Quiet Riot

The lame protests of the Democratic Convention.

BOSTON—Everywhere I go today, camera crews and reporters are swarming the sorts of people you might call “characters.” On Boston Common, three guys and a cameraman are interviewing an old man with a dozen buttons on his sweater who’s elaborately quoting Bob Marley at them. It occurs to me that every lawyer and investment banker in Massachusetts probably just took the week off to dress up like a “character” and loiter in parks, waiting to be interviewed by morons like me.

The force is with them
The force is with them

A policeman outside Faneuil Hall tells me gleefully that they are rioting outside the FleetCenter. By the time I arrive at Canal Street at 4 p.m., I’m too late to see the guys who were burning John Kerry in effigy. I am not too late to see row upon row of riot police, in helmets and shields, blocking the entrance to the FleetCenter. I count about 150 of them, glowering like Imperial Stormtroopers. The street is still clogged with war protesters, IMF protesters, and people protesting the conditions under which the protestors are being forced to protest.

“The Constitution gives us absolute freedom to speak and assemble,” shouts a woman. “Not to assemble under barbed wire.” Everyone is either very young and pierced, or the woman-with-long-gray-hair you’d see at Fresh Fields. Everyone else is filming, photographing, or telephoning images home to their loved ones. No one can decide if something has just happened or is about to happen, so there’s lots of craning and peering. The protesters line up nose-to-nose with the riot cops. I’m disappointed to have missed all the action, until the police pull out their clubs in one graceful movement. Then I’m disappointed that I am about to be maimed over a riot that ended an hour before I arrived.

The man who’s leading the protestors is goading the riot cops. He’s got a long gray beard and he reassures the mostly young kids around him: “Whenever I feel intimidated by a row of riot cops, I just picture all of them naked.” Nobody laughs. The protesters decide to turn around and march back the way they came. “Bye bye, coppers!” crows Graybeard. The kids look embarrassed.

Chris Eggers is standing next to me, snapping photos. A postal worker, Eggers tells me he was there when the protesters—dressed up as pirates—dragged out the Kerry effigy, torched it, then draped an American flag over the whole thing for good measure. The pirates were arrested promptly, he tells me. The riot cops came later. “My first effigy,” crows Eggers.

It’s taken a day, but people are starting to admit that Edwards may not have knocked it out of the park yesterday, despite the fawning headlines from this morning. With some embarrassment, we begin to confess to one another that he just didn’t do it for us. Last night, Edwards was like someone John Kerry had just rescued from Dawson’s Creek. Gorgeous and eloquent and can segue from joy to pain in 60 seconds. But I simply didn’t buy it last night, much as I wanted to.

Neither, apparently, do the kids on Canal Street.