Police helicopters and airplanes circled overhead; rooftops were lined with television cameras and binocular-brandishing law enforcement. A parade of protesters, the disenfranchised, and flat-out freaks marched around bearing floats, banners, and costumes, all amid a mob of fans in the middle of a parking lot ready to rock with Rage Against The Machine.
The lot, located immediately in front of L.A.'s Staples Center, is the designated protest area outside the Democratic National Convention, and the men of Rage said they came to play for an audience whose concerns and priorities were not represented inside the building.
The crowd, which numbered in the thousands and boasted people protesting dozens upon dozens of different issues, included opponents of nuclear arms, supporters of the Zapatistas, and advocates of Ralph Nader's candidacy. Citizens concerned with the death penalty, nuclear waste, irradiated food, abortion rights, and Big Oil mingled with a smattering
of anarchists, atheists, and folks in Star Trek costumes. "This is what democracy looks like" was a slogan chanted by many; democracy was looking wild, wooly, and very much alive.
Around 6:30 (PT), Rage took the stage and played a blistering nine-song set over the din of the helicopters, opening with "Bulls On Parade" and going on to rip through "People Of The Sun," "Testify," "Guerrilla Radio," "Sleep Now In the Fire," "Killing In The Name," and The MC5's "Kick Out The Jams," among others. RATM frontman Zach De La Rocha didn't use the stage to speechify, instead letting the songs stand as message enough.
While there was a considerable number of people who most likely showed up primarily (or only) to see the band, there was also a great deal of political discussion going on in the crowd. Many protesters and activists could be heard explaining their activities to one another in between songs. It was not a group of people ignoring the issues just to see Rage play.
were no incidents that we saw; no confrontations with police, no brawls. People came, protested, rocked, and peaceably went on with their business. Democracy looked and sounded just fine, for a while; some time after Rage left the stage, the protest area got ugly (see "Rage Against The Machine Concert Yields To Police Clashes At Convention").