Five Scenes from the RNC Convention: Dispatch #2


Five Scenes from the RNC Convention: Dispatch #2

(text and photos by Okla Elliott)


We were driving around downtown Cleveland, navigating the blocked-off roads and foot traffic, when Robert’s police scanner app informed us that a major disruption was underway and police reinforcements were requested. Robert and I  jumped out of the car and began gathering camera equipment, as Turner ran around the car and got in the driver’s seat. Turner drove off in search of a parking spot. As Robert and I ran, he was assembling his video camera — mounting it and attaching the mic, the lens, and so forth — with some difficulty. (You try running through a crowded downtown while assembling a video camera set-up sometime.) Despite fear of missing important footage, we stopped to allow Robert time to properly assemble his gear. All of this, from the jumping out of the car to assembling the camera, was a bumbled action sequence from a Hollywood movie.

[Side note: One of several things I have learned covering the convention is that nothing ever — and I mean ever — works as smoothly as you imagine it will, and certainly not as smoothly as it does in the Hollywood imagination.]

IMG_5902When we had finally made it across Public Square and down a small side street to where the commotion was, it turned out that members of the Revolutionary Communists had set an American flag on fire and were now surrounded by mounted police. We were therefore presented with a wall of horse-flesh and piles of horse manure scattered about. You’ll have to wait for the video dispatch, but Robert got some good footage of the arrest, as he ended up accidentally shuffled behind the horse-wall (which is now a word to me) by the IMG_5908police. I got a few photos of the horses and police, from where I ended up.

[Side note: One thing that happens to you a lot at these sorts of crowded protest-laden events is that you get moved around a lot, either with a gentle yet firm force by the police or just by the random flow of the crowd. Robert and I got utterly separated within seconds of arriving at the disruption and wouldn’t find each other again for nearly an hour.]


There were protesters of great variety present, though perhaps my favorite was a woman who merely lounged on the steps of the Public Square, proudly flaunting her lushly overweight body. When I asked permission to take her photo, I also asked her what she was protesting or supporting here. Here answer: “I’m not interested in protesting or IMG_5887supporting. I’m just enjoying this sun here in this open space.” It was therefore not so much a direct protest of any policy or party, but rather a positive message of body positivity and enjoyment she was promoting.

And this is another point worth making about the protesters at the convention: only a small number were directly protesting the RNC, around a fourth, I’d say. The rest just wanted attention for their cause or, in the more cynical cases, for themselves and were using this massive public event as a platform.


Perhaps the worst instance of protesters merely using the occasion to further their own IMG_5868agenda was when a group of rightwing Christians — think Westboro Baptist church types — set up a demonstration simply to yell about how gays were going to hell and how AIDS was righteous punishment from God.

Interestingly this demonstration had by far the greatest amount of police protection of any I saw in my three days in Cleveland. It also received the greatest resistance from the crowd.

[Side note: Something you should know about how demonstrations worked at the convention is that each group had to apply for permits to demonstrate at a particular location and for a specific time slot. Given the limited space provided, you got a turn


But if there is one rule of protests, it’s that for every protest group, there is an equal and opposite protest group. On the opposite side of the square was another Christian group, Healing Prayer, making a demonstration, but this time of love not hate. They played acoustic guitar and sang happy songs; they offered to pray for people in need; they hugged passersby freely. IMG_6018When I walked up to get a few photos, a man named Kevin (pictured to the right here) approached me and asked if he could pray for me.

“Anything you need, anything you want me to pray with you for. What would you like me to pray for you for?” he asked.

“Maybe my health,” I said.

“What’s wrong?”

“I recently learned I have diabetes.”

And Kevin put his hand on my chest and gave a thoughtful and heartfelt prayer. And either he is the best actor in the world, or he was sincerely tearing up near the end of it. (I lean toward the latter.)

I’m sure whether one group cancels out the other or if some political/theological balance was restored to the universe by both groups being present, but I do know that rarely can you find such diversity in one location and rarely can see how a religious belief can be so starkly different in its enactment.

As Kevin said before I moved on, “Don’t you feel something different standing here with us? You feel love, right? Jesus loves you. Hell may be real, but I know this love right here is real. I can feel it. Do you?”

Yes, Kevin, I did.


Okay, so every time I mentioned to a friend or family member that I was covering the RNC IMG_6009convention, the first, third, and seventh thing they said to me was, “Be careful there.” The media played up the potential violence, with armed protesters and armed supporters reported to be present. Even I was worried before I arrived. As it turned out, the New Black Panther Party didn’t show up en masse and armed, as promised, and the open-carry people present were really just photo ops for people like me. They spent almost the entire time posing for photos and offering platitudes about freedom and the found fathers.

Violence was nearly nonexistent at the convention and among the protesters, in fact, something that truly heartens me. I am happy to have been wrong, and I hope (though doubt) that the media will admit it was wrong to play up the possibility of violence, or at least acknowledge that the convention was remarkably civilized. The closest thing to incivility I saw was a group of grandstanding protesters on the final night yelling in the faces of cops in an attempt to create a spectacle and garner attention for themselves.

[Side note: It worked in a way. There was practically no immediate audience for their antics, but about a dozen people were filming and photographing the self-aggrandizing charade — Robert and myself included — so I imagine they’ll be able to get the attention they so obviously craved, even if only after the fact.]

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All This Mayhem: Dispatch #1


All This Mayhem: Dispatch #1


Okla Elliott (with photos and video by Robert MacCready)

I arrived at the Cleveland Amtrak station at 3:00am. It was darkened to the point of seeming abandoned; two cops stood by the entrance smoking cigarettes and eyeing everyone who came in or out with weary suspicion — though at that hour, this meant only me and maybe three or four others.

Cleveland was deathly quiet, a calm between two storms, yet the tension and tiredness emanating from the two police officers as I walked by them was unsettling. I felt sorry for them, for the unending task this week has already been and will continue to be in their lives. I also worried what that tension and tiredness might lead to as the week ground on.

But I’ve gotten head of myself. Aside from the obvious, why was I in Cleveland to cover and comment on the RNC convention? One of my best friends, Robert MacCready, called me on my birthday and after a few perfunctory seconds of well-wishing, he immediately launched into a scheme he said was perfect for us, something we absolutely had to do.

“You live near Philadelphia, right?”


“Let’s cover the DNC convention,” he said, not really a suggestion so much as a revelation of unalloyed necessity.

Long story made short: we decided to do our best Hunter S. Thompson and Norman Mailer impressions and do both the RNC and DNC conventions; a few weeks of frantic calling and emailing protest organizations, political candidates, and public officials ensued; Free Press Houston agreed to be our primary sponsor with several other news venues expressing interest in coverage as well. And it was, as they say, on.

rnc_flyerOkay…now that you’re mostly caught up, back to my arrival in Cleveland…

Bob picked me up at the station in a rental car and we went back to where we’ll be staying. We reviewed footage Bob had shot during the day before I arrived and discussed angles of entry for the stories we wanted to bring out all this mayhem. We did a minimum of reminiscing, slipping neatly into our new roles as journalistic/anthropologist collaborators. We finally got to sleep around 5:00am.

As I write this, Bob is editing footage for our first video dispatch. This is what our friendship was always meant to be: sitting across from each other at a table working together. Bob was right when he said, “Man, we have to do this.”

This first dispatch has been largely personal, but I’ll give you three interesting facts about the convention itself:

  1. The only arrests on day-one were for nonviolent offenses.


    Vermin Supreme with a new constituent

  2. The Bikers for Trump group had asked for a demonstration permit to accommodate tens of thousands, yet only approximately 1000 showed up, showing either a lack of support or courage on their part.
  3. Vermin Supreme was on the scene, offering Dadaist campaign promises such as a pony for every American, but an identification pony you would have to have with you everywhere to identify yourself as an American citizen.

We’ll be sending video and writerly dispatches as we can, and future dispatches will of course focus more on the convention itself. I will also be on various radio programs and writing for a few newspapers in addition to my in-the-moment dispatches here at As It Ought to Be. Links for all will be forthcoming. For now, enjoy the promo video for our adventures:

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Here, Now



 Here, Now


Paul Crenshaw

Before he was pulled over, Philando Castile worked in the cafeteria of an elementary school. Imagine with me all manner of child: their voices ringing off the tile floors, chewing with their mouths open, small shoes shuffling along in the line where the workers stand behind slanted glass. Imagine small cartons of milk. Plastic trays with square compartments for circular food. Small hands hold the corners of the trays. Some of the kids are scared and nervous this first day of school so a man at the end of the line gives them graham crackers and little goldfish. By all accounts I could find he was a fine man. In a few hours he will be shot in a car and all of us will see what happens next, but for now let us imagine him smiling and hugging the small children, saying “Here now, kids, eat all your food, so you can grow up to be big and strong.



Paul Crenshaw teaches literature and creative writing at Elon University. His work has appeared in Best American Essays, Best American Nonrequired Reading, North American Review, Prairie Schooner, Pushcart, Quarterly West, and elsewhere.

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“It is not necessary that you believe that the officer who choked Eric Garner set out that day to destroy a body. All you need to understand is that the officer carries with him the power of the American state and the weight of an American legacy, and they necessitate that of the bodies destroyed every year, some wild and disproportionate number of them will be black.” ― Ta-Nehisi Coates

Editor’s Note: Every word I have attempted to write here has been wholly inadequate. I can only offer you poetry written by those who have lived an experience that I have only witnessed from the sidelines, in abject horror.


“Standing In Courage” by Jacinta V. White

“The All Black Penguin Speaks” by Roger Bonair-Agard

“Black Woman” by Georgia Douglas Johnson


Black Lives Matter: A Roundup of Worthy Reads – The Poetry Foundaton

10 Artists of the Black Lives Matter Movement – Sojourners

Poets for Ferguson

Black Lives Matter – Renee Mitchell Speaks

‘Black Lives Matter’: A Poem by Nikkita Oliver

Anthony McPherson – “All Lives Matter: 1800s Edition”

Black Lives Matter/Freddie Gray Poem

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By Rumi

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

(Today’s poem is in the public domain, belongs to the masses, and appears here today accordingly.)

Rumi: (1207–1273), also known as Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Balkhī, Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī, Mawlānā or Molānā, and Mawlawī or Molavi, was a 13th-century Persian poet, jurist, theologian, and Sufi mystic. Rumi’s importance is considered to transcend national and ethnic borders. Iranians, Turks, Afghans, Tajiks, and other Central Asian Muslims as well as the Muslims of South Asia have greatly appreciated his spiritual legacy in the past seven centuries. His poems have been widely translated into many of the world’s languages and transposed into various formats. He has been described as the “most popular poet in America” and the “best selling poet in the US”. (Annotated biography of Rumi courtesy of Wikipedia, with edits.)

Editor’s Note: Thank you to long-time reader–and my beloved mother–Maya Elashi for sharing today’s poem with me so that I might share it here with you. May we welcome all that life offers, learn what we are able, and walk our true paths with the experience and the wisdom that we gain along the way.

Want to read more by and about Rumi?

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Editor’s Note: In response to last week’s feature, Saturday Poetry Series favorites Erin Lyndal Martin and Elana Bell introduced me to two more fabulous mermaid poems. These poems have been swimming through my mind all week, and are too fantastic not to share. Get a taste here, then follow the links below to read each of these stunning poems in full.

By Pablo Neruda, Translated by Paul Weinfield

But having come from the river, she understood nothing
She was a mermaid and was lost
Their insults flowed down her perfect, smooth flesh
Their filth enveloped her golden breasts
But not knowing tears, she did not weep tears

(Read the complete poem as translated by Paul Weinfield.)

By Elana Bell

I kiss

the puckered lips, taste
ocean breath and remember

myself, slippery and long
under sun-slanted depths, swaying

to the whine of boats overhead.
I did not need you then, my scales

shining in their pristine sea.

(Read the entire poem in Winter Tangerine.)

Want to read more?
“Sunday Morning” in Winter Tangerine
“Fable of the Mermaid and the Drunks” as translated by Paul Weinfeild
“Fable of the Mermaid and the Drunks” in English and Spanish via Susan’s Place
“Fable of the Mermaid and the Drunks” on youtube, as read by Ethan Hawke

Today’s selections appear via Fair Use.

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Waterhouse, John William, 1849-1917; A Mermaid

By William Butler Yeats

A mermaid found a swimming lad,
Picked him for her own,
Pressed her body to his body,
Laughed; and plunging down
Forgot in cruel happiness
That even lovers drown.

(Today’s poem is in the public domain, belongs to the masses, and appears here today accordingly.)

William Butler Yeats (1865-1939) was an Irish poet, dramatist, and one of the foremost figures of 20th century literature. A pillar of both the Irish and British literary establishments, in his later years Yeats served as an Irish Senator for two terms. He was a driving force behind the Irish Literary Revival, and along with Lady Gregory and Edward Martyn founded the Abbey Theatre, serving as its chief during its early years. In 1923, he was awarded a Nobel Prize in Literature for what the Nobel Committee described as “inspired poetry, which in a highly artistic form gives expression to the spirit of a whole nation.” He was the first Irishman so honored. Yeats is generally considered one of the few writers whose greatest works were completed after being awarded the Nobel Prize; such works include The Tower (1928) and The Winding Stair and Other Poems (1929). (Annotated biography of William Butler Yeats courtesy of Wikipedia, with edits.)

Editor’s Note: In honor of Coney Island’s Mermaid Parade, happening today in New York, and dedicated to all the mermaids, real and imagined.

Want to read more mermaid poetry?
The Backyard Mermaid
The Objectified Mermaid
Mermaid Song

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