Sweatin' to the Oligarchy

A baton to the ribs, winos and great weather!

Photo by Jim WashburnThey say sweating is good for you, in which case I'm now the best person on Earth. I started last week by accompanying my country-singer pal Patty Booker (buy her bitchen album at patty booker.com, why don't you?) to the Yoga College of India in Costa Mesa, where they heat the room to something like 100 degrees and put you through an intense, 90-minute, military-grade yoga workout ("You willrelax!!"). I recommend it, particularly if you're curious to see how much of your body is made up of water.

I gather their theory is that yoga should be done in an atmosphere as hot as it is in India. But India, being a largish nation, has a bit more airflow. This room was crazy hot, and my clothing, my big plush terry towel and I were monsooned by the time I was done. Remember the Wham-O Water Wiggle? That was me.

How better to follow that up than by taking the Blue Line from Long Beach to sweltering downtown LA on Aug. 16 to catch some of the Democratic Convention peripherals? It was my old high school teacher Mike Mang's idea. He's always concerned with the big issues, so little things, like which stop we should exit at, don't interest him much. Hence, we wound up walking a couple of miles and learning just why it's called sweltering downtown LA.

At the venerable Patriotic Hall, several blocks from the Democratic confab at Staples Center, Arianna Huffington was convening the Shadow Convention. I dig the heck out of Huffington. Was she just misunderstood back when we all thought her the shrill Svengalette behind hubbie Michael? I ask because she has since emerged as the nation's premier conservative iconoclast, which is another way of saying that unlike so many conservatives, she's not full of crap.

Rather, the convention she helped organize addressed three issues that have been skirted by the two parties, though they are eating away at our democracy: campaign financing, the widening gap between rich and poor, and the failed drug war. Speakers ranged from Ram Dass to Crosby, Stills and Nash's David Crosby (who aging activist Granny D kept charmingly calling Bob Crosby, who was a '30s crooner) to Gore Vidal to former presidential candidate John Anderson. They also had air conditioning.

On the day we showed up, the topic was how democracy has been subverted by campaign financing. A few of the more salient facts: $86 million in corporate "soft money" was spent to influence the 1992 elections, and $500 million is being spent this election cycle; some $3.5 billion is being spent overall to influence our votes this year; and $63 million has been given to candidates by business interests to stall any action on global warming. As Representative Marty Meehan (D-Massachusetts) told the conventioneers, money "is the megaphone by which the voice of the powerful is drowning out the voice of the people."

Mike and I hit the street again, looking for "the people." We found them, and you know what? They're all cops! As we headed past the fenced-in Staples Center, where democracy was encaged like a death-match wrestling event, all we saw were cops, more cops than you can shake a stick at—hey! Don't provoke 'em—all doing their black-uniformed best to stay shaded and hydrated.

At the vaunted protest zone, where police and protesters had clashed after the Rage Against the Machine gig two nights previous, there were exactly three people in front of the stage listening to five pocket-protector people protest in favor of manned space flights to Mars. Out on the corner, some of the Reverend Fred Phelps' "God Hates Fags" wackos stood, as impervious to the heat as ants, as one of their lot harangued pretty much nobody through a bullhorn. I suspect these folks are the most misunderstood performance artists of all time.

We hiked on to Pershing Square, the other hotbed of protest, where six winos lay in a beveraged lie-out—perhaps protesting consciousness—under the vigilant gaze of dozens more helmeted, uniformed cops. We were starting to feel decidedly underdressed and headed home, where I turned on my TV to find that we'd entirely missed a huge march of folks protesting police violence, who, by news time, were filling the Staples' protest zone.

LA's city fathers had said they were counting on a billion dollars' worth of free tourism publicity from the city's hosting the convention, but you really can't put a dollar figure on the image shown around the world of an LA cop felling a female CNN stringer with a curt baton jab to her rib cage. Hop on a plane, folks; we've got great weather, too!

If that's not enough cops for you, the LA Times reported that an unspecified number of police "scouts" had infiltrated the ranks of the protesters. Some had even been arrested or peppered with "nonlethal" weapons fire from their uniformed brethren. If the police, as their spokesfolks said, were only targeting the troublemakers, does that mean their plainclothes guys were acting as provocateurs? Maybe allthe protesters were cops, even those five "Men to Mars" guys.

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