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Did You Think Politics Would Attract Throngs Downtown? You Mean Outside? With No AC?


To stage a successful protest, one needs: something to protest, somewhere to protest and someone to protest to. This last is especially important--it is what separates a bona-fide political activity from a micro-brew-fueled gripefest at home.

It's also what made last week's series of demonstrations and protests slightly less than successful. The anarchists, the teachers, the prison reform advocates, the homeless, they all did their part. They made their signs and shouted their chants; they took to the streets, illegally even, with drums and the occasional float. OK, there was some choreography with the authorities, but there were also megaphones and political masks, banners and lots of energy. There was only one thing missing.

The audience.

It's hard to get folks riled up when there are no folks handy. And last week, if you discounted the legions of law enforcement, media and, of course, the conventioneers, there were approximately 17 people downtown. And half of them were there to fix a busted fire hydrant on Spring and 3rd streets.

This was partially due to apprehension--many downtown businesses, including state and city government offices, encouraged their employees to take vacation time or telecommute or call in sick with a sore toe. Whatever, just stay the heck away.

And they did. In droves. Temple to 19th, Broadway, Spring, Figueroa, Flower--all lay stunned and silent, litter flapping listlessly against the locked-down doorways--the Atlantic City Boardwalk on a Sunday morning.

Certainly, local law enforcement, the mayor's office and, of course, the media, did everything in their power to scare the daylights out of anyone who planned to play hooky to come looky-looing downtown. One could argue that such precautions are justifiable, given this city's history, the recent riots in Seattle, and even the occasional melee in Philadelphia.

And, as the actual protests did occur here, it was virtually impossible to get within a city block of them, unless you had thought ahead and brought your own riot gear, in matching midnight blue.

But really, the warnings and blockades weren't necessary. In other cities, people might have gathered on the sidewalks and the squares to catch a glimpse of high-wattage speakers such as Jesse Jackson, Ted Kennedy and Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, to be part of the political maelstrom that everyone kept fretting over, or just to see what the damned thing was all about.

But this is Los Angeles. We weren't planning to go to the convention anyway. Like Seymour's wife in Salinger's "A Perfect Day for Bananafish," we are a city that for a ringing phone drops absolutely nothing. Democratic Convention? Oh, we're staying home. New Year's Eve 1999? Oh, we're staying home. The Academy Awards? Oh, the crowds, darling. All those desperate people from Paducah. We used to go to Swifty's, but now . . . we're staying home.

There are a lot of reasons for this city's general lack of group participation. Parking is one of them. The lack of a city center is another--remember this spring's Million Mom March that broke down into a "let-them-make-the-drive" east-west squabble?

In the case of the convention, some argued that without floor credentials, there was no there there. It's not like Al Gore or even Joseph Lieberman was walking the streets glad-handing political groupies--the DNC, with the blessing of the LAPD and the mayor's office, made sure nothing as proletarian and enjoyable as a street rally or parade drew attention away from one more event that was basically all about Staples Center. KCET and C-SPAN showed what was happening inside. And the networks broke up their endless commentary to cover the protests. This consisted of hovering over the police lines, like so many on-the-spot amateur video cameramen waiting for the LAPD to beat someone up.

But the real reasons are probably a bit deeper than that, a bit more revelatory of the L.A. psyche. So let's cop to them.

First, there's the personal invitation issue. Anyone who's been in this town for more than 15 minutes knows that you don't go anywhere unless you have been personally invited. For one thing, they might not let you in; for another, actually attending an event at Barbra Streisand's compound is nowhere near as thrilling and ego-boosting as being invited to an event at Barbra Streisand's compound. Since there were no formal invitations issued for convention activity gawking, no self-respecting Angeleno could possibly have been expected to show up.

Then there was the weather. Anything that deviates from our requisite perfection--"sunny and in the high 70s"--is considered inclement weather. We do not go out in inclement weather. Remember New Year's Eve day last year. Remember the (shudder) raindrops? Falling from the sky? On us? And our cars? So we're going to go stand somewhere with a bunch of strangers in the rain just to usher in a new century? Maybe next year.

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