The Democratic Party Leadership's ''Disconnect''
From the radio newsmagazine
Between The Lines
Between the Lines Q&A
A weekly column featuring progressive viewpoints
on national and international issues
under-reported in mainstream media
for release Aug. 9, 2004
Interview with Medea Benjamin, co-founder of Global Exchange and Code Pink Women for Peace, conducted by Scott Harris
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The Democrats who gathered in Boston for their presidential convention were subjected to one of the most highly-scripted and controlled events in the recent history of U.S. politics. Every speech given and every sign held by delegates was subject to approval by presidential candidate John Kerry's staff. Outside the FleetCenter convention site, Boston police attempted to corral protesters into a cage-like area compared by many to an internment camp.
But despite all their efforts to control the image of the Democratic party, as seen by Americans in very limited broadcast television coverage, John Kerry received little or no post-convention bounce in his public standing, according to opinion polls. And while many of the thousands of Democratic delegates went home from Boston energized and optimistic about their chances for victory in November, others have lingering doubts about John Kerry's vague strategy for ending the U.S. occupation of Iraq.
Medea Benjamin, the co-founder of Global Exchange and an activist with the group Code Pink Women For Peace, was in Boston for the Democratic convention. As Teresa Heinz Kerry spoke at the podium in support of women's rights and free speech on the second night of the convention, Benjamin -- who ran as the Green Party candidate for U.S. Senate from California in 2000, unfurled a banner which read, "End the Occupation of Iraq." Immediately, she was set upon by security guards and forcibly removed from the convention center.
Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with Medea Benjamin about her experience in Boston and her views about strategic voting in the upcoming presidential election.
Medea Benjamin: First, I was in the hallway walking along with a banner that said, "End the Occupation in Iraq" and was approached by a security guard who said, "That's not allowed, you could only have pre-approved signs and this is not pre-approved." And we started arguing with them and more security guards came. There were a number of us in Code Pink that started arguing, and as we were there arguing, somebody from the press who was really appalled by the Democrats' position on this handed me their press pass, and said, "Why don't you take it on to the floor?" And so, while they were arguing, I just kind of snuck away and went right on to the floor and that was at the time that Theresa Heinz was speaking.
And it was quite amazing, because first I was just standing there with the sign and was immediately pounced upon by police, by Democratic security people themselves, and I'm hearing in the background Theresa Heinz's speech, which is saying things like, "we must listen to the voices of women, true patriots are the ones who speak truth to power, my husband wouldn't send troops to fight a war on the basis of a lie and I'm thinking, well wait, you know, I got to speak truth to power here, while they're trying to pull me out just for holding the sign, and that's when I started saying, but "Theresa, will John bring the troops home? Will he oppose the occupation of Iraq?" and at that time was already being pulled out of the room. I was held for about 30 minutes, they brought in the Secret Service, the Boston Police, there were quite a large number of people who were interrogating me, and then they brought in somebody from the Democratic National Committee's leadership and asked them if they wanted to press charges. They went out and huddled for awhile, came back in and said, no.
I also should say Scott, that I was so appalled by their treatment of somebody who was literally just holding up a sign, that we decided to go back the next day and the next day. Not only to the convention itself but to the caucus meetings and got in tussles with the Democrat security people all along the way. They really wanted to vet not only signs, but bandanas people were wearing that said Delegates for Peace that the Kucinich people were wearing. They wanted to vet the speeches that anybody was making. Anybody who actually managed to sneak through a slogan like "Bring the Troops Home," as Jesse Jackson did, happened because it was not pre-approved and they went beyond the speeches that they had handed in.
Between The Lines: What do you make of this convention where it was so highly-scripted, so highly-controlled, squashing dissent at every opportunity? What does that say about the Democrats and what does it say about the image they're trying to project to the American people?
Medea Benjamin: Well, there's an incredible disconnect, Scott, between the delegates of the party who are the real activists, the ones that put their life and soul into the party, the membership of the Democratic party, and the leadership of the party. You can't really have an exciting campaign, when you have 95 percent of the delegates -- according to surveys that were done by both the New York Times and the Boston Globe -- saying that they thought the war in Iraq was a mistake and the position of the leadership that said something totally different. People were very upset and wanted to in some ways overlook Kerry's position because they were so determined to support Kerry and get Bush out of office. But you really saw people struggling to align their positions around Iraq, which are very near and dear to many of the people in the Democratic base, with what Kerry said in his speech.
Between The Lines: Medea, I wanted to ask you about an open letter which you and a few other activists have signed, titled, "An open letter to Progressives: Vote Kerry and Cobb," meaning David Cobb, the Green Party presidential candidate this year. The letter was signed by yourself, Daniel Ellsberg, Peter Coyote, the actor, and Tom Hayden. Why don't you tell us a little about what this letter says regarding the strategic choices voters should make this year.
Medea Benjamin: Well, a number of us came together and thought it was important to put our thoughts on paper and to jointly sign a statement saying we thought it was so important that we acted in concert with the large number of people in this country that are so anxious to get rid of Bush -- but that we not forget that Kerry did vote for this war. That the Democratic party leadership has not provided us with alternatives, and that it's important to support the Green Party, after making a decision at its national convention that Ralph Nader would not be the standard bearer of the party during this election. The majority of delegates to the Green Party convention recognized that the most important thing we could do in this election was to focus on the local races and get local Green candidates elected to office and that was indeed the priority of David Cobb, the Green Party nominee. So, we signed this joint letter calling on people to vote for David Cobb if they are in a "safe" state, but if people do live in swing states, they should recognize the importance of getting Bush out of office and vote for Kerry.
Visit our website for related links at
" An Open
Letter to Progressives: Vote Kerry and Cobb"
"Why No Bounce?"
"At a Big Party, Missing the Big Picture"
Scott Harris is executive producer of Between The Lines. This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines ( http://www.btlonline.org), for the week ending Aug. 13, 2004. This Between The Lines Q&A was compiled by Anna Manzo.
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