Trump, Rage, Occupy and fear and loathing in Cleveland

Anti-Trump protesters at the start of a march on Monday served up a “capitalist pig” Donald on a platter. Photos by John Penley

BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | Two well-known East Village activists — one of them who albeit no longer lives in New York City — were, not surprisingly, in the thick of the protests at this week’s Republican National Convention in Cleveland.

John Penley, who now lives in North Carolina, led the effort to secure a campout area for protesters at Kirtland Park — which is, admittedly, far away from the convention site, but at least they got it. It wasn’t clear if they would obtain the permit, though, until the week before the convention, when the city finally issued them one.

In the event they didn’t get a permit, Penley and his allies had been ready with a Plan B — to rent buses and have roving protests.

Last Wednesday, after it was announced they would get Kirtland Park, the veteran activist told Fox 8 Cleveland he was worried that anti-Trump and pro-Trump demonstrators were going to be allowed to stay in the same campsite, which he feared would be a recipe for trouble.

“One of the prime reasons that I’m afraid is this group Bikers for Trump has made public statements that they’re coming to Cleveland to be some kind of backup for the Cleveland Police Department,” Penley told the TV station. “And I’m worried that they may be camping there. It’s just such a potentially dangerous situation.”

Some of the Cleveland police were on bikes and wore football-like body armor. They lined the protesters’ route.

However, in a phone interview with The Villager this Tuesday, on the convention’s second day, Penley said things generally had been going fine between the two opposing camps at the campsite.

“There’s a lot of people here — a duck soup of people,” he said. Rather than the pro-Trump bikers, he said, the Republican presidential candidate’s supporters who were there were “more militia types.”

Yet, right at the moment when the newspaper called, Penley was in the middle of a chaotic situation in Public Square, near the Quicken Loans Arena. Radio host Alex Jones had burst in, trying to stir things up with anti-Trump protesters. Jones calls himself a libertarian but has been dubbed a right-wing conservative by the mainstream media. Police were clearing the area.

“I gotta stop [talking], I’m being pushed around by the cops,” Penley said, ending the call.

A mash-up of Code Pink, the Trump “capitalist pig,” Black Lives Matter and more as Monday’s protest wended toward the R.N.C. venue.

Speaking a few hours later, his voice hoarse from so much talking, Penley explained what had happened.

“They closed the official free-speech zone down for three hours because Alex Jones came with this bullhorn and bodyguards and tried to incite a riot,” he said. “He started with a lot of inflammatory comments about immigrants, Black Lives Matters, communists — George Soros was paying all the protesters — his usual rhetoric. He had a bullhorn, he was really loud.”

Penley was then back at the campsite, where he was helping Seth Tobocman, his former East Village roommate, paint a protest banner “for the occupation.”

Penley participated in Occupy Wall Street back in 2011 in Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan, and the Occupy ethos was in evidence at this week’s convention protest.

“We just had a general assembly with about 40 people with the ‘people’s microphone,’ ” he said. He was, of course, referring to the trademark Occupy mode of amplifying speakers’ remarks, where waves of audience members relay short phrases the speaker has uttered, so that everyone can hear the message.

“Cleveland put us in the worst park — we’re far away from everything,” Penley noted, quipping, “We’re camped out with a family of skunks.

Communists and Black LIves Matter supporters found common cause during a protest march.

On a positive note, he added, “We just ordered $100 worth of pizza. Someone donated $100.”

Meanwhile, there were about a half dozen Trump supporters in the camp. No one was causing any problems, though.

“They’re hanging out,” Penley said of the other side. “They’re in their tent drinking a case of beer.”

The activist came out to Cleveland four days before the convention’s start, and organized one of Monday’s rallies. Tuesday was his first night sleeping in the camp. He planned to spend it under a tarp in a sleeping bag.

Friday saw protesters stage an anti-police brutality march. Monday featured an “End Poverty Now” march that started in East Cleveland and ended at an open lot where Tom Morello and Prophets of Rage — three of the four remaining members of Rage Against the Machine — played a rousing set. Morello sported a “Make America Rage Again” red baseball cap, an ironic riff on Trump’s signature headwear.

“One of the best concerts of my life,” Penley said.

Tom Morello and the Prophets of Rage rocked out and raged against The Donald.

Morello also later played acoustic at a local art space, wielding a guitar with the words “Black Spartacus” on it.

Other rallies had included one called “Stand Together Against Trump” and another featuring Cleveland doctors and nurses in solidarity with local Muslim doctors and nurses.

Contributing to his hoarseness, Penley had been busy giving interviews to an array of media, including the likes of Al Jazeera and Voice of America.

“We’re being circled by helicopters right now,” he noted.

Later Tuesday evening, in another phone interview, Tobocman, a radical comic book artist, gave his take on the events that far. Tobocman is a founder of the comic anthology World War III illustrated, and has penned graphic novels about the 1980s East Village squatters scene, 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, among others.

Supporting a woman’s right to choose what she does with her own body.

As he spoke, he was sketching the encampment and “getting people’s stories.”

He was part of a group called Comixcast, 13 comic book artists and cartoonists who were doing drawings of the R.N.C. and the protests, which they were then posting to the Web.

Like Penley, he said the protests had been peaceful, except for the one instance where Alex Jones tried to act as a “provocateur” and incite the anti-Trump crowd.

“Fears of physical confrontation have been overblown,” he said.

Tobocman said he was particularly moved by Monday’s End Poverty Now march, which had kicked off in the most downtrodden section of Cleveland, which is one of America’s poorest big cities.

“This city has had three police shootings in the last year,” he noted, “and in all of them, the police were acquitted.”

Demonstrators said Donald Trump’s vision of America is inherently racist.

Asked why he felt it was particularly important to protest at this R.N.C., Tobocman said, in a word — Trump.

“I think Trump brings up a lot of issues, doesn’t he?” he said. “Because I think Trump represents the real appearance of fascism on the American scene. He legitimizes a lot of things that were not seen as acceptable. He legitimizes a very fascist, racist discourse.

“He’s a fascist, he’s a nazi — and he’s the nominee of one of our two major parties,” Tobocman said, bluntly. “So if you’re not against this, I don’t know what you’re against.”

The artist said he and Penley will also both be attending the upcoming Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, from Mon., July 25, to Thurs., July 28.

Asked if he plans to vote for Hillary Clinton, Tobocman said he could not answer that right now.

“I’m going to wait and see what happens at the D.N.C. before I say who I’m going to vote for,” he said.

A Trump supporter touted — or rather, tooted — his candidate.

On second thought, he added that he’s a bit uncomfortable with the idea of having to reveal who he might support, noting, “This is supposed to be a secret process that happens inside the voting booth.”

Yet, he did offer that he’s not happy with the limited choices.

“Every four years, I get to choose between fascism and capitalism,” he said, with exasperation. “I am against having a country that’s run by the rich and the military industrial complex and throws people in the street. That’s what you get if you vote for Hillary. But if you vote for Trump…it’s even worse.

“He’s essentially saying we’re going to have no Muslims in this country. How do we do that? … We’ve seen that before.”

Former East Village activist John Penley advocated for love over hate. He also secured a campsite for the protesters and organized a rally.