Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Convention Diary – Monday, July 26

The Faithful Correspondent can be forgiven for the late filing – she needed her rest; yesterday was a long day.

I can see that not only will I be sleepless in Boston, but I’ll be hungry – probably not a bad thing for my shape, but not so good for my brain. We decided to skip the DNC Women’s Leadership Forum Luncheon yesterday and take a walk down the block to look for a place where we could eat at a table smaller than the 8-seaters we are fed at in the big ballrooms, breakfasts with the Ohio Democratic Party, lunches with other pressure groups (today it’s Emily’s List in the Back Bay Ballroom). We went to the Cactus Club, an outdoor Mexican cafe with tables on the sidewalk under the trees. No margaritas at lunch, but good tacos and a chicken wrap that was too big to handle. I’m impressed by all the trees lining Boston’s streets. Something you don’t see in New York except along the park, or Seattle, Chicago or Detroit. More cities should try to do this. Perhaps there would be a happier citizenry.

Yesterday afternoon we went to the Ohio Party’s Hospitality Suite where candidates for Ohio offices can meet and greet the current elected officials and delegates. Theresa Fedor, a state senator, is there – we know her and have a chat about our efforts for our Congressional candidate. There’s a gorgeous spread of food and a full bar. Had I known that that would be the only food I’d see until breakfast I would have helped myself, but I was eager to get on the bus to the Fleet Center by 5:00 so I wouldn’t miss the speeches. Little did I know . . . .how could I? . . . that I would be speeched to the limit before the night was out. Still, I was too excited to wait until the hour when experienced convention-goers choose to go to their designated seats, something nearer 7:00 or later, and no doubt taking time for a pre-convention snack.

At 5:00 I get onto Bus 8, the one serving our hotel and the Hilton across the street. It’s about a 20 minute ride to the big, old, former Boston Garden, once home of the Celtics and Bruins. We are let off in a parking lot that’s part of the complex – part train station and part arena. The walk to the Center takes us past the “pen” where the protesters are caged. The ACLU is suing the city of Boston over the way protests are being handled, but no one can think of a different way to do it given the demands of Homeland Security. Most of those who want to protest whatever have chosen to do it by marching around the Public Garden and the Common, spurning the area near where they would have more visibility by the delegates in particular. I can see why. But those protesting Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians have decided to use the “cage”, a many-layered wire fence enclosure under a train track adjacent to the bus parking lot, as illustration of how the Palestinians are in fact treated. A platform has been constructed so speakers have microphones to broadcast their outrage. Signs hanging on the fence read “The Prison of Palestine”, “Future of The First Amendment”, “Free Speech In America” and “Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, Boston – SHAME!”  I hang around for a bit, but can’t hear what the speaker is saying. His audience is only those who are enclosed with him, sadly.

The Fleet Center, having been built atop a train station, requires you to take an escalator to the 2nd Floor where Time magazine has set up a large display of their history covering conventions (I pass), then to the 3rd where memorabilia of old hockey players and basketball greats are displayed. If you were an alternate delegate you’d proceed to the 4th floor where the seats under the eaves, in low oxygen, are located, but I’m entitled to a seat on the floor, so I walk down many steps to the carpeted playing floor (or ice, depending) where the Bruins and Celtics used to do their work. Ohio is located in two pie-shaped quadrants directly under and to the right of the speaker’s platform. Wonderfully close to the action. Above and to the right is a sort of elongated box where CNN and NBC’s reporters (John Roberts, Candy Crowley) talk to the camera over the din of the constant noise of the speakers on the podium, the babble of the seated and standing delegates, the people chatting in groups in the aisles, the mic feedback, the wandering local and pool reporters and camera handlers giving and taking orders, rock music between speakers . . . I marvel at the reporters’ ability to concentrate.

I have found a seat next to an empty seat in the fifth or sixth row back from the front aisle. On the other side of the empty sits a large black gent who introduces himself as Derry Hooks, delegate from Cincinnati. We make friendly conversation while a woman is speaking passionately above us on the podium. The raised podium holds two speaker’s rostrums and behind are bleacher seats where a backdrop of “typical citizens” are seated. A woman temporarily seated behind us tells us she’s been selected to be one of those people and as such is instructed not to wear any bright colored clothing or shiny objects – candidate’s buttons or flashing jewelry – that might reflect distracting light into the camera. She’s meant to be a piece in the tapestry. Mr. Hooks becomes the subject of an interview by a reporter who inserts herself into the seat between us. She’s Joan Lowy from Scripps Howard and I look over her shoulder to copy some of her notes. Mr. Hooks is exceptionately articulate, a teacher and member of the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers. He loves his job and he has much to say about why he cares about this election. He believes John Kerry understands what it’s like to be a working person and George Bush doesn’t. He bemoans the loss of jobs in Ohio and regrets that more working people are politically apathetic and discouraged. Word must have gotten around that Derry Hooks was a “good interview” because later a young woman who takes her notes in French also comes to sit next to him to get his point of view. She’s from the Quest France, a newspaper in Brittany.

The backdrop of the stage is an enormous screen upon which the name and elected position of the speaker is shown, or photographs of John Kerry’s life are shown, or Bobby Kennedy and his words, or Jack and his, or later, before the “main event”, a montage of the landscapes of the USA unfolds while we listen to the beautiful voice of a male singer named Bebe Winans sing “The Star Spangled Banner”. At one point in the evening Glenn Close, looking younger and more beautiful than ever, speaks in introduction of the nine women senators – Mikulsky, Boxer, Feinstein, Murray, Cantwell, Landrieu, Lincoln, Stabenow and Clinton. The Elder Stateswoman, Mikulsky, is chosen to fire us up to work for the election of John Kerry and John Edwards. Close is called back later to conduct the remembrance of 9/11 which includes a woman whose son and pregnant daughter-in-law went down in one of the suicide planes. A huge panorama of the New York skyline is beamed onto the screen showing the twin lights that replaced the towers for several weeks after the event. Then the house lights are dimmed and we all light up mini-lights that have been passed around while a violin played by a young member of the Boston Youth Chorus plays “Amazing Grace.” Extraordinarly moving.

As the evening goes on more Important People are introduced: Bill Richardson, Chairman of the Convention, presents Jimmy Carter, who takes on Bush’s foreign “adventures” and praises Kerry’s restraint and judgement. The Reverend David Alston, a black minister from South Carolina and who was on Kerry’s Swift Boat in Viet Nam, bears witness to his captain’s bravery and strength of character – his words are more moving than any I’ve heard recently on the subject. Soon Richardson brings on Al Gore, looking tanned and trim. The ovation for him is long and loud. He seems to tear up at the enthusiasm for a moment. Al’s remarks are funny, self-deprecating, strong – he’s so much better at this than he was four years ago! – he says “every little boy and girl in America has the chance to grow up and win the popular vote” (laughter), and “take it from me, every vote counts – and should be counted.” At the end Tipper comes out and they reprise The Kiss.

We hear from Terry McAuliffe, from Stephanie Tubbs Jones, first African American woman on the House Ways & Means Committee, from Robert Menendez of New Jersey, from Ed McElroy of American Federation of Teachers, from Gloria Feldt, from Rod O’Connor and Alice Huffman of the Convention Committee . . . . .and at last, from Hillary who speaks of the urgency of electing John Kerry in a lead up to her introduction of Bill. When Bill Clinton approaches the podium the standing ovation blows us all away. He is adored, it seems, by the entire host of convention delegates. I am interested to see that George Stephanopolis is standing in the front aisle with headphones on throughout the last portion of the list of principal speakers. He follows along with the words shown on the teleprompter facing the podium. I’m aware of how moved he appears to be by the speech made by the Rev. Alston on the specifics of Kerry’s heroism in Viet Nam, shaking his head in wonder. I pay close attention to how he receives his former boss, Bill Clinton. Stony faced at first, he stares at the speaker and seems to shrug off some of Clinton’s most dramatic claims for how he and Gore left the State of the Union and how it stands now. But little by little the old Clinton magic works on little George S. and soon he is laughing along with the rest of the crowd. I’d love to have been a fly on the wall when that break-up occured six or seven years ago. In any case, Bill Clinton is the rightfully crowned master of rhetoric and political speaking. He has lost none of his ability to fire up a crowd. He is charming, funny and very very winning. I hope he works his tail off for this election of Kerry-Edwards.

Just before the end – I wasn’t really sure when the final final end would come – of Clinton’s speech I decide to head for the exit to avoid the crush for bus seats. But I get confused at how to get out of the building and find myself doubling back through the security station, soon to get caught up in the surging crowd of people going in all directions. My sense of direction is notoriously poor and eventually I find that I’m all but alone, wandering around the perimeter of the Fleet Center looking for the bus’s parking stations. Cops point me one way and then another. Eventually I find myself within the empty protesters’ “cage” which is tantalizingly close to the buses, but separated by the double layers of wire fence. It’s exit is beyond the parking lot so I must circumnavigate the lot and soon I notice that the buses are leaving. I panic and begin run, following the fencing around the edge of the big lot until finally I wind up where I should have been a half hour before, others are there as well, and no bus. The remaining ones say “Off Duty”. A person in charge tells us we should have taken the trains, but the waiting group is now large enough to be able to tell him to “shove it” (a direct quote from Teresa) and to find us a bus. In due time an “Off Duty” bus comes and we put those in wheel chairs aboard first. I decide that I’m old enough to follow the lame and helpless and grab me a seat. I’m home in bed by midnight – Dad has been watching it the convention on TV and is awake to greet me.

Thus endeth the first lesson . . . . . .