By Jessica Bram
Having experienced a whole new level of security screening in airports and New York City building lobbies in the last two years, I thought I already knew what high security means in a post-9/11 world.
But nothing prepared me for the phalanx of armed guards, screeners, scanners and weaponry that I encountered this week at the Democratic National Convention in Boston. And not just at the Fleet Center, where the actual convention is taking place, but in just about every hotel, subway station, nook and cranny throughout the city.
Serious young men in crew cuts, white shirts and suits with curly wires in their ears survey hotel lobby crowds with piercing eyes. Clusters of MPs in camouflaged combat fatigues with M-16 equivalents patrol street corners. Secret Service agents in tight black tee shirts and bulletproof vests block entrances to chain link checkpoints. Its all a little more than unsettling.
But what really raises inner alarms is the nearly solid wall of police in full riot gear surrounding the Old State House. With segmented armor of thick black padding strapped onto every inch of their bodies, Darth Vader helmets and high-rise black steel sole boots, they look like a cross between something out of Revenge of the Clones and ungainly, upright black carpenter ants.
It makes the Boston police officers with ordinary pistols and handcuffs seem positively tame, like Officer Boltons without a whole lot to do.
The Fleet Center convention site is a fortress surrounded by concrete barricades, check points, and eagle-eyed screeners. Fire trucks surround the center, their hoses laid out and at the ready. Passing through security, with ones bags and body screened, scanned and searched, is complicated and intimidating.
Here it’s not just nail clippers being turned away. Any kind of container, from plastic Poland Spring water to small bottles of perfume and makeup, are confiscated and tossed into big garbage bins.
It all comes off as somewhat unreal to someone raised during the complacent post-World War II years of safety and comfort. The It-could-never-happen-here notion that I grew up with was as familiar and certain as the Pledge of Allegiance and the yellow school bus that stopped at the corner, rain or shine.
It also brings to mind how pristinely beautiful it was in Westport on Sept. 11, 2001. Traffic flowed up the Post Road like always, Shaw’s and Trader Joe’s, though quieter than normal, had a steady stream of shoppers. Compo Beach and Long Island Sound were as glistening and peaceful as on any ordinary late summer day.
The only indication of tragedy was a thin column of smoke one could glimpse from a far-off point at Sherwood Island. The idea that nothing bad could really ever happen to us in Westport somehow prevailed.
But that day did ultimately affect us all in Westport, even without a hint of ash in the air. Westport and cozy suburban towns like it look the same. But we are reminded every day how much our world has changed too, from the locked doors at of my sons school to the price of gas on the Post Road.
It drives home the point that this extreme level of security in place at the Democratic National Convention is happening to us back home in Westport just as much as it is here in Boston. This is a dead-serious proposition. Because what’s being protected here this week, first and foremost, is our nation’s most fundamental and cherished ritual: the peaceful and orderly transition of government.
This process that we undergo every four years, which is the foundation of our democracy, is a rare thing in this unmanageable world. And we know it. We can endure the loss of buildings, and even the loss of lives. But never that.
All that being said, there is one other noteworthy aspect to the security in Boston. There is a surprising benevolence, almost cheerfulness to it all. The burly young security guard at the Westin Hotel drive-up circle offers to keep an eye on my car while I run in to pick up convention credentials.
A large woman in a TSA uniform brightens when she sees Westport, Conn., on my photo ID, tells me sheҒs been sent up from Bradley Airport for the week, and loudly announces, as she searches my bag, I do love Connecticut!
Its as though all these inconveniences being doled out in the name of security, and our ready acceptance of them, is our way of acknowledging Җ maybe even congratulating ourselves for this treasure that we share. Collectively, we will protect at all costs.
So the convention, the noisy caucuses, the breakfasts and the hobnobbing and the hoopla ֖ it has all gone on smoothly and without incident.
But not without meaning.
(Editor’s Note: A version of this essay was broadcast Aug. 2 on WSHU-FM, the National Public Radio affiliate in Fairfield, Conn.)