There was plenty of hype leading up to the Convention about the potential for big protests. Recreate 68 planned some serious, mischievous action, as did DNC Disruption 08 and other groups. As of Wednesday evening, most of that had fizzled. Protests were generally small and -- except for one that snaked down the 16th Street Mall -- followed the designated parade routes (meaning they were largely out of the public eye). In some cases,
By day three of the Convention, the media had done their part to drum up drama around the Convention. After Hillary came out in strong support of Obama, the talking heads indicated that Bill Clinton was "having a more difficult time coming around to that position." That was enough to give television viewers the hint: Better watch Clinton's speech, because he might say some wild and crazy things! Of course he didn't. The biggest surprise inside the Pepsi Center was N.M. Gov. Bill Richardson's speech getting moved from the already prominent position on Wednesday, to center stage on Thursday (Colo. Gov Bill Ritter will also speak before Obama).
Outside, things were more interesting.
At around 4 p.m., the riot police started gathering around the entrance to the Pepsi Center. Sirens echoed through the concrete canyons. Tension gathered. A journalist asked a cop, what's all the fuss? Four-thousand protesters, he answered (friendly-like, despite the not-so-friendly attire), fired up by the Rage Against the Machine Concert, were making their way toward the Convention.
Yikes. Journalists who were late to get inside the hall for the speeches reconsidered their agenda. One -- a super earnest college student from New York who had flown himself to Denver to cover the event for his campus rag -- decided to wait for the action. A Reuters guy lingered on the sidewalk, too.
After a long and hot wait, the protesters finally made their way between the skyscrapers. They filled the streets from sidewalk to sidewalk for a full three blocks. Some said there were 2,000, others 9,000. At this point, most of the media hadn't caught on (some protesters thanked this reporter as he wandered through the march, taking pictures). They were led by a few dozen members of the Iraq Veterans Against the War, some in ceremonial dress, others in fatigues.
Despite the big numbers, the energy, and the chants, the bystander quickly realized something: These guys were remarkably well-behaved for anarchists. The vets were out in front, surrounded by handlers in black t-shirts and sporting megaphones who kept the media and other protesters at bay. They also hurried the protesters along, kept them in the street and off the sidewalk, and made sure, when possible, that they didn't walk in the grass. And they kept all 6,000 protesters (and the gathering media hoard), abreast of what was going on, up front, with the vets.
What was going on was that Jeff Key, a tall, guy from California who had served in Iraq and who had the sort of clean-cut but chiseled and serious good looks that make for good television, was trying to get a message into the Pepsi Center: He wanted to meet with one of Obama's staffers, and hoped to get a letter read on the Convention floor. Meanwhile, the crowd grew. More cops arrived, with even more artillery. They put on their gas masks. They unveiled huge, black, armored machines. They used scissor-lifts to lift them above the crowd.
Images of hundreds of riot police clubbing uniformed vets filled peoples' minds. A potential PR disaster for the Democrats loomed, and the media caught a whiff of it. More cameras appeared.
Finally, a couple of members of Obama's team came out and spoke to Key and Liam Madden, another veteran. Madden eventually was taken into the Pepsi Center to negotiate. It's still not known what the Obama campaign will do with the letter (which asks for immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq, better veteran benefits, and reparations for the Iraqi people). But the protesters cheered, the crowd dissipated, and the cops went on to deal with other security threats.
Images from the protest: