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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.