Make America Cleveland Again: Daily Dispatches from the RNC

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Politics! We’re delighted to bring you coverage from the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, from which our intrepid reporter Tatiana Ryckman — who grew up in Cleveland, and whose family is still based there — will be bringing us daily dispatches on the mood of the city, the thoughts of its residents, and the action at the convention itself. Today: the calm (?) before the storm.

When I stopped by my friend Myles’ house last Friday his roommate, Ben Haehn of Superelectric (both the press and pinball arcade), was pulling “MAKE AMERICA CLEVELAND AGAIN” t-shirts off his screen printing press. “People want honesty so bad … but that’s not this time,” Haehn said. “The shirts are anti-politics in general.”

It’s a vague sentiment behind which a lot of people seem to be rallying. I wore one of the shirts to the Third Friday Studio tour at the 78th St Studios to much approval — it’s not often middle-aged men and I overlap in our fashion sense, but with the RNC ahead and a week full of bludgeoning tragedy just behind us, America is holding her breath. Cleveland is bracing itself. There is as much tamping down as amping up.

When I met my dad later in the evening for dinner, he read my shirt and said, “Whoa.” He says this often and the meaning is rarely clear. I asked him what he thought the shirt was advocating, to which he asked, “Is Cleveland great?” The next day, as we drove to the Cleveland Metro Parks, we passed a man holding a sign that read, “The only rights that matter are human rights.” When my dad said, “Whoa,” I asked what “side” he thought the sign was supporting. He liked that he didn’t know.

In fact, it seems the very idea of sides is what has people biting their tongues. It’s hard to tell if this trepidation is the result of the Republican National Convention being held in a solidly Democratic city in one of the most important swing states in the country, the toxic buildup of a year of political polarization, or national trauma bonding after a week of unfathomable violence that feels inextricably woven into a larger conversation: Whose America is this?

Going into the first day of the RNC one thing is known for sure: nobody knows what will happen. Cathleen O’Malley, a clown activist with the #Notfunnycleveland performance protest, says, “I think the concern is that… we really don’t know what to expect.” The Not Funny troupe will be performing their citizen clown act between 4pm and 6pm in Public Square each day of the convention (and maybe a few other surprise locations).

Toward the end of an optimistic conversation with Kate Sopko about her film series “Fixer”, which will be screened in full today at Bop Stop at 7pm, she said seriously, “I feel like it’s a very unpredictable convention. I hope people are safe.”

Assistant Chief of Police, Frank Dixon, from the Austin, Texas Police Department, is also concerned with safety at the RNC. His troop of 93 officers specializing in crowd control and riots arrived in Cleveland on Friday night to join thousands of officers from across the country, and Cleveland’s own forces. He says, “Anytime we have a critical incident, like something that happened in Dallas, or Orlando, we take that to heart and really look at our own policies and procedures … these guys have a lot of training, they’re really good at what they do.”

While it’s clear the police, too, are bracing themselves, Chief Dixon is hopeful that Conference attendees and protesters alike will have learned from recent events. “We want everyone to be able to express their constitutional right, but we want people to say it in a safe, productive manner — where we all come home at the end of the week and we move forward as a nation.”

Moving forward is exactly the sentiment behind many of Cleveland’s creative responses to the Convention. Whether it be an apolitical t-shirt, or clowns taking offense at having their identity co-opted by a political party, or a series of films that introduce visitors to a Cleveland they’re not likely to see within the Convention confines, people are quicker to qualify their statements with, “whichever side you’re on…”, as if it’s become clear that it’s all the same side.

The fear, of course, is that someone hasn’t gotten the memo.