Among the Protesters

Daily Convention Coverage


On Monday, the scene at Los Angeles's Pershing Square, the central meeting point for protesters at the Democratic National Convention, embodies the bumper sticker slogan, "Celebrate Diversity." It's a cacophony of signs, slogans, sounds, and pet issues. I can see why these kids are confused about just what they are in the streets for.

"It's such a wasted life. God didn't create you to make yourself to be something. We are nothing apart from Jesus Christ," Sarah War told me as I entered the northeast corner of the square. She believes that the protesters are "seekers" who are chasing after empty goals. "Everyone tries to pick up on a cause to give them meaning because their hearts are empty because of sin." Sarah has spent her entire life traveling by bus with mom, dad, two sisters, and three brothers, spreading the word of Jesus. So what about the concerns more regularly voiced by her fellow protesters? "That's their opinions," she replied as her mom relocated to another corner. "I'm not here to discuss opinions on this or that. I'm here to tell you about what God revealed in the scriptures as the only way to salvation."

In the center of the square I run into a deep conversation on pure revolutionary thought. "We feel that Trotsky better represents the continuity of Marx," says a white guy who, despite a clean-cut appearance, reeked of body odor and worse. He is lecturing a young black man with a red bandanna on his brow. The black man responds with something to the effect that he is a Leninist who likes Mao. Altogether, he seems less interested in the purity of thought and theory than does the reeking guy. They eventually agree it's all about the "proletariat," a word the Leninist/Maoist was particularly fond of.

Speaking of Marxism, the award for the least effective sloganeering must go to a middle-age man whose placard proclaimed, "Capitalist Exchange Value Must Not Replace Collective Use Value." It's as if he was getting paid by the word–or trying to fill pages for a term paper. It also violates the great rule of protest slogans—that you should be for something and not against something. That was a lesson first taught in America by the anti-federalists, whose negative stance against the U.S. Constitution went nowhere fast. There's a reason why the two sides in the abortion debate call themselves pro-life and pro-choice

The most unintentionally ironic award goes to the Association of Northwest Anarchists. A fellow holding one pole of this two-person sign assured me that there were no contradictions in an association of non-hierarchical organizations. He was standing next to a group of anarchists dressed in Spock costumes. "Hierarchy is illogical/Freedom is Rational/The Revolution Must Be Vulcanized," read their banner. One Spock among many explained their get up to me thusly: It's the symbolism of the future to explain the logic of anarchism, he told me.

I would later conduct an interview while marching with two people who want to shut down the AIDS industry. "We are part of a growing movement that challenges AIDS theory," said Rodney Knoll, who handed me his Act Up! Hollywood card. He says the anti-AIDS drugs are worthless and HIV tests are meaningless. He's certain he's on to something since the scientific establishment won't even debate him. The Flat Earth people were in the majority once too, he tells me. He could be right. Check out www.virusmyth.com and decide for yourself.

My favorite conversation was with a 32-year old entertainment industry hack who refused to give his name. "I work in the entertainment industry selling lies to the rest of the world," he said. "It sucks."

That's not to say he didn't have a purpose: "I'm here to exploit all these people for my selfish reasons, to try to take pictures of them getting beaten up by cops without my getting beaten up. Then I can turn around and sell them as my art. My creativity will come from their suffering for causes they believe in," he told me with ironic detachment, his silver-framed sunglasses blending stylishly with his short frosted hair

"That's the American Way," he continued. "I have MTV, all the sex I want, all the alcohol I want. I can go to the beach. I can climb a tree. What more do you want?"

He agreed with the Christian Sarah War that the protesters are seekers. "It's easy to point fingers. But where it starts is right here in the heart, in the soul," he said, gesturing to his chest. "And most of these people haven't begun to look at themselves, and their hearts, and what they do on a daily basis, the way they treat each other."

But there's nothing wrong with making a little money. "Money is a good thing to have," he opined. "You can help out poor people with it. Poor people can't help anybody. They can't even help themselves."