Hey, someone had to feed the cats and water the plants.  No big deal.  I ended up staying the final night.  2 hours 15 minutes both ways.  Like I said, not a big deal.  Just kind of a pain. 

When I first got to downtown Cleveland, I found a parking lot on the outskirts about 8 blocks away.  I liked the proximity to the 77S exit.  $20 per day was a bit steep, but unusual circumstances call for unusual measures.  Plus, at first, I was I tiny bit concerned about the possibility of looting and smashed windows.

The security perimeter (steel fencing) was a sight to behold.  It started about 4 blocks from the site in all directions.  The E. 9th exit for Quicken Loans/Progressive Field was closed.

I was a bit surprised that you could basically walk right up to the entrance of the venue.  Rows of police were literally everywhere but they were not obtrusive.  If trouble arose, they'd hastily form a protective, impenetrable wall.  I decided to set up "shop" at the intersection of the venue entrance and those attending the convention --- E. 4th and Prospect seemed like the place to be.  It would later be termed as the main "hotspot" for violent confrontations.

For the Cleveland RNC, I made two signs.

I quickly disposed of this one.  It required too much of an explanation, and in retrospect, seemed like a sarcastic joke.  Just not indicative of the serious nature of my prevailing concerns.

Instead, I'd end up using this one for the duration.    

As you might expect, this one garnered far more interest.  It's simply a more startling, provocative question.  It also seemed tailor suited for the crowd (people often indoctrinated with notions of freedom and the desire to bring our enemies to justice).

On the first day, I had an encounter with a fringe politician/activist named "Vermin Supreme."  Yep, that's me and him, the guy with boot on his head. 

Here's one of his more circulated videos. 

It was interesting to watch him in action.  He engaged an ultra born-again/Westboro Baptist Church knock-off/thee shall repent or burn-in-hell crusader.  The man was carrying a mammoth sign which listed a variety of sins.

A large crowd gathered and the bible thumper asked Vermin which sins he was guilty of.  Vermin was more than happy to respond.

"Well, let's see here.  I've stolen.  I've lied.  I've cheated.  I've fornicated.  I've masturbated.  I've taken the lord's name in vain.  Hmm, I'm never had an abortion.  I've never committed murder but there's a lot of people who think I should be committed."

This type of amusing banter went back and forth.  Some of the crowd was laughing to the point where a few were in tears.  I just smiled for most of it.  It was actually some tremendous, poly-street theater.  The conversation reached a climax when the Jesus freak demanded that Vermin "read his bible."

Vermin: "Well, I don't own a bible."

Godboy:  "You could borrow mine."

Vermin:  Hmmm, uh naw.  Whaddya say I just run circles around this giant pile of horseshit instead???"

And with that... he and his buddy started furiously running laps around a mammoth pile of horseshit.  Then, he abruptly finished his exercise routine and violently shook his head back and forth, causing the boot to sway up and down in a mesmerizing, almost hallucinogenic fashion.  He raised his cape and thrust his arm forward like a superhero combination of Captain America meets Mighty Mouse.   Think in terms of "here I come to save the day."

Funny stuff.  I ended up talking to him several times over the next couple weeks.  Just like me, Vermin decided to hit up Philly as well.  He actually showed some tepid interest in my cause, but was also, very easily distracted.  Great guy with a likely smidge of ADD.

I could have taken a ton of pictures with quasi-celebs, but I usually just settle for one or none.  In this case, Vermin got the nod.

There was an air of tension on the second day.  A Communist group put out on social media that they were going to burn a flag.  Naturally, some of the younger Trump fans/patriots (I call them Trumpiots) were not pleased with the prospect.  A few were embracing their open carry rights.  Sure enough, the shit went down.  Kinda surprised this one didn't get totally outta hand.  Lots of pushing and shoving.  Scuffles here and there with some VERY heated exchanges.  But the cops and firefighters quickly engulfed the area.  You may have seen a video on the news.  I heard they ended up making about 15 arrests.

The Black Lives Matter Crew were exceptionally loud, focused and well-coordinated.  They took their march to the main entrance of the arena as well.  Much to my chagrin, the leader of their group was white.  And he was very irate and agitated.  His followers reminded me of the Black Panthers.  Dressed in pseudo-military dissident gear.  This one also got a little heated but the cops formed walls.  They let it go for a good hour or so.

Ironically, it was the Code Pink anti-war women (many of which were on the elderly side) that really upset the cops.  They were all pleasant and engaging, but then a few of them whipped out some pink tennis balls and started tossing them around.  All of a sudden, the mood changed.  One of the commanders flashed me a look of instant ferocity and ventured into the fray.  I remember them hauling away 2 of the girls in cuffs.  But I don't think they arrested them.  Just a hunch.

You see, tennis balls are on the list of banned items outside the conventions.  But our government won't tell anyone why.  Hint: a hand grenade can be effectively designed to resemble a harmless tennis ball.  But nobody's allowed to talk about it.  Tennis anyone?

Sound familiar?  Hint: Maybe a cell phone could be used as a weapon (  Steelers game anyone?  I'll score us some freebies outside Gate A.

I won't bother with a list of the famous people I engaged.  However, I did have a chance encounter with the Transhumanist candidate for POTUS.  His name is Zoltan Istvan and he hails from San Francisco.  I'd had some previous email correspondence with him, trying to engage him with my cause.  While appreciative, he just didn't think it would be a good fit for his platform, possibly a distraction.

I totally disagree as he's the closest thing we have to a "technology candidate."  But that's that.

I caught his attention and introduced myself, "Zoltan, you already know me.  I'm the stampede guy."  He chuckled in disbelief.  "Oh yeah, the stampedes.  It's great to meet you."  We talked for a bit and agreed that we'd likely see each other in Philly.  And of course, we did.  Just for the record, Zoltan is currently running 5th.  Less than 1%... behind 4th place Jill Stein (G) who's also in the 1% range. 

Let there be no mistake.  The RNC was an absolute circus.  There was next-to-zero ethnic minority representation inside the convention, but the streets outside were literally teeming with black salesman.  Mostly selling foam souvenirs, pins and incredibly obnoxious t-shirts.  The content on the shirts even shifted to reflect real-world Republican conditions.  The big seller went from this...

and this...

to this...

TED CRUZ SUCKS (on the front)
HILLARY SWALLOWS (on the back)

Much to my surprise, I couldn't find a picture on the internet.  But  the man selling them had a sizable stack.  It made me wonder what past Republican conventions probably looked like.  I imagine they were Nancy Reagan styled, country club affairs.  Lavish opulence.  The big money, the elegance, the behind-the-scenes cigar-chomping power brokers.  I seriously doubt the politicians of yester-year (the Bob Dole's, the Newt Gingrich's, the Mitt Romeny's)  are on board the Trump Train.  In all honesty, I think they'd find it both confusing and terrifying.  These Trumpiots just don't resemble the Republican party I grew up with.  Long gone are the days of the respectful, grandmotherly Barbara Bush.  Now there's a different rallying cry...  a young pale, ginger kid with bad acne yelling "DONALD MOTHER FUCKIN' TRUMP!!!"  While the guy next to him wears a goofy, ill-fitting ball cap, and smugly holds a sign that reads "MAKE THE BROWNS GREAT AGAIN."

On the final day, I zipped to the hotel and caught the majority of Trump's speech.  To be honest, I thought he outperformed.  A little sparse on details, but his tone, tenor and delivery were pretty spot-on.

I must admit.  I went into Cleveland with the expectation of violence.  Maybe not bullets or bombs, but at the very least, I thought there was going to be some looting, smashed cars, vandalism.  Tear gas and vehicles equipped with water cannons and sound dispersal weapons.  I vaguely remember telling Gigi that "I think we'll be fine, but some people are definitely going to die.  There will be numerous injuries.  This is going to be bad."  Turns out, I was wrong.  That's what happens when you make bold predictions.  Hint: dominipede.

So onto Philly...

And that means one thing.  The dreaded turnpike via Pittsburgh.  $35 both ways.  Cleveland each day was $5.00 up and $7.00 back.  What. A. Racket.  I've been spoiled by all those years on I-70.

I had to drive separately.  No worries though.  I honestly enjoy the Northeastern version of Alabama.  Great stops along the way, as well!  Translation: Exxon, Starbucks, Pizza Hut (by the slice), McDonalds and the occasional Roy Rogers (how on earth has this franchise survived?).  I would think that Kenny Rogers Roasters is a more viable business.

Mess you up!

They probably have a superior marketing strategy as well.

Our Holiday Inn was in the pleasant Philly suburb of Lansdale/Kulpsville.  About 30 minutes north of the Wells Fargo Center.  Nice place.  We shared it with the entire North Carolina delegation.

Eager to get started.  I sped down 476S to I 95N.  Some minor traffic by the airport.  No big deal.  But the weather was a little on the oppressive side.  Very humid and in the 100's.  I entered the fray with my sign.  This one was admittedly more pointed and direct.

Yeah, I'd say that this one was a little less nuanced.

The Bernie Sanders supporters, and those commiserating with his failed candidacy, were out in full force.  They set up shop by the main entrance and screamed at the delegates as they flooded in from the train station.  They also heckled the buses, but the degree of interaction was virtually nonexistent.  It would be the equivalent of me shouting at a departing airplane from Pittsburgh International... from inside the terminal.

Some of them were really pissed off.  Hillary's a war monger!  Lock her up!  Hillary stole the primary!  Like I was saying, the Bernie diehards were fuming.

One younger girl, probably her early 20's, insisted on violently shaking the steel barrier.  The cops tried to get her to to calm down.  But she kept screaming, "Fuck you, I want Bernie!"  After repeated attempts to pacify her, the cop basically had no choice but to arrest her.  As they took her away, a man nearby said, "They'll just cuff her, fine her $50 for disorderly conduct and release her.  She's not going to see the inside of a jail cell."  Apparently, that was the typical protocol in Philly.  In retrospect, I think her main objective was to be able to go back to her sorority and tell her friends, "Yeah, I got arrested at the Democratic National Convention."  Someday, I'm sure she'll regale her grandchildren with tales of her futile heroics. 

An older male protestors was sitting on a curb.  He kind of looked like an overweight version of a haggard Andy Kaufman.

He would scream errant obscenities about Hillary.  Then, he'd methodically lean over and smoke his pipe filled with marijuana.  I thought it was odd how he didn't seem to care about the police standing right next to him.  Needless to say, he was probably a more accurate representation of an old-school, Philly activist.  Maybe New York or New Jersey.  He just didn't give a shit.  He had a large towel and would occasionally wipe off the profuse sweat from his entire head, neck and face.

Jill Stein spoke to a faithful crowd of admirers in Franklin D. Roosevelt park.  I ran into a few of my displaced Pittsburgh news buddies who now work in Philly.  They seemed surprised.  Not by the fact that I was there, complaining about stampedes.  They were just surprised that we stumbled into each other.

Eventually, the storms kicked in around 7pm.  It was an absolute, prolonged torrential downpour.  Thunder, lightning, the works.  I covered up my sign and headed for the car.   The ramp I needed was closed so I briefly ended up in Jersey and then hooked up with 76W.  76 East was at a complete standstill for about 10 miles.  I assumed there must have been a really bad accident with multiple fatalities.  I watched in amazement as people were sitting on the hoods of their cars, wandering around on the opposite side of the highway.  Almost like a cocktail party without the drinks.  Turns out a low lying area of 76 was completely flooded.  I watched it on the news later that night.  They showed a bus and a few cars completely submerged, bobbing around.  Remember, this wasn't some back road.  This was right out of downtown.  Crazy.  Happy hour in Philly I suppose.  Disgruntled and discordant.  Disenchanted and Disgusted.  Reminds me of my ex-neighbor Bill Adel.

As day #2 rolled around, the cops and arena security had taken a more no-nonsense approach.  They stationed these long, protective lines near the subway.  Now it was virtually impossible to engage even the tiniest fraction of delegates. 

Most of the action was in the park.  I roamed around distributing my propaganda as they did the roll call vote over the loudspeakers.  The crowd was still relatively enthusiastic but you could see a marked difference between the first day.  I think the heat and the sequestration had taken a toll.

On day #3, I parked down by the arena and decided to take the subway to City Hall.  There were some ridiculously loud speakers across the street.  Most of it seemed centered around Black Lives Matter movement and the current police-state.   I'd have to say the general reaction to me was mixed.  I mean, you gotta realize that I'm walking around downtown Philadelphia with a sign that reads "Asymmetric Cyber-Security Threat."  This ain't the pro-lifers with their late-term aborted fetus pics.  Yeah... and I'm the weirdo freak?  Still, I'd say most reacted positively or were completely indifferent.

I ventured back down to the Wells Fargo Center.  The cops had set up a knew sub-ground, perimeter barrier and funneled anyone with credentials straight into the cordoned off area.  You couldn't even hang out on the platform and distribute information.  By then, it was around 5pm.  I headed back over to the park and the protests had really died down.

I hung out for a couple more hours and engaged a few people, here and there.  A young guy saw my sign and came running over, "Oh man, I've heard about you!  You're the stampede guy!  This is totally insane.  I really need to hear what you have to say.  Will you tell me about it?"  So I gave him my pitch for a bit.  I know this sounds fucked up, but I don't get many listeners who are authentically "starstruck."  For a brief moment, I felt like Weird Al on Dr. Demento.

Shortly thereafter, I left for the hotel and watched the Day 3 speeches.  Obama (clever), Biden (strong), Leon Panetta (curious), Harry Reid (yawn) and the rest of 'em.

Later that night, I told Gigi that I was going to skip out on the final day.  Get a head start back and go see the cats.  There simply just wasn't anything left for me to do.

And that was the biggest difference between the conventions.  Let me lay it on the line.

The RNC in Cleveland might have been a plagiarized circus, featuring a non-supportive Ted Cruz and these glowing offspring testimonials.  With an abundance of right-wing nutjobs and religious zealots.  Not to mention the Bikers for Trump gun-toting fanatics.  But I'll tell you one thing straight-up.  If you really want to live in a future democracy, the DNC was a complete and utter joke.  Trump might want to build a wall... but it was the Democrats who actually built the walls, or at the very least, erected them until they were no longer "necessary."

But do I have any regrets?  Uh, hell no!

Would I do it all over again?  Uh, hell yeah!

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