Thursday, July 29, 2004

Convention Diary – Wednesday, July 28

The Faithful Correspondent makes friends and influences reporters.

As the week has gone on I’ve found the crowds at the Fleet Center are swelling. I was warned to get to the convention center as early as 4:00 in order to find a seat and to be available to be counted and signed off on my vote as a delegate. I took the instructor, Todd Rensi of the Ohio Kerry office, at his word and was in place on an aisle, six rows back from the podium by 4:15. What I didn’t take into account that an aisle seat with the aisle between me and the podium would fill up with print reporters doing interviews, photographers and camera equipment mules, people milling about chatting and in general a world within the larger world of the main spectacle. My old acquaintance from Monday night, Derry Hooks, sat two rows in front of me and again he was photographed and interviewed. I reached forward to tap him on the shoulder and tease him about his stardom. He was as mystified as I was about why he was attracting so much interest. Well, he’s about 35, tall, well proportioned, very black and neatly dressed…and he’s well spoken. He sits in an accessable location. That says it.

Another much interviewed “celebrity” was the daughter of an Ohio politician, now retired from some statewide party job. She was featured on the podium as “The Youngest Delegate;” she may be 15, and led the sparse early crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance dressed in a tight sleeveless blue dress, heavy makeup and 4″ high white heels. She and the rest of her family sat on the aisle across from me. She was led away to be interviewed on TV with her mother as chaperone. I wonder what opinions she was able to offer. But Daddy was very proud.

Speaking of interviews: I suddenly found squatting beside me a reporter from the Chicago Tribune. He asked the usual questions about why I was a delegate for Kerry (I was impressed by his intelligence, his internationalism, his nuanced take on policy); what I thought of Kerry/Edwards’ prospects in Ohio (excellent – don’t believe all you read in the daily polls); and why (jobs jobs jobs and angry conservative farmers who haven gotten what they thought they’d voted for). He took my name and e-mail address and I gave him the name of this blog [thanks, Mom!] so he could keep current with events. He was very nice and I’m glad he wasn’t from FOX so I didn’t have to be rude to him.

We open our room door every morning to find a pile of newspapers. This is one of the benefits of becoming a delegate I hadn’t anticipated. We find the Boston Globe, USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Weekly Standard, CQ, the National Journal, The New Republic, The Hill, Roll Call. Luckily for Dad he has plenty to read while I’m off waving flags and holding up signs of support at the convention. A piece this morning in one of the above that I carried to breakfast offered the opinion that in the end no one misses the major networks or Dan, Peter and Tom telling people what to think. There is so much better coverage on CSPAN and PBS that the ratings of both of them has tripled as the ratings of the majors has just about vanished. Opinions can be had on FOX and CNN if opinions are wanted and many people can do without.

Last night I sat next to a woman from Toledo, the 9th District. We compared notes on how the Kerry Toledo campaign manager was doing in covering the territory. His territory is northwest Ohio and I allowed as how I thought he didn’t recognize that there was a wide world out beyond the city of Toledo although he’s responsible for both the 9th and the 5th Districts. The area is huge – all of the northwestern quadrant of the state – but more attention should be paid and more volunteers recruited. Since he (Scott Fairchild) is living with the woman’s family for the duration, she felt she could tell him what we needed. I told her I thought that our campaign for Robin should be more closely coordinated with the Kerry campaign and that Scott could learn a lot from us about the opportunities he could seize in places like Fremont and Fostoria where, surprisingly, there are a lot of Democratic voters among the farmers and a lot of disaffected Republicans. Maybe we can make more progress in the next couple of months – we shouldn’t try to do it alone.

In midafternoon Wednesday Dad decided to attend the Rural Caucus which was meeting between 2:00 and 4:30. He felt he needed to become more familiar with the issues that concern people living in the sparsely-poplulated counties Robin represents. Since this is the campaign headquarters, the caucus involved representatives from all over the country. Noted early in the session were statistics showing that of the 250 poorest counties in the USA, 240 of them are rural. We had seen dire rural poverty when we lived in Michigan. There is hopelessness, there is alcoholism and drug abuse, and the schools are as neglected as those found in the worst inner city neighborhoods. The meeting was well worth his time. He was told that in the Bush-Gore election of 2000, 22% of rural voters gave more votes to Bush than to Gore. The most recent polls among potential rural voters have that number at around 11% who say they will vote for Bush. The number is shrinking because these very conservative voters care about a balanced national budget. They also care about the disappearing access to health care in their area and the failing schools. They’d like to have internet connections that allow children to be educated in a school nearby through computer aided teaching. Many don’t feel they got what they voted for in 2000. The opportunity is at hand for John Kerry and his policy for rural areas should appeal to many more of these important voters.

I was early enough last night to be present for the roll call, for the ceremonial presentation of the flags, and for the first speakers who follow one another for brief moments – perhaps 5 minutes each – in the spotlight. The New Mexico representative who’s a Navaho chief, Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, State Senator from Massachusetts Diane Wilkerson, Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington, Rep. Tom Allen of Maine, State Controller Steve Wesley of California. Cue the Fife and Drum Corps made up of little boys (Scouts?) who did a fine job. Cue the Youngest Delegate and the Pledge (with God). Rep. Carolyn McCarthy of NY, Rep. Joseph Hoeffel Senate Candidate, Rep. Chaka Fattah of Pennsylvania, Sen. Frank Lautenberg of NJ.

(Distraction caused by an elderly woman who collapses in the second row to my right and is quickly surrounded by fire, police, EMS, oxygen tanks, folding gurney – all of which she refuses. She settles her highly decorated hat back on her head and resumes her seat. Whew!)

We see Donna Christian-Christainson of the Virgin Islands, Ed Pastor Rep. from AZ, Senator Pat Leahy of VT who jokes about Cheney’s verbal suggestions to him, Amy Klobuchar of Hennepin County MN, Raul Yzaguirre the CEO and President of La Raza and at last the more luminous stars. John Glenn speaks of the current erosion of the twin pillars of scientific research and higher education that fueled our prewar economic boom just as other countries are buttressing their own efforts. The very exciting Robert Kennedy, Jr. who is an environmental lawyer and chair of Riverkeeper tells us that GWB is the greatest danger to our environmental goals and law. He says that polluters are in charge of governmental agencies, lobbyists for the companies that pollute are entering government service in order to gut the laws that control the excesses of their own industries. He tells us that our children are going to pay for our own joyride as we shift the responsibility for clean up and repair on to their shoulders. Theirs will be our deficits, too. He tells us that humans need more than a large paycheck to have a rich life and that a clean environment is needed for the soul. This is an angry young man on a mission.

More speakers stand before us and will remain nameless as I run out of space. The evening hours tick on with one speaker following another interspersed by musical interludes featuring artists unfamiliar to this elderly listener – Wyclef Jean, the John Mellencamp group – and other moments when we rise to sway and dance in place to “the bouncing ball” as in old movie theaters. Some unforgettable moments are those when a real orator shakes us up – esse Jackson and the incomparable Al Sharpton who brings me close to tears: “I suggest to you that if George Bush had been responsible for appointing the justices who decided the Brown v. Board of Education case, Clarence Thomas would never have gone to law school.” “It’s not for government to decide who’s sleeping in the bedroom, but to be concerned with who’s eating in the kitchen.” “George Bush asked blacks to drop the Democratic Party which takes them for granted. Well, Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation allowing every freed slave 40 acres and a mule. We tried up to the Hoover administration to get the government to make good on that promise. We never got the 40 acres and we never got the mule. So we decided to RIDE THIS DONKEY ALL THE WAY TO TODAY!” I wish I could get a transcript of all he had to say. “Mr. President, our vote is sacred to us having been washed in the blood of Chaney and Goodwin and Mr. President, OUR VOTE IS NOT FOR SALE!”

The last exciting moment I’ll recount was the appearance on the stage of the nine former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. As John Glenn told us this morning at breakfast, generals will be endorsing George Bush’s campaign depending on where their politics lay, but the Joint Chiefs are not normally political. To have them come out in public and commit as they did is extraordinary. Shalikashvili spoke for the group when he said, “I’m an old soldier and a new Democrat.” He voiced for the other generals the disapproval they share at the way the adventure in Iraq – Bush’s War – has been and is being conducted. This appearance was an historic moment not to be dismissed by the press or the Republicans.

Of course, the introduction of Elizabeth Edwards by their beautiful daughter, Cate, was touching and Elizabeth’s tribute to her husband was as well. John Edwards accepted the nomination and the long, long applause with sweet wonder on his face and graceful acknowledgement. He saluted his parents in the boxes and gave warm praise to the character and strength of John Kerry. I watched the Glenns sitting two rows in front of me as they listened intently to John. He is an appealing speaker and will add depth to the ticket. We cheered and cheered. And then I decided it was time to fight my way out of the building. A man in the row in front of me began to leave as I did and I grabbed his hand while he played block. The aisles were absolutely packed – no fire marshall would have approved had he been allowed into the building by security. We fought our way to the stairs and then I hied myself down the escalators to the waiting buses and, after 8 hours at the Fleet Center, to bed.