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THURSDAY, September 4, 2008 -  The Battle Of Minneapolis

On the day after Rage Against The Machine got shut down on the lawn of the Capital in St. Paul, Minnesota (but played anyway - a cappella, through bullhorns - to a sea of smiling faces and riot-ready cops, whom Tom Morello suggested had more in common with the protesters than the RNC delegates, and maybe they should tear gas the Republicans instead!), this night they got to play FOR REAL.
It was another picture-perfect day, crisp and clear...but there was an aura of "I love the smell of tear-gas in the morning" hovering over it. All day long on the TV and radio news, the tension was built up. "Riot police from Los Angeles have been brought in to back up Minneapolis police to deal with the aftermath of the Rage Against The Machine concert." "RNC Convention goers are apprehensive as their party locations are near the Target Center where anarchist band Rage Against The Machine will play tonight." "Honey, are you sure you want to go get in the middle of all that mess?" Yes, Mom. I'm sure. Real sure.
I met up with friends downtown for drinks prior to the show, and the tension was real. Riot police EVERYWHERE, looking like black Michelin Men, so padded up were they. Snipers on top of buildings. Police cars and vans taking up all the good parking spots. It seemed as if they all actually WANTED action, and by their very omnipresence, were egging it on. The whiskey made us a little sassy, and I soon found the zip-tie handcuff toting Officers were in no laughing mood. So we turned our jokes instead on the Republicans scuttling in a hurry to get to their functions and off the streets.
We missed most of the fiery Anti-Flag set, sadly, but were told that it was great, and I know they have a whole bunch of new fans. The Rage fans were SO psyched, the merch tables were selling out ("You never know if this is gonna be their last show, man."), and once inside the arena, the rebel energy was palpable. Helped along by the giant LCD screen atop the stage lit up with "RNC FUCK YOU!" I was in exactly the right place.
We found our perfect seats (THANKS, TOM!) in the front row right above the massive pit forming on the floor. It grew more massive by the second, as people from the sides were rushing past the helpless Security Guards and leaping over the railings, and dropping about six feet to the floor. Each jumper was met with a roar from the crowd, and my friend Jason said, "I think they're thinking as long as the place doesn't get burned down, they win." It really was comical to watch people lining up and dropping off the railings like penguins into the sea. As ominous as it felt, the people on the floor were still helping up the people that had faulty landings, like the good people do.
Pretty soon the "RAGE! RAGE! RAGE!" chants began and it had to feel like the hallway in Purple Rain for the guys in the band - thunderous. High-fives were being slapped between strangers, because they all shared the same good fortune: they were THERE! Then, all of a sudden, the place went dark and a cheer that began the night's laryngitis went up universally. Spotlights came on, the big red star backdrop was revealed, and four orange jump-suited and black hooded Guantanamo detainees were marched out to the middle of the stage. They stood there silently for a good few minutes as the cheers built to a deafening cacophony. My ears are still ringing, as I'm sure everyone else's are, and not a note had been played. Then some roadies came out and strapped a guitar on one (WOOO HOOOOOO!) and a bass on another, one was led to the drum kit, and one was handed a mic. And with that, the opening chords to "Bombtrack" blew the steam out of the kettle of the room. All it says in my notes here is "BEZERKER!" Each word was sung along, and the place was in rock HEAVEN. From the entire arena floor pit on up to the seats in the tops of the rafters, EVERYONE was on their feet - and stayed there til the floor lights came up at night's end. Unless they were off them - in the air!
The orange jumpsuits and hoods came off and "Testify" came on. Another huge group shout went up when Tom, Zack, Tim and Brad were finally revealed. It was an entire floor mosh at that point, and you could feel the sweat and power where I was right above them. It was HEAVY...and only got more so when Zack screamed "The War is right outside your door! FUCK YOU, RNC!" We all screamed our agreement back at him. They didn't let up a second before the opening notes to "Bulls On Parade" hit us in the face. "MINNEAPOLIS!!!!" There was a photo of Che on the riser, and you felt that he'd be proud with the roots of a revolution taking hold here last night. Geez.
Not one breath before "People Of The Sun"...holy shit. It was beginning to feel real dangerous in there now, as the crowd surged back, forth, in a circle, up, down, upside down. "It's comin back around again!" It sure was. A guy near me screamed, "They just turn it up to ten and keep it there!" That was fact. Except that then they played "Know Your Enemy" and that blew the place up above any number. Bodies were flying above the crowd, launching over the sides of the barriers, and then they'd run back in for more. "Fight the war, fuck the norm" - that's exactly what everyone in the place was busy doing, with thousands of comrades shouting together, "ALL OF WHICH ARE AMERICAN DREAMS!" over and over. Until they started yelling the lyrics to "Bullet In The Head" one second later. When Zack yelled, "They say jump, you say how high?" the answer was super high, and as one.
My dear friend Christine was with me for her first Rage show ever, and she turned to me, pumping her fist. Sweating and grinning, and she yelled, "The only thing I can kind of compare this to is childbirth!" I spat up some whiskey laughing, but I kind of got it. The anticipation, the little bit of fear, the exhilaration and RELEASE of it was all present here, and could be pretty life-changing for someone who was at a show like this for the first time. I'm still laughing at that one, though.
Sensing that it might be starting to get scary, perhaps, Rage next played a bluesy jam, with Zack riffing on this time in history, and the "white tyrant's bird's eye view" and how "the water's gonna rise." This segment brought out real lighters (!), not cell phones! People were feeling it like you can't begin to imagine if you weren't there. United in TOTAL opposition to the dumbass Convention taking place in our beloved cities, this felt like the only place to be for all of us who are made sick by everything we've heard this week from the Elephants. And it was WAY WAY better than jail, where as of today, about a hundred of our comrades are. When it should be the Administration themselves in there. But I digress...
They cranked it back up as they dedicated their next one to "Our brothers in Anti-Flag" and then smacked us all around with "Guerilla Radio." I don't have to tell you that when the time came for "What better place than here? What better time than NOW?" it was screamed so loudly it hurt. Tom's guitar solo atop his monitor was met by such shouts of total admiration, it's a good bet that most in the room have tried that part and failed miserably in Guitar Hero III.
Tom's opening siren to "Calm Like A Bomb" went off and so did we. SICK!  I don't know how to get Rage to tour more or record a new album on my own, but their music has never been more fitting, timely, or NECESSARY than now. They're such special occasions when they play a show now, but MORE people around the planet need to have the same feeling we did last night. Just sayin', guys. We need you.
Then "Sleep Now In The Fire"...which ruled. So hard that Zack had to say at song's end, "Take care of each other this evening," as he could probably tell how intense the floor/pit was by this point. I was very appreciative to be just above the fray. (I bruise easy). "THEY DON'T OWN RIGHT NOW!" Nope. WE did.
"Wake Up" was next up, and featured a speech from Zack that was far more inspiring than anything that could have been uttered in the one we were missing from the Moose Hunter in St. Paul at that moment. He said that he wasn't sure if this show was going to happen, as the cops that surrounded the building wanted to shut it down. That he appreciated us being there, and that the Police were afraid of us, and the ideas that were taking place here tonight. "We won't be distracted. We won't be party to it. There are a million casualties in Iraq. Two million refugees, from a war based on a lie. They say it's for our security, but tell that to the people of New Orleans!" (HUGE crowd roar) He mentioned Sarah "Hockey Mom" Palin's pregnant 17-year-old daughter, which was funny when he screamed "WHAT YOU REAP IS WHAT YOU SOW!" at the song's finish. WAKE UP, Americans! There are some real suckers out there falling for some real stupid shtick on the Republican side. I'd be mostly just embarrassed for them, if their results weren't so destructive to the future of our country. But you've still got two months to WAKE UP, People! C'mon.
That was the last song of the regular set, and as the band left the stage, a Commie anthem came on the P.A. and the crowd yelled their lungs out. As the Russian music built to a crescendo, the guys came back out and blasted into "Freedom," which is really what we were all gathered to express on this night, in this city. Outside, the t-shirt motto, "The Battle Of Minneapolis" was taking shape, but everyone inside was just having the greatest of times EVER. And then came "Killing In The Name" to close out the night, and I can report that it was the absolute hardest I've ever heard it. Brad and Timmy threw down the heaviest beats possible, and Zack and Tom did what they do best - BLOW OUR MINDS! The audience was literally bouncing off the walls. There was a lyric change to "Some of those that burn crosses, are the same that HOLD OFFICE" in honor of the RNC, I gather. When it came time for "FUCK YOU, I won't do what you tell me!" repeated over and over...the aggression and raging built to such a level that now I really did fear for the streets of my fair hometown. There was no way these guys I saw on the floor weren't going to go out and break some shit up.
But then, something happened that was wonderful and responsible and WORKED. The cheering was off the sound charts, and the band stood there instead of leaving. Zack took the mic and asked for that mayhem NOT to happen. "The Police are the problem out there. Let's prove that we've got more discipline than they do!" And so we did.
When the chanting and clapping and ecstatic yelling died down after the WONDERFUL Rage Against The Machine left the stage for real, the good people of Minnesota spilled out into the streets, surrounded by Police in full riot gear absolutely everywhere in the streets ... and the most that happened was "Loitering." Yeah, some were arrested for it, but without that speech imploring maturity and control, I think we'd be looking at an entirely different newspaper this morning. Instead, the Police Chief of Minneapolis was on the radio talking about how calm it had all been ... (like a bomb).
We met up with the band afterwards to celebrate what everyone on the streets were saying was "the BEST show I've ever been to!" They were completely spent, as was every soul who had been in that building. But just for last night. Today, I felt energized and THRILLED that that power to oppose is alive and well in OUR America. Whatever happens this November (PLEASE GOD, OBAMA!), we'll always have that power ... the power of the PEOPLE - and the power to RAGE against ALL the machines.


TUESDAY, September 2, 2008 - Taking Back Labor Day outside the RNC


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I took it as a personal affront when I heard the Republican National Convention was going to be held in my home state of Minnesota, the bluest of blue states ever since I've been old enough to vote.  I couldn't imagine Bush/McCain celebrating their war crimes in the midst of my cities, and I burned with the desire to do something to challenge that.  When I heard that my friends The Nightwatchman and Rage Against The Machine were going to voice their opposition ... that was that. I jumped on a plane home.

Minnesota in the summer is among the most glorious places you could ever hope to be. The lakes, the clean cities, the wonderfully nice citizens...I can see why a Convention would want to be held here. I just don't know that they planned for many of those same nice people to reject the Republican agenda like a bad kidney. Arrests were being made even before the whole deal started! After one glorious day at the State Fair and all the food items on a stick you could ever dream up, it was time to get down to the business of peaceful protest.

I went with Tom Morello: The Nightwatchman to Harriet Island, the site of the Take Back Labor Day rally, sponsored by the SEIU (Service Employees International Union). As we drove past downtown St. Paul, we could see the protesters with banners on the overpasses ("War is not Pro-Life!") and one exit was blocked by people banded together, arm in arm. It was ON. Harriet is a beautiful island across the Mississippi River from downtown St. Paul - and the Xcel Center, the site of the RNC. It was Day One of the Convention, but events were drastically curtailed due to the fear of Hurricane Gustav heading for New Orleans. Otherwise known as the perfect excuse for Bush and Cheney not to show up and further taint the party for McCain and the lady no one has ever heard of.

It was a boiling hot day with blue skies and white puffy clouds, and a sea of people was already assembling for a day of great music and vocal opposition. I sat in on a Press Conference with all the artists of the day, and the SEIU. It was nice to see familiar faces from our different stops on the Justice Tour ... Union leaders, IVAW (Iraq Vets Against the War) Vets, and friends that felt the same urge as I, to come and just say NO!

Speaking of the artists...this show was a perfect line-up for the task at hand - making NOISE and powerful statements that I'm sure could be heard across the river at the Convention Arena:  Atmosphere. Billy Bragg. Steve Earle. Allison Moore. Mos Def. The Nightwatchman. The Pharcyde. Yep...and all for $10, the People's Price. 

The Press Conference was pretty entertaining, with the performers talking about why they were there ("to physically take back Labor Day" - Tom Morello), what their worst jobs ever were ("Bottom of the barrel, salad bar at Wendy's" - Imani of The Pharcyde), and that Labor Day is meant to "think about what it means to be a worker in America" - Steve Earle. Everyone these days talks about "reclaiming the American Dream," but these people are helping to actually DO SOMETHING about it.

Outside, the crowd had grown massive. There were break-dancers, hot girls in bikinis on shoulders, beach balls, hacky-sackers (still?), "Cold Beer for One Ticket" and an entire island ready to ROCK.

Billy Bragg took the stage first, and let everyone know why he has a revered reputation for protest folk music. I'm not that familiar with his song titles, but the first one had a line that said, "George Bush be gone!" and the people, MY people, roared like the Twins had won the World Series. I'm sure W. heard it wherever he was clearing brush. Billy said, "Being in an audience like this is what changed me. I have faith in the people of the United States, that they'll realize that CHANGE is what the WORLD needs. I have faith in America," and then played a great song called, "I Keep Faith." He followed that with "There Is Power In The Union," which he played for Labor Day and all the Workers present. The crowd was with him every step of the way.

Steve Earle came up next and played a Pete Seeger song ("The war is over and the Union is strong"), which he had the audience sing along with. The first try was pretty lackluster, and Steve said, "That sucked. You're not gonna stop a war singing like that," so the next verse blew him back with their gusto. He followed that with "Christmas in Washington," and was then joined by his lovely wife, singer Allison Moorer, for a gorgeous version of Pete Seeger's "Where Have All The Flowers Gone?" Wow. At this point I went out into the crowd to get a feel for the vibe. I heard one girl say, "What a great mix of people," and she was absolutely right. THIS was America, really, at its best. Best because they were all coming together to support what is GREAT about our country, and speak/shout out about what is the very worst. Right across the Mighty Mississippi. While I was out checking in with the good Minnesota folks, Allison played, "A Change Is Gonna Come" (PLEASE!!!!) and then joined Steve for his great, perfect, TRUE, "City Of Immigrants." The Great Mix Of People rewarded them with sustained, appreciative cheers.

Now it was The Nightwatchman's turn. He walked across the stage, dressed all in black (extra points, because it was very, very hot out) and said nothing while he set up his guitar. The cheers were bezerk before he said word one. Heated/liquored up guys in the front were banging the barricades with excitement, and fists were raised all the way to the back of the vast lawn. When he finally spoke, he said, "I'm The Nightwatchman, and I think it's an INSULT that the Republicans would start their Convention on Labor Day, the Worker's Holiday" and launched into his "Union Song." With SEIU banners flying everywhere, and Union Members' in their T-shirts all over the place, that insult was corrected in full - "Standing UP and Standing STRONG!" That led to "One Man Revolution," where he changed the lyrics to say, "On the streets of St. Paul..." and got the expected "WOOOOOOOOOOOO!" from everyone. It really is powerful, and a good reminder that YES, One Man/woman/anyone CAN make a difference, CAN start a revolution. Because you're not just one for very long, especially here on this day. The entire place was totally on board.

He dedicated the next one to the SEIU, "Flesh Shapes The Day." The hooting part of the chorus was enhanced by thousands of voices in this version, which turned into screams at song's end. Tom then asked the crowd to, instead of having a lull while he tuned his "Whatever It Takes" guitar, to scream as loud as Minnesota ever had. Uh, they did. It sounded like what it might if the Vikings were to ever win a Superbowl. REAL loud. Tom said, "I was actually done tuning about five seconds ago, but that was really cool." He started to play and then said, "Oops, still not tuned" and the crowd roared again, without prompting, just as loud. For that, they got Tom's version of "The Ghost Of Tom Joad." It was SICK. I had chills despite the heavy heat, and I'm sure I was not alone.

"This next song was played at the fall of the Berlin Wall. It was played in the streets of Soweto at the end of apartheid...and it is my hope that it will be sung in the streets of this great state when George W. Bush and his cronies are brought before a War Crimes Tribunal"  - the crowd THUNDERED and The Nightwatchman busted into "Guerilla Radio." When the harmonica filled in for the guitar solo part, the place went OFF. As it did when the question was posed, "What better place than here? What better time than NOW?!!" - all screamed along in unison. "ALL HELL CAN'T STOP US NOW!!" It was very, very exciting, and the cheers lasted a long, long time. Tom said, "They're saying that Bush and Cheney didn't show up here because of Gustav, but I'm pretty sure it's because Rage Against The Machine was coming to town." The fans dug that.

Tom had just come from Denver and the DNC and shared a story about our friends from the IVAW. They led the march on the DNC in full dress uniform and faced off against 700 cops in "full Darth Vader gear," guarding the entrance to the Convention Hall.  The decision was made to march THROUGH the cops.  Imagine the p.r. associated with a beat-down of uniformed Vets!  At the very last possible second, an Obama liaison invited them in, talked with them, and made plans for further discussion after the Convention. They considered that a total victory. Then the same action was done this very morning at the RNC.  Some Cops were in tears and walked off the line rather than face off with these honored Veterans.  They finally let one guy in, holding his tri-fold U.S. flag, like they present at funerals, and not one person from the McCain camp would meet with him.  Not ONE!  This, from the "War Hero" campaign!  The same one that won't support the G.I. Bill! OH, the hypocrisy!  And the USING of the Soldiers! Blech. They're not fit to lick these guys' boots. As if you needed another reason not to vote for them...there you go.

With that, a group of about a dozen IVAW guys and a girl strode out across the stage, forming a line behind The Nightwatchman. The crowd went wild! It was very moving, and got even more so when Tom began the Woody Guthrie classic, "This Land Is Our Land." The whole island sang and clapped along, making Tom say, "That was very sexy and rhythmic for Minnesota! You took The Nightwatchman by surprise! Note to self ..." - which made the place go even more nuts. "OK, stop clapping. This land was not made for War Criminals, or the jackasses at the Fox News Channel, this land was made for US. And what we do or fail to do determines our time here on Earth. We must confront injustice wherever it rears its head, at the ballot box or the streets of this town during this Convention, so we're going to sing as loud as anyone ever has in St. Paul OR Minneapolis!" And so they did. LOUDLY. PROUDLY! And jumped up and down at the end chorus so hard it appeared as if Harriet Island might sink under the battering it took. "Remember, No one wins unless we all win! Take it easy, but take it!" And The Nightwatchman's time was done. The shouts went on for ages, and you could tell that the people really had been "revolutionized."

Phew! There was no break in the action, as Atmosphere was next. Slug (in an Obama T-shirt) came out to ear-splitting screams, and said, "Make some noise for the person standing next to you!" and they took him up on that hardcore. He said, "This one's for the police" and threw down, "This One." Then "Puppets." "Shoulda Known." "Happiness." "God Loves Ugly." If you're not yet turned onto Minneapolis' own Atmosphere, get with it. They really are that good. For George Carlin, "Yesterday." Then "Shrapnel," "Guarantees," and the final song, "Not Another Day," which I'll take to mean, of this foul Administration. Slug, my brother, you've got a whole lot of charisma and talent, as do your bandmates. See you in Los Angeles!

Mos Def was next, having made it to town after missing his initial flight. The crowd was chanting, "MOS DEF! MOS DEF!" and he gave it up for them. Sadly, I only saw one Mos Def song, and no Pharcyde, as now reports were coming in that glass was breaking, fires were burning, cop cars were overturned, and blue tear gas was rising across the river, and our car was leaving to return to Minneapolis. The island crowd could have cared less about the havoc, and the party carried on without us, full of the inspiration and solidarity of the day.

And once more, I felt the power of community. Of resistance. Of good people coming together to make their voices heard, and the heart-felt desire to fight the power back, through positivity. To use your free speech to get things DONE. All of which are American dreams. 

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