RNC train wreck heading for Cleveland

RNCitemswIt will be an interesting couple of weeks in the CLE…

Whenever someone mentions the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, which is about every hour if not more often, I can’t help but have Johnny’s Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues” play in my head:

I hear the train a comin’
It’s rolling round the bend
And I ain’t seen the sunshine since I don’t know when. . . .

The accompanying mental mashup is a combination of the train wreck in Cecil B. DeMille’s The Greatest Show on Earth and any Insane Clown Posse video. On any level, this is not a cheery picture. And every day there is some new wrinkle, some plot twist that keeps this impending disaster from being just a week-long annoyance. It’s mesmerizing enough to make me want to go downtown a couple of times just to witness the disaster first-hand. Yes, I realize that is potentially dangerous – but there it is.

Cleveland was selected over Cincinnati, Dallas, Denver, Kansas City and Las Vegas. There seemed to be some sort of theory that having the Convention in Ohio would lead to the Republican candidate winning in November, and, as the truism goes, “As Ohio goes, so goes the nation.” Of all the finalists, Cleveland is probably the most liberal (no Republican presidential candidate has carried Cleveland in 40 years). The city’s recovery from the Great Recession has been remarkable – which is partly what attracted the RNC. And now locals wonder what will be left of the city afterward.

The main venue for the convention is supposed to be Quicken Loans Arena (home of the Cleveland Cavaliers). Due to the Cavs amazing run through the post-season, the RNC was not able to start its conversion of The Q from basketball arena to circus tent until late June – about half the time many cities have dedicated to the task. It was set back yet another day as the RNC graciously allowed the Cavs to host a watch party for Game 7 (not doing that would have been just poking Cleveland with a stick unnecessarily).

The setup in 2012 in Tampa is estimated to have cost about $20 million and took 6-8 weeks to complete. Cleveland’s rush job will have to be done in 4 – the overtime costs will drive the price up considerably. Representatives and planners from the RNC have been visiting Cleveland periodically since the decision to work out the details – since long before the nominee was decided. Every venue and gathering place in downtown – from sports arenas to theaters – has been promised to the RNC. This is where things are starting to get interesting.

At the end of May, representatives of the Trump campaign visited Cleveland and began talking with the local host committee about an alternative venue for the coronation acceptance speech: First Energy (Browns) Stadium. It holds over 73,000 as opposed to The Q at under 21,000. In keeping with the super sized nature of the campaign, huge may be a better choice.

Late in June, word come of the latest new twist to the convention: multiple Trump speeches. Delivered to delegates remotely. From other contested states.

Think about the visuals for a second. Tens of millions of dollars spent on building and dressing telegenic sets – so that delegates can be shown watching a big screen with a feed from somewhere else. It seems unlikely that the RNC will go along with that.

Which leads to an interesting pair of options for the acceptance speech by Donald Trump on Thursday, July 21 in prime time. Either A) a live spectacle in Cleveland or B) a remote feed from somewhere else that the candidate deems more desirable.

Something tells me that there is nothing in writing that Trump has to come to Cleveland. And given the tension between the campaign and the RNC, nothing would surprise me. I wonder if anyone has considered this possibility?

I can’t imagine the RNC or the national media backing that plan. Everyone has too much invested in the Cleveland convention, from the actual facilities to all of the personnel that have been committed to one place.

So far it seems as if A List politicians and celebrities are in short supply for speeches and entertainment. The Bushes have bowed out, along with Mitt Romney, John McCain, and most of the original hopefuls for the 2016 nomination. John Kasich, Ohio’s governor and contribution to the list of also-rans, can’t bring himself to endorse Trump. I wonder if he will be able to bring himself to make a speech? In his own state. While he’s still in office. To his own party.

That leaves more interesting politicians as possible speakers: Chris Christie, Scott Walker, Newt Gingrich, and Ben Carson. Oh, and how could we not mention Sarah Palin? Less than 10 days to go and the list of speakers has not been released.

But politicians seem to be lower on the list of possible speakers – whether by design or necessity. Trump has repeatedly spoken about having a “winner’s night” of appearances by his endorsers from sports and entertainment, a list headed by Bobby Knight, Don King, and Herschel Walker. And apparently high on the list will be Trump’s family members: wife Melania, daughter Ivanka, and sons Eric and Donald Jr. Which makes me think of every job search I’ve ever been involved in: “List 3 three references not related to you who can speak to your experience and character.”

Singers and bands seem to be in short supply. Joe Walsh (former member of the Eagles and native Clevelander), was recruited for a pre-convention “Salute to the Troops.” But that turned out to be a subterfuge for an RNC kick-off event (which Walsh declined to support). Journey was rumored to be playing a closing event – a story quickly denied by band publicists. Roseanne Barr has endorsed Trump – maybe she’ll get a chance to redeem herself with another crack at the national anthem.

Of course there are some upsides to the Convention being fragmented. If Trump broadcasts from elsewhere, he’ll attract supporters and protesters elsewhere, which means, maybe, that fewer protesters will clash in Cleveland. Not that the secure environment will lighten up any for the city or its residents if that happens.


Revised Special Event Zone

The ACLU, representing both pro- and anti-Trump organizations, sued the city of Cleveland to have the security regulations changed. They were somewhat successful. The hours for protests were expanded slightly, the route for protesters “Parades” lengthened a bit, and one major commercial district removed from the restricted zone.

The Q takes up a couple of blocks in the southwest corner of the densest part of downtown Cleveland. A few blocks around it are being prepared to be the Secure Inner Sanctum (or whatever name they will call it). The roads in the immediate area will be closed to the traffic. Freeway traffic will be restricted on I-90.


Original Special Event Zone

The rest of downtown, stretching for 25 blocks in either direction, from the freeway Inner Belt (that’s Interstate 90) on the south and east, into Lake Erie on the north and the Ohio City commercial area on the west is considered the “Special Event Zone” and is governed by a special set of regulations. Although the size of the zone was reduced on the western edge by five blocks, it still includes most of downtown.

There is an extensive list of items that are banned within the zone that make one wonder how residents, businesses, and food sellers within the area will operate during the week. No glass bottles or cans (including canned food). No tennis balls, bike locks, ropes, or water guns. No tape, ladders, or audio equipment.

But guns? Guns are OK. Except within the Inner Sanctum immediately around The Q and Progressive Field, of course, where the Secret Service sets the rules. The city of Cleveland was not allowed to restrict open or concealed carry in the “Special Event Zone” because Ohio has a state law forbidding cities from passing gun legislation that conflicts with NRA-approved state laws.

There are two parks where groups may have art or installations and the newly renovated Public Square will have a speakers platform. Groups or individuals using any of those facilities must register. Installations will require permits. No large signs, audio equipment, or canopies allowed.

Protesters who wish to have a “Parade” during the RNC have to gather in Ohio City and will have 55 minutes to move east on Carnegie Avenue (much of the route across a bridge over the Cuyahoga River and valley), turn south on Ontario and disband.

One exception has been made to the official “Parade” route as a result of the ACLU suit. Organize Ohio was granted the right to hold one “Parade” originating on the East Side of Cleveland. The East Side of Cleveland contains a much higher African-American population, the more liberal suburbs, and most of the trade union halls: likely origin points for unsanctioned “Parades.” The “End Poverty Now” march will take place on July 18, the first day of the RNC. After that there will be no permissible “Parades” from the East Side.

People participating in the “Parades” will be able to catch a glimpse of The Q from the top of the Lorain-Carnegie Bridge, as they pass between the Guardian statues. Attendees at The Q will probably see nary a member of the opposition, especially since the “Parades” are limited to 2PM-4PM on July 18 and 8:30AM-1PM the rest of the Convention, most likely hours before events at The Q really kick into high gear.

The most recent security restrictions outline the traffic restrictions and closures on E. 9th Street – a main north-south route. Southbound traffic will be prohibited and northbound traffic severely limited. Pedestrians will be limited to the eastern sidewalks. A half-dozen cross streets will provide limited access.

More importantly, the extensive lane closures will most likely be enforced by 3 rows (perhaps 4) of security barriers. Not only will cars be controlled, but the street will make an excellent firebreak against protesters who might want to come in from the East Side after the one permissible “Parade” is held.

It will be an interesting couple of weeks in the CLE because some of the opposition event start well in advance of the Main Event. Here are some of the more interesting things to watch:

Comixcast from the RNC: Joyce Brabner, the widow of Cleveland’s iconic cartoonist Harvey Pekar (Real War Stories and American Splendor, amongst others) is leading an effort to bring comic artists to Cleveland for the RNC. They will be live streaming the art and commentary. Maybe they’ll take over Tommy’s restaurant in Coventry – one of the few neighborhoods that may be available to locals during the RNC.

NCotORNCNational Convention of the Oppressed: This Black Unity event will take place before the Convention, July 14-17, and thus have more freedom of movement than other events. The main site for the gathering will be at the 2nd Ebenezer Baptist Church on E. 71st Street in Cleveland. One of the key events will be a “National March and Rally Against Racism, Injustice, and White Supremacy (Trump).” They will actually march to the Q before the restrictions kick in.

People’s Justice and Peace Convention: Sponsored by a mix of religious, economic, and political organizations on the left, this 4-day event will culminate in the “End Poverty Now” march on July 18. The main sites (both on the East Side) will be the historic Masonic Auditorium and Olivet Institutional Baptist Church.

This list will keep growing.

Looking forward to the upcoming events with a mixture of eagerness and dread. Will keep you posted.