It was a humid, Friday afternoon in Downtown Cleveland, just days before the arrival of the Republican National Convention. The onset of the weekend was accompanied by the descent of a suddenly palpable tension upon the city as we prepared to receive 50,000 visitors. The estimate was predicted by the Cleveland 2016 Host Committee, the nonpartisan group which organized the convention. Thousands of police officers from 13 different states had arrived to the Rust Belt city, dozens of protests were solidified by permits and Facebook events, and to the relief of professors and students, Case University cancelled all classes for the week.
City on the rise:
Since the 2014 announcement of Cleveland as the RNC's host city, conversation about the convention’s impact on the local economy spread rapidly.
In an interview with Cleveland.com, Victor Matheson, an economist at the College of the Holy Cross, explained that based on his colleagues’ research, political conventions held between 1972 and 2004 have had a “negligible impact” on host communities’ economies. He said that aside from hotels, transportation companies and some restaurants adjacent to the Quicken Loans Arena, businesses’ expectations of amplified profits would not be met. This was due to the “crowding-out” effect of increased security, road closures and the choice of many Clevelanders to just stay home.
For local businesses, the impact of the RNC on revenues varied. According to The Daily Beast, business was abysmal for restaurants like Panini’s Gateway, located near the corner of Prospect Ave. and E. 9th just blocks away from the convention. Just down the road, The Winking Lizard experienced an influx of late-night customers, said General Manager Scott Bassett to The Daily Beast. Some restaurants and entire hotels were bought out by third-party companies, who operate much like ticket-scalpers, in hopes of profiting. Local attractions like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the newly renovated Public Square did however experience considerable foot traffic.
After the convention concluded, the U.S. Travel Association estimated that the RNC brought $180 million of revenue into the city. However, Lauren Heller, an economics professor at Berry College in Rome, Georgia, criticized this estimate because it is difficult to attribute the economic impact to a single event. Hired by the Cleveland 2016 Host Committee, Cleveland State University’s Center for Economic Development is studying the actual impact and will release conclusive data later this year. That data will incorporate the costs of hosting the RNC, which according to The Fiscal Times, totaled to about $114 million, half of which came from taxpayers.
The decision to host the RNC in Cleveland cast a spotlight upon the city, which many had hoped would bolster its reputation. After a long decline of manufacturing and the devastating foreclosure crisis, Clevelanders have long-awaited an event to aid its resurgence. After the announcement, the city began to amplify construction efforts, revitalizing Public Square, which later became a “Free Speech Zone,” and the I-90 E. 9th off-ramp, which leads directly into the heart of the city. However, while thousands of dollars were being poured into downtown, Cleveland’s suburbs received negligible attention. This was one of the main critiques of the RNC: it was bringing media attention to the developed, central areas like E. 4th St. and Public Square, but wasn’t adequately displaying the daily lives of Clevelanders. This led to the creation of projects like The Fixers, a series of short films portraying what some call the “real” neighborhoods of Cleveland.
Many locals, especially the youth who have just recently become involved in politics, didn’t know what to expect. Our uncertainties were heightened by news reports that predicted riots, violence and the destruction of our lakefront metropolis. Many news reports focused on fears of reliving disastrous conventions like the 1968 DNC in Chicago, in which violence broke out between the police and protesters, many of them anti-Vietnam War demonstrators. The Boston Globe reported fears of unrest and an unpreparedness, despite a $49.9 million "National Special Security Event" federal grant that Cleveland received from the Department of Justice to beef up its police force. High-rise metal fences were erected around the Quicken Loans Arena and outside police forces equipped with riot gear arrived to the city, many of them housed in Cleveland State University’s dormitories. The city looked like it was prepared for war.
Some Clevelanders chose to stay in the suburbs or go out of town to avoid the city altogether. Others flocked to the hub of activity, driven by curiosity, summoned by a job or called to social action. The Vindicator wasn’t able to secure access to the circus happening inside of the Q, but we were less interested in the delegates’ discourse than the city’s response. We were driven by the stories of people standing up against oppression perpetuated a political system that doesn’t represent them. These people will never be delegates and thus their only means of contributing to the dialogue of democracy is to march, rally and protest, professing the sacristy of First Amendment rights. Since the American Revolution, democracy in this country has always been bolstered by the outrage of the people.
The RNC through our eyes:
Whatever one’s role is, be it protester, journalist or politician, we each bear the responsibility to grab that inter-generational baton and keep running the race of freedom because the fight continues. There will always be injustice in the world and it is our right to openly oppose and work to minimize it. The role of journalists is to record the state of society, to hold the powers-that-be accountable, and to give a voice to the underrepresented. Storytellers must be motivated by a responsibility to the people, not to the powerful institutions that suppress them. However, what resulted during the RNC was a hotbed of media attention, with most anchors and photographers at the ready to catch a glimpse of the forecast violence.
To combat the demonizing of protesters and opposition forces who are portrayed negatively by the corporate media, they must be humanized. This is exactly what The Vindicator stands for: to give a voice to the marginalized, to the artists, to the oppressed. There is a direct relationship between public opinion, policy change and the influence of mass media. When people who have legitimate reasons to speak out against injustice are framed as radicals and rioters, their entire cause is undermined and misrepresented. This causes the masses to become fearful of the people who are actually fighting for civil and human rights, further increasing division and thus strengthening the establishment. When news coverage focuses so intently on opportunists who turn peaceful protests into riots, media consumers fail to recognize what is fueling is dissent. These demonstrations embody a culmination of voices, united by a common struggle, and they are essential to a functioning democracy.
By the end of the RNC, only about two dozen people were arrested and the city wasn’t destroyed like the news had predicted. In fact, there seemed to be more verbal violence inside of the Q, like when former Republican Presidential candidate Ben Carson used Hillary Clinton’s name in the same sentence as Lucifer, or when Texas Senator Ted Cruz was booed off of the stage for telling delegates to vote their conscience. There was violence when thousands of people rallied behind intolerant ideals such as building walls along borders and banning entire groups of people from entering the US based on irrational fears and scapegoating.
My partner Carter Adams, the Woodward to my Bernstein, spent weeks researching previous conventions and preparing gas masks and a first aid kit, expecting the worst. Our team discussed safety precautions and lines that we wouldn’t cross, but Carter and I were determined to enmesh ourselves in the thick of it. For days we followed protests, racing around the streets of Cleveland, snapping photos, live tweeting and compiling information. It was exhausting, exhilarating and enlightening. Carter worked tirelessly from morning to night to record the testimonies and actions of activists, creating a virtual quilt of working class struggles. We waited for the violence predicted by the news reports, fears that prompted thousands of police officers to arm themselves in riot gear and monitor protests, but it never came. Instead, Cleveland was praised for it’s ability to avoid deadly clashes and to keep the city safe.
The city of Cleveland should receive no credit for maintaining peace because activists needn't be feared. It is not the protesters whom we should protect ourselves against, but rather the institutions that systematically oppress them, us, you and I. We should neither be fearful of nor intimidated by these people who claim to represent the masses, but rather we should challenge them and hold them accountable for their actions. Cynicism does not cause policy change, action does. The direction of this progress, however, depends on the masses rising together in the name of justice, demanding the system to listen. In a world in which we are constantly bombarded by messages of hate and violence to keep us in fear, we must remember that we cannot let that fear keep us from standing up for our rights.