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BOSTON -- On Tuesday afternoon, the second day of the Democratic National Convention, there is a man strolling through Boston Common holding a cardboard sign that reads "Free Hugs."

His arms open to anyone who passes by. He doesn't appear to have

  many takers; most people he approaches pretend not to notice him or, worse yet, scrunch up their shoulders to give off their best "I don't want to be hugged" vibe. The man chuckles off the rejections and valiantly continues his quest. Finally, a young girl lets go of her grandfather's hand and accepts a hug from the man. An onlooker lets out an "Aww" and soon the man is a hug machine, giving and receiving hugs from at least a half-dozen other

bystanders. It's a poignant scene, especially for an anarchists' festival.

The Really Really Democratic Bazaar was organized by The Bl(A)ck Tea Society, a coalition of activists protesting the DNC. Its purpose is to offer a space where people can demonstrate their opposition to the "corporate elite" that have taken over the city. The BTS refers to itself as "anti-authoritarian" and is made-up of people from various political backgrounds, including progressives, libertarians, Marxists and anarchists.

The group's anarchist affiliation has, of late, piqued the interest of governmental authorities. FBI agents visited the home of Boston


activists last week and questioned them about protest plans; BTS members believe that undercover police have attended group meetings and events.

But BTS spokesperson, Elly Guillette, says the Bazaar is about peace. More vigorous demonstrations, called "Decentralized Actions," are planned for Thursday and will keep Boston


Police far busier than the serial hugger.

"[Decentralized actions] will be of small groups of people instead of a mass of people that can be easily rounded up, a thousand at a time by the cops," Guillette says. These actions will include individual picketing in random areas around the city, and impromptu street theater.

Walking around the Bazaar affirms Guillette's claims of peace. People seem more concerned with having a good time than starting a riot. One group offers free lessons at a juggling booth; another erected a boxing ring where participants can playfully punch inflated dolls of George W. Bush.

As political rallies go, The Really Really Democratic Bazaar seems pretty typical. There are the requisite booths of allied political groups displaying their agendas through homemade signs and photocopied flyers. A revolutionary bookstore offers the obligatory Noam Chomsky and Emma Goldman oeuvre, plus one book entitled "The Teenage Liberation Handbook: How to Quit School and Get a Real Life and Education." Artists sell their wares, including a man hawking


American flags with corporate logos in place of stars. "I've sold nearly 4,000 of them," he says proudly.

There's music too, of course. Over on the main stage a three piece ska/punk band that calls itself Cannibal Kings rocks out to an audience of nine. The singer wears a big hat and sings intently, possibly about a lion. He roars a few


times in between verses. Cannibal Kings are followed by a folk singer from Vermont named Laura Simon, who reminds me of every undergrad from UVM I've ever met: Short, cute and crunchy. She introduces one of her songs with, "It's about homeless children." It's kind of a downer.

The Leftist Marching Band picks up the tempo and leads a parade around the bazaar. A giant spine puppet follows, created by the Backbone Campaign, a progressive group intent on challenging Democratic members of congress to speak out for social justice. Each vertebra on the spine bears a slogan: "Stop Arming Dictators" or "Marriage For All."

As the parade trails off, a small crowd watches a group dressed in pink and black gothic cheerleading outfits lead what they call "radical cheers." At first the cheers sound only anti-Bush; one begins with the line "Anybody but Bush and Cheney!" But John Kerry is just as much a target of their scorn -- they conclude with "You hypocrites, the Democrats are full of shit!"

Many bazaar participants don't find Kerry to be any improvement over the current administration. The BTS doesn't believe in the two-party system and thinks Kerry is just as much a "whore for corporations" as Bush is. A standard line among attendees is that "Kerry voted for the war, too." A few people sport "Fuck Kerry" shirts, and plentiful graffiti adorns the sidewalks with slogans such as "Fuck Politics: Let Me Run My Own Life," "The Democrats Are No Better" and the suddenly ubiquitous "Fuck Kerry." Though thousands of Kerry's supporters are in town for the week, none are speaking up at the bazaar.

The only real clash of ideology occurs when the police escort a man through the heart of the proceedings while he professes God's approval of the war in Iraq. People try to drown out his preaching by shouting "There is no God!" and "Go to the free speech zone your fucked-up leaders designated for you!" but the man keeps on sermonizing. One woman, visibly distraught by his presence, yells "Get off our permit!" and then buries her head into the shoulder of a friend. Her use of the "permit card" seems rather un-anarchistic, and I wonder if she hides her face out of embarrassment as much as frustration.

Aside from that brief scene, the bazaar is peaceful. The street theater actors and more vocal activists are perhaps saving their energy for Thursday. Even the people staffing the hardcore anarchists' table are


warm and friendly. A leaflet mentions a meeting at a Cambridge house next door to one I lived in as a child. A representative smiles upon hearing this and says, "No shit? Which house?" For an instant I wonder if he's testing me, that perhaps he sees right through my lame white-guy-wearing-a-black-power-T-Shirt façade, but there's sincere curiosity in his smile.


"It was a green house," I say. "A two-family, with a narrow front porch."

"Yep, that's right next door," he says, still smiling. "How 'bout that?"

Before I can ask him if the old lady who used to live on the first floor was still alive, the man's walkie-talkie beeps and he steps away. "The porto-potties are what?" he shouts back into the device.

Free Hugs Man is being interviewed by a television reporter, destined to be the punch line at the end of the newscast. Free Hugs Man is happy for the attention and tells the reporter, "I've received more hugs in the last couple of hours than I have in my entire life." When the interview ends, the cameraman directs him to walk around and hug people. For the first time, Free Hugs Man looks unsure; he is being ordered to do something that comes naturally. As a shirtless, dreadlocked man enters into a hardy embrace, Free Hugs Man relaxes and sets off down the sidewalk, hugging away.


Christopher Monks is obsessively documenting the DNC's every nuance.