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"I Don't Want to Go to Iraq" -- Kickin' it with the Stragglers at the RNC

YO! Youth Outlook Multimedia, Feature//Audio, Words//Photos//Audio: Donny Lumpkins Posted: Sep 02, 2008

ST. PAUL--After the protest that have been the news of the GOP convention, I met up with YO! veteran Russell Morse and stopped in to a sports bar for beers and bad hot wings. We talked about the abundance of Ron Paul supporters that seemed to be in town. I told him the woman I hitched a ride from the airport with had a stick-on Ron Paul tattoo. "Who is this guy?" I asked. Russell told me he is an ultra-conservative who has the support of a lot of people who want to return to the golden era of the Republican Party: small government, upholding the constitution, and the like.

Eventually, the awful house band covers of Barenaked Ladies songs became too much, and we decided to move along. A block from the sports bar was the Coney Island Tavern. The old watering hole had been there for over a hundred years. From the moment the door closed behind us, time seemed to speed up and slow down at the same time.

Inside the dimly lit art deco bar, we sat at a booth. We tried what the bartender boasted was the "coldest beer" in town. At one point, in the middle of our conversation, two young wiry blonde women poked their heads up from the booth next to ours. They chewed on apples and asked us where we were from. San Francisco, we said. Oh, said one of the women, before crunching another bite of her apple. Soon after, they introduced us to their father, who had been sitting behind them in their booth the whole time. Finally the women returned to their conversation at their table and quit their Sesame Street floating puppet act.

More beers. More talking. Looks like they're scaling back the RNC because of the storms. Breaking news says they're going to focus on fund raising for the hurricane. Hunched over in the booth, we commiserated. Conspiracy theories are being whispered around town as to the real reason the Republicans are taking some of the mustard off of proceedings here in Saint Paul, but Im not one to gossip.

After the tavern, I walked Russ to his bike, and we agreed to meet up to cover a Ron Paul rally the next day. He rode his red ten-speed off into the night. I stood alone in a new town and loved the feeling. I couldnt navigate the directions to the womans house I was supposed to be staying at that night, so I scrapped that plan pretty early on. The new plan was to see what Saint Paul had to offer when all the political people had gone to bed.

I found myself on a corner, sitting up against a diner that Ive seen in many movies, listening to two young men playing Dr. Dre songs on guitar. One had on cargo shorts and looked around while he sang, not because he was nervous, but because he was confident of his talent. The other had shaggy brown hair and a cigarette hanging impossibly from his lips. I go to a music school out here, and we're trying to make a couple extra bucks from all the saps walking by requesting Journey or Black Sabbath, he said.

A young white girl with a silver ball necklace and gray sweatpants decided to sit with us. She soon became one of the gang. She told me a story about how she was AWOL from the army, because she wanted a college education and did not want to fight and die in a war.

AUDIO: Interview with Carla, 19, about money for school, going AWOL and the war in Iraq

(4m 20s, mp3,3.0MB)Download File

She said she was planning to report in once November rolled around--depending on who got elected. I told her I didnt know if it worked like that, but she was sure she would be fine and who was I to argue?

Just beyond the diner we were sitting at was the barricaded fortress that is the Excel Center. I overheard someone earlier in the day describe it as looking like a scene out of 28 Days Later, and the truth is, it does. To get from one side of the center to the other, one has to go all the way around town to avoid the blockades. Up stairs, through parking lots, over bridges, all to get around the six or seven blocks they have erased from maps for the next few days.

Still unsure of where I was gonna sleep that night, the young woman who sat with us told me I could stay with her sister, who lives just on the other side of town, past the barricades. I thought it was either that or a park, and a couch will beat a patch of grass any night. We left the guitar players in the middle of an acoustic version of Upgrade You. We walked through the warm suburban streets of Saint Paul to a big white house with a closed-in porch. Two yappy wiener dogs greeted us. I introduced myself and thanked the residents for letting me, a stranger, stay on their couch that night.

I slept well there and woke up energized for the new day.

Donny Lumpkins, 21, is a content producer at YO! Youth Outlook Multimedia

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From Pop to Politics: Obama's Debut in Denver

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Voting for Change, Not the Other Guy: Not All Obama Supporters Feelin' the Love

Eighteen and in the Marines

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