Polite Protest: What the lack of horse poop says about Denver

Denver protest, August 24, 2008
More DNC video at

Any protester worth his or her salt needs to be in St. Paul, Minnesota by this coming weekend, for the start of the GOP convention protests. Thus, the protests here in Denver are, for the most part, restricted to locals, and to those particular diehards capable of taking two weeks off and travelling to two distant places -- and that latter group is certainly not interested in getting prematurely arrested here, before the big show starts.

Partly because of that, and partly because of a very well-trained swarm of law enforcement, the protest action here in Denver has been, well, kind of nice. Pleasant even.

How pleasant? I realized at one point that, despite the presence of a fair number of mounted officers patrolling downtown, there was no sign, anywhere, of  their inevitable accoutrement. Turns out there are squadrons on excrement clean-up duty. This is greatly appreciated, given the bright sun beating down at over 80 degrees all day -- although the dung-patrol plan had less to do with my nostrils, and more to do with the concern that untended poop might end up getting thrown at police officers.

The police presence is enormous, but very hands-off, stepping in only rarely to clear an intersection. No tear gas has been used. The worst complaint I've heard so far is of a guy supposedly knocked off his bike. In truth, there are so many people here watching the police, and so many people with video-taking capacity at their fingertips, not much will happen without witnesses and documentation. The one time I saw the cops clear an intersection, so many arms shot up with hand-held electronics you would have thought a band had just started up their hit power ballad.

One worrying item: a great many of the police are equipped with pepper-pellet guns. They are a different model than the one that killed Victoria Snellgrove outside Fenway Park four years ago: these are made by Tiberius, and are called the "Mark 4." An Aurora officer told me that the Snellgrove incident was a big part of their training; he frankly said the words that Mayor Menino, and the BPD brass, have never publicly said: "that officer [Robert O'Toole] completely screwed up."

Perhaps 1000 people participated in various marches and actions Sunday, all quite well-behaved it seems from my own observations and those of people I spoke with. Either two or three arrests were made, depending on which sources were correct.

Most of this week's protests figure to remain cordial. The protest area outside the Pepsi Center is plain (a blocked-off section of parking lot A, with a roughly 7' x 7', eight-inch-high platform for speakers) but relatively open and unoppressive, as opposed to the cage in Boston four years ago. I have been told, in conspiratorial whispers, that the most confrontational protest will be the anti-capitalism action at the US Mint, near the Capitol Building downtown, today at 5:00pm. There is also some concern that an immigrant-rights rally on Thursday, which should be the biggest action of the week, could become rowdy. There are a large number of Hispanics who live in the area, and who knows what will happen when they all gather together?

As it happens, the most energetic gathering I saw yesterday involved several hundred Hispanics. It wasn't a protest; it was Viva La Familia 2008, a kid-oriented all-Spanish performance in North Street Park, just a couple of blocks from the Pepsi Center. I didn't see a single political sign or shirt, but I saw a lot of families singing along with the performers on stage -- whose Barneyesque trilling en espanol was worlds better than the atrocious folk singer, self-accompanied on a guitar for she must have recently begun lessons, who chased me away from Green Frontier Fest with the words: "I'll just do another Dispatch song, because they're awesome."

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