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Photo via Nat Ch Villa/Flickr (CC-BY 2.0)

Vote Alpacas 2016.

As President Obama gave one of the most significant speeches of his administration in support of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia on Wednesday night, the most significant moment in a series of week long city-wide protests was raging outside the gates. A handful of hardline protesters who felt that the DNC had rigged the election against Sen. Bernie Sanders, emboldened by the embarrassing DNC email leaks, had managed to break through the security barricades and into a Secret Service-designated secure zone. 

Photo by John Policastro

There they were greeted by the beefy arms of baton-wielding Philly cops while flags—and one unfortunate person—momentarily burned behind them. Seven protesters were hauled off while Old Glory smoldered on the pavement amid furious chants of "Hell no, DNC! We won't vote for Hillary!" These smells and sounds were quickly replaced with incense and peaceful sing-a-longs. It was about 20 minutes into the chill chants of "We are in this together, hey-hey!" when a man standing near me at the drum circle whispered: "Bro, I'm gettin, a little sick of this koombaya shit."

A year ago, I couldn't have imagined that this week would have begun with what seemed like an improbable peace treaty between two old colleagues whose friendship stretched decades back but were now more well-known for a power struggle that momentarily ripped them apart. I am, of course, talking about Axl Rose and Slash of Guns N' Roses, who are enjoying a wildly successful reunion tour this summer and are perhaps the only two people to legitimately unite a party this year.

On my way down from Boston to the convention Sunday night, I made a brief detour to the ass-end of the GNR afterparty in New York, held at Club Never Never on 14th Street, which featured appearances by actor/comedians Maya Rudolph, Jordan Peele, and Dean Winters. Axl, swaddled inside a human hive of models, made time to briefly chat with fans and sign autographs, grinning ear to ear, before heading back to his bus, which was equipped with a stripper pole, champagne, and, naturally, more models. This was clearly not the raucous rocker the liberal mainstream music media has been lying to you about, and that point was only driven home harder as the subject of Republican nominee and Twitter savant Donald Trump came up. 

Attending a Guns N' Roses concert some 25 years ago, Trump gushed to Rose, "You're like the Donald Trump of rockers!" A curious and apparently unwelcome comparison from the spoiled son of a high-rise Hitler to a man who had grown from the humble soil of Indiana into one of the most iconic and wealthy musicians of all time, thanks to hard work and determination, which are apparently mere buzzwords to Trump L'Orange. 

After draining my final beer with my new friend Lia, a journalism student from Sweden, around 10am Monday morning, we finished the trek down to Philadelphia with friends to catch the first in a flurry of protests in support of Sanders and Green Party candidate Jill Stein (and, by extension, against Clinton and the Democratic National Committee). It had been fewer than 24 hours since chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz announced her resignation, thanks to WikiLeaks' publication of 20,000 damning emails between frustrated and annoyed Democratic officials, which showed there was indeed a certain bias against Sanders during the primary season.

Hundreds of Bernie supporters marched the roughly four miles from City Hall down Broad street towards Wells Fargo Center, where they joined other protesters, many of whom had camped out at the adjacent FDR Park. It was a colorful crowd of people both very,very young and very, very old. Food and refreshments were provided by the Occupy crowd as temperatures swelled near triple digits, the sky also peppered by thunderstorms. My friend had remarked that while she was glad to finally see a massive American protest, it just seemed to lack the figurative and literal fire of European demonstrations: "These people to me just seem like they are more interested in taking selfies for social media and dressing in silly outfits, it's like they think it's Halloween?" 

Photo by John Policastro

Entertainment was provided by fire-and-brimstone-breathing evangelicals with signs condemning porno freaks, drunkards, dope-heads, sodomites and other people I have always had a good time with. Much like their northeast neighbors in Boston and New York, the salty waters of the Atlantic Ocean also flow through the veins of Philadelphians, and I have always had an affinity for the affable anger that Philly has perfected. Surprisingly, this was even evident with the dozen evangelicals clad in "Fear God" shirts, dwarfed by the thousands of progressives shouting them down. Normally a people who ignore the heckling and stay on message, they demonstrated Bill Burr-sized balls and heckled back even harder, ripping a man in a Star Wars shirt by remarking: "You're trying to make fun of me? Look at your shirt! What are you, 12 years old? Loser. Human beings are not born gay, but you decided to be a basement-dweller, playing video games all day, loser." 

It would have been humorous if it wasn't for the heartbreaking realization that I was watching, for the first time, an adult virgin rip his own kind. Still, these were cheap knockoffs to the name-brand nut jobs that are the Westboro Baptist Church, who also later made an appearance at the Mazzoni Center, the LGBTQ health clinic in nearby Center City, but were quickly drowned out and run off by a huge counter-protest with the most knee-slappingly sassy signs I have ever seen. 

Photo by John Policastro

Photo by John Policastro

Religious wars aside, there was still common ground: Green Party candidate Jill Stein had shown up just before a biblical thunderstorm cut the soaring temperatures and tension to remind everyone about of that."We say to the DNC, we say to Hillary: No thank you!" she proclaimed in front of several hundred soaked people before echoing proposals similar to the cornerstones of Sanders' campaign—namely, a $15 minimum wage, free college education, and the legalization of marijuana. She also called on Sanders to withdraw his endorsement of Clinton, but that of course never happened. It was really hard not to feel for Bernie as he addressed the convention a few hours later, greeted by massive applause and cheers so deafeaning he was not even able to begin his speech. Philadelphia proved to be a fitting city for his concession and endorsement of Clinton because for me it cemented his Rocky Balboa-like underdog status. Defeated, but not deterred, the only disappointment I found in his speech was that he did not end it by screaming "Yo, Jane! I did it!" to his wife.

This lovefest couldn't and didn't last long, however. As Clinton was officially nominated the following night, many Sanders delegates walked off the floor in protest and would join the protesters for the rest of the week. As the political hangover set in the next day for the Bernie Bros, what else was there to do but throw a fucking dance party in Thomas Paine Plaza outside City Hall? They got pumped up by Boyz II Men and Bruno Mars tracks in between hype men and appreciative protest delegates shouting, "You needed us in there, but we need you more out here, this isn't over!" 

Photo by John Policastro

The Hillary hate was also still red-hot; I spotted signs that said "Jill Not Hill" and "Hillary For Prison" and heard the cribbed-from-the-GOP chant "Lock Her Up!" Asking one man he would say to Clinton if he had the chance, he paused briefly before saying "'You suck,' or 'Fuck you,' or 'Get out of this country, no one likes you'—something like that." I stood and watched their infectiously toxic optimism in utter confusion. Was this now officially a country where cities riot over sports teams winning or losing while remaining content simply dancing on the embers of a political revolution? 

As the dance party died down, I made my way back down to Wells Fargo Center for a quick nap in the grass before Obama spoke, whereupon my confusion grew. Walking past nearby Marconi Park, where a quiet Democracy Spring protest was happening, a man shoved his camera in my face and yelled "What do you think of Glenn Beck?!" It was Beck colleague and occasional Blaze radio host Doc Thompson. Shocked to have such a liberal "gotcha" question tossed at me, I had to break it to him that I only had room in my bleeding heart for one button-pushing asshole, and that was Roger Stone, which rendered me useless to him. I decided to stick around to see what else he was up to. A minute later, Thompson approached two young African-American men with the same question. It should come as no real surprise that Beck has never really tapped into such a demographic, so after they told him they had no idea who Beck was, he suggested they tell him, "He's an old fat white guy," which they did as he filmed them again. (He later uploaded to his Twitter account, neglecting to mention he had actually coached them to say it. Gotcha, Doc!)

Speaking of brainwashing, I never really understood how people could blindly join a cult at the drop of a hat, but that was before I ran into a man named Ethan with an alpaca on a leash who told me to come march with him. I asked him what we were marching for and was told, "No reason at all, man." And off we went. The alpaca, named Shay, was in fact repeatedly marching between City Hall and Wells Fargo Center, raising awareness for small farms, and posed for endless selfies. Shay was in fact so popular that the Philadelphia Police Department and City of Philadelphia both sent out tweets to clear up the confusion that had gripped the city over whether it was an alpaca or a llama. 

Photo by John Policastro

Photo by John Policastro

Just as popular and ubiquitous during the Convention this week was cult presidential candidate Vermin Supreme. Running on a platform of "a free pony for everyone" if he won, he was even considering changing his pledge to a free alpaca. I hadn't seen Vermin since I had covered the New Hampshire primary back in January, where he not only garnered more votes than some legitimate candidates but was an absolute thorn in the side of second-place GOP candidate/first-place loser/Zodiac Killer Ted Cruz. I asked Mr. Supreme if he had seen Cruz around the city, to which he replied, "Hell no, he's probably looking for Trump to give him a good fist-fuckin', man!" Minutes later, Vermin, with his trademark rubber boot hat gleaming under the sun, lit a more conventional (and tacky) American flag baseball hat on fire in front of several people in the media as well as police officers who surprisingly left him alone after the chaos that had unfolded the night before.

Photo by John Policastro

As the sun began to set and more muggy rain began to fall on the final night of the convention, bewilderment festered among the protesters, and a deep divide began to really show. Word began to spread that Sanders delegates who had not walked out on Tuesday were planning on walking out when Hillary Clinton officially accepted the nomination and then join everyone outside. There were now two groups of protesters, with many still demanding to remain peaceful and non-violent and to respect the police, holding court near FDR Park. The others were not only mocking them for their deference to cops, but were also urging everyone to congregate at the gates in anticipation of the protesting delegates exiting the barricade. 

Even Jill Stein, who had been a darling of the Demexit at the beginning of the week was now being mocked as too mainstream for having appeared on Fox News. This latter group was urging as many people as possible to not return to the park or let anyone convince them to move away from the barricades. This unease was only amplified by a thick line of bike cops standing around the perimeter, grinning and smoking cigars in a show of force that would have made G. Gordon Liddy giddy. Behind the barricades, in the Secret Security zone the police were now three lines deep, while anti-terrorism agents slowly began wading through the crowds and the riot squad buses situated themselves about 50 yards away. 


As Clinton began her speech, megaphone-mouthed men and women began shouting to the crowd that the delegates inside were on their way out and to be ready; simultaneously, the cops were being handed thick tangles of zip cuffs and stroking their batons. Minutes passed, and there was still no sign of the delegates as anti-Hillary and DNC chants grew louder between mock trials, but the joint protest was to never be. Gregory McKelvey, a Sanders delegate from Oregon who was inside, began tweeting out that the delegates were being stopped by the Secret Service as they attempted to leave and were told they were forbidden to leave for safety concerns. They were later quietly shuffled out of the convention hall into the train station that had been blocked off to the public for the week unless you were a delegate or in the media with proper credentials. 

Photo by John Policastro

As balloons, optimism and elation rained down inside the convention for the history just made, it was just rain and disappointment for everyone else outside. I knew it was time to leave when I heard a dejected Bernie Bro mutter to his friend, "Might walk back down to the park, these people are being boring now." With an ugly fight between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton down a nasty path to Pennsylvania Ave in November officially underway, American voters began to pick their poison. But perhaps that's the problem, as Jill Stein, libertarian candidate Gary Johnson, and especially Bernie Sanders are still trying to remind people that it doesn't need to always be this way. 

Photo by John Policastro

However, the most important question looming right now is: Who will I be throwing my support behind in 2020—Axl and Slash or the alpaca?
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