Originally published in The Metropolitan. Sept. 4, 2008. The Metropolitan covered the Democratic National Convention. Never before had the staff of the college newspaper attempted such a feat. Following the convention, the paper published a special section highlighting each of the days’ events.
Spectators awoke wondering, “was that it?” The demonstrations from the day prior had left more to be desired by any news junkie or violent anarchist.
The throngs of protesters promised to Denver had not arrived on time, if at all. At best, the most Denver had seen on the eve of the convention was a meager 500. Glenn Spagnuolo, one of the masterminds behind Recreate ’68, had said he was happy with the Sunday march. His goal for the week is to minimize violence and arrests, he said. “A lot of people are hoping for violence. They’re going to be disappointed,” he warned.
The first surprise of the day wasn’t on anyone’s schedule. The Democratic Party’s presumptive nominee for vice president, Sen. Joe Biden, landed in downtown Denver at a hot dog stand outside of the Tabor Center.
Meanwhile, a march by supporters of Leonard Peltier and Mumia Abu-Jamal made its way from Civic Center Park to the Araj Federal Courthouse. Peltier and Abu-Jamal are two prisoners turned cultural icons regarding unfair imprisonment.
A dozen protesters wearing orange jumpsuits and hoods, similar to those worn by the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, led hundreds of others down the 16th Street Mall.
Beast and the Beauty
Sen. Ted Kennedy — in his second public appearance since being diagnosed with a brain tumor — addressed the convention, shocking all in attendance.
Rumors of a possible Kennedy address had been swirling all day since he touched down in Denver, but went unconfirmed until he stepped on stage.
The senator pledged that the time had come for all Americans to have health care, and under the leadership of Sen. Barack Obama, the dream could finally be a reality.
“This is the cause of my life,” Kennedy said. “New hope that we will break the old gridlock and guarantee that every American — north, south, east and west, young, old — will have decent health care as a fundamental right and not a privilege.”
Michelle Obama, wife of Barack Obama, also spoke Monday night. She stumbled at first during her speech, looking slightly uncomfortable speaking in front of her largest audience yet on the campaign trail. But midway through, she found a rhythmic pace and began to speak and look like a very strong potential first lady.
Michelle Obama had two goals for her speech: the first to clear up any questions about her patriotism that had been in question by the GOP; the second to cast her husband and family as All-Americans.
“Barack doesn’t care where you’re from, or what your background is, or what party — if any — you belong to. That’s not how he sees the world,” she said. “He knows that thread that connects us — our belief in America’s promise, our commitment to our children’s future — is strong enough to hold us together as one nation even when we disagree.”
While the Pepsi Center was full of pomp and circumstance, Civic Center Park was filling up with protesters and tear gas.
According to multiple sources, Unconventional Denver was planning another unpermitted march through downtown. One source told The Metropolitan in addition to marching, vandalism and aggressive rioting would occur at fundraisers and at business offices. And at approximately 6:30 p.m., the police blocked the route and pepper-sprayed protesters.
Amanda Hubbard was one of them. She was standing on Bannock Street preparing to march. “Everyone had his or her own reason for being there. Once I got sprayed, I was blind,” she said. “I grabbed the arm of the first person next to me and I told her not to let go.”
Mass panic spread through the park. That’s when other protesters made a mad dash toward 15th Street.
However, when the group of 300 reached Court Place, they were surrounded at each intersection by police.
A standoff between the protesters and cops lasted about an hour. Hundreds of onlookers surrounded the perimeter to take photos and gawk. Other protesters, who were not being detained, mocked the police standing guard.
“Speech is free! Let them be!” the crowd chanted. Anxious protesters not corralled were wearing bandanas over their noses. The air was filled with a mixture of sweat and apple vinegar. Apple vinegar helps decrease the pain associated with tear gas.
As the minutes ticked by, more protesters arrived at the scene. So did more cops.
“Oh my god, they have Pixie, Dustin!” Shanice Sims, 19, told a friend over the phone. She turned to the reporter next to her. “In America, I thought we had the freedom to assemble. But I guess not. These faggot pigs.” Sims works for the city and county of Denver. Sims said she and her friends were out in Civic Center, but when the tear gas was used, the three were separated. She could have been inside the perimeter had she been a minute earlier to cross Colfax. “We were on the west side of the park. I thought we had the First Amendment,” she said over and over. “I never thought the cops would arrest peaceful protesters. I think this is corrupt. Uncalled for.”
By 9 p.m., the police had let most of the protesters go. However, 91 people were arrested on multiple charges. A police spokeswoman did not have an immediate comment when asked about the police using pepper spray on protesters in Civic Center — the apparent reason for the abrupt march into downtown. “We were just responding to the crowd’s actions,” she said.
R-’68’s Spagnuolo was furious. “This is evidence we live in a fascist state,” he said. Spagnuolo was not one of the protesters in the perimeter. “The cops started spraying tear gas, then they boxed them in like a bunch of animals. This is total bullshit.”
Two protesters told The Metropolitan a second protest had been planned for the evening at 16th and Market, the intersection between downtown and LoDo, Denver’s night-life district. When staff members reached the intersection, dozens of cops had already reached the space. Several people, who would be protesters, were seen doing an about face upon reaching the “second spot.”
— Andrew Flohr-Spence, David Pollan and Geoff Wollerman contributed to this report.