Burning One For The Gipper

Posted: February 28, 2009 in The Roper Files
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flag-burning
August 1984…The Republican National Convention was meeting in nearby Dallas Texas when I caught wind of the Rock Against Reagan tour featuring a handful of my favorite West Coast punk rock bands. They were touring Manson-family style in a series of buses and doing their best to ruin each and every GOP gathering by following them around the country, setting up and blaring loud obnoxious tunes of protest against Reagan and Bush.
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Headlining was the ever-raucous Dead Kennedys who were always worth going out of ones way to check out. The city of Dallas didn’t take kindly to political activists who didn’t tote the Party Line, so they were doing everything they could to make them miserable and keep them out of the way. The protesters from out of town were informed they could only camp out in a specified area, which was a mosquito-infested flood plain area near the Trinity River outside of downtown Dallas. The specified area they were given for the protest concert was several blocks away from the actual Republican Convention, so as to keep them as out of sight and sound as possible.

Backing the Dead Kennedys were the hardcore bands Reagan Youth and Cause For Alarm and Reverend Ivan Stang of the Church Of the Subgenius was going to say a few words. Hmmm… let’s see…a bunch of West Coast left-wingers clashing with right-wing redneck Reagan zombies?

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No way I was going to miss this historic once-in-a-lifetime event. A motley crew of my friends is assembled and we pile into the hulking mass of steel and chrome that comprised my 1975 Monte Carlo. Ice chests are filled; it’s time for a Road Trip to Dallas! A combination of 100-watt punk rock and the roar of my 350 engine carries us at record speeds down I-30 and mere minutes later the all-too familiar downtown Dallas skyline looms in the distance ahead.

We find a place to safely park on the very edge of downtown and walk towards the designated protest area a few blocks north of the Dallas Memorial Convention Center where the GOP Convention was taking place. It wasn’t hard to find; all we had to do was follow our ears.
The protest area was set up in a parking lot just barely within visual distance of the Convention; all you could see from there was the roof. The city of Dallas wanted this bunch of noisy, dirty protesters as far away from the convention and the media as possible obviously. An impromptu stage had been erected and as we walked up the band Reagan Youth was giving it hell on stage with a furious barrage of fast drumming and screaming guitar.

A weird mix of young punk rockers with shaved heads and sporting Mohawk haircuts and really old long-haired hippies who looked as if they came straight from Haight-Ashbury comprised the crowd and as the music got faster the crowd began to run around and around in circles in front of the stage. Looking back at it now almost twenty five years later, I didn’t realize it at the time but what I was witnessing was the making of a parody of that old Andy Griffith 45 “What It Was Was Football” only my version would be “What It Was Was Moshing” ( “Then these people began a-running and a-running around …”)
I had been to punk rock shows before but this was the first time I had ever seen moshing and really wasn’t sure what to make out of it other than the obvious stay out of the way.
Reagan Youth finished their set and very shortly afterwards Cause For Alarm started theirs, which was equally chaotic. After their set a pulpit was brought up on stage and the good Reverend Ivan Stang laid a few inspirational words on the crowd , such as the time Jerry Falwell called him up and complained to him about not having a dick.

“Reverend Stang, I don’t have a dick. And even if I had a dick I couldn’t do all the stuff I want to do with my dick that everyone else does with their dick because I don’t have a dick” Or something like that; my recollection can be a little fuzzy at times.
After Reverend Stang left the stage the Dead Kennedys finally took the stage. Jello Biafra had his leg in a splint (?) but was as full of piss and vinegar in spite of it.
He grabbed the microphone and pointed towards Dallas Memorial. “Hey look everyone; the Republicans are leaving the Convention. I think a nice chant is in order. How about oh I don’t know….a nice “fuck off and die!”
The crowd of several hundred protesters began on cue to chant “fuck off and die” loudly and in the distance heads could be seen turning towards the protest area. Ha ha! The evening was off to a fine start.

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The Kennedys went through a fast and furious set of all their classics: Moral Majority, Bleed For Me, Kill the Poor, Holiday In Cambodia, Police Truck and my personal favorite We’ve Got a Bigger Problem Now. At one point of the set some guy with a Ronald Reagan mask got up on stage and wiggled his ass both to the music as well as the crowds delight. At another extremely dramatic point Jello pointed to his right and yelled “Look!” into his microphone and on an overhanging cliff nearby a long line of Dallas police in full riot gear stood shoulder-to-shoulder watching us all, just waiting for someone to get out-of-control. Waiting for an excuse of any kind no doubt to start tenderizing heads.
 I looked at a tall building across the street from the protest area and up towards the roof. I could see several Men In Black obviously videotaping the event which made me a little uneasy. Things were getting a little too Orwell here and I was starting to get a little paranoid; after all look where we were. Just a few blocks from a certain turkey-shoot back in 1963…

During the set I noticed several small groups of people wandering through the crowd shoving and pushing people. They were young clean-cut college jock types and obviously in disapproval of the protesters; I saw them taking signs away from people like “what are you going to do about it?” and obviously trying to start a fight. I didn’t see them actually hit or take a swing at anyone, but they were pushing and shoving people and then playing stare-down with them in search of someone foolish enough to take on ten angry young men. Didn’t notice any Dallas police officers trying to stop them.
And then that’s when out of the corner of my eye I noticed the fire…

Just a few feet away from me an American flag  had been set on fire and was being held high by a young man to a combination of boos and cheers of approval. He was tackled to the ground almost immediately and an older guy who looked really out of place with the rest of the crowd took the flag away from him and began stomping on it in an attempt to put out the flames and then carried it off. Several of the jock types I described earlier circled around as if they wanted to get at the young man who set the flag on fire, but a larger crowd of protesters got between them and him and led him safely away as the jocks jeered and yelled insults at him. “Look at them; they’re just like a bunch of children” I heard one of them say, sounding just like a schoolyard bully as his friends grunted in approval.

The area began to swarm with Dallas Police in full riot gear and Men In Black; I had never been in a riot before and the idea of being caught in the middle of one didn’t appeal to me much. My friends and I decided to get the hell out of there while the getting was good. As we roared back home we had no idea we had witnessed an event that would later lead to a Supreme Court case concerning flag burning. We were just relieved to get out of there alive and in one piece.

( you can read more about this here: http://images.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://weblaw.usc.edu/news/assets/images/2003/Johnson3.jpg&imgrefurl=http://weblaw.usc.edu/news/archive/2003/Johnson.cfm&usg=__t_sNbKNaaAHZRhmcjFeltutSQPQ=&h=1208&w=1600&sz=187&hl=en&start=1&tbnid=qSoBxm1N-TQ9lM:&tbnh=113&tbnw=150&prev=/images%3Fq%3Dflag%2Bburning%2Bat%2B1984%2Bdallas%2BGOP%2Bconvention%26gbv%3D2%26hl%3Den%26sa%3DG )

and  check out this excellent post also: http://thewriteroom.wordpress.com/2008/11/02/dead-kennedys-rock-againist-politics/ 

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