More fun than fear as Republican National Convention kicks off in Cleveland - so far

Mrs Rose Hamid and her son, Samir, on Cleveland's Euclid Avenue near the Republican National Convention site in Cleveland.
Mrs Rose Hamid and her son, Samir, on Cleveland's Euclid Avenue near the Republican National Convention site in Cleveland. ST PHOTO: PAUL ZACH
 An Christian group delivers their message near Cleveland's East 4th Street cafe district, a block from The Q convention venue.
An Christian group delivers their message near Cleveland's East 4th Street cafe district, a block from The Q convention venue.ST PHOTO: PAUL ZACH
Tom Morello (In red cap) of rap rock band Rage Against the Machine leads his new supergroup Prophets of Rage in musical protest of the Republican convention in Cleveland's Public Square much to the delight of surprised fans.
Tom Morello (In red cap) of rap rock band Rage Against the Machine leads his new supergroup Prophets of Rage in musical protest of the Republican convention in Cleveland's Public Square much to the delight of surprised fans. ST PHOTO: PAUL ZACH
Fervent Republican and Donald Trump supporter in her elephant cap outside The Q in Cleveland.
Fervent Republican and Donald Trump supporter in her elephant cap outside The Q in Cleveland. ST PHOTO: PAUL ZACH
A pub near the Republican convention site has a message of its own for delegates and protesters alike.
A pub near the Republican convention site has a message of its own for delegates and protesters alike. ST PHOTO: PAUL ZACH
A Sikh man shares his feelings about money spent on Cleveland'S Public Square renovations, with a Cleveland Cavaliers headband under his turban. Jimmy Dimora is a former Cleveland official now serving 28 years in prison for corruption.
A Sikh man shares his feelings about money spent on Cleveland'S Public Square renovations, with a Cleveland Cavaliers headband under his turban. Jimmy Dimora is a former Cleveland official now serving 28 years in prison for corruption. STPHOTO: PAUL ZACH
Protesters take a breather on Cleveland's Euclid Avenue ok the first day of the Republican convention.
Protesters take a breather on Cleveland's Euclid Avenue ok the first day of the Republican convention. ST PHOTO: PAUL ZACH
Protesters whom identified themselves as members of the Anonymous social site protest group gather on Cleveland's Public Square near fthe Republican Convention.
Protesters whom identified themselves as members of the Anonymous social site protest group gather on Cleveland's Public Square near fthe Republican Convention.ST PHOTO: PAUL ZACH
A woman marches for peace through Cleveland's East 4th street cafe district near The Q convention site.
A woman marches for peace through Cleveland's East 4th street cafe district near The Q convention site. ST PHOTO: PAUL ZACH

On a street two blocks from the venue where Donald Trump - who has vowed to bar Muslims from entering the United States - was expected to be nominated the Republican Party's presidential candidate this week, Mrs Rose Hamid and her son, Samir, quietly passed out pens tipped with roses to passersby with the message "Salam: I come in peace".

Not far away, a bearded man with a crucifix emblazoned with the words "Vote 4 Jesus" screamed wildly about America going to hell in a handbasket.

On nearby Public Square, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees Public Enemy, rappers Cypress Hill and Rage Against the Machine'sTom Morello pulled out a boombox and rapped to introduce their new supergroup Prophets of Rage, singing classics such as Killing in the Name of.

So while Americans celebrated their freedom to protest each in their own way, the streets of Cleveland, Ohio, on the first day of the Republican National Convention on Monday felt more festive than frightening, especially given violence during Trump's presidential primary election events and the recent murders of policemen in Dallas and Baton Rouge.

Makeshift buskers set up shop and sang reggae songs on the corner of the city's trendy East 4th Street cafe district where US TV news celebrities talked politics to a global audience from bases set up outside popular pubs and restaurants. Delegates, protesters and the curious alike walked up-and0down the streets seemingly unconcerned about the potential for violence, even with the state of Ohio's notorious laws allowing guns to be carried openly in public.

Certainly the police and security presence was positively massive. About 3,000 uniformed men and women who came to Cleveland from all round the United States walked the streets and plazas in groups. A police dog, led by an officer from New York, sniffed cars and trucks at the West Boulevard public rail station, fully 8 kilometres from downtown Cleveland and the site of the convetion at Quicken Loans Arena, known as The Q for short.

Yet people moved freely round the city - at least by foot given the numerous roads and even interstates blocked for security reasons - except for heavily-fenced in security zones round The Q itself, and other parts of the downtown area stretching for many kilometres in all directions, and making it a puzzle for Clevelanders to get into the city to work.

And they came in all shapes, sizes, and colours - few of them seeming to be from Cleveland itself - but for a Sikh man in a turban wrapped round a Cleveland Cavaliers basketball team bandana. He carried signs welcoming Republicans but protesting the spending of US $50 million dollars in taxpayer's money on a renovation of Public Square to help showcase the city's continuing renaissance.

"It's corruption. They are taking it from our RTA (the public transportation system)," he said, without giving his name, noting that although he was not a Republican they were still welcome to his city - as his other placard said.

Behind him, protesters wearing black masks and Arab kaffiyehs to hide their faces. Some wore shirts that said: People Before Profits. They would identify themselves only as members of the Anonymous group known for posting messages on social media, usually with the speaker wearing a Guy Fawkes mask.

 

Just outside The Q itself, 71-year-old Cheryl wore an elephant head on her head - the mascot of the Grand Old Party as the Republicans are also known - and marvelled at the way Cleveland had been transformed since her last visit int he 1970s.

Not a delegate to the convention but an invited guest from the state of Iowa, she spoke of her commitment to her political party of choice proudly, noting that this was her 8th convention - all of them Republican, of course.

"I'm not a 'victim' or else I'd be in that other party," she said. It was a not-so- subtle reference to the Republican concern that Democrats had turned the US into a welfare state.

As for Mrs Hamid, 56, and Samir, 24, they financed their own trip from Charlotte, North Carolina to bring their hope of a peaceful convention to Cleveland. Born Roman Catholic, she said converted to islam when she was young and looking for a religion she felt better suited her philosophy, married a Palestinian man, and is proud to wear her hijab as an American.

 

Her main objective was Republican delegates to the convention, and she was concerned she would not get to them because of the tight security cordon of black fences and concrete barriers round The Q.

Just then, a group from Texas decked out in red, white and blue apparel, walked by. They thanked her for the rose pens, smiled and asked where she and her son were from, and invited them to visit their state.

Mrs Hamid smiled and said: "Now that's the kind of interaction I've been hoping for."

emai: zach@sph.com.sg