Most protests are pretty predictable and offer little to no excitement beyond a bunch of people chanting slogans. The anti-War March on the Capitol the final day of the Republican National Convention buzzed with energy and tension, because the previous, smaller actions throughout the week had been met with an intense police response. Though the first protest went further into anarchy, with the protester who smashed windows at Macy’s being met with tear gas and rubber bullets, the others were relatively small and peaceful.
This didn’t stop downtown St. Paul from turning into a police state. On nearly every corner you could see clusters of military, police officers, and members of the National Guard surveying their surroundings. When an action was planned, like the one on Wednesday, and again on Thursday, the police responded with a show of force that some would call a bit heavy-handed. Officers stood in long lines with face masks, body armor, and plastic cuffs at the ready.
Their opponents? The usual scrappy college kid with green hair, striped leggings, and a blase demeanor. On the stage at the Capitol Thursday, the organizers shouted the perfunctory lefty call to armsâ€”we heard a “Free Palestine!” and urged their followers to be strong; the organizers didn’t get their permit, so their original plan to march to the Xcel Center before John McCain’s acceptance speech was derailed.
The throng walked speedily over John Ireland and were blocked on a bridge overlooking the freeway. Police surrounded the protesters in the front and in the back, boxing them in. Initially, the front row of officers holding back the ground were on horses; behind them stood a line of the masked crusaders. The media surrounded the protesters, who were sitting down, and people stood along the sides to try and get a glimpse of the action, their backs hanging over the bridge. Whoever thought to make this the stopping point was a real genius.
The horses neighed and a few bucked up; there was a moment when the tension between the officers and the protesters reached a shrill point. At the Capitol an officer yelled menacingly to a woman who was taking a photo to get off the sidewalk. As protesters passed by the lines of police, a few gave the finger; others threw a peace sign, instead. It felt like either side was ready to pick a fight. After a few minutes, it became clear that the action would be relegated to some protesting cyclists riding around in circles near the back as they taunted the bicycle cops. “Hey bicycle cops! Join the party! Come out and play!” Later, it turned out, one side blinked, and the protesters were arrested.