It was a balmy evening, as my comrades in ink and I strolled back from a shindig on Santa Monica pier for the Democratic Convention sponsored by such swell folk as the National Rifle Association and Phillip Morris.
Of course, there were lots of protesters. Never mind that if Phillip Morris marketed marijuana, not cigarettes, they wouldn't worry about cancer. Other than the people from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals protesting meat eating, it was hard to figure what their beef -- pun intended -- was, other than that they were angry at Corporate America.
The message of the protesters was clear: We good. You bad. We pure. You dirty.
Then I saw him. Young with pink cheeks glowed under a sheen of dirt, long brown hair flowing down past his shoulders, soulful eyes and a sleeping bag. All I could think was that when I was 16, this romantic young vagabond -- and that's certainly how he saw himself -- would have made my heart flutter.
At 16, this was my idea of what the authentic life was.
A day no doubt will come when this kid decides to enter the world, instead of rage against it. The transition will happen slowly. First he'll dress up a bit for work, another day, for no particular reason, he'll don a tie and start thinking about moving his way up the ladder. He may become the people he once thought of as the enemy. But that's another day. Today, the kids are here to tell the world that it is wrong.
Yesterday morning, Myra Plascensia, 20, stood on Figueroa Street to protest police treatment of immigrants. Why protest against the Democrats for that? "Everyone protests everything here," she answered. "You know, whatever comes, comes." In 20 years she thinks she'll be doing movie scenery. Pro-Mumia demonstrator John Lovits told me in 20 years, when he's 37: "Hopefully I'll be on a big rock band on TV, a millionaire. But if not I'll probably be on GR (general relief) or welfare."
They'll never tell you they expect to be selling insurance. Three college-age friends typified the mood of the more casual demonstrators. Two were sporting union T-shirts and planning to vote for Ralph Nader; the third said he would vote for Libertarian Harry Browne. What are you doing at a protest with people who want more regulation? I asked Peter McCaffery, 18.
"I am the anti-protester. Today's revolutionary is tomorrow's dictator."
Naaa, you're just here for the party.
"Yeah, basically," he shrugged.
I met a very articulate Christine Petersen from the San Francisco Bay Area who carried a sign bashing Occidental Petroleum, while her issue was the proliferation of prisons.
It's this laundry list of causes that leads so many observers to scratch their heads and wonder: What are these children of privilege so angry about? While some, like Petersen, can articulate situations they'd like to change, others convey this vague sense that everything is unconscionably off-kilter. I wonder if they really are angry about the fact that their years of being nurtured are ending. Soon they're going to have to be grown-ups. Entering the working world, laying in bed at night wondering what the future will hold, is scary. But they can't scream indignantly about the unfairness of having to grow up, not when everyone else grows old. Or dies. So they transfer their indignation to a handy cause.
Later, most will join the march into middle-class comfort. They'll dedicate themselves to their careers. They'll learn what is worth fighting for. Today it's world peace everywhere, but when they grow up, they'll know what to demand: a tony sky box with a good view of the DNC -- better yet, RNC -- podium.
Maybe we're all just here for the party.