RNC Day One: Pictures from the streets of St. Paul

A dispatch from our colleagues at the Minnesota Independent.

At the end of a long and eventful first day outside the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, we asked the people who covered events for MnIndy to pick an image that struck them as emblematic and add a few thoughts.

Peter S. Scholtes: National Guard troops kneel along Kellogg Blvd., shields in front of them, faced towards the St. Paul Cathedral at around 6:45 p.m. on Monday, September 1, 2008. At first the scene looked like a solemn religious ritual or military ceremony. Nearby a truck blared War’s “Why Can’t We Be Friends?” in protest. This scene captures much of the day for me: Surprisingly empty streets, no Republicans in sight, barriers everywhere, and oddly ritualistic military maneuvers by young men who could be your next door neighbors, plus what you don’t see: the music, which I spent most of the day taking in on Harriet Island while cops confronted protesters across the river.

Paul Demko: I started the day at the Capitol at 8:30 a.m., a fairly sleepy scene with maybe a couple hundred protesters preparing for the day ahead. Then I went to a press conference on security issues at the Twin Cities Public Television building. St. Paul Police Chief John Harrington seemed relaxed and confident. “It’s game day, finally,” he declared. Arriving back at the Capitol shortly after 1 p.m., there were thousands massed on the lawn. An ice sculpture spelling out the word “Democracy” had already lost half its letters in the baking heat. Black banners listing the names of soldiers killed in Iraq were hoisted on the steps of the Capitol.

Jeff Severns Guntzel: After watching riot police gather and protesters scatter most of the early afternoon, I was collecting photo and notes at The Uptake office when I got a Tweet stating: “Re-convergence at 3:15?–it was 3:15. The intersection of Kellogg Boulevard and Wabasha Street was apparently the spot. On the way, I passed a Minneapolis Police squad with all the windows smashed being carried away on a flatbed. At Kellogg ominously festive protesters were dancing to the Dead Kennedy’s while others were tipping trash cans and breaking glass to block traffic. Police gathered and they scattered. The next showdown, just up the street, was a turning point. Cops in riot gear and members of the National Guard holding foot-to-head shields were ammassed and marching forward. The first streams of pepper spray were met with a counter spray of Silly Spray. It was funny until it wasn’t. Soon it was pepper spray, exploding tear gas canisters and impact rounds. When the dust settled the protesters were mostly scattered–again–while reporters and other onlookers traded the pained winces of a real good burn.

Karl Bremer: The DEMOCRACY ice sculpture brought to the March on RNC melted away under the blazing sun Monday afternoon, symbolic of our own melting democracy under the past eight years of George W. Bush. It was also symbolic of the melting rights American citizens enjoy under the First Amendment–when it requires hundreds and hundreds of armed law enforcement officers in full riot gear on foot, bicycles, horseback, squad cars and in helicopters to police an overwhelmingly peaceful protest of about 10,000 people. Although the cops showed restraint during the marches, the raids on protesters homes before the week began and their mere presence at the marches in such disproportionate numbers served as a reminder that we are not as free as we once were to express our disapproval of our government.