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The Anti-Trump Convention Takes Hold With Kooks, BuzzFeed and Prophets of Rage

On Cleveland's Public Square, a woman with massive pink fairy wings holds a sign: "Let Democracy Fly - Dump Trump!"

As the Donald Trump coronation goes into its final stages at Cleveland's Quicken Loans arena on Thursday, another convention is in full swing -- the anti-Trump celebration that spills out of the meeting area at Public Square a block from the official goings-on.

That gathering is an assortment of artists, kooks, poets and true believers who make the otherwise monochromatic event a lot more interesting with music, shouting and pitched arguing.

The gathering includes one young woman with massive pink fairy wings and a sign reading, "Let Democracy Fly - Dump Trump!"


Another person has set up a checkerboard of square black signs with messages like: "Resist Racism. This country is broken. Racism is Violence." And then merely: "DREAD."

RNC anti-Trump protester signs

Despite fears in advance of the convention, the protest area in the square has not been a magnet for violence of any sort in this uncontested convention of an unconventional candidate.

Instead, the area has become a showcase for democracy at work, with pitched political debates punctuating the colorful signage and entertaining stunts.

An actress-ventriloquist named April has a furry Donald J. Tramp doll and does her shtick for any journalist who walks by and asks. She gives an opinion about the election, and then the doll weighs in: "I LOOOOOOVE Melania!!" he croaks.


Code Pink is among those gathered, as is a collection of anarchists.  Cleveland police, their numbers increased by volunteers from more than 20 states, have made a few arrests this week -- including of this Code Pink protester who burned an American flag.

Republican National Convention Flag Burning

Still, with the panic in the air ahead of the convention, the expected violence has not materialized. But debate has.

"I don't call myself a white supremacist," one heavyset man with a shaved head, blond beard and Trump t-shirt said in a spirited conversation on Tuesday with a group of anti-Trumpians.

"But do you agree with their ethics or whatever?" asked boy who looked to be about 13 and wore a Jewish yarmulke while holding an anti-Trump sign.

"You're just using a slur to shut down discussion," the blond guy replied.

Another demonstrator chimed in: "I'm not with these guys. My question is, What is your stance on the Muslim ban to the U.S.?"

Pro-Trump guy: "As Trump has stated it, I think it's a pretty good idea."

Anti-Trump guy: "Trump has not given any specifics on anything..."

Pro: "He said it's a temporary ban on immigration from Muslim countries...."

Yarmulke kid: "Which is pretty disgusting!"

And on it goes, here's the video:


Up at the Agora Theater, two miles east of the convention, a concert took place Wednesday night to protest against Trump, racism and probably police violence.

About 1,000 young men -- hardly any women -- in black t-shirts and piercings gathered to hear Prophets Against the Machine, a supergroup hip-hop band comprised of stars from the 1990s whose message has always been about challenging power.

A reporter was advised to remove her credentials to the convention, in the interest of safety.

The band's lead members are Chuck D from Public Enemy, B-Real from Cypress Hill, and Rage Against the Machine members Tom Morello and others. They are definitely anti-Trump, though as the crowd throbs as a single pulsing mass to their bass it is pretty hard to make out any lyrics.

B Real Prophets Against the Machine

B Real Prophets Against the Machine, photo courtesy of Eric Greenspan

Still, the playlist looks like its own counter-establishment message:

Take the Power Back
Can't Trust It
Bring the Noise
Bullet in the Head
Shut Em Down
Know Your Enemy
No Sleep/ Fight Power


Back in more sober surroundings, BuzzFeed editor Ben Smith hosted a "Red, White and Blacklisted" party in the balmy evening air of the rooftop of one of Cleveland's elegant 19th-century banks-turned-hotels. The crowd was a couple of hundred twentysomethings from the political set, happy for a free drink, a socializing opportunity and a break from the intensity of the convention hall.

The "Denied" theme is a clever celebration of Trump's banning of media outlets from BuzzFeed to the Washington Post after negative coverage. The Daily Beast, Des Moines Register and The Huffington Post are among other outlets who've been banned by Trump. It's a small club and a badge of honor for them.

"We were the first outlet to be banned from Trump's events because one of our reporters did a profile of him in 2014 that he was unhappy about," said Smith, leaning against the railing of the rooftop.

The profile, said Smith, "said he was a thin-skinned, second-rate figure surrounded by yes men who was not ever going to run."

On Sunday, BuzzFeed published a 10,000-word piece by McKay Coppins, which Smith called a "mea culpa for having goaded Trump into running."

BuzzFeed is admitted to the convention, since the Trump campaign doesn't control press access -- and Smith himself was pleased at the turnout to his Cleveland event.

"It's the cool party for Republicans to be at," said Smith, turning to greet Rand Paul's former spokesman.