Bun B's Convention Dispatch Three: Good Riddance, Cleveland
VICE's political correspondent bids farewell to the RNC.
Photo by Jason Bergman
Editor's Note: You might know Bun B as the Texas-based rapper, professor, and activist who's one half of the legendary Houston duo UGK. He's also VICE's political correspondent, reporting on the ground from the campaign trail of the strangest presidential election in recent memory.
By the fourth day of the Republican National Convention, I'm sore as shit. I forgot my knee brace, so the OG is having a rough go out here. But I'm not complaining. On one of my last night's in Cleveland, I stopped at a local bar called the Tick Tock Tavern, and ended up in a 45-minute discussion with some real people from the hood about how to better ourselves as a community—a spontaneous conversation I'll remember for all of my days. The people are behind me, so let me get up, get out, and get something, like Goodie Mobb said.
I started the last day in Cleveland on Fourth Street, just outside of the convention center, at the restaurant where MSNBC posted up all week. I was there to do an interview with Tamron Hall, but just before going on, I had a chance to talk with Darrell Scott, a Cleveland pastor and Donald Trump supporter who spoke at the convention. He told me he's known Trump for almost six years and considers him a friend, so when the RNC asked, at the request of the Republican nominee, if Scott would speak at the convention, he jumped at the chance.
I was curious how, as a black man and a pastor, Scott's support for Trump has been received, and he told me that he thinks that many people in his community agree with his positions, even if they won't come out and say so publicly. If you say so, Rev. More power to you. I wished him well and turned around to hurry my ass onto the set.
Outside, I noticed a crazy-looking truck that I'd seen driving around downtown Cleveland all week. It's impossible to miss, plastered over with homemade posters and signs about God's wrath and Hillary Clinton's lies. Seeing as it was my last chance to find out who was responsible for this insane vehicle, I walked up to find the driver, but I couldn't see him anywhere. Where the hell did he go? I looped around the truck, and then boom, there he is, getting back into the driver's seat. I told him I was with the press and asked if he had a second to talk. He paused for a second and leaned in, cupping his ear. "Sorry, I don't hear so well," he said. "Could you repeat that?"
Eventually, he agreed to talk, and I started simply, asking where he was from. He replied, "I am... from..." Clearly, I had struck gold. He began to quote Martin Luther—not King Jr., but the German theologian, and as he's speaking, I realize why I couldn't find him earlier—he lives and works in the back of the flatbed truck. Inside, he's crafted an entire bed and home office setup—from where I stood, I could see a swivel chair and a desk, with a small filing cabinet and a bulletin board tacked up on wall. There's some kind of light coming from the back too, over what I imagined was his bed situation.
When I finally tuned back in to what the man was saying, I realized that he was mostly incoherent—and the shit I can make out doesn't make any sense. Plus, the smell coming out of the truck would have made a landfill vomit. So I thanked him for his time and exited stage fucking left, making my way to a protest that was scheduled to go down at Carnegie Bridge. As you may have heard, things were pretty tame in Cleveland last week—nothing came close to the shit people had been expecting to pop off around Trump's nomination. This was a last chance for protesters to make some noise, and I was going to be there in case anything happened.
I arrived just as the marchers were starting to make their way across the bridge. As usual, the Bible Thumpers were out in full force, shouting about faggots and dykes and heathens and sinning liberals. Nearby, I saw Nathan Stehouwer, a Cleveland doctor who helped organize the march.
The demonstration, Stehouwer said, was a "collective of people that cross the entire political spectrum—Democrats, Republicans, and Independents coming together against the racially divisive and anti-immigrant message that Donald Trump has been promoting." They'd chosen the color yellow to represent their group, and someone handed me a yellow shirt and requested I join them that night in Cleveland's Public Square, where they planned on holding a protest at the moment Trump took the stage.
At the other side of the long-ass bridge, I noticed an older woman pouring a cold bottle over her head and a younger man helping her find a place to sit. I assumed they were related, or at least friends, and walked over to chat. As it turned out, they were complete strangers: The young man introduced himself as Tim Schwartz, a first-time protester from Los Angeles, and told me that he came all the way to Ohio "because it's the first time he's seen something so hateful to so many people, and it's not right.
"As a privileged person with inherent privileges from living in America, we shouldn't be letting a person like this run our county," Schwartz added.
The woman was from East Lansing, Michigan, and though I couldn't make out her name over the noise of the march, I did hear her say that her first protest was at Kent State University, just outside of Cleveland, where national guardsmen fired on unarmed college students on May 4, 1970. She told me she was there that day, carrying her young daughter on her shoulders. Her daughter, now grown, had caught the protesting bug as well, and the pair had come out to the Republican National Convention to march together again this week, this time against the GOP's coronation of Donald Trump.
As the march wound down, no one seemed quite certain where the route was supposed to end, and eventually, everyone just decided to walk back across the bridge. But I broke off, hungry, and pushed my way back toward the Quicken Loans Arena, and a soul-food joint that a couple of locals suggested.
By 7 PM, I was in Freedom Plaza again, waiting for the final night of the Republican Party's show to start. There were all manner of talking heads and costumed delegates milling around, and I spotted Bakari T. Sellera, a former Democratic state legislator from South Carolina who'd gotten in a fight with Pastor Scott on CNN the night before over Trump's position on police brutality. I passed along my respects, and we both moved on: The convention festivities were about to start, and I had just enough to time to grab a Tito's-and-pineapple before I headed to the floor.
I'd just finished when someone came over the loudspeaker to announce that the speeches had begun. The Maricopa County sheriff, Joe Arpaio, my old friend from Arizona, grumpily took the stage and gave an angry endorsement of Trump. He's followed by Mark Burns, another black pastor who is a member of Trump's National Diversity Coalition. Sweating, Burns bloviated for about ten minutes, leading a call and response among the elated delegates.
Then former Minnesota Vikings quarterback Fran Tarkenton got onstage, and for whatever reason, told a story about Vince Lombardi. I'm not sure anyone else got it either. By this point, my feet and my ears were hurting bad, so I decided to find a good seat and get ready for the speaker we are all waiting for: Donald J Trump.
But what really did me in is the dancing. After four days, it was killing me. Not just because it was bad—and it was, really bad—but because of why they were dancing: For a presidential candidate that represents hate and racism and sexism and classism and fascism and every other shitty-ass ism you can think of. They were dancing in celebration of hateful language, and decisive rhetoric, and flat-out lies, yelling for unity while giving their full-throated support to policies of exclusion. They were celebrating Trump in all his arrogance, and smug conceit, and ugliness.
It was insulting, maddening, infuriating. As they danced, I thought of Dallas. I thought of Baton Rouge while they boogie-oogie-oogied, and of Minnesota while they shuffled. I thought about Orlando. The people in that room had the power to alter the course of history, and they were fucking dancing for a tyrant.
In the end, I couldn't take it. I was supposed to renew my floor pass for the Trump speech, but I decided against it, making up an excuse about my leg hurting. I made a couple of wisecracks to hide how disgusted I really feel, and waled out of the fucking place.
I was angry, but not just at the people inside the arena—I was angry at myself too, for not having the strength to stay or the fortitude to withstand the End Times anger filling up the room. I'd fought so hard to be in the room, to hear what Trump had to say, and witness in person his bold ascent to the GOP nomination. And I'd left. The Republican National Convention had taken its final toll on me. It's not like I'd planned on making some kind of political gesture or anything—but I was supposed to be able to take it, and I couldn't. And I wasn't entirely sure what that said about me.
I made my way back to Public Square just in time to catch the beginning of the "Love Trump Hates" rally. A white guy with dreadlocks down to his waist had been on drum duty all week, but that night was the first time I'd paid attention to him. For some reason, it calmed me. I stopped being quite so angry. And I knew that I wouldn't walk out of any other rooms again: Let them dance, let them sing, let them eat fucking cake. I'm going to be right there. See you in Philadelphia.
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