[An account of the march on the Romney featured ‘kick off’ event in St. Petersburg prior to the Republican National Convention]
It looks like rain – the streets are flooding with people, more and more around Mirror Lake Drive. On the way in, the officers smiled and waved – I returned the same. I hear folk music and many voices – in moments, there will be speeches and calls to action from a modest stage and the press circling it will look like anyone else who has armed themselves for revolution with cameras and microphones and Mac products.
I strike up a conversation.
“I hope this goes well,” they tell me. We stand near the water, watching the streets come alive. “One person can really ruin something for everyone.”
And timing strikes right – a group of police officers bicycle down the street. A man in a tie-dye shirt turns their way, salutes, and shouts, “Hail Romney.”
“That’s what I mean,” I’m told.
What did he hope to elicit with that statement? What was gained? Was it satisfying – if so, why? Might the answers mean well but lack depth?
A group of five is draped in mourner’s wear, carrying a coffin down the sidewalk and towards the crowd. “Here lies American democracy,” a tombstone-shaped sign says, “foully murdered by corporatism and greed.”
The signs say it all: “We need a living wage.”
“My children deserve a better future.”
“We can’t afford more tax cuts for the rich.”
“Raise the minimum wage.”
“Mitt ain’t shit.”
The system just may be broken, they say, collapsing under the weight of its own excess. The streets of any city become forums for a new era of dissent and unrest when they might also serve as the final resting place for the human lives that are savaged as a byproduct of economic and civil policy gone wayward.
One glance at what’s unfolding and the ethos is as it always has been – this isn’t a movement with a singular avatar; there is no lone face which could define it. It is beyond party and patriarch, a stark reflection of American discord. Some might call it a consequence of Occupy or the will of the ninety-nine percent– when the crowd of one thousand or so turns down the empty, barricaded streets of Central Avenue and towards Tropicana Field, there is a rare sight: genuine outrage, spirited into motion; it is inevitably illuminated in a political environment saturated with fraudulence.
They’ve come to deliver a message – to greet Romney and his company, hours before the convention ensues. The group snakes through the police-lined path in downtown St. Petersburg and onward to the Trop, but it’s the dead end everyone knew and expected. The fences keep the people and the visiting politicians and donors far, far from one another. Through the fence, it’s a world away. I watch as the thousand pour alongside the barricades, shouting and cheering over a wave of rolling drums. The funeral group lays the coffin on the ground. Balloons begin to circulate. Conversations are exchanged throughout the mass. A man in a pig nose and suit getup shares wine and fancies with friends in mock pearls and boas, thanking Mitt Romney for all he has and will grant the wealthy ruling class – they propose a toast of victory to smiles and cheers.
The ghost of Romney lingers in the streets in the form of a giant, grinning puppet, carried by three people, bearing a necklace reading: “KING OF THE ONE PERCENT.” There are people climbing onto the lower half of the fence, grappling onto it and pressing their signs in the direction of the center. Past the fences is their audience: a stoic, immovable collective of police officers, privy to a performance no one else will see today – from behind shades, nothing is said. The face, the uniform – it never changes. Separated by towering steel and armed guards is the main man – Mitt Romney – hearing and seeing nothing of his opposition as his polity and smiles are traded for patronage somewhere in the red tinted dark of Tropicana Field. Does he even know what’s happening beyond the gates? And what if he did? What could be said that would change or mean anything? Nothing, I fathom.
People are packing in. Phone numbers are being exchanged and trash is picked up – the busses are coming in, soon. Might this be an exercise in bathos? No, I don’t think so. I overhear conversations about what today meant, what it means to mobilize against something that separates itself and literally walls off its opponents. St. Petersburg looks like a ghost town – fitting, for these visiting specters, present but unseen. The streets have nearly emptied but for a few. A man is photographing observing officers on their golf carts. A couple takes one another’s hands; they walk into the day. The Food Not Bombs Banner is carefully walked out from the march zone. I head to my car a few blocks over and the funeral group is a few feet ahead, carrying the coffin. A group of police officers stand below a tree by the sidewalk.
“Is that thing heavy?” one asks.
“Not yet,” someone from the coffin crew says.
Silence – then the smile appears on the cop’s face, then everyone’s, and the laughter breaks out from all of them. It’s a rare moment; it dies quickly – we walk past, moved onward by the gusts of Isaac.