My first day in Denver was busy and long. In the morning, I took the light rail with a friend from the suburbs downtown. The difference between the outskirts of the city and the downtown area was staggering. Hollowed out factories, run down cars, and strip malls dissolved into a labyrinth of shimmering chrome, glass and steel. With the temperature hovering at ninety degrees, getting off the tram felt like stepping into a pressure cooker. The sun beat down, multiplied by the glass cityscape which acted like a tanning mirror.
We had to make it to City of Cuernavaca Park to enter ourselves into a lottery to get into a concert Wednesday night. It wasn’t a must-see, but it was a see-if-we-could, so we walked a mile and half, past Coors Field and the edge of the main city. We knew when we were approaching the park when the smell of smoke overpowered the smell of diesel fuel. Pretty soon, we were surrounded by tents, food stalls and people with long hair, tye-dye shirts, and sandals, who sported peace signs and handed out flyers against the war. The day-long vigil during the lottery consisted of a middle aged black man extolling the virtues of Martin Luther King, Jr. to the crowd of all-white, mid-20s next-generation hippies, the UC-Boulder crowd, the Rage Against the Machine liberals of today’s Colorado. After entering the lottery, we left, passing by the booths set up in the park—the Iraq Veterans Against the War, the Tear Down Guantanamo Coalition, the Weed is Safer than Alcohol booth, and the popular “Bush is an Idiot” bumper sticker stall.
I suspected that these same people would be protesting later that night at the convention. It occurred to me that the Democratic National Convention would bring all types out of the woodwork, and they all would descend upon Denver for the week. I found that I was not far off. Walking down the 16th Street Mall, the main thoroughfare in downtown Denver, we passed all sorts of types. A bunch of young men handed out Trojan “love rings,” while a woman pinned me with a “Quesadillas for Obama” button. Obama merchandise was everywhere, and you could buy an Obama hat, an Obama tie, an Obama bag or an Obama watch. On one corner, a lonely threesome of McCain loyalists huddled together against the cold Democratic onslaught, gingerly holding McCain signs. A block later, five protesters boldly held up bright yellow and black signs proclaiming “Jesus Saves” and “Homos are Going to Hell.” Apparently, not everyone in Denver–from the restrained to the not-quite–was so excited about the Democratic convention being in town. Aside from these colorful folks, there were cops in riot gear, a group of yellow t-shirt soldiers who branded themselves “CopWatch,” and a Tote Bag Brigade–about five middle aged women who sang the national anthem on infinite loop and sold American flag tote bags to the crowd.
We found a place to eat with a street view, and the passerbys ended up being more interesting than the food. Hundreds of people wore credentials for the convention. The street was red, white and blue, from flags, shirts, hats and a rottweiler. A band sponsored by Rock the Vote played out of a medium sized van, with four players on the roof and the drummer stuck in the trunk. In the middle of lunch, about forty middle-aged women stampeded past, pumping Hillary signs high in the air and chanting “Hillary is Down, but Not Out!” It seemed like a damaging display of party disunity, but I didn’t give it much thought.
We then took the tram to Auraria, the campus for three Denver city colleges. The campus is on the outskirts of the Pepsi Center, and we were hoping that we could cut through the back of the Center to get a glimpse of the action at the convention that day. Unfortunately, our lack of credentials doomed our attempt from the beginning. For a mile around the Pepsi Center, chain link fences and security barriers had been set up. However, there was a “designated protest area,” we were told, so we decided to give that a try. We walked along the perimeter of the fence and wound up in a parking lot, far out of view of the actual convention center, where a group of pink-clad old ladies yelled into a megaphone about who knows what. I believe the actual protest involved the presence of the police on site. I wondered why anyone would bother protesting, if they were guaranteed to be stuck in the middle of no-man’s land, with the media and convention itself completely unaware of their presence.
After walking around the Pepsi Center and unable to get in, for today at least, we decided to head home and watch the first day of the convention on television. However, being in Denver helped set the mood for what I think will be a very exciting four days here. Tomorrow, we will check out the non-Pepsi Center convention action, including a series of talks on women in politics. Will update soon!