The prospect of the Republican National Convention coming to my hometown has filled me with both excitement and dread for quite a few months.
Nobody really expected the RNC to be as big or as electrifying as its Democratic counterpart in Denver last week, when 84,000 people showed up to hear Barack Obama's acceptance speech. (Indeed, the RNC seems to be reveling in the boring and mundane: As I write this, the top link on the official RNC website is all about the differences between the size of the podiums at the DNC and RNC, and why the RNC's choice to go with smaller podiums is a humbler, and apparently more American choice of podium.)
But everything changed late last week when it became increasingly obvious that Hurricane Gustav was on a direct course for Louisiana, and was scheduled to hit on the first day of the Republican convention—as things are turning out, Gustav might be the first hurricane ever to strike St. Paul and New Orleans simultaneously. During a week that's all about pumping up enthusiasm for their party, their platform, and their presidential candidate, the last thing the GOP wanted to deal with was a natural disaster that looked almost exactly like the one they so completely botched the response to three years ago.
As I write this on Sunday night, Gustav still hasn't made landfall and could conceivably change direction and not hit Louisiana at all. This time around, though, nobody's taking any chances, and the city has already been evacuated. The RNC in St. Paul will also be affected, possibly quite drastically—there might not even really be a convention anymore. Most of Monday's schedule has been cancelled, Bush and Cheney are no longer visiting the convention in person, and there's even talk of turning the entire convention into a telethon to raise money for hurricane relief, and for John McCain to give his acceptance speech on Thursday not in St. Paul, but Louisiana. (That strikes me as a particularly dumb move politically, and I'd be surprised if he went through with it; he might as well just start his speech with "Hi, I'm John McCain, speaking to you directly from the wreckage of the last eight years of the Bush administration.") These next four days have suddenly undergone a huge change: I'd prepared myself for a highly scripted scene inside the Xcel Energy Center and a series of mostly anti-GOP events outside (ranging from concerts by Rage Against The Machine and Billy Bragg to counter-conventions by Ron Paul and Ralph Nader)–but instead, the RNC schedule is now, apparently, completely up in the air. This could get interesting.
Like Jason Heller did with his DNC coverage, I don't plan on doing much political reporting, sticking instead mainly to wandering the streets and checking out the entertainment side of things. To that end, I headed down to Loring Park in Minneapolis on Sunday for the tail end of the Liberty Parade. (Don't hate me, but I chose to skip entirely the private Sammy Hagar show at First Avenue.) I missed the early part of the festival, which included a parade down Nicollet Mall in downtown to the park, where bands played until dusk. I caught just the last two bands, Building Better Bombs (a hardcore punk quartet featuring P.O.S., best known as a rapper in Doomtree), and Dillinger 4. (Retribution Gospel Choir, a side project of Low's Alan Sparhawk, was scheduled to play but cancelled.) BBB were fine, but D4 was by far the more entertaining of the two, thanks to their eminently quotable bass player, Paddy Costello, who joked that covert GOP operatives were lurking in the park ("You Republicans playing basketball over there, I'm on to you"), messing with the sound system ("Republicans are fucking around with my midrange so I can't rock!"), and causing the windy conditions screwing up drummer Lane Pederson's ability to toss a drumstick in the air and catch it. ("Republicans are screwing with our wind! Well, we don't give a shit about your Republican wind machine.") He's also a bartender at the Triple Rock Social Club, a great local music venue co-owned by D4 guitarist Erik Funk, and dryly noted that "I'd like to thank the Republicans who tipped me yesterday. Both of them."
That was about as politically heated as things got, though toward the end of D4's set some guy briefly wandered up to the back of the stage, yelled something about how we all needed to get ready for a revolution, and was greeted by a crowd full of blank stares. Though there were the requisite booths on the fringes of the stage with environmental literature and things like that, the Liberty Parade was meant to be mainly a neutral festival—one of the organizers described the idea behind it as "let's do something that's going to be positive, because later there's going to be a lot of hate and a lot of bullshit." By the time I got there, there were only two pieces of partisan political signage anywhere near the stage—a rather incongruous Ron Paul sign to the left of the sound booth, and a cantankerously anti-Ron Paul sign to the right.
Next up: 50,000 people converge on the Capitol Building for the official protest march on the RNC, while nearby on Harriet Island, Billy Bragg, Atmosphere, and Mos Def headline the Take Back Labor Day concert. I'll try to get to both.