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  RELAX, AMERICA. ANARCHY IN THE STREETS AIN'T SUCH A BAD THING.  
   
   
  BOSTON -- The Boston Public Library anchors one end of Copley Square, an ornate old building with broad, low steps leading up. Inside, the Massachusetts delegation of the Democratic National Convention was holding its opening night party. Outside, a fife and  
 

drum band (three children and a slightly exasperated-looking older woman) played intermittently as delegates wandered in and out of the doors. At the bottom of the steps, under the watchful if passive eyes of a dozen cops, two protesters held up signs. One read "Bush = Kerry," the other "Tweedledee / Tweedledum / Tweedlewannabe -- who cares?" Holding the signs were Jamie "Bork" Loughner and Jesse (who declined to give his last name). They were anarchists.

In 2000, the presence of the protest

 
 

community -- and it is a community -- was felt almost equally at the Democratic convention as it was at the Republican. The prevailing wisdom from the protestors at that time (as well as gadfly Ralph Nader) was that there was no difference between either party, and that the whole system was corrupt. The contested election that year, and the four years of unprecedented upheaval since then, have devalued that argument to most Americans, and the protests at the Republican convention in New York in August are expected to be far more fierce than the ones here. But don't tell that to Jamie and Jesse. They've heard it enough already.

Jamie is a protester from Washington, D.C., whose activism on behalf of that city's have-nots has made her well known both among anarchists and the broader community. I asked her if it was tougher being an anarchist with Bush in the White House. "It's been tough

 
   
 

being an anarchist since we started," she said, "but recently they've been making more of an effort to demonize it."

Both Jamie and Jesse voiced their concerns that voters have been sold on the "anybody but Bush" argument, without having a real reason to support Kerry. Anarchists, along with all DNC protesters, were, in their view, being marginalized by an apathetic and resigned public.

Jamie told me that it had been more of a challenge to get people to protest the Democratic National Convention with the Republican convention so soon afterward. "Having

 
 

the two conventions back-to-back is hard on people," she said. "Not everybody can take a month and a half off."

As we talked, delegates filed in and out of the library behind us. For the most part, they ignored the protesters; those who did look tended to give a slight smile. The reaction wasn't one of shock or anger or even distaste. Instead, the delegates' reaction, when there was one, was condescending: The protesters, their expressions seemed to say, are barking at the moon.

But Jamie and Jesse were not deterred. Earlier in the day, they had walked along Massachusetts Avenue, holding their signs.

"The reaction was 90 percent positive," Jesse said, grinning. That kind of positive reaction was his fuel. As we talked, his face would light up with quick smiles, one after another. As I took his photo, he asked me if he should smile in the shot, saying, "I usually don't smile when I'm protesting." I found it hard to believe him.

"There are two things that would make me happy," Jesse said. "First, if people would have the realization that the solution to problems is not in the electoral system. Second, if people would see anarchy not as people going around breaking things, but as people who create things."

"I've never broken a window in my life," he said. "Well, not deliberately, at least."

If you ran into Jesse in another context, you might think he was a construction worker, with his powerful hands and broad shoulders. But he works in IT, designing Web sites for small businesses and social organizations. He used to separate his job and his political philosophy, but he said that he now only works for "people that I like." His beliefs have caused him trouble in the past; he lost his job with a government contractor, Jesse believes, because his employer

 
     

found out he was a Wiccan.

"Working for a contactor meant I had no employee rights," he said. "Contracting becomes a customer relationship where the employee loses rights while the system enhances the rights of corporations."

As a cadre of police officers milled about, looking more bored than menacing, Jesse said that the situation was "laughable."

"You just have to grin and bear it because it's business as usual," he said. At other major events, Jesse has worked to rehabilitate

 
 

ow-income housing and, with environmental groups, has helped publicize the leaching of toxins into the land around chemical companies. With his easy grin and quiet humor, it was hard to imagine him as a threat, and when a group of other protesters briefly approached, Jesse waved his hand at them, laughed, and said, "Do these people look like folks you should be scared of?" They didn't.

Being a protester, though, often means being in danger. Jamie was arrested while protesting the Free Trade Area of the Americas talks in Miami; she filed a lawsuit against the Miami police, stating that they had painfully rotated her thumbs in order to get her to state her name. Jesse, too, acknowledged the risks: "My daughter worries about me."

But here in front of the library, their interactions with the cops were brief. "They asked us to get off the steps," Jesse told me. "We did, and they've left us alone." I asked him he if planned on going to the "Free Speech Zone," the infamous area where organizers have attempted to corral all protestors. He laughed: "I'm not going to put myself inside a razor-wire cage."

Half a block from the library, past a T entrance blanketed in a huge CNN advertisement, is the Community Church of Boston, which houses the Convergence Center and is the home base of many of the DNC protesters. (It's where they cook their meals, make their signs and, sometimes, babysit each other's children.) The Community Church is what might be uncharitably described as a storefront church, tucked between a liquor store and a trendy bar and grill restaurant. The inside was hectic, with people carrying supplies

 
 

struggling to navigate the three flights of stairs. At the welcome desk, I was told that the media would only be allowed in for two one-hour periods, and that I would have to come back later. But on this first night of events, there didn't seem to be much going on at the Center; most of the protesters, I was told, were at a "People's Party" in another neighborhood of the city.

Just inside the door, a sheet was posted with "SECURITY CULTURE" in bold letters across the top. It was a list of do's and don'ts, including a warning to "discuss sensitive information 'on paper'" and to "immediately destroy the paper after the discussion." Perhaps

     
 

corporate America and the anarchists have a bit more in common than they think.

A few moments after I took a picture of the building's exterior, a female protester came up to me and brusquely asked me what I was doing, telling me that "by consensus, there's a media-free zone around the building," and saying that it had seemed like I was taking pictures "sneakily." Standing in the middle of Boylston Street during a lull in traffic is, of course, sneaky behavior here in Boston.

If anything can be said to characterize Boston's DNC, it is this culture of fear that has overtaken all sides. The protesters fear the police will crack down; the police fear the protesters will grow violent; the delegates fear any disruption, and Bostonians fear that their city, their economy, and their lives will be turned upside down for a week. All the while, of course, Homeland Security would have us all fearing a terrorist attack.

There is little patience left, and little willingness on anyone's part to step back and listen rather than shout. Those who aren't avoiding Boston entirely already have their agendas, and the city during the convention is one giant set-piece battle: Everyone has marching orders and stares only straight ahead.

As I walked back to the T, a panhandler asked me for change. I asked him how things were going with all the delegates and protesters around. "So-so," he said. "Almost everyone ignores me. The delegates do, the protesters do. A good day is one where I make enough that I don't have to come out again for a few days. This isn't a good day."

He paused for a moment, looking across the street at the delegates streaming into the library, and then said, "Yeah, the DNC's slammed Boston."