I love a good protest.
I’m a child of the 1960s, when political protests were an addictive staple of the front pages and the nightly news. Go back further, our nation was forged from protest. It’s in our DNA.
Now comes a panoply of protests planned for Cleveland, where the Republican National Convention begins tomorrow, and for Philadelphia, where Democrats will gather a week later.
It’s a marvelous array, as is often the case at presidential conventions, covering such issues as police shootings, income inequality, Donald Trump, Palestinian rights, military interventionism, the GOP agenda, minimum wage, immigration reform, race relations, health care, campaign finance reform, Planned Parenthood and clean energy. Everyone from hate group Westboro Baptist Church to Black Lives Matter activists intends to be in one city or the other, or both.
This kind of activism is good news. But I find trepidation growing as the convention kickoff nears. Is this all going to go well?
Conventions don’t occur in vacuums. Tensions are rising after recent police shootings of black men in Louisiana and Minnesota and the subsequent killing of five police officers in Dallas by a black Army veteran upset about police violence toward blacks. Recent random mass terror attacks in places like Nice and Orlando have jangled nerves.
The history of violence at Trump’s campaign rallies also is unsettling. Some came from supporters who cursed and hit protesters and, in one case, sucker-punched a demonstrator — while Trump himself recalled protesters being taken out on stretchers in “the good ol’ days” and said he wanted to punch one in the face.
Some of the violence came from Trump opponents who shut down a rally in Chicago and threw punches and eggs, broke windows and set fires outside rallies in New Mexico and California.
Now comes the biggest Trump rally of all — his formal nomination as the GOP presidential candidate. And it’s in Cleveland, which introduces the biggest wild card of all — Ohio’s open-carry laws, which mean legal gun owners can bring weapons pretty much anywhere except the area around Quicken Loans Arena under the control of the Secret Service. What could go wrong?
Responsible gun owners will say they’re carrying only for protection, and I have no doubt that’s right. And it clearly is their right to do so. Groups from the New Black Panther Party to the anti-government Oath Keepers say their members will be armed when in Cleveland. But there’s a reason the president of the Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association is begging people not to bring guns. And why the city is augmenting its 1,500-officer force with 2,500 officers from around the country. And why it bought 2,000 sets of riot gear and 2,000 steel batons. And why it recently jacked up its “protest insurance” liability coverage from $10 million to $50 million.
The country is angry, about a lot of things. This campaign has made that clear. Trump and Sen. Bernie Sanders campaigned on that. Our country’s fault lines are deep. Now those roiling factions are coming together in Cleveland. And if things go badly there, that could rile the crowds in no-carry Philly, where no one will know who’s packing.
But that’s the Democrats, you say? Yes, the party in which Sanders supporters threw chairs and made death threats at May’s Nevada state convention. The party that gave us the poster child for convention rioting — 1968, Chicago, where clashes between anti-Vietnam War protesters spoiling for a fight and police ready to oblige resulted in nearly 600 arrests, scores of injuries, and reports of police beating innocent bystanders, doctors trying to offer medical help, and journalists at the scene.
Yeah, the good ol’ days.
Michael Dobie is a member of Newsday’s editorial board.