Ugliness in St. Paul, then calm

ST. PAUL--Before today's big RNC protest march started, a few smaller groups--most of which seemed to be from the hard left--made forays from the MN State Capitol into downtown St. Paul and the vicinity of the convention. One of these resulted in the only convention-related injury I've seen with my own eyes, though there seem to have been others. This man, a videographer from Tennessee, had a media credential and had been marching with some anarchists. As he lay on the ground, he shouted that he'd been sprayed twice by riot police, the first time when he didn't heed the cops' instructions to back up and the second time after he stopped to pick up his glasses. The smell of the spray in question was incredibly strong; I'd describe it as half ammonia, half vinegar:

And here's a bystander who seemed to get a kick out of the situation:

At this point, it felt like things could get legitimately ugly--especially with the riot cops, clad in black body armor and toting 3-foot wood batons (plus other weaponry), either looking on at close range or moving restlessly from spot to spot:



But thankfully they didn't--at least, not for the most part. By the time the main march started, everybody seemed to have simmered down: Again and again, I saw protesters offering friendly greeting to cops and cops offering friendly greetings to protesters. And one McCain counterprotester I spoke--a Vietnam vet who was there with his wife and daughter (who recently served in Iraq)--said he hadn't had any run-ins with the marchers. And he was wearing a Stalinist-style Obama shirt!

 As with most of these events, there was a dizzying array of groups involved: Obama supporters, anti-imperialism crusaders, immigration advocates, Copts (!), the Code Pink women, etc. I've previously argued that this desire to be a big tent ends up making the antiwar message incoherent and ineffectual, and nothing I saw today changes my mind. The biggest change in our Iraq policy will come if Barack Obama's elected president. But if were an undecided Minnesota voter, though, today's march wouldn't convince me to go for Obama over McCain.

That said, the organizers deserve credit for marshalling a massive turnout (not sure what the actual number is yet) and keeping things relatively peaceful. On that last count, credit the police as well. Despite their scary-ass outfits, they ultimately proved to be a pretty restrained bunch.

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