Photo: Okla Elliott

I arrived at the Cleveland Amtrak station at 3:00am. It was darkened to the point of seeming abandoned; two cops stood by the entrance smoking cigarettes and eyeing everyone who came in or out with weary suspicion — though at that hour, this meant only me and maybe three or four others.

Cleveland was deathly quiet, a calm between two storms, yet the tension and tiredness emanating from the two police officers as I walked by them was unsettling. I felt sorry for them, for the unending task this week has already been and will continue to be in their lives. I also worried what that tension and tiredness might lead to as the week ground on.

But I’ve gotten head of myself. Aside from the obvious, why was I in Cleveland to cover and comment on the RNC convention? Robert MacCready called me on my birthday and after a few perfunctory seconds of well-wishing, he immediately launched into a scheme he said was perfect for us, something we absolutely had to do.

“You live near Philadelphia, right?”

“Yeah.”

“Let’s cover the DNC convention,” he said, not really a suggestion so much as a revelation of unalloyed necessity, “and the RNC.”

We decided to do our best Hunter S. Thompson and Norman Mailer impressions and do both the RNC and DNC conventions; a few weeks of frantic calling and emailing protest organizations, political candidates, and public officials ensued.

So it begins…

Robert picked me up at the station in a cherry red rental car and we went back to his makeshift headquarters. We reviewed footage arrived and discussed angles of entry for the stories we wanted to bring out all this mayhem.

Robert was right when he said, “We have to do this.”

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Photo: Okla Elliott

That afternoon Robert went directly into a maelstrom. There was a 500 strong march of the New Revolutionary Communist Party stomping down Euclid. Even with the massive protest crowd they were outnumbered 2 to 1 by the media, and close to 3 to 1 by the police. I’ve never seen so many cops. The protester chants were vicious:

“Burn this system to the ground.”

“America was never great.”

Protesters were calling the police ‘pigs’ through bullhorns. As the crowd rounded a corner they came to a stop and announced that the following afternoon they would burn an American flag. The police formed a wall, blocking them from Euclid. Suddenly another loudspeaker broke in from the distance, behind the blue wall. It was patriotic marching band music.

“TRUMP! TRUMP! TRUMP!”

Around 50 pro-Trump people had decided to crash, protesting the protest. Shouting ensued on both sides of the officer barricade. A couple of the officers finally had had enough. One shouted at the Communists:

“Just get the fuck out of here!”

It looked like the fragile balance was about slip. Robert said that it felt like the beginning of a riot, but in a sea of cameras and teenagers live streaming their coverage into their iPads, narrating the scene in real time. This is modern chaos. Then, all at once, the hellish momentum faded. The Communists slowly walked away, still intermittently shouting at the police. They were on their way to another rally.

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Photo: Robert MacCready

Here are some of the other facts I gathered in my first few hours:

  1. The only arrests on day-one were for nonviolent offenses.
  2. The Bikers for Trump group had asked for a demonstration permit to accommodate tens of thousands, yet only approximately 1000 showed up, showing either a lack of support or courage on their part.
  3. Vermin Supreme was on the scene, offering Dadaist campaign promises such as a pony for every American, but an identification pony you would have to have with you everywhere to identify yourself as an American citizen.

Robert has downloaded a police scanner app. The RNC channel still has constant chatter. I fall asleep listening to it as I anxiously anticipate my first full day at the RNC.