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Tribal Politics 

On the Street at the RNC

click to enlarge Political dramatist acted out their slogans on East 4th Street. The reference at the bottom of the yellow placard refers to an organization that memorializes Holocaust sites. - FRANK SPINELLI
  • Frank Spinelli
  • Political dramatist acted out their slogans on East 4th Street. The reference at the bottom of the yellow placard refers to an organization that memorializes Holocaust sites.

When asked, with the inevitable expression of concern—"Weren't you afraid for your safety at the Republican National Convention?"—my response has now become routine. I was not on the convention floor, but on the streets and parks outside the Quicken arena, which resembled a congenial town hall meeting for the most part. There were upwards of 3,500 police, along with an equal number of journalists. The ratio of police and journalists to those promoting their political agendas was nearly four to one—citizens were clearly in the minority. In addition, the police cleverly positioned themselves to form walls between discussion groups, and at times, these "walls" were broken into right angles to form mazes, making any tribal rush to a hotspot extremely difficult.

click to enlarge Police officers from across America (3500 in total) arrived in Cleveland to maintain order. Police questioned this bystander who was carrying a handheld electronic device that looked as if it could trip on an improvised explosive device (IED). The Guy Fawkes mask made him a profile target. - FRANK SPINELLI
  • Frank Spinelli
  • Police officers from across America (3500 in total) arrived in Cleveland to maintain order. Police questioned this bystander who was carrying a handheld electronic device that looked as if it could trip on an improvised explosive device (IED). The Guy Fawkes mask made him a profile target.

Yet there was perhaps another, more subtle reason for the congeniality. In an open carry state such as Ohio, one might say that someone whipping out a weapon during an argument was a real possibility and therefore lowered the argumentative tenor, especially in light of the American experience over the few weeks before the convention. I saw citizens of every stripe humbled and respectful because of the awareness of the mass of killings in a Florida nightclub, while police violence against black citizens along with sniper attacks on the police themselves, seemed to drain even the most ardent protestors of their vitriol. The citizens who were in the plazas and by-ways of Cleveland, like everywhere else in the country, had been through an unrelenting ringer of news alerts heralding random death and mayhem and We, The People, seemed to be numbed by hurt and therefore exhausted. Our species, despite the political chasm that separated most, had become empathic of each other.

click to enlarge A veteran teamed up with a activist against Republican immigration policy - FRANK SPINELLI
  • Frank Spinelli
  • A veteran teamed up with a activist against Republican immigration policy

click to enlarge Live broadcast of the Convention attracted hundreds of people. Many stood in the camera view hoping to be seen waving their messages on natural television. Tom Brokaw, Andrew Mitchel, Tamron Hall, and Chuck Todd were among the many anchors broadcasting live on the street. - FRANK SPINELLI
  • Frank Spinelli
  • Live broadcast of the Convention attracted hundreds of people. Many stood in the camera view hoping to be seen waving their messages on natural television. Tom Brokaw, Andrew Mitchel, Tamron Hall, and Chuck Todd were among the many anchors broadcasting live on the street.

Lining the street where the news organizations set up their broadcast booths, hawkers sold tee shirts, buttons, and banners. People were huddled in small and mid-sized groups with agendas that included Black Lives Matter, religious evangelism, the disenfranchised, Mr. Trump's Mexican wall, the NRA, Palestine and Israel, women's rights, LGBTQ rights, and even veganism. The bulked-up police, along with keeping order, interacted with everyone of all stripes. The police even played ping pong with demonstrators in Jimmy Dimora Square.

click to enlarge Black Lives Matter debated Blue Lives Matter. Our democratic experiment is alive and well after 240 years. - FRANK SPINELLI
  • Frank Spinelli
  • Black Lives Matter debated Blue Lives Matter. Our democratic experiment is alive and well after 240 years.
click to enlarge Anti-Trump Democrats encouraged bystanders to pick up message placards and to carry them  throughout the park and into surrounding streets. Many of the messages were biblical in tone. - FRANK SPINELLI
  • Frank Spinelli
  • Anti-Trump Democrats encouraged bystanders to pick up message placards and to carry them throughout the park and into surrounding streets. Many of the messages were biblical in tone.

Some overheard discussions bordered on reasonable, while others bore no connection to reality. The strongest invectives were heaped onto President Obama, from his foreign birth to his collusion with Muslims to the fact that he was in the process of making secret deals with Iran to overthrow the United States. "Hillary Clinton belongs in prison" and "Dump Trump" were the most common chants. Anyone searching the vast terrain of the Internet can understand where these ideas originate.

click to enlarge The "Wall Off Trump" demonstrators sprinted down the street while nearly 200 ran alongside in support. The late morning sun was extremely hot and passions rose to a highly pitch, but in the end everyone kept their cool. - FRANK SPINELLI
  • Frank Spinelli
  • The "Wall Off Trump" demonstrators sprinted down the street while nearly 200 ran alongside in support. The late morning sun was extremely hot and passions rose to a highly pitch, but in the end everyone kept their cool.

In an open forum where many of the protesters were not backed by their tribe, it seemed people were at ease with their ideas and that, in my mind, added to the de-escalation of the conversations that followed. What I had feared most is that when like-minded people are huddled together, the worst inclinations of a few can be carried out by the many. This is what I did not see on the streets surrounding the Republican Convention. I wish I could say the same for what went on inside Quicken Arena. The blood lust for Hillary's demise seemed to surprise even the most ardent of her detractors on the outside.

click to enlarge The Jesus protesters were by far the most vocal. The separation of church and state has been blatantly ignored as of late. - FRANK SPINELLI
  • Frank Spinelli
  • The Jesus protesters were by far the most vocal. The separation of church and state has been blatantly ignored as of late.

click to enlarge Convention buffs looked up at the giant MSNBC Television screen broadcasting the nomination of Mike Pence. - FRANK SPINNELLI
  • Frank Spinnelli
  • Convention buffs looked up at the giant MSNBC Television screen broadcasting the nomination of Mike Pence.
click to enlarge An Afro-American street performer in white face was amazed by a police presence that outnumbered demonstrators four to one. - FRANK SPINELLI
  • Frank Spinelli
  • An Afro-American street performer in white face was amazed by a police presence that outnumbered demonstrators four to one.

Frank Spinelli is a Woodstock-based photographer whose Hug Deli appeared on the cover of December 2014 issue of Chronogram. He is currently working on a series of Jamaican street culture photographs. More of Spinelli's work can be seen at Frankspinelliphotography.com.

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  • Photos from Frank Spinelli's experience at the Republican National Convention.

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