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Empty Platform, Empty Town:
Live (sort of) from Boston
The hype and hysteria reached even the sleepy North Shore of Boston. In the weeks leading up to the summer's seminal event in The Big City, local police chiefs were predicting endless commutes and near-constant gridlock. Many advised locals to "go to New Hampshire for the week and don't look back." Thanks to the comfort of an overwhelming Police (State) presence, the terrorists, tourists, troublemakers and travelers were kept at bay.
Poor Boston. $60 million on security, and 0 income for tolls. By the second day, the secret started to leak that our charming provincial capital had become
somewhat of a ghost town. Of course, there were dissenters in the streets: Veterans for Peace and the Boston Social Form held their own conventions, and United for Peace and Justice, Black Tea Society, Food Not Bombs and many other groups made their presence known as usual. Of course, many activists--including many of us who tried in vain to yank the Democratic Party out of its pro-war stupor--were also convinced to stay home, or run the gauntlet of the Protest Pen, a court-sanctioned cage for protesters designed to make the effort of free expression so unpleasant as to suppress it completely. No tear gas, no riots--the perfect "democracy."
Of course, local merchants were also treated to the blessings of the Security State. The culture of fear, originally peddled by the would-be party of free markets, was embraced wholeheartedly by planners in Democratic Boston. Closed roads, rerouted traffic, and a bored and sleepy cop on every empty corner--all take their toll as shopkeepers reported business off as much as a whopping 50%. Signs screaming "Welcome to Boston," and "Welcome Delegates," couldn't compete with the opposite message conveyed by the stranglehold of security. And not for lack of trying, either. Donkey pillows winked forlornly at passersby from swank shops on Newbury Street. A bizarre red flag with reverse images of Kerry and Edwards recalling the famous Che Guevara poster--to which my wife's first response was that they have tried to make Kerry more attractive by cutting at least two inches off his head. (Boy, has radical chic taken a dive: Leonard Bernstein must be rolling in his grave).
It's all about money, Julia said sadly as we stood among overdressed gawkers ogling ueberdressed celebrities paying $1000 a plate for some gathering or other. We did catch a glimpse of Jerry Stiller, and the most political statement I dared squeeze out in such a crowd was a heartfelt shout of "Serenity Now!" Even with the Red Hot Chili Peppers playing two blocks away, businesses still couldn't catch a break. And trolling cabbies honked enticingly at almost anyone walking in the drizzle--one even stopping to let us cross against the light, a desperate trick usually reserved for late night airport runs or after the club crowd has dwindled. We've driven home from Boston many, many tired nights, through more traffic at 3 am than we witnessed at 11 this night, when the Biggest Show In Town was in town.
Naturally, we didn't go near the convention itself. And it wasn't just because we hadn't sent in the requisite blood and DNA samples by the deadline, or that we were petrified of being forced to express ourselves freely from behind the razor wire. We did hear that Kucinich and Sharpton gave great speeches; and the get-drunk rooms at every delegation were up to the same standards, I'm sure, of conventions past. But the clincher for us is that despite the dire warnings of a precious few men of conscience, there is no indication whatsoever that the party apparatus is listening. Of course the mainstream press wouldn't know what to listen for anyway--it's too busy comparing the headgear of the various networks, or chiding Jesse Jackson for the unpardonable sin of suggesting--gasp!--that Boston may have a race problem. [Note: as one who grew up around Boston, I learned early that white Bostonians often feel perfectly comfortable telling racist jokes to white strangers. I have even had a mechanic (who knew I was the white half of a mixed marriage) tell me that the stop sign on our school bus could not be fixed, because "Really, Danny, that thing has hit everything but the nigger pool!"]
But certainly the powers-that-be are even less interested in listening to even the majority of their own delegates. The platform and the rhetoric were as empty as Beantown's deserted streets. Derisive monikers abound: Nothing for Everybody
The Milquetoast Miracle--though none quite captures the dedication with which the string pullers quashed nearly every populist granule expressed by thousands of delegates in state conventions throughout the country.
Ironies, too, are more prevalent than shoppers in the quiet Boston streets. The buzz is that Teresa Heinz Kerry gives a good speech. While the Ketchup Lady talked of the Peace Corps and her early life in Mozambique, though, an activist is dragged off the floor of the convention hall in handcuffs. His crime? Trying to unfurl a banner that said "End the Occupation: Bring Our Troops Home!" All part and parcel of the self-inflicted fear of their own shadow that has kept Democrats running from McGovern for the last three decades.
I was "fortunate" enough to receive a letter from DNC, although I have no idea how I got on their list. The ask was directly from the Senator, and it started Dear Dan. I also had no idea that I was on a first name basis with the potential President of the United States. My shock and awe at the sheer goosebump-all-over gooiness of having made the grade was shortlived, however. My jaw dropped, perhaps making my head about half as long as our Junior Senator's, when I searched in vain for at least some mention of the war. No mention of Iraq in an appeal to an antiwar activist to help our man beat the warmonger--not one word.
I should, I know, be more than used to it. Forgive me if I exaggerate my surprise for rhetorical effect. I did, however, dutifully send in my contribution envelope. Here's an Excerpt from my letter accompanying my contribution of "other" ($0)
"Dear John (I always wanted to write a Dear John letter):
I am stunned at the audacity of trying to raise money from, I am assuming, party activists, a significant majority of whom vehemently opposed the war, without a single mention of this crushing imperial adventure. All the issues you claim to support are crippled by this bloated, flatulent, gorging elephant in the middle of the room. There is no money for anything, because it is all spent. While you are busy covering your right flank, it would do you some good to consider the base you are alienating."
The sad and scary truth, though, is that, within the party, McGovern was right--both then and now. Still beating the peace drum, the aging Loser of '72 called for at least a 50% reduction in military spending, 5% annually over 10 years. His simple reasoning is that terrorism is not a military problem, and requires a non-military solution. The party and the country might be in a different place today had the money men not abandoned his antiwar campaign. Counterfactual history is necessarily speculative, and the influence of the war profiteers no small matter. But the hard truth is that the party's cigar elite, the precursors of today's DLC, couldn't give two shits about enabling the ongoing criminal enterprise that was the Nixon administration. Imagine if Tricky Dick had not destablilized Chile, bombed Cambodia, etc. How many lives saved, how many possibilities unextinguished?
It's ironic: Now these same men who wouldn't save us from Nixon claim that Nader is the Antichrist, a sort of evil enabler for Bush. God forbid that the Democrats should have to earn their votes; in all other things sacred, both parties extol the miracle of competition as an economic and psychological panacea, the holy grail that guards freedom. But choice for voters must be crushed at all costs. This is what makes the manufactured unity and discipline coming out of Boston so galling. It reminds me of an old cartoon I once read, referring either to the politburo or any corporate boardroom: The chair asks for a vote, and says "All who oppose please signify by saying 'I
Sure, there are still embers glowing. The "good" thing, I guess, is that virtually no one in the rank and file agrees with this meaningless drift toward the right. And new organizations such as the Progressive Democrats of America, Progressive Vote, and others, are more determined than ever not to go to sleep once they elect Kerry.
You know, though, it should be a cakewalk. The website electoralvote.com, which tracks the latest state-by-state polls, has Kerry pegged at a 291-237 electoral lead, before any convention bounce, and WITHOUT winning Florida, Ohio, or even Minnesota! Still a bit worrisome, though--should we have such trouble dispatching with The Most Hated Man on Earth? Why not, then, push the envelope and seek a true mandate to govern on a broad based program really opposing the heart of the Bush agenda? Why not, in other words, give the people what they seem to really want? Ah, here we hit the proverbial brick wall, the inevitable fate of progressives who venture too far into the Belly of the Beast that is the Democratic Party. These brave or foolish souls expect the party apparatus to collapse, leaving them as the sort of political version of Invasion of the Party Snatchers.
But the money men care about power, not truth--they won't care if their ideology is bankrupt. And money buys a lot of "unity," as the latest generation of the forcibly united can well attest. True, though, there is no exit from this ideological, moral and common sense cul-de-sac. Unless it changes direction radically, there is no hope for a party who thinks that salvaging America's reputation lies in recruiting the youth of other countries and turning them into occupiers and sodomizers as well. Torturing children is not a glitch in an otherwise successful or noble enterprise--the whole world knows this. It's just too bad those who would replace Bush don't seem to get it.
© 2004 Daniel Patrick Welch. Reprint permission granted with credit and link to
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Welch lives and writes in Salem,
Massachusetts, USA, with his wife, Julia Nambalirwa-Lugudde.
Together they run The
Greenhouse School. Past articles are available online:
index on request. He has appeared on radio [interview
available here] and his columns have been aired as well:
those interested in rebroadcasting the audio may contact the
author. Some columns are available in Spanish or French, and
other translations are pending (translation help for more
languages welcome). Welch speaks several languages and is
available for recordings in French, German, Russian and
Spanish, or, telephone interviews in the target language. See