by Ted Manna and Joe Shea
American Reporter Correspondents
August 24, 2008
DEMS PROMISE TO LISTEN, BUT PROTESTS GO UNHEARD
AT THE DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL CONVENTION, DENVER, Colo., Aug. 25, 2008 -- Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi started off the Democratic National convention press briefings this morning with a promise of unparalleled openness and a willingness to listen, but when 4,000 protestors concerned about everything from the Iraq War to diminishing Arctic habitat for polar bears marched two miles from the State Capitol to the Pepsi Center headquarters, convention officials were nowhere to be seen.
"It is with a great deal of enthusiasm that we call this convention to order," Pelosi gushed. "We do so with the idea that it is the most open convention ever. This is my twelfth convention. I've never seen a convention over time that was more open."
"I spoke with [Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper] the other day," the composed and elegant veteran politician said in response to the opening question from the American Reporter. "He seemed comfortable with Denver's ability to put on the convention and the security that is necessary and the support of First Amendment Rights."
Instead, about 4,000 marchers were led and followed by a bicycle-mounted phalanx of police officers, heavily interspersed with camera-toting media, and met by riot-clad SWAT officers at the heavy street barriers that block public access to the convention to all but the invited few.
As convention activities started all over downtown, peaceful streets quickly filled with boisterous activists marching under brilliant blue skies in the shadow of the snow-topped Rocky Mountains.
"This is really beautiful," one marcher admitted. "In the face of these threats, there are some great people here." One protestor, however, bemoaned the light turnout and the lack of public support. Another claimed he was shoved by police, but officers mostly kept their distance.
Hugs and smiles dominated the Sunday morning press briefing. When asked to respond to a recent John McCain campaign ad claiming that the Democrats left out Hillary Clinton supporters, Pelosi quipped, "Nice try.
"The American people will make their decision based on who will listen to their concerns," she said. "We listen."
Joined by Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius, Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin, and Texas State Senator Leticia Ven de Putte, Pelosi officially started convention week.
"We are very proud of the selection of Sen. Joe Biden as our vice President nominee," Pelosi said. "He brings so much to the Democratic Party from national security to economic security. Protecting jobs and our environment and national security is his specialty."
Gov. Sebelius, a rumored Obama choice for vice-president, intimated that pomp and glamor would give way to hard work immeditately following Sen. Barack Obama's acceptance speech Thursday night in front of an anticipated crowd of 80,000 supporters. Leaving no time for the party faithful to bask in Obama's glow, Sebelius laid out a plan of action for party workers to get going right out of the gate, a harbinger of the tough campaign ahead.
"We're asking delegates not only to come and participate," she said, "but also roll up their sleeves. Thursday night we're going to have a working meeting with phone banks and we're asking delegates to call and [cell phone] text people who may not be as committed as we are.
"We're going to make sure that Barack Obama is our next President and that Joe Biden is our next Vice-President."
Democratic confidence in the election outcome may prove premature, as polls show Sen. McCain gaining ground on Obama. He is ahead by double digits in Colorado and much of the West.
Out on the streets, banners and bullhorns bombarded the police and press. A few bandanna-clad anarchists tried to challenge police with foul language at the barriers when they reached the Pepsi Center, but aside from briefly shaking the barriers and momentarily throwing two of them them down, there was no confrontation. A single burly police officer lifted the barriers back into police.
Protest groups had predicted that proscribed parade routes and security zones around the Pepsi Center would hinder their efforts to bring important issues to the attention of delegates, but their very diverse message was chaotic, at best, and incoherent most of the time. Only a marching polar bear, a huge round globe and a giant bottle of beer - protesting the role of Anheuser-Busch as a convention sponsor - that stood out amid the clash of ideas and symbols gave the event an identity.
Meanwhile, an ACLU suit claiming that the actions of the Secret Service and Denver would stifle free speech and limit First Amendment rights was thrown out of federal district court last week.
That claim seemed to be true Sunday, as convention volunteers and staff hurried past marchers without a backward glance, most declining to comment to media.
But surprises may still be in store. Sunday evening as a car carrying members of The American Reporter staff drove south towards Castle Rock, Colo., a huge tornado appeared in the sky over Douglas County. Soon another appeared over Parker, Colo., and many cars pulled off I-25 and nearby residential streets to gape.
It doesn't seem so unlikely that a political tornado might strike the Pepsi Center sometime during the nomination process, as rumors of a rift between Hillary Clinton and the Obama camp were reported Monday morning on FoxNews. Like the tornado, the rumors seemed to do little damage and were basically untrue.
Saturday's media party, a staple of previous conventions, started slowly. Organizers decided to feed the approximately 10,000 guests cheesy tacos and ersatz pizza-like concoctions - finger food that was not very good and distinctly inexpensive. The libations were limited to wine and beer, much of it of local varieties like Killian Irish Red, a tasty ale.
Asked about it, one particularly candid member of the staff of public relations experts hired to organize the event said the problem was a shortage of money. Democratic conventions in Boston in 2004 and Los Angeles in 2000 both featured celebrated performers, elaborate ethnic foods and a showy celebration at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, and spent three times as much money. Major corporate sponsors that were expected to participate also backed out, he said.
"It's the economy," the party organizer lamented.
The Denver party was at an amusement park called called Elitch Gardens, and a surprising number of reporters and invited guests took advantage of scary, twisting roller-coaster rides. Others filled a big beer hall where the stuff was poured freely and the music was low enough to let them hear each other - always a risky proposition in a crowd of journalists.
A live country 'n western band and a rock group stirred some dancers, and carnival booths gave away plush dolls, some of them the size of St. Bernards, that guests hauled away in big plastic sacks. "Everyone's a winner," one guest exclaimed.
Unlike those earlier conventions, however, where t-shirts, buttons, notebooks, razors, Crane paper and pen sets were supplied along with the obigatory key chains, there were no gift bags offered to the visiting journalists. New ethics rules for Congress have barred politicians from receiving similar items, and now the press is apparently having to follow suit - at least until the economy improves.
One popular "gimme" for journalists, though, were Sprint's Sierra broadband cards for laptop users that allowed them to connect with the Internet almost anywhere but the Colorado Convewntion Center. There, the cards produced an error message saying they could not connect where other serrvices werre offered simultaneously.
Frustrated journalists who climbed on the alternative "Green" WiFi offering from the DNCC staff found it unbearably slow. Electrical outlets for battery support were at a premium and few and far between. Some whiled away their time griping in nooks and crannies of the huge hall as they waited for stories and photographs to upload.
But if the food at Saturday's party failed to meet journalistic standards, by the time the beer was depleted everyone was in a terrific mood for the truly spectacular fireworks display that seemed to come from every direction at once.
North, south, east and west the "bombs, bonfires and illuminations" praised by Thomas Jefferson lit up a magnificent landscape of night. Spectators twisted around like tops to see it all. Everyone forgot about the food.
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.