by Joyce Marcel
American Reporter Correspondent
August 28, 2008
KEEPING VERMONT VERMONT
AT THE DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION, DENVER, Colo., Aug. 26, 2008 [Updated 11:30PM MT] -- As Denver police sprayed tear gas and shot pepper balls at radical protestors in a park more than a mile from the Democratic National Convention here, a prospective first lady of the United States told a compelling story of a black family's hard work, struggles and slow rise to the pinnacle of American politics.
On Monday night, while nearly a hundred demonstrators went to a makeshift jail, that journey brought the Obama family to center stage before nearly 20,000 wildly cheering Democrats who promise to put her and Sen. Barack Obama in the White House in November.
As she told her appreciative audience of the family's story and his capacity "to bring the change that we need," she brought many briefly to tears as she spoke of the "affirming embrace of a father's love" on the day of their youngest daughter's birth. She told of the miracle that is Barack Obama's meteoric ascent with the passion of a mother, a wife and a lifelong activist.
"I come here as a wife who loves my husband and believes he will be an extraordinary president," she said.
"Michelle Obama has certainly done it," Brit Hume concluded on Fox News as her speech ended.
"Now you know why I asked her out so many times when she said 'no' so many times," Barack Obama responded, a broad smile lighting his face on the Pepsi Center Jumbotron. "You want a persistent President."
Obama was watching this wife speak with the Jim and Alicia Gerardo family in Saint Louis, Mo.
"I think she did good," Obama's youngest daughter said, and called out to the image on the huge video screen, "I love you, Daddy."
[On Tuesday night, it was Sen. Hillary Clinton's turn to try to persuade supporters that she is bringing all her energies to the fight for the White House that will begin in earnest on Thursday.
In a 20-minute speech to delegates, some of her supporters on the floor fought back tears and looked on grimly as the New York senator's commitment to the Obama campaign became abundantlyly clear. Michelle Obama, seated near former President Bill Clinton, rose to her feet in applause several times and smiled at some passages during the speech.
It is unlikely, after Tuesday's rhetoric, that Mrs. Clinton will brook any substantial revolt among her followers when votes from the state delegations are cast on the convention floor in the roll call of the states Wednesday night.
The Clinton speech was answered with a private five-minute phone call from the presumed nominee, Sen. Barack Obama, who was in Billings, Mont., during ther speech and listened to it with supporters. Obama reportedly praised the speech and Clinton and thanked her for a gracious if feisty concession.]
At a spot that features spectacular low-cost breakfasts, the 24-hour Denver Diner on Colfax Ave. at Spear Blvd. near the Colorado Convention Center, a black real estate entrepreneur named George from the nearby suburb of Castle Rock said he supported Obama but was sure he would lose.
"I just don't think he'll win," George said.
At Below, a chic bar off Larimer square, a beautiful young Navy veteran said she had become disabled during the war in Iraq, and amid the teeming Democrats wore a big Iraq Veterans for McCain sticker over her McCain for President t-shirt. "[Obama] says he's going to bring changes, and I want to know what the changes are," she said. But both observers were in a very small minority, perhaps joined only by the protestors on the streets, many of whom say they oppose Obama's candidacy, too.
The reaction on the streets of Denver was no less enthusiastic. Virtually all of about 15 delegates interviewed by The American Reporter in Larimer Square, the heart of the Mile High City's downtown core, were effusive in their praise of the speech, billed as a critical step in accommodating America to the prospect of an African-American President. Touring the chic shops and trendy watering holes, they called Michelle Obama and her performance "awesome."
"Awesome," said one delegate. "Awesome," said another, and another.
Christine Jennings, a Democratic congressional candidate from Sarasota, Fla., left the stifling heat of the convention to watch Mrs. Obama on television. Jennings, who lost a race for Congress in 2006 that was decided by 368 votes after more than 18,000 were found to be blank, praised Mrs. Obama.
"She's awesome," Jennings said. "I'm sure it's on YouTube right now." Jennings will appear onstage at the convention at 6PM MT tonight to highlight the Congressional district races that Democrats say are winnable in 2008.
One delegate, walking from the convention floor, said it was unbearably hot, an observation noted by others Monday night. The long lines to get in were difficult to navigate, another said, and some delegates chose to leave the hall and watch Michelle Obama's speech on television, they said. But those who heard it were thrilled.
"It was a knockout," said Californian John Collins, who was escorting California superdelegate Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-San Josť).
"It was terrific," said Lofgren, one of the longest-serving members of the California delegation and one of the most powerful women in the House.
Lofgren downplayed any talk of a rift between Clinton and Obama suupporters.
"People are excited about their candidates," she said. "The Barack component, the Hillary component, everbody likes their candidates," she said. "It's fine that her name goes in nomination. That's the process. She's meeting with her delegates and asking them to vote for Barack."
Lofgren represents San Josť, Calif., a hub of technological innovation that is home to many Internet startup companies, and was one of three Members of Congress who served on a special panel of the House Committee on Administration hearing protests concerning voting machines used in the Jennings-Buchanan race.
Buchanan, the third-richest member of Congress, is asking Congress to pay for his legal fees surrounding the matter. Separately, he is also being sued by three executives in his string of Florida Ford dealerships. Lofgren said that while the matter is under study, "I have to be cautious talking about it."
She was also thrilled, she said, by the appearance of Sen. Ted Kennedy, who is recovering from recent surgery for a brain aneurysm. Introduced by his niece, Caroline Kennedy, the venerable senior senator from Massachusetts drew thunderous applause and a long standing ovation.
"It was awesome. I'm a big admirer. Caroline gave a great introduction. They showed a beautiful video of him and his life. And then he appeared on stage and it was just terrific.," Lofgren said.
A Sioux Falls, S.D., delegate, State Rep. Mark Feinstein, said, "I thought Mrs. Obama hit it right on the head. I think we are right on. She has a wonderful husband who is going to make a big difference for this country. I believe there won't be a rift. If there is a rift, it will be made by the media. We expect Hillary to come up with a dynamite speech that ties us together and really puts it right."
One Hillary supporter, Jennifer Slaight-Hansen, said she "I haven't made any decisions yet. I'm undecided. I'm still waiting to see how things go. I am a Clinton supporter primarily because I really like her health plan better. She spoke to me more than the other candidates."
Tennessee State Sen. Thelma Harper of Nashville, noting that some 27 percent of Hillary Clinton supporters tell pollsters they will support Sen. John McCain, said sternly, "I think they should. You know, gasoline, children can't go to school, you can't buy clothes for them, you can't buy food. They don't know where their going to sleep because their homes are being foreclosed on. If they're enjoying that, then I think they should vote for McCain. But they should know they are punishing the rest of us."
Rev. Yolanda Villa, a United Methodist pastor from Kansas City, Mo., described Mrs. Obama's speech as "heartwarming."
"I thought it was genuine. I thought it was family-oriented. It was American," the Obama supporter said.
But out in the streets, a few stragglers who remained after 90 demonstrators were arrested complained that peaceful activists were harrassed and prodded by police as they sat in the grassy expanse of Civic Center Park amid soaring Grecian columns, splashing fountains and an outdoor music pavilion. Police said they moved when 600 protestors decided to sit in the middle of Court Street at Cleveland Place to block traffic, and eventually arrested "a lot," an officer told The American Reporter.
Photos showed police using a "fogger" to spray capsicum-based pepper spray at protestors in the street near the park. A New York Times freelance photographer, Christian Hansen, was one of those hit by the fiery gas.
Democrats paid for the $500,000 temporary detention center of 18' by 18'-foot cages where those arrested will be kept until release. The convention organizers got promises from Denver officials that the 90-odd arrestees would be treated humanely and provided with food, nursing staff and basic facilities.
Among those arrested Sunday were three Denver men described as members of a white supremacist group. They were stopped by alert police officers Sunday morning on suspicion of drunk driving in a Dodge pickup. A search of their vehicle turned up two high-powered rifles, a scope, a bulletproof vest, walkie-talkie and several boxes of ammunition and methamphetamine.
One rifle was tooled to attach a silencer, police said. All three had extensive police records.
One of them, Nathan Johnson, 32, told Secret Service agents "[Obama] don't belong in political office. Blacks don't belong in political office. He ought to be shot." Johnson appeared in Denver municipal court in blue jeans and a t-shirt that read, "If I don't remember, it didn't hapen," the PoliticsWest online journal of the Denver Post reported.
In a press release, Recreate68 activist Glenn Spagnuolo said "heavily armed police in SWAT gear began making random sweeps through Civic Center Park, harassing people and telling them to get up and leave." After that happened four or five times, Spagnuolo said, "some of the kids on the park became annoyed and started chanting "No Justice, No Peace" and put bandanas on their faces, he said.
The protestors typically use very offensive language that seems chosen to provoke a response.
"Police got worked up and came in pretty heavy and opened up with pepper spray and pepper bullets into the crowd without warning," he said. Police chased the crowd across the park and into the street at 15th St. and Cleveland Place, where another line of police was waiting. "The police surrounded the crowd, which included frightened and crying children, and began pushing them back and crushing the crowd together.
"The police were clearly trying to provoke violence from the crowd," Spagnuolo said in the release.
The irony was that the small number of demonstrators who showed up in Denver are there largely to make the candidacies of progressive minority Democrats like Barack Obama possible.
Meanwhile, one of the many political folk in Larimer Square, a woman in a Hillary for McCain t-shirt, was confronted by Florida delegate Mitch Mallett of Bradenton, Fla.
In a video that quickly became the most-viewed clip Tuesday morning on CNN's popular I-Report citizen journalism site, the woman first claimed to be a Clinton Democrat, then admitted she was an independent.
After the camera went off, though, Mallett said, "she admitted she was a Republican."
American Reporter Correspondent Ted Manna is based near Denver, where he has covered convention activities and the presidential primary campaign for the past year. Joe Shea is Editor-in-Chief of The American Reporter and is in Denver for his fourth convention.