In Denver, people don't mention the Democratic National Convention without mentioning protesters, even if it's just to complain about traffic jams. So let's talk about protesters.
Aldo Carrasco of Roswell, New Mexico, pulled up next to an older woman in a car that was dwarfed by his minivan. He leaned over and yelled to her, "There's a huge ball game going on at the Pepsi Center."
The older woman nodded, and her eyes seemed to say, "Oh yeah?"
"It's between the haves and the have-nots. But it's the haves that are winning," he said.
There were thousands of protesters in Denver for the 2008 DNC, representing hundreds of viewpoints. Some of them were freelance protesters. Some of them, like Adrienne Rosenberg, didn't even intend to protest here. She started out doing surveys on the convention and the protesters, and ended up imitating an Iraqi civilian in the Iraq Veterans Against the War's street-theater performance.
What's she doing here? She's not a Democrat.
"I don't think the American people should give up on voting," she said. But "my personal answer is to participate in things I feel really strong about — to uphold the voices that I think are important."
One of those voices is the voice of the IVAW.
IVAW's street-theater performance, Operation First Casualty, didn't just attract Rosenberg. Media outlets from the Rocky Mountain News to Al-Jazeera chased IVAW members as they stalked the streets of Denver in combat uniforms to show people what every day in Iraq is like.
Outside of an open-air restaurant full of well-heeled Denverites, IVAW member and former Army combat medic Wendy Barranco screamed, "Hey, watch those Eye-Rakis eating!" No one eating wanted to admit that it's a disquieting thought, but nobody looked her in the eyes, either.
"America is better than this," said Jeff Key, gay-rights activist, former Marine Corps lance corporal, and proud IVAW member. "How long would you want Denver to be occupied?"
Something separates veteran's groups like the IVAW from other protesters. For one, they're not as easy to dismiss with rhetoric. Maybe it's that pledge they all made a long time ago. How did Shalom Keller put it?
"I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic — especially, especially domestic."
It's not just philosophy for a veteran. They've fired the guns, felt the stifling heat of the desert, witnessed the collateral damage. And when they got home, blood still in their eyes, they found a weakened economy, bureaucracy cheating them out of money and health care, and an administration that, at the very least, exaggerated here and there.
It's hard to ignore a veteran in combat fatigues telling you that the REAL enemy is at home.
Even Dennis Kucinich showed up to give his support. He talked personally to IVAW members, many of whom he's met before.
The vets ended the day at Denver's veteran memorial standing at attention in a moment of silence for their fallen brothers and sisters. Partisan politics melted away. Democrats and Republicans stood naked and accused of sending our sons and daughters, our brothers and sisters, our lovers and family, into a war on false pretenses. The protesters and the cops stood next to each other, and both were smiling.
Both sides were proud of the veterans of that strange desert who came out that day to stand against the war.