The methodical beat of bongo drums filled the air Tuesday as
protesters and activists mingled in an asphalt compound outside the Democratic Convention hall, competing for time and attention.
Bible Jim webber, a self-described soldier of God, was worked up about what he considers the weakening of America's military might under the Clinton administration, as he looked for converts among a trio of young men with pierced noses and tattoos.
"If someone is going to invade our country and kill our people and rape our women, we need a strong military," said Webber, am Oregon evangelist. The hecklers stopped only to roll their eyes and laugh out loud.
Down the way, Kenneth Van Dyke was hoisting a homemade placard that read "Bill Gates for Pres." on one side, and "Peace thru Bill Gates" on the other.
"I am being roundly ignored," Van Dyke, 44, an engineer from Bakersfield, Calif., conceded as platoons of police
officers patrolled the grounds.
Alongside him was Mickey Fitzpatrick, 60, a street minister
from Tampa, who wore a biblical-style robe and carried a 10-foot, 35-pound cross.
"America has sold out to the almighty dollar," he said. "That almighty dollar has replaced God."
The fenced, heavily guarded parking lot outside the Staples
Center has become ground zero for a freewheeling conterculture rebuke to the Democratic convention next door.
By day, it is a carnival of civil protest. Sime are battling abortion and America's declining Christian morals.
Others are fighting racism and the expansion of international free trade. Still others are waging protests about matters unclear.
But at night,the scene can get ugly.
Police and protesters marked their first clash of the Democratic convention Monday night, with each side blaming the other for the melee that led to six arrests and dozens of injuries.
Tuesday night's protests, by contrast, remained mostly peaceful as organizers of an umbrella activist organization
"We established a relationship with the police as human beings," said Mary Bernier, 54, of San Jose, who helped organize a rally Tuesday night against continued economic sanctions on Iraq. "They've respected us and we've respected them."
She and other organizers said it's imperative to maintain good relations to get their message across, but acknowledged the gatherings can draw unruly individuals with no connection to the cause.
Protest organizers have spent months planning their weeklong
schedule of marches and demonstrations, establishing their own publications, information center and a Web site.
Both the protesters and the police continued to brace for the possibility of continued conflict. Some protesters are even hoping for it.
"I'm looking to take a beanbag shot right here," said Noah Wilkenson, a 22-year-old aspiring truck driver from Portland, Ore. "Those things leave a cool bruise."
One of his pals, Dan Durden, 24, said a bruise from a rubber bullet or a face full of tear gas would be like a badge of honor.
"I'm only going to live once," he said. "I missed the Seattle riots; I figured I didn't want to miss this."
The two were joined by another friend, Hank Fontana, 21.
In their opinion the RepubliCrats, as they refer tp Republicans and Democrats alike, are all the same.
"Who's invading our country?" Fontana asked, wincing as Bible jim told him to "quit popping all those pills and wake up to what's happening in America."
The three pals just laughed even harder.
Fontana adjusted his nose ring, smoothed out his pony tail and turned to his friends:"Check this guy out. You got to have something you can tell your grandchildren."
Hmmmmmmm, where in the hell was this guy going to with this story? He probably normally writes about the local YMCA picnics.