The Democratic platform approved this week by convention delegates in Boston contains strong language regarding the party's commitment to protect the right of Americans to vote--and have their vo
BOSTON--Michael Moore was set to leave this Democratic National Convention city today on his way to Los Angeles, where the maker of the hit film "Fahrenheit 9-11" will appear on "The Tonight Show."
That's a good thing for John Kerry because, even in the town that is preparing to nominate the Massachusetts senator for president this evening, the film maker's star might well have eclipsed the candidate's.
There is not much doubt that Michael Moore was one of the hottest, perhaps the hottest, commodity in Boston during the first several days of the convention. Everywhere he went, the man who may now be the best-known film maker in the nation was mobbed -- by crowds, and by reporters.
BOSTON -- When Barack Obama was delivering the finest keynote address heard at a Democratic National Convention since Mario Cuomo's 1984 speech in San Francisco, the nation's broadcast television networks were airing their usual mix of police dramas, a program about a Disney cruise and a show that asked the question: "Who says pageant girls don't eat?'
ABC, NBC and CBS chose not to air any of Tuesday night's convention proceedings. For the first time since the development of broadcast television, Americans could not tune into one of their local commercial television stations and watch nation's oldest political party reinventing itself for the newest campaign.
To be sure, the cable networks offered a reasonable mix of live convention coverage -- ranging from the incessant play-by-play chatter of CNN to the potshots from Fox and the uninterrupted feed of CSpan -- but the broadcast networks chose not to be carry the convention. As such, they sent a powerful signal regarding the extent to which they take seriously their responsibility to provide citizens with the information that is the lifeblood of democracy.
Did you know that, according to a New York Times/CBS News poll, nine out of ten delegates gathered in Boston think the US should not have gone to war in Iraq and say the gains from the war were not worth the loss of American lives...Only seven percent say "the US did the right thing in taking military action against Iraq," while eighty-six percent say the US should "have stayed out."
This is the first presidential convention that has an official "Blogger Boulevard." And there's lots of excitement about the blogging phenomenon. After all, today there are at least two million people who have started one of these online journals. According to Technorati, a website that tracks what blogs are talking about, the number of new blogs is increasing at a rate of 12,000 a day. Yes, it's true that about one third of these sites don't last--people get bored with their own musings--but the other two thirds are still going at a steady pace. And according to surveys, something like one to fifteen million people say they spend some of their time on the internet reading other people's blogs. If I'm not mistaken, that gives the blogosphere at least as much impact as the cumulative subscription base of all the alternative newsweeklies in America.
How will bloggers affect the coverage of this convention? No one knows. But one of the most popular bloggers sounds a cautionary note. Arriving in Boston, Joshua Micah Marshall blogged in Talkingpointsmemo: "I've never been much for the blog triumphalism that seems always to be so much a part of the blog universe. Blogs make up a small, specialized niche within the interdependent media ecosystem--mainly not producers but primarily or usually secondary consumers--like small field mice, ferrets, or bats...I've always thought of this as just a vehicle for writing--a mix of reporting and opinion journalism, done in a format that allows a maximum degree of flexibility, not bound by limitations of space--the need to write long or short--or any of the confining genre requirements that define conventional journalism. The whole thing is mystifying to me."
Blog Note:Don't miss numerous Nation weblogs this week from Boston. Click here to read them all.
Howard Dean on the Convention Floor
Howard Dean on the convention floor, looking subdued when pressed about Nader: "The base will not forgive Ralph...after getting on the ballot in Oregon with help of anti-gay rightwing forces, Ralph appears to be not just like another politician but worse than some he's attacking."
To strains of "You're Still The One," Senator Edward Kennedy exited stage left, surrounded by family--heading to a tribute at Boston Symphony Hall. "The only thing we have to fear," he told the cheering crowd, "is four more years of George Bush....We will retire Cheney to an undisclosed location."
Across the river, earlier in this afternoon, Michael Moore nearly caused a riot when some 3,000 people descended on the Royal Sonesta Hotel in Cambridge for a confab with America's hottest film-maker. Earlier that day, some Bush spokesman had called Moore "the leader of the hate and vitriol celebrity." Two thousand people were turned away by the organizers--the Campaign for America's Future--but they soon gathered on a side street outside the hotel, awaiting Moore's arrival later that afternoon.
Inside the hall, Moore enthralled the crowd with tales of Dale Earnhardt Jr, tirades against the corporate media, jabs at Disney and its honcho Michael Eisner, advice for John Kerry and a warning to Ralph Nader.
Before, incompetence and sloth; after, lies and the wrong war.
Many Americans oppose the war in Iraq, and they want to vote for a party that will bring the troops home. The Democratic Party has not promised to do that, which is why antiwar protesters have gathered in Boston.
They had hoped to stage a series of peaceful protests, to show the Democrats, who are holding their convention in Boston this week, how strongly they feel. The problem is that organizers of the convention have said protesters can gather only in a large wire cage that has been built under Boston's elevated train tracks. It has one entrance and one exit, and is topped by razor wire. As AP reporter Mark Jewell wrote, "The maze of overhead netting, chain link fencing and razor wire couldn't be further in comfort from the high-tech confines of the arena stage where John Kerry is to accept the Democratic nomination for president."
Click here to read a report on the DNC Protest Pit by Caroline Overington from the Sydney Morning Herald and click here to listen to Amy Goodman's Democracy Now!, which is broadcasting live reports on what's happening on the streets of Boston.
Just as I thought they were going to start playing Johnny Mercer/Harold Arlen's oldie "Ac-cent-tchu-ate The Positive (Mister in-Between)" in the convention hall, former President Jimmy Carter came out swinging. God bless him. Seems that Carter--party statesman, nearly 80 years old--didn't have to run the gauntlet of DNC apparatchiks screening speeches for any harsh anti-Bush rhetoric. Carter spoke forthrightly, deploring the fact that the "Middle East is ablaze," and blasting Bush's extremism, deceit and exploitation of American's fears.
As America's 39th President, rightly insisted, "the Middle East peace process has come to a screeching halt for the first time since Israel became a nation. All former presidents, Democratic and Republican, have attempted to secure a comprehensive peace for Israel with hope and justice for the Palestinians." That is until 43. (Click here to read the full text of Carter's remarks.)
BOSTON -- The Democratic party platform that will be adopted this week includes one particularly significant change from the platforms adopted by the party conventions of 1992, 1996 and 2000. During the platform-writing process, the drafting committee quietly removed the section of the document that endorsed capital punishment. Thus, for the first time since the 1980s, Democrats will not be campaigning on a pro-death penalty program.
Why the change?
Simply put, on the question of execution, John Kerry is a very different Democrat from Bill Clinton and Al Gore. Clinton and Gore, while surely aware that capital punishment is an ineffective and racially and economically biased vehicle for fighting crime, were willing to embrace it as a political tool. When he was running for the presidency in 1992, then Governor Clinton even rushed back to Arkansas during the 1992 campaign to oversee the execution of a mentally-retarded inmate.
BOSTON -- When Tammy Baldwin takes the stage at the Democratic National Convention Monday night, with a prime-time speaking slot on a star-studded bill that includes two former presidents, a former vice president and a former first lady, she will pause to recall just how far she has come from an empty apartment on a very different convention night.
Back in 1984, Baldwin was fresh out of college and back in her hometown of Madison, Wisconsin. She had just sublet a small, unfurnished apartment. There was a mat on the floor, a pan her aunt had given her and a tiny, black-and-white television set. Baldwin remembers sitting alone in the apartment, watching the Democratic National Convention that was held that summer in San Francisco.
"I was 22 years old, very interested in politics, but I didn't really know what my options were," Baldwin explained. "That 1984 convention was the one where the Democrats nominated Geraldine Ferraro, the first woman, to run for vice president. I was so excited. So there I was, in my little apartment, watching Geraldine Ferraro delivering her acceptance speech and thinking, 'Wow, I can do anything in politics. The barriers are being broken. The sky's the limit."
Though they won't come close to matching the intensity or volume of expected protests at the Republican National Convention in New York City at the end of August, there are numerous progressive demonstrations taking place all over Boston this week as the Democrats convene.
The Boston Social Forum is winding down today after a standing-room-only weekend of alternative networking, performances, discussions and debates. On Monday, the Black Tea Society will sponsor a rally against police brutality, prison abuse and the Patriot Act from 10 am to 12 noon on the Boston Common, followed by a march to the Fleet Center; Dennis Kucinich and his supporters will hold a public forum on Civil Liberties at 12 noon at St. Paul's Church on Tremont Street and the Massachusetts Civil Liberties Union will host an Alternative Freedom Trail Tour through Boston from 2:00pm to 5:00pm.
On Tuesday, the American Friends Service Committee will sponsor the Eyes Wide Open Exhibit opposing US war in Iraq from 9:00am to 9:00pm in Copley Square with speakers and music starting at 7:30pm. And on Wednesday, the Campaign for America's Future and The Nation team up to present a forum on Iraq, the US and the Democrats featuring Katrina vanden Heuvel, Joe Wilson, Dennis Kucinich, Barbara Lee, Gail Smith and Tom Andrews. Watch this space and click here for more info on planned events in Boston.
Bonus Media Link: Click here to read Anne-Marie O'Connor's July 24th Los Angeles Times op-ed surveying the activist community for its views on protesting at this year's DNC.
As convention time approached, I asked one of America's most prominent historians, Eric Foner, for some political history about Boston and Massachusetts. Foner, a valued member of The Nation's editorial board and an award-winning author, is a Professor of History at Columbia University, and former President of both the Organization of American Historians and the American Historical Association. His textbook, Give me Liberty: An American History will be published later this year.
Host for the very first time to a national convention, Boston is a perfect place to reflect on this country's alternative tradition of visionary thinking. It is a city, according to Foner, which illuminates "how the rights and freedoms of all Americans have, again and again in our history, been strengthened and expanded by the struggles of dissenters, and those excluded from the full benefits of the society, to create liberty as they understood it."
Take Roger Williams--the founder of the idea of religious freedom in America, driven out of Puritan Massachusetts for daring to challenge the entrenched orthodoxy. Foner says, "Williams insisted that religious liberty rests on the separation of church and state. He rejected the idea that any one leader or one people had a monopoly on religious truth or enjoyed the special favor of God, and insisted that merging church and state corrupted both politics (by leading rulers to think they were infallible) and religion (by making it the subject of political rivalries)."
Boston was also the cradle of the abolitionist movement, several of whose leaders helped found The Nation in 1865. Their example, Foner says, shows "how a small, couragous band of men and women challenged the most deeply entrenched economic interest in America, insisting that human rights took precedence over the rights of property and that economic activity must be held to a higher standard than more profit and efficiency."
Massachusetts was also one center of the early labor movement, including the legendary female factory workers at Lowell, just outside of Boston, who, Foner observes, "insisted that a modicum of economic autonomy and economic security is essential to freedom--an idea that has found expression at numerous moments in American history including Franklin Roosevelt's Freedom from Want (one of the Four Freedoms)--an idea that has dropped out of our political discourse--and down to those who today insist that economic globalization must be accompanied by labor and environmental safeguards.
And Massachusetts has always been a major center of the women's movement, in both the 19th and 20th centuries, which not only demanded for women the same rights in the public arena as men--the vote, education, economic opportunity, etc--but expanded the idea of freedom and of individual rights into the most intimate realms of life, insisting that the right to control one's own person is the foundation of personal independence (a right that Republicans are today working hard to rescind)."
During this convention week, many actions and gatherings will be devoted to calling for an end to the occupation in Iraq. Boston is the ideal city for such debates because, as Foner reminds, "it has a long tradition of patriotic opposition to unjust wars and to the violations of civil liberties that often accompany wars. Massachusetts was a center of opposition to the Mexican War (Thoreau went to jail rather than pay taxes to support a government that invaded a neighboring country). Every war in US history, with the exception of World War II, has been the subject of strong opposition and internal debate. And the right to criticize the government in wartime, and to retain constitutional protection of civil liberties, is another major strand of patriotic dissent. I'd cite the opposition to the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 and the Sedition Act of 1918, both of which made it illegal to criticize the federal government, and the recent Supreme Court decisions rebuking the Bush Administration for seeking to abrogate the basic civil liberties of Americans accused of crimes as the latest in a long tradition of instence that the constitution is not suspended even in times of crisis."
And as this Administration attempts to rollback the social and democratic achievements of the 20th century, Boston--home to Senator Edward Kennedy, Congressman Jim McGovern and the late Congressman Joe Moakley, among many others--powerfully reminds us of the victories of 20th-century social liberalism, of using the government to promote greater equality and to aid the weak and disadvantaged. This is a winning legacy which Kerry would do well to evoke and emulate.
After all, as Foner points out, "It is important to note that this tradition, which originated in the Progressive era, and reached its flowering under FDR and LBJ, was originally bipartisan, but that Republican Progressivism has fallen by the wayside, to be replaced by a dog-eat-dog view of society and an alliance with the privileged rather than ordinary Americans."
Watch this space all week for DNC-related posts.
This past week, the New York State Senate took the historic and long overdue step of passing a bill to raise our state minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.15 an hour. This is a tremendous victory for the more than one million workers who will directly benefit from this increase if it is signed by Governor Pataki. At a time when low-wage jobs are failing to keep pace with price increases, it could literally mean the difference for many families. It's also a victory for the Working Families Party's hard work and the effective grassroots organizing the coalition has been doing for the last six years.
Labor unions, Democrats--even the Roman Catholic Church--joined with the Working Families Party in the fight for fairness and equity. The Daily News also earned kudos for publishing seven editorials in the last five months urging a raise in the minimum wage, and assigning reporter Heidi Evans to do a dozen related stories, including a front-page feature on what's it's like to live on $206 each week. And last week, the campaign won support from a powerful, if unexpected, quarter when the Partnership for New York City, one of the city's leading business groups, urged the State Senate to pass the bill. (The Democrat-controlled State Assembly passed a bill last March.) The business group noted that at the current minimum wage, a full-time worker earns only $10,712 a year, which is below the federal poverty level.
Moreover, a recent study by the Fiscal Policy Institute effectively counters claims that raising the minimum wage will hurt small employers. It found that in the 12 states with minimum wages higher than $5.15 an hour, employment levels did not, in fact, decrease as the minimum wage was increased.
But, as Senator Eric Schneiderman (D, Manhattan) , the Deputy Minority Leader and a longtime supporter of the WFP, points out, even with the wage hike's sound economics, it took sustained political pressure, and the threat of possible electoral defeat, to ultimately force Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno to drop his traditional opposition to the Assembly proposal.
"The Republican leadership of the Senate allowed this bill to pass this year because they are afraid they will lose seats in the election this fall in districts where the minimum wage increase is popular and where voters have been educated and organized on the issue of raising the minimum wage," Schneiderman said." It is the sad reality that bills don't pass the Senate because they make sense as public policy, or because passing them is the right thing to do. They pass when the Majority Leader sees that the voters may vote out one or more of his members if an issue isn't addressed, and therefore threaten his position as Majority Leader."
That is why it is so important to continue to support the WFP. Launched in 1998, this feisty coalition of community organizations, unions and individuals, has recruited and backed progressive candidates, run local and statewide issue campaigns and used the leverage of the ballot line to hold candidates and elected officials accountable on issues of concern to working-class, middle-class and poor people. Its unapologetic focus on economic justice, its savvy grassroots organizing and ability to give working people an effective voice in the political debate is needed now more than ever. As Jack Newfield put it in an opinion piece for the New York Sun, "Never before has a political party made such an impact on statewide public policy."
Or think of it this way: the WFP's hard work just helped put about a million dollars an hour into the pockets of the working poor. Click here to help the WFP continue its work and click here to add your name to the WFP's petition to New York Governor George Pataki asking him to sign the new minimum wage bill into law.
Watch this space for daily posts from the DNC in Boston.
"The American people appreciate being told the truth," announced Cynthia McKinney, as she and her cheering supporters celebrated what the former Georgia congresswoman described as "one of the greatest political comebacks in history."