Denver, 6.30pm mountain time:

With the contingent of Veterans Against the war leading the column, their faces, as always, grimmer, more fixed than your average protestor, their formation more orderly, the protest march swung into Brighton Boulevard, a main artery cutting through denver’s old street grid. For a city which the protestors have been chanting is “what a police state looks like”, the black-clad robocops were pretty laidback about this sudden, illegal diversion from the assigned protest march, down a street that cut near to the Pepsi centre, where the convention was being held.

Perhaps they’ve decided that it’s best to let these things ebb and flow, the waves of energy and obsession crossing the city from dawn to the next day. Or perhaps, when you’ve got a machine gun, but you’re mounted on a glorified BMX bike, you are no more able to take yourself seriously than the rest of the world is.

Like most of the protests this week, it had the best and worst of the rebel spirit — being there, at least, to record dissent from a Democratic candidate whose plan for Iraq withdrawal would leave 80,000 US troops there, and who has rattled the sabre as effectively as any Republican. But, as the Vets stopped to give interviews, and talked of secret plans to invade Venezuela, etc, the paranoid style of US politics — the left a mirror of the right’s — reasserted itself. In what other polity could the dotty 9-11 truther movement grow remorselessly within the belly of the left leviathan?

Iraq veterans Against The War are particularly prone to this sort of thing, and I wonder if it is not a carryover of the military mindset and training, a need for the enemy always to be concrete, real and organised. No-one could gainsay the courage of IVAW — given the way in which the notion of unquestioning service is sold to every American both inside and out the military, to take a step back and adopt a politics which says that your effort and the deaths of your comrades has been a waste and a crime, takes a core strength which most of us can but hope we would find in similar circumstances.

Speaking of which … as the vets protest moved slowly through the old warehouses and vacant lots of the city’s hinterland, in the Pepsi centre another long dark night of the soul was coming to an end, as the Democrats began their long awaited roll-call, the validation of Hillary Clinton.

Through the last two days, rumours about the thing have been swirling, from the suggestion — never credible — that a coup was in the plotting, to a story that made it to several broadsheets suggesting that the thing had been called off, and would be replaced by a behind-closed-doors straw poll.

None of it was true, but it was a measure of the anxiety this event has been causing among party heavies. Nevertheless at around three thirty this afternoon it began with the head of the delegation from Birmingham, standing up to announce that “the great state of Alabama pledges its delegates — five to Hillary Clinton, and 48 to Barack Obama, the next president of the United States.”

Alaska was next, giving a spiel about how the state is turning blue up and down the card, etc etc, a move followed by each state — Delaware, first state to ban the sale of hamster meat etc etc — in a drawn out piece of political theatre that managed to be enervating without being exciting. Illinois yielded its place, until the call reached New York, then spoke in favour of their adopted native son and then for New York, Hillary herself spoke — powerfully, directly once again:

“Madame Secretary, on behalf of the great state of New York, with appreciation for the spirit and dedication of all who are gathered here. With eyes firmly fixed on the future in the spirit of unity, with the goal of victory, with faith in our party and our country, let’s declare together in one voice right here, right now, that Barack Obama is our candidate and he will be our president.

“Madame secretary, I move that the convention suspend the procedural rules and suspend the further conduct of the roll call vote. All votes cast by the delegates will be counted and that I move Senator Barack Obama of Illinois be selected by this convention, by acclimation as the nominee of the Democratic Party for President of the United States.”

And so it went, to a raucous standing ovation in the Pepsi centre, and here at the Big Tent, where not even a pretence of objectivity is being entertained.

Outside the Vets were getting nearer and by some accounts the march was now at 5000 people or more. Inside, however, with Obama maintaining his theatrical absence, it was left to Nancy Pelosi to accept on his behalf.

Now, with the egos thing all sorted out, we are waiting for the id — Bill Clinton, due to speak in an hour, and unless the national committee has wired a cattle prod up his chinos to his balls, no-one really knows what he’ll do. Will he undo all the good work Hillary had done to get wayward supporters back in the caravan? Or will this living embodiment of the 60s, this sprawling rhizome of passion and appetite kick the whole thing into touch?

Or will the vets reach the stadium before that and begin to beat at the walls with their bloodied fists?

Peter Fray

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