Etgar 36

Day 25: Cleveland

By Rachel Aranyi:

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As we traveled across the sleepy Ohio landscape, no one imagined the history we were about to encounter. We made our way through the tree lined streets till we were greeted by Alan Canfora, a self proclaimed “long haired, radical, anti war activist”, who was shot by the national guard on May 4th, 1970 during a student protest against the Vietnam War. In one of the most widely disseminated photos of the Kent State massacre, Canforna is featured wielding a black flag defiantly in front of the heavily militarized national guard.

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There are very few times one feels as if they have traveled back in time. Yet, as I stood watching Canforn raise his infamous photo while his black baseball cap fluttered in the wind, I looked across the lush grass and could almost see the guards in formation upon the hill. I could hear the cries of the students fleeing from the bombardment of tear gas; I could feel the terror as the students hid behind trees and cars to avoid the bullets.
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As student activists ourselves, there is nothing more pertinent than the struggle at Kent State. It is obligatory that we acknowledge and honor the strife of others as they try to have their voices heard. For, they have paved the way for us to be able to freely express our first amendment rights. These basic freedoms were taken away at Kent state, but by learning the story, we ensure our ability to engage in civil discourse and learn from one another in a peaceful manner.
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After a short drive to Cleveland, we met with Patrick Jones, the founder of the start-up Vocatio, a company whose goal is to provide young people with tools to help them discern a viable career path based on their passions. We discussed our thoughts on the current political climate as well as our thoughts on specific candidates. This was the perfect prelude to going to the convention.
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Next, we made our way inside the Rock and Roll hall of fame where we learned about music that shaped and evolved alongside our history. We dug deeper into the origins of songs we had previously discussed such as “times they are a’changin” by Bob Dylan and the effect it had on the politics of 1968.

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From the hall of fame, we headed towards the convention where we met with Noah Silverman, a representative of the republican Jewish coalition, an organization that serves as a liaison between the Republican Party and the Jewish community. He spoke about the struggle of holding liberal social values in conjunction with being pro-Israel. As a Jewish young person, I feel that same dissonance when it comes to evaluating candidates. According to the RJC, the best politician to support this cycle is Donald Trump. However, as a group, we questioned Silverman regarding the outpouring of outspoken antisemites who have endorsed Trump in combination with his campaign staff launching an attack ad against Hillary featuring a Jewish star.
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We once again met up with Jim Pfaff, the anti climate change and anti gay marriage activist, to help us navigate the streets surrounding the convention.

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As we approached, the streets become populated with people from all walks of life. The electricity in the air was palpable. People strutted by, clad in press passes, delegate tags and large video cameras. A man in a cowboy hat strummed on his guitar and sang a ditty about the utter perfection of Donald J Trump. Street venders hollered, attempting to sell their wares. Police brandished pepper spray as they nervously stood at attention, ready to pounce at the first sign of unruliness.

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Walking through the packed street, Jim pointed out Gary Johnson, former governor of New Mexico, and presidential nominee for the libertarian party. We all shook Johnson’s hand, took photos and were given free campaign t-shirts.
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Without warning, a group of individuals threw on black shirts, pushed their way through the sea  of people, forming a circle linked together by their hands. They began chanting “1-2-3-4 slavery, genocide and war 5-6-7-8 America was never great”. They then began to set the American flag ablaze. Police on horseback trudged through the crowd as the press and spectators surrounded the scene creating an impromptu mosh pit of political activism. The protesters held their ground against the police. This culminated in the arrest of multiple rioters right before our eyes.

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As the turmoil was unfolding, up walks the crazy, boot wearing, idea spitting, antiestablishment rebel Vermin Supreme, a performance artist who has run in the last 3 elections on a platform of time travel research, increasing our zombie apocalypse preparedness, and providing free ponies for all.
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Lastly, we bumped into reporters who wanted nothing more than to interview a group of politically literate teens. A journalist working for the TV network fusion, making a documental about the upcoming election, wanted to hear our thoughts on civil discourse and gerrymandering. Even under the bright lights and ever present gaze of the camera, I was astounded by the level poise and shear eloquence displayed by my pee

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In summation, being at the convention was a once in a life time opportunity to witness our democracy in motion. Yet, being able to share this whirlwind of an experience with my fellow Etgar participants made today’s events much more compelling and meaningful.