I don't know what to make of the scene here in Denver. There are too many scenes.
Tens of thousands of riot police deployed throughout the Denver metro area, patrolling the Qdobas, McDonalds and strip malls for miles around, keeping an eye out for crusty punks with anarchist tendencies, seemingly oblivious to the Neo-Nazis leafleting parked cars with flyers promising solutions to the "Negro Problem."
Thousands of journalists, bloggers and hangers-on roam from ride to ride and game to game at the media party thrown for them at the Elitch Gardens Six Flags Amusement Park. Many are carrying enormous bags of cheap, Chinese-made stuffed animals they "won" in their free games at the park. This scene brings to mind an image from my friend, Madison writer Jane Anne Morris, of American elections as a kind of Democracy Theme Park. "We can pull levers on voting machines and talk into microphones at hearings," she writes. "But don't worry, they're not connected to anything and nobody's listening 'cept us."
Thousands more left-of-center activists of every stripe, from Trotsky to Mao, revolutionary ecology to social anarchism, progressive Democrats to neo-Cold War liberals. They are all hosting panels, parties, marches, pickets and press conferences designed to draw the wandering attention of delegates and reporters bored by the endless five-minute speeches at the official Pepsi Center convention site.
Halls at the Pepsi Center itself are choked with people, half of them lost due to the failure of convention organizers to provide maps, written directions, or enough staffers to move people around, or keep non-press out of the press box. (Memo to the DNCC: distributing Hillary signs to those sitting in the press areas is not kosher, and makes trouble for photo and videojournalists).
The Pepsi Center is so disorganized that I stumble on the building's "Fusion Center" -- command center -- while looking for the bloggers' lounge. While thousands of riot police are outside shutting parts of Denver down, no one is on hand to guard the convention's nervous system.
So it's possible to walk out of the embattled Pepsi Center, dodge getting run over by Ted Turner and his entourage, grab a free smoothie from the Google lounge, turn a corner and be confronted by four lines of riot cops shutting down yet another downtown hotel in response to yet another reported threat. Around another corner, a lone Sierra Clubber with a bullhorn is imploring prominent Democrats not to be taken in by the promises of "Clean Coal" at the coal industry's banquet across the street.
And then, of course, there are the Clintons. What can you say of them? They are here. Causing trouble. Insistent on their central role. Dominating the news. Creating a palpable feeling of instability that hangs in the air above the constant chatter.
After four days in Denver, very little seems settled. The news media are always critical, but even Democratic delegates can't say much other than "pretty good" about the first few days. Everyone seems underwhelmed, hoping for the Obama campaign of the early primaries, or something entirely new.
And so the momentum is for Thursday, for Barack Obama and his next major opportunity to sell America on itself.
P.S. And what of the regular delegates? The grassroots Democrats active in their unions, peace groups, religious communities, community service agencies, and neighborhoods? Oh, them. Yes, they are here too.