Already there had been quite a bit of excitement surrounding the Blogcon 2011 conference in Denver. On Friday the gang from the local Occupy Denver protest decided to take a trip down to the Crowne Plaza hotel, where the event was being held and do their level best to disrupt our evil, insidious, Koch Brothers-funded seminar on data visualization. After a lot of yelling (on our side and theirs), shoving (theirs), merciless ridicule (ours), and an arrest (theirs) the crew took off and we bloggers immediately streamed back into the hotel to upload video and post stories. It was madness. The Internet connection suddenly became slow…super slow…like, 1999 slow.
If that weren’t excitement enough, I had the extreme privilege of having a conversation with Pam Gellar of Atlas Shrugs and Jim Hoft, of Gateway Pundit. As we chatted in the hotel bar a blogger friend tipped us off that the police were on their way to break up the Occupy Denver camp. We grabbed our phones, Pam changed into more sensible shoes and a group of about seven of us took off from the hotel to see with our own eyes. As we arrived at the park I noticed the crowd was considerably bigger than it had been only the night before, when it basically consisted of 20 or 30 homeless people camping out and a few straggling protesters with signs. There were about 300 people scattered throughout the park, drawing protest signs on the sidewalks and wandering around chatting. Word must have gone out that the cops were moving and drawn in more Occupiers who were clearly hoping to see some action. One woman who had been at the Blogcon protest in a dress and heels was now dressed in jeans, a big green hoodie and sneakers. “These are my getting-arrested clothes”, she said gleefully. The air was rich with the smell of people who hadn’t showered in a while…or ever, and weed. There was weed being smoked openly, in nearly every section of the protest. I took a few pictures of some of the more classy signs drawn in chalk on the sidewalk and some of the people there. WARNING: ADULT LANGUAGE
Around 5:00 p.m. we noticed the police presence ramping up across the street. Several truck loads of riot squads had already arrived and local Denver police were asking spectators observing from that side of the street to step back and stay out of the way. The Occupiers began a lackluster debate about the value of just picking up and leaving peacefully against staying and daring the police to arrest them. I recognized the man who seemed to be their de facto leader from the Blogcon protest the day before. He had a bullhorn and began begging for people to pick up their things and move the protest to another location, in order to keep the protest alive. Not many seemed to heed his words. A lot of people were just milling around as they watched the riot cops form a straight blue line on the other side of the street. As darkness fell the riot squad began to aggressively move in, and I must say – even though I knew they weren’t going to shoot me, having a huge assault rifle loaded with pepper spray bullets pointed directly at my chest was terrifying. It was at that point that I realized this whole thing was real. These officers did not want to incite violence, but they were ready to address it if anyone got out of hand. The squad, fully prepared with helmets, bullet proof vests, clubs and guns moved across the street, to the shouts of the Occupiers. They placed themselves directly in front of the main group that had formed at the front of the park and simply stood while their colleagues came across to the park from down the street and slowly, quietly began to close in on the crowd, forming a wide circle. We noticed we were being pushed into the middle of the circle and began planning the best route for a quick exit should things turn crazy. Thankfully, nothing too crazy happened. The police force handled themselves very professionally and quietly stood their ground. Some protesters took the opportunity to shout directly at the police and attempt to aggravate them, others blew bubbles and tried to assure the police they were only there with peaceful intentions. It took about an hour all together, but eventually the crowd began to thin and disperse. I suspect when many people realized the police were not going to take the bait the whole idea became a lot less interesting. As the police stood their ground the general consensus among the protesters seemed to be that they pick up stakes and move down the the 16th Street Mall in the downtown area – a favorite spot for tourists and home of the “corporate greed mongers” like McDonalds and Wells Fargo. Moving across the street with no regard for traffic signals or the Saturday night traffic they were jamming up, the group was no more than 200 strong by that time, and that is a very liberal estimate. Traffic came to a stand still and drivers began honking at the protesters,yelling; and they weren’t yelling in support. It was quite obvious Denver residents were not happy to be stuck in Saturday night rush hour gridlock. It didn’t seem the Occupiers were ingratiating themselves to the good people of Denver.
Eventually our little band of bloggers packed up and left too. It had been an exciting evening for a group of people who thought the most exciting part of the weekend would be the free drinks at the opening reception. I must say that I was thoroughly impressed with the poise and professionalism of the Denver police and I overheard many people thanking them as they walked by. Later I saw reports from local news outlets that framed the whole events as chaotic and massive, with the police taking on a large population of peaceful protesters. It was nothing of the sort. I’d estimate the number of actual protesters (minus us observers) at no more than 250-300 at its peak, and any confrontation was initiated by Occupiers and not police. I was a witness. I saw it all and I finally saw up close and personal why its time to just bust up these Occupiers across the country and get on with our lives.