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"Wake up America,” the Kucinich rally cry, charged one thousand and one exhilarating moments during the Democratic Convention. My decision to go to Denver was made with visceral memories of the 1968 Chicago Convention. Ah, yes, I remembered it well. Being in the park with thousands of other idealists, hoping to become part of the system after we nominated poet, scholar, statesman and anti Viet Nam war Senator Eugene McCarthy. The failure to achieve this was a historic breaking point. Loosing hope that the system would change from within, many of us turned on, tuned in and dropped out. My generation bypassed the liberal Hubert Humphry, associated with the Viet Nam War, in favor of a group protest vote for Pigasus the Pig, resulting in the election of Richard Nixon. Big mistake. In 2008, I’m older, wiser, still idealistic and can smell a historic moment forty years later. Barak Obama has brought hope and young people back into the political process.
Before leaving New Mexico, I packed a black and white Palestinian kaffiya along with a pink feathered boa and matching umbrella and headed off to Paula and John’s home in Denver. One year ago, Paula and I traveled with Sabeel, a worldwide grassroots Christian Palestinian group dedicated to a peace based on justice. We left Israel/Palestine, determined to tell the world what we saw there. In the Quaker tradition, their home was a suburban sanctuary for activists from the east and west coasts and in between, ranging in ages from high school seniors to senior citizens. An instant peace community included: a contingent from Seattle called the Backbone Campaign, the next generation of the San Francisco mime troop; an activist folk singer; a Colorado delegate with a passion for voter’s rights and a group of students from Amhurst, Massachusets, ready and willing to experience the messiness of democracy first hand for the first time.
Attending lectures at the week long forum sponsored by the Progressive Democrats of America (PDA) offered me access to ‘insiders’– congressional reps, delegates, journalists, activists and scholars speaking on healthcare, media & election reform, global warming and constitutional law. It would have been worth traveling to Denver for this alone. When my boot heels needed to be wandering, I had the freedom to partake in the street actions.
Sandwiched between the state capitol, the art museum and library, Civic Park was a watering hole and gathering place for young anarchists who believed that self-governance was the only acceptable governance. They reserved the right to defend themselves should they be attacked by armed police, as happened forty years ago in Chicago. Except for dressing in black and sporting colorful tattoos, they looked non-threatening sitting on the grass, talking, smoking and enjoying free vegan food prepared by Food not Bombs, until harassed by a small group of pseudo religious, dooms sayers and name callers. A confrontation ensued when a bald white man shouted racist epithets through a megaphone, “Whores, homos, repent your sins,” To drown out his harangue, the anarchists crashed garbage lids together, attracting the near-by, well-armed police who instantly moved in and stood between them and the evangelical avengers. Attention shifted when more well-armed police tried to arrest a skinny young man crossing the street. Pushing him to the ground, police cuffed his arms behind his back while onlookers screamed, “Tell us your name and phone number.” The dangerous young vegan, accused of planning to throw feces was exonerated later, when the contents of his thermos proved to be coffee with soy milk. Is that a sign that habeas corpus is returning to the USA?
Elsewhere in the park, next to red, purple and yellow flowers of summer was a silk mosque, filled with life size transparent photographs of the imagined enemy’ of US Empire– ordinary Iranians involved in every day life: a couple sharing a bag of chips, a young man proudly showing off his, ‘I love the Dixie Chicks’ t-shirt, another bent in prayer, and so forth. An Iranian man, walking through the exhibit at the same time, was overcome with such honest representations of his country at the DNC, even if the images shared the park with young anarchists.
On Tuesday, the Backbone Campaign, gathered and marched from Civic Park. Unfortunately, the procession of banners, props and puppets held by over 150 people dreaming of a peaceful future with a clean environment, mass transportation and affordable health care, marched along empty streets. The press was our only hope to amplify the glorious spectacle. I carried the banner of separation of church and state along with a Korean women who spoke no English but appreciated the importance of this march. Behind us bobbed giant puppets of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Rove, shackled and dressed in prison stripes.
Hopefully some delegates inside the convention knew about this life affirming march, saw the photographs of Iran or sat inside a replica of a Guantanamo cell, erected by Amnesty International at the Other Democratic Convention in Cuernavaca Park. Tent State, named in remembrance of Kent State, where innocent students where killed in the sixties by the national guard, sponsored exhibits, activities, films, lectures, debates and activists sworn to non-violence and no drugs. Resting on the grass near a memorial with hundreds of pairs of children’s shoes tagged with the names of Iraqi dead, I bumped into my friend, Marc Rudd, a well known sixties activist, featured in a documentary on the Weathermen Underground. As a major mentor, he enjoyed the status of elder statesman, challenging young to think, reflect and question everything.
Did any delegates become part of the aerial image orchestrated by the Codepink ladies who spelled ‘Make Out Not War’ with their bodies. At the Mercury Cafe, headquarters for this national women’s peace movement, you could purchase pink umbrellas, shirts or underpants printed with ‘NO PEACE, NO PUSSY’, the ultimate act of female resistance. Or, you could meet nationally known journalists like Amy Goodman and Jeremy Scahill and break bread with activists from around the country.
Codepink didn’t disrupt any events that I was present at, although security guards in the Marriot Hotel disrupted us. While sandwiched between scantily ruffly clad pink ladies, partaking in the great American morning latte, a security guard singled me out. I braced myself, certain, he would ask me to remove the black and white Palestinian kaffiya wrapped around my shoulders, a symbol of solidarity and sympathy for a dispossessed people. Instead, the man told me to cover the “make out not war” pink sticker over my heart. What I believed was a daring political statement was merely a wardrobe accessory. We handed out peace signs for sympathetic delegates to take inside the convention. While speaking with one of the few Native American delegates, the same security man, whose veneer of politeness had worn thin, asked us to leave. We moved onto the sidewalk where the color pink was harder to remove.
But even revered former presidents are silenced in this topsy turvy world even insiders are outsiders. Jimmy Carter and his wife Roselyn waved as they strutted across the stage to a standing ovation. (reported in the news) Our greatest living elder statesman with an impressive humanitarian record was not allowed to speak because he dared to write a book entitled, Palestine: Peace, Not Apartheid, directing the world’s attention to injustices in the occupied West Bank and Gaza. (not reported in the news) Those who feel marginalized by the political process are standing in august company.
Thursday was a solidarity march for immigrant right’s. History teaches us the importance of supporting the more vulnerable among us, the voiceless. Hundreds walked along an inhospitable stretch of highway, facing Invesco field where Obama would give his acceptance speech later that evening. No pedestrian traffic, but people in oncoming cars honked in support. Giant puppets of our heroines, marched with us, including: Amy Goodmen, journalist who went on to get arrested at the RNC; Rosa Parks, who triggered the civil rights movement; Sadako, the Japanese girl who died from leukemia after being exposed to radiation from the atomic bomb being dropped in her home town; and Winona LaDuke, Native American activist and Ralph Nader’s running mate in the last presidential election. I helped carry a canvass constitution, longer than the length of my house, signed by thousands of ‘We the people’. The constitution offered shade on a hot summer’s day (when I ducked under it), community (over thirty people carried it) and security (police would not dare attack us while we held this precious document). Gusts of wind sometimes made the constitution heavy and somewhat unruly. In Lincoln Park, we gently laid our burden down.
Meanwhile back at the PDA, Representatives Ellison, Wexler were speaking on constitutional law. Rep. Kucinich made an unscheduled appearance to ensure everyone that impeachment is still on the table and is vital for the survival of our constitutional democracy. He pulled a constitution out of his pocket and raised it high in the air before speaking, “On September 10th, I want to deliver (which he has done) a petition to the Congress of the United States with over 100,000 signatures. We demand accountability for the gravest injustices imaginable.” Kucinich received standing ovations wherever he spoke– stage center at the DNC, a gathering in a local pool hall and the PDA. He helped me understand the power of our constitution, a radical document which could never be ratified today.
During a break after Kucinich’s impassioned plea, I met with the only Moslem member of congress, sworn in with a Koran belonging to Thomas Jefferson. Rep. Ellison (Minnesota) understood that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the touchstone conflict in the Middle East. Standing next to me was a representative from the US Campaign to End the Occupation. Before pressing our case to hold Israel accountable for violations of US and international law by cutting military aid, including the promised thirty billion dollars, we identified ourselves as Jewish. I asked the congressman about the influence of AIPAC (American-Israeli political lobby) on the Congress of the United States. It was a hot button issue for him, one that he was anxious to talk about. After a lengthy statement on the importance of balance, he let us know that when he disagrees with the policies of AIPAC, he wants and needs Jewish groups to stand with him.” Jewish groups. I will heed his advise, knowing it will take a miracle to gather significant numbers of American Jews to agree on emotional issues surrounding Israel and Palestine.
Election reform was the most worrisome issue raised at this forum. Experts testified that our vote was definitely not secure. We still run the risk of a stolen election. The day after George Bush II was declared winner (the first time) I marched in front of the Federal courthouse on Lomas with a sign: “The people who cast the votes decide nothing. The people who count the votes decide everything.” Josef Stalin. This year, I have volunteered to become a poll watcher.
Expectations from the past had exceeded reality. In 2008, there were more police in riot gear than activists. The ominous looking show of force costing tax payers millions of dollars could have given homes to the homeless instead of movie tickets to get them off the streets. There was no major movement to support a third candidate, like Ralph Nader, who spoke eloquently at an event attended by more than four thousand people, stating the case for third parties to be included in the upcoming debates. We came to Denver to support Barak Obama’s historic nomination, hoping that Martin Luther King’s dream of ‘judging a man by the quality of his character ” was about to become a reality.
This November, voters will decide between “Drill, baby, drill,” the fevered Republican rant that assures Americans of our God given right to plunder our environment, to hell with other life forms. Or “Wake up America!” before we loose our constitutional democracy, the effects of global warming become irreversible and never-ending war is the norm. Before leaving, a friend gifted me with an historic poster of Senator Eugene McCarthy with the words “A breathe of fresh air” written over his smiling face. Fresh air is always good news. The unexpected poster of this forgotten poet and statesman may be a portent of a historic break from our destructive path. A breath of fresh air + clean water = life = hope = a peaceful future for our children.
IRIS KELTZ can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org