Archive for September, 2008

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Crossing the Campaign Divide

September 23, 2008

For a moment, I completed my father, much as Sarah Palin completed John McCain.  Earlier this summer, I had walked into his office, a place I had known in various configurations and emotional states since I was born.  Despite remodeling over the years, one thing had remained constant – the shrine of photographs of him shaking hands with Presidents, some now dead, some still rattling their sabers.  High-rolling donors like my father receive these kinds of mementos for writing fat checks at political fundraisers.  These emblems of gratitude and patriotism, etched with a computer imitation of the Presidents’ signature, surrounded my father, defending his style of life, liberty and the pursuit of property.

“Dad, I want to go to the Republican Convention.  Can you get me in?”  His eyes lit up, as he thought”Could it be? Has she finally gotten it?” He then quickly realized my intentions and his hope for my salvation lay annihilated – yet again.  “Are you making any money at this?” he chided.

“This” is the documentary that I’m working on that has taken me on what was to be a simple story about “greenwashing” into the trenches of national politics.  For the record, I’m not making any money at it.  For more than a year, I had been following the Presidential candidates running for the Green Party nomination in total obscurity.  Grantmakers have aschewed the project, dubious of its “non-advocacy” stance during a year so critical to left-leaning non-profits for a benevolent Democrat to win.  And while my father thought of the Greens as an “extreme leftist” group or “commies”, he didn’t fear them; in fact, the idea of a third party’s shearing votes away from the Democrats amused him.

Democrats held their convention in Denver, Colorado, the city of the bucking Broncos. It was an ideal setting for a party poised to raise a nag into a noble steed.  The formerly secured red state of Colorado has turned purple and is in play as a swing state this election year, anxious to become a mover in the selection of the next administration.  Since 2006, its new Governor, Bill Ritter has spearheaded Green energy, transportation and business legislation in the state.   The city was determined to create the “Greenest Convention” ever and Democrats eagerly took on the environmental warrior mantle, stealing the option away from not only the Republicans but absorbing the message from the Progressive Democrats  and Greens whose concern about the environment was getting a lot of lip service from “corporate” Democrats but not much action.

The first day of the Convention shocked residents and visitors with squads of mounted police, packs of bike cops and battalions of storm-trooping riot police.  At every street corner and park, police packed in groups, often outnumbering the small fleets of protesters who descended upon the downtown mall for a march amongst the shopping delegates.  On occasion, you would see an officer who  just couldn’t help but finger his trigger, however, he was in the minority.  Despite the presence of the police, the anti-choice (aka pro-life) protesters, the lobbyists transferring wealth and the plain clothes undercover agents hoping to overhear potential anarchistic plots, the crowded streets exuded a festive air.  Hopeful delegates of all shades mingled on the streets, smiling at one another in a reflection of what they hoped lay ahead, a victory.

Social justice activists marched peacefully each day of the DNC Convention, usually following agreed upon rules of engagement with police.   However, on the third day of the Convention, Iraqi Veterans Against the War (IVAW) led the largest of these marches –  about 7000 protesters – all the way to the delegates entry point. We were three in our crew.  I had slipped through the police line using a pass that someone had lent me, leaving my partner Julie pressed against the gate and Kevin, a twenty-year old, embedded amongst the protesters.  I proceeded to the Convention Center, trying to snatch evidence of just how green this convention was, an assignment which seemed lightweight considering what was going on outside.

Within a half hour, Julie called distressed.  “I’m really worried,” she said, her mouth dry.  “There’s a standoff between the protesters and the police.  I don’t know what’s going to happen.”  Just then, Kevin called.  “I’ll get  right back – it’s Kevin on the other line,” I hit call waiting. “What’s going on Kevin? ”  “It’s crazy here,” he exclaimed. “I don’t know what’s going to happen.”  I hurried back to the fence where about 100 officers in riot gear faced the throng of dissidents, each group wondering whose move it was.  Eventually, an Obama rep came out and met with the IVAW rep; this acknowledgement was accepted as a temporary success and the tense crowd dispersed, ending a very edgy situation.

Like so many, we were exhausted the next day; also lost, as the scheduled protest did not draw a crowd and fizzled out in the heat of the sun. We were still looking for an official path to get into Obama’s acceptance speech night at Invesco Field. Our last hope of getting a ticket would be to go straight to the gates and see if someone had one to give away. Then kismet played the sweetest trick on us.  On our way out to the Field, we missed our train stop.  By happenstance, as we prepared to go back one stop, Julie pleaded, “Does anyone have any tickets?”  From behind us, a man with a fat wad of precious passes  asked, “How many do you want?”  We gratefully seized three tickets and raced towards Invesco where a tide of people and cars were converging.

When  Obama came out on the stage set with a facsimile of the White House as a backdrop, almost all of the stadium crowd stood up and rhythmically cheered his name.  Yes – these people wanted THIS change: to see a Democrat in the White House – to see a person of color in office.  Viewers at home watched an Obama smile, nod and wave at the crowd.  They heard him say “Thank you,” over and over again.  Many in the home audience wondered why he wouldn’t start talking.  What they did not hear or see, however, was that the crowd would not be stifled.  The 80,000+ revellers waved flags with an intensity that surpassed any previous display of nationalism.  In the end, despite a lusterless speech, fireworks flared into the night in orgasmic climax and the crowd marvelled at the promise of a Democrat in the Oval Office.

The afterglow was short-lived, however. The very next morning, John McCain stole primetime focus when he  announced his Vice-Presidential nominee, the sharp-winking, Annie Oakley of Alaska, Governor Sarah Palin.  Where had this woman come from?  Republican pundits had accused Obama as coming out of central casting; Palin was McCain’s nifty response.  Game was on.

I flew out that afternoon next to a reporter on her way to St. Louis, where I was also stopping for a couple of days before the RNC Convention.  I asked her what she thought of Palin’s entry into the game. She responded without hesitation, “This ploy to win Hillary voters won’t work. How dumb do they think women are?”   I wasn’t as certain that’s how this blip was going to be viewed, since I had met a few Hillary girls in Denver who aimed to see a woman in the executive office before they died.

Before heading to the Twin Cities for the RNC convention, I learned that police had conducted pre-emptive raids on the homes of several protest organizers and media activists.  On Monday,  the renowned alternative news journalist from “Democracy Now”, Amy Goodman had been arrested along with two of her colleagues.  I had just spoken with her in Denver.  I couldn’t believe it.  Though she was quickly released, I realized that that could easily be me and I wouldn’t have the clout to get myself out of jail so quickly.  The notion that I was entering such a danger zone was at once frightening and exciting. I gathered together tear gas remedies, a slicker and a bandanna, hoping that these incidental defenses would keep me free of an assault.

And while tear gas and pre-emptive attacks had some protesters stepping back the ante, nothing short of a natural disaster could keep President G W Bush from this year’s convention.  Fortunately for everyone, another stormy guy with a “G” name (Gustav not George) stirred up enough bluster to give Bush and Veep Dick Cheney a laudable excuse for not appearing.  McCain’s campaign, which had been purposefully distancing itself  from the current administration, was relieved, but so were the people of St.Paul-Minneapolis who felt as though their nice town with nice folk had been overrun by strangers.

Protests carried on throughout the week, but unlike the Denver police, the Twin Cities police had not spent time to meet the various peace and protest groups, but instead had sent in infiltrators.  No general ground rules for engagement had been agreed upon, so matters quickly escalated.  Before my unwilling eyes, I watched police arrest protesters hanging out on lawns without provocation, imposing tear gas beyond point of subduing, shooting rubber bullets into crowds to disperse them.  Was this my America?

Mainstream media wasn’t covering this part of the convention; instead they spun hours of talking heads from the various stages set up around the Excel Energy Convention Center.  MSNBC was satelliting from a beautiful park just 200 feet from the fence guarding the convention center turf.  It was a good place to hang out for politico sitings.  Romney, Guiliani, O’Reilly, passed by me within a course of an hour, surrounded by two to five plain clothes agents.  Rejected Ron Paul delegates griped that the mikes had been turned off when they tried to get up and speak on the floor and cast their votes.  St. Paul dwellers resented the invasion on their  town.  Protesters held up signs visible to the MSNBC audience declaring their disdain for the administration while inside, the new Republican chant, “Drill, Baby, Drill,” smeared the walls with a competitive grease so thick no green could survive.

It’s all about winning for Republicans; hire someone later who can do the job if you have to, but win the game.  Palin had stepped in to turn up the juice on a dead campaign; no doubt about it, she delivered to her constituents.  Though I wasn’t on the floor of the convention, I was with some Democrats who watched her acceptance speech with horror as she hosed down their recently exalted Prince Obama.   Palin had apparently been on the radar for some time, despite the Democrats being blind-sided by what must now have seemed like an obvious campaign choice for a set of voters who admire a pretty, smart lady who can shoot a gun and kill without guilt.  My colleagues and I infiltrated a couple of Republican parties that night, hoping to catch some footage of lavish parties and perhaps the rising star Palin.  These delegates were really excited about their new candidate.  One female delegate, sporting the authorized and business sponsored lone star denim shirt worn by all the Texas delegates one day, expressed deep pride in her new candidate; Palin represented her values completely, with the benefit of good looks too.

Never mind all that lack of experience.  George didn’t need it either.  Palin likes oil and knows that polar bears are just a nuissance to progress.   She knows how to twist truth as easily as she twists her hair.  She knows how to wink and how to win.  She fulfills an American dream.  The way I fulfilled my father’s – for an instant.

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