It's August 27, 2008. The more politically minded of you will recall that date to fall within the time of the DNC ? the Democratic National Convention in Denver, CO where I currently reside. The idea of this event was fascinating to me. I come from Canada. We don't have DNC's there. Granted, we don't have Democrats there either, but the political parties we do have don't put on nearly as much of a spread at their national conventions. Did I say spread? I meant spectacle. They don't put on as much of a spectacle. The confetti and balloons alone would cost more than what most Canadian candidates spend on their entire campaigns.
My interest in the convention was then piqued even more by the acquisition of a pass to see Rage Against the Machine and Denver group Flobots play the Denver Coliseum. While not a directly related DNC event, it would most certainly not have gone down had the convention not been in town. The event was sponsored by a group know as IVAW ? Iraq Veterans Against the War. Sound like a paradox? Not really. Sure, we all have our opinions one way or the other, but think of them as one of the only really qualified groups to pass judgment on the war in Iraq.
Why do they oppose the war? For many reasons of which I won't go into here. They can tell you much better than I. More information on the group can be found at their website - http://www.ivaw.org
The show was free. No admission charge whatsoever. Entry was granted by using a lottery system put together by another group know as Tent State University. Of course, even an event such as this is not above the corruption of corporate media ? the local rock station was also giving away tickets virtually every hour to whoever could phone in at the precise moment so as to be the umpteenth caller or answer such tests of skill and worthiness like guessing Tom Morello's hat size. This had my mind reeling as visions of the elite punditocracy clashed with the commoners who were there to bow down to the Guitar Hero saviors, ideology be damned.
This was not to be the case, however as either the meathead winners never showed (it was after all, at 11am on a Wednesday ? 3 hours before they're needed for their shift at the Family Dollar), or they did show up - bleary-eyed and hungover from the previous nights' curb-stompings and too tired to start any shit. In any case, they were united. Activists and assholes. Ardor and apathy together as one.
Openers State Radio did their best to get the ball rolling and greet the few inside while enticing those thousands of people still waiting to get in but due to the system chosen to discourage any possible scalping ? I.D. for each pass was to be shown at the door. This method has been proven beyond the shadow of a doubt to curb the reselling of tickets but if executed improperly can make for a very long wait to enter the venue as appeared to be the case here. Going in the press entrance with an all-access pass has its privileges beyond the ice-cold bottles of Snapple. To my left, the Flobots hold a meeting with their über-loyal and just-as-socially-conscious street team to discuss the planned march to the Pepsi Center after the show, which both the band and the street team will be participating in. The march is not sanctioned, and the band wants to make absolutely sure that everyone's on the same page should there be any police action against the marchers.
To my right? A whole lot of people that look like they got lost trying to find the local Nordstrom's. This is the press. My peeps. They're sitting at long tables talking into digital recorders, standing in front of cameras or sitting, drinking their "smart" water, pretending to be disinterested while the rapid eye movement of their hyper vigilance is unwavering all the while absent-mindedly fiddling with their laminates.
The Coup is next to take the stage. They are, as they say in the parlance, the shizz. They are not here by accident or happenstance. They are a political hip-hop band that represents to the fullest who they are and what they're about with every breath that they can muster. Think Prince if he was registered to vote. Or The Roots if they were communists. They are the band whose album cover was pulled after the 9/11 attacks. Already completed months prior, the cover depicted band members blowing up the World Trade Center towers with their instruments. Anti-capitalism pre-attack = Pro-terrorism after attack. What a difference a day makes.
Everywhere you look, there are soldiers. Some are identified by their uniforms, others by their I.D. badges. Between bands, they take the stage to say a few words on what the show is for and what their cause is about. Ron Kovic precedes the Flobots. If you've seen the movie "Born on the Fourth of July", then you saw Tom Cruise attempt to play Ron Kovic, who wrote the book the film was based on detailing his experiences in Vietnam. He is carried up the stairs of the stage by Iraqi soldiers. Ron has been wheelchair bound since the war. His words are quick, biting and to the point. He believes the soldiers in Iraq are fighting for a dishonest cause. He is tired of watching soldiers die. Or in this war's case, he is tired of hearing about their deaths and have his brothers dishonored further by having their bodies returning home in secret as if their government is ashamed of their service to this country.
When he is done speaking, he is carried off the stage again. I watch as he talks to soldiers backstage. They line up to pay their respects with all the reverence of catholics waiting to receive a blessing from the pope ? only without all the pomp and pageantry. There's a solemnity to the proceedings and a palpable sense of understanding that every one of these people fought for a country whose administration honor their service with empty speeches and emptier coffers for veterans in desperate need of financial and social assistance. Everyone watching, from the parasitic hangers-on to the hardened, misanthropic road crew is in tears.
Hometown heroes the Flobots are now on stage. They have been on tour for the last couple of months, so this is also a welcome home party of sorts. The crowd loves them and they throw that love right back. The band remains one of the most earnestly active in their community as any band I've ever seen. They present a wealth of possibilities ? not a dearth of ideals wrapped in soundbite rhetoric. They believe, and they truly do believe that every single person there has the ability to bring about change and they have an innate way of making each person believe it too ? and judging by the strong turnout for the march afterwards (roughly 1/3 of the 9,000-plus crowd), this belief is strong enough to last long after the amps are turned off. In an atomoxetine America, this is no small feat.
On stage next is Jello Biafra, former lead-singer for the seminal punk group the Dead Kennedys. Jello is, as always a no-nonsense speaker. He's been effectively providing such vitriolic critiques of the American government for so long now - 9 spoken word albums and counting, that even though he wasn't on the itinerary ? it was no surprise that he was there. For those hoping for more from his new band the Axis of Evildoers, to summarize a brief conversation from the man himself ? don't hold your breath.
Rage Against the Machine hit the deck running. Every song you've ever loved played in rapid succession ? no stage patter to slow things save for the introduction of Wayne Kramer in an all-too-brief cameo ? coming out to perform "Kick Out The Jams" for a crowd unfamiliar with the song but screaming along anyway. This will forever be a special moment in punk-geekdom watching the legendary MC5 guitarist while standing beside the legendary DK's vocalist.
Rage was, of course the final band of the day. Those not marching went home. Those marching made it to the Pepsi Center without tear gas, without riot squads, without police intervention of any kind. The IVAW even managed to arrange a meeting between a select few of their delegates and Barack Obama. This is what the group had been hoping would happen but didn't expect it would. I daresay it's not the sort of thing that happens every day, but I'm sure glad I was there when it did.