Shane Brown squeezed through a gap between sections of a steel security fence 9 feet high, picked his way across a vacant lot infested with fire ants and climbed atop a rickety wooden platform. He stepped up and spoke into the microphone:
"God is a good, good God."
His words were amplified over a hardscrabble patch of earth wedged against a highway the locals call the inner loop. White plastic trash bins stood sentry against litter, but there was no one there to fill them.
Brown, the first speaker to take the platform Wednesday at the official "free speech zone" of the Democratic National Convention, had an audience of just three—two city workers and a reporter. It was shortly before 3 p.m., and the place had been deserted since it opened five hours earlier.