The Show Must Go On

From the Xcel Energy Center to the riot zone, we're covering the RNC

The Republicans may have canceled most of their convention activities Monday due to Hurricane Gustav, but protesters didn't get the message. Bearded men in tie-dyed shirts walked around with college kids rocking Che Guevara signs. Toward the back of the Capitol grounds, a St. Paul police officer stood with about 15 other officers on bikes. Clad in Reno 911 shorts, he surveyed the Capitol lawn. "We've got plenty of police," he said. "National cops from across the nation are here this week."

The anatomy of this protest march was strange. Below a melting ice sculpture that read "Democracy" was a makeshift dance party led by a guy who had mounted a boom box onto a wagon. The gathering had the feel of Thriller meets Hamas.

Then the dude with the wagon decided it was time to protest—an hour before the start of the scheduled march. Several hundred people followed him, along with several hundred more photojournalists. The group walked against the one-way streets of St. Paul, blockading traffic. A few drivers—the smart ones—flashed peace signs.

Soon the action started to heat up. Bandana-faced protesters slid goggles over their eyes. Ahead of the group a large number of riot cops formed a wall, diverting the anarchists onto Seventh Street. The mounted police rode in. When dancers got a little too close to the police, they got faces full of pepper spray.

Protester-medics ran in to help, dumping vinegar into the eyes of those hit. Many shook with pain and fell to their knees. "My fucking skin is burning off," one protester moaned. Over at Central Presbyterian Church, parishioners stood outside with garden hoses and buckets of water, gladly washing down pepper-spray victims.

Meanwhile, other groups of masked protesters descended on St. Paul. There were reports of broken cop car windows, slashed SUV tires, and attacks on downtown businesses. Police cordoned off a section of downtown and wouldn't let anybody out.

One masked protester wearing black camper shoes stood at the back of the pack and looked around. "I'm not sure where the rest of my friends are," he said. "These folks we're walking with right now are just here to have fun...that's not really what we're here to do." With that he adjusted his black kerchief and disappeared into the fray.

The protests were met with a staggering amount of force: riot cops, National Guard, secret service, Ramsey County police, and others. Approximately 284 people were arrested Monday, with 163 booked at the Ramsey County Jail. A press statement given by the RNC Welcoming Committee read, "In spite of the arrests of our friends, we are excited by the fact that the number of people willing to take to the streets and express their dissent is growing." They plan other protests throughout the week. Bradley Campbell

Color-Coordinated Cowboys

Khaki cowboy hats, denim shirts, and boots crowded the lobby at the Crown Plaza hotel Monday as members of the Republican Party's Texas delegation found themselves all dressed up with no place to go.

"It seems like there are more media here than delegates," said alternate delegate Stephen Thompson, from Del Rio. Thompson was especially peeved that prior to entering the Xcel, he had to get rid of his fanny pack, finish his granola bar, and dump his can of Coca-Cola.

The 400 to 500 Texans in St. Paul plan to dress alike every day of the week. "We are pre-coordinated right down to the slacks," said Larry Jones of McKinny, Texas. He assured us that throughout the week we could find Texans in red polos with the Lone Star on the shoulder, delegation neckties and scarves, and Texas flag shirts.

Joshua Kemps, a 22-year-old Texas delegate, wore a stuffed elephant on top of his cowboy hat. He purchased the accessory online for $25 just for the convention. "This way I can show both sides of my nature—my Republican side and my Texas side—all at once," he said.

The cowboy hats are not just a symbol of Texas, though—they serve a practical purpose: to protect the wearers from the sun. "There will be no red necks here this week," said Thompson. —Beth Walton and Erin Carlyle

Delayed Gratification

When asked, most delegates we spoke with on the convention floor Monday said they fully understood and respected John McCain's decision to suspend nonessential convention activities. But not Jack Wolfe. The white-bearded immigration absolutist from McAllen, Texas, calls them as he sees them, and he thinks Republicans are becoming too "touchy-feely, like the Democrats."

"Hurricanes come every year. They're going to come every year until I die," he said. "If we stopped everything every time one came along, we'd never get anything done."

We also caught up with Reza Goharzad, a correspondent for Radio Iran, an anti-regime station based in Los Angeles. He saw the revised schedule for the first day of the convention in more strategic terms.

"Look around," he said. "Ninety-five percent of the delegates are here. The convention isn't being suspended. The only people missing are Bush and Cheney and Condoleezza Rice. They have to act like they are busy monitoring the situation."

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