2007 Florida Democratic Party Convention, Part 2
The 2007 Florida Democratic Party Convention, Part 2
The second day’s event schedule starts with an 8am breakfast entitled “The Future of Florida”, the proceeds from which will benefit the Florida Young Democrats, followed by the Democratic Convention General Session, a three-hour pep rally, which would have featured the presidential candidates had they been there. The real action, I’ve been told, will instead happen off-site at the anti-war rally in downtown Orlando.
One wonders, don’t one, what the presidential candidates would have done had they been allowed to attend the Florida convention—their attendance or absence at the anti-war march would have had consequences with their supporters either way. One presidential candidate does show: Mike Gravel.
The former senator from Alaska, who was legendary in the fight to end the Vietnam War, hits all the right anti-war buttons, including saying that as President he would create a commission with subpoena powers to investigate if 9/11 was a conspiracy, and he wouldn’t pardon anybody found guilty of lying under oath, including Bush and Cheney. They’d be thrown in jail. (On Tuesday, at his off-debate debate with the candidates, Gravel adds any military officer who “sucks up to the White House” to his list of who is going to jail.)
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Mike Gravel is interviewed on air by George Crossley for the People Power Hour on Talk Radio 1190 AM after speaking at the anti-war rally. In the background, in the orange shirt is a reporter for another Orland talk radio station, Mike Synan .
Earlier, when Gravel was eating lunch in a café across from the park where the rally was being held, I struck up a conversation with a radio news reporter who was waiting to interview him. Mike Synan reports for AM 580 and is a political science graduate. According to his bio on the station’s website: Mike's most memorable news event was the 2000 election. "I got to watch each and every count within 15 feet of my face," Mike said. "Then when I went home I got to watch all the false information released on TV."
I didn’t broach the subject of the 2000 elections with him, but he was generous with his time and explanations of many facets of the US political landscape for New Zealand readers. I also asked him about the background of some of the accusations being leveled against the Florida Democratic Party Chair, Karen Thurman.
By the time the march finally got started, the rain had started too. I needed to get back to the convention center but wasn’t prepared to wait for a ride with the people who’d brought me to the rally nor to pay $45 for a cab. So I separated from the march to walk to the bus station and got caught in a true tropical downpour, which meant I had to go back to my hotel first to change. While I was there I miss a phone call from one of the contacts I’d been given while setting up this trip, John Russell. His voice mail says he’s been banned forever and in perpetuity from Disney World.
In 2006, John Russell won a Democratic primary beating the person endorsed by the Democratic Party itself for a seat in Congress. He then lost in the general election to his Republican opponent, who had been endorsed by a Democratic Congressional candidate, Debbie Wasserman Shultz. Having been given no financial support by the Florida Democratic Party, and being undercut in that manner, he understandably has no small bone to pick with the state’s party elite.
Confident of the support of other FDP grassroots members disenchanted with the non-progressive agenda of both the state and national Democratic Party, Russell waged an online campaign focused on the fact that the Chair of the Florida Democratic Party, while working in that position, is also accepting money as a lobbyist from a Republican-dominated interest group to put their case on Capitol Hill, a fact that is common knowledge:
After videoing a conversation with Chairwoman Thurman at one function, he was barred at the door from attending a fundraising dinner a few weeks later. In my earliest phone conversation with Russell, several weeks before the convention, he vowed he was going to turn up with a big PA system, set it up at one end of the hall and outblast the convention’s General Session. On the day, he went to the anti-war rally instead and set the equipment up part way along the route of the march.
As I understand it, he then came to the convention—without the PA system, but with a videographer—and tried to pay the $50 guest ticket price. He was told they were all sold out. Russell then went to put some John Edwards ’08 signs on one of the tables in the convention center lobby, and someone who shared that table objected. The events that followed were videotaped and are posted here:
The issuing of the trespass warrant is at about 23 minutes into the video. The person who had been going to share a hotel room with me told me the next day that she was able to buy a guest pass later the same day that Russell was told they were sold out. Quite by coincidence, when the videographer and John Russell get on the bus to go back to where their car is parked, the person who had invited Russell as a guest was seated on the bus.
As I say, I missed all this action because I was at my hotel changing out of my drenched clothes. Back at the convention, at the dinner event, I’m seated at the media table next to one of the St Petersburg Times political reporters and I ask him about John Russell, learning that he posts quite often to the SPT’s online blog, The Buzz, and is thought of as neither unreasonable nor as mainstream . The Buzz picks up on the video and posts it the next day opening up the entire incident to comments:
::Meanwhile, back in the jungle::
When I arrived back at the convention from my hotel, I went straight to the Netroots Soiree, where Dennis Kucinich had been slated to speak. He, too, boycotted the Florida convention, so Mike Gravel got to speak again. He also spoke at the dinner that followed, so I saw Gravel at five events in one day if you include the two radio interviews he did at the anti-war rally. At each of them he was able to push the news that, having been banned from the MSNBC debate the following Tuesday night, he would set up a live webcast from a café across the street from the university in Philadelphia where the debate was held and debate anyway. He also took the opportunity to push for citizen-initiated legislation as a way for people to reclaim their power over the members of Congress they elect.
The lineup of dinner speakers included members of the Florida Congressional delegation—headed by Senator Bill Nelson—and the Leader of the House, Maryland Congressman Steny Hoyer who talked among other things about how determined the Democrats were to keep sending the children’s health insurance legislation back to the President until he signed it. After Hoyer’s speech ended, I asked Beverley Wiskow, who was wearing a Progressive Democrats of America sticker, what she thought of it.
Beverley Wiskow: Funding the war is killing our troops.
“I’m Beverley Wiskow, the Florida coordinator for Military Families Speak Out, and the coordinator for Peace Now Citrus County and part of Florida for Peace. I think that the Congressman has promised us the same thing that we were promised in November, that if we sent a Democratic majority to the House it would make a difference. It hasn’t made a difference.
“This is the first time I’ve heard him pledge to keep sending a bill back to the President. It’s so logical that it defies the imagination. Why are they not willing to do that regarding the Iraq War? My belief is that they support the war, otherwise they wouldn’t keep voting for it. And the American people want the war to end. Now. Not in 2013. Funding the war is killing our troops.”
Beverley also gave me the PDA’s Progressive Challenge 2008 agenda, noting on it that Progressive Democrats of America had been denied caucus status at the convention. Here are the agenda items of the nationwide group the Florida Democratic Party is afraid to take into its fold: End imperial foreign policy, redirect funding; healthcare for all; economic justice; stop global warming; reproductive freedom/civil rights and liberties; clean, fair, transparent elections; media reform.
Ostensibly, the PDA was denied caucus status because it didn’t fill out the requisite form correctly and on time. “Newbies from2004,” was the dismissive comment of one progressive I spoke with the next day who attended the unofficial PDA caucus. Lauren Hallahan went on to say the Florida PDA was stacked with executive committee members and staffers of the FDP who were just “making Karen look good” by applying for caucus status.
::Saturday Night Fervor::
After the dinner, at which the media table was a vast blankety-blank of blankness with not even a jug of water on it—how stingy is that!—I set off with one of the conference delegates in search of a party with some food. The first one we find is in the process of being shut down by Disney security. The Hispanic and College Democrat caucuses have a lively shindig going in a suite in the convention hotel, but it’s disturbing the gentleman in the room next door who wants to sleep. Not easily dissuaded from my hunt for tucker, I swim against the tide and blithely sweep past both the security guard with the Disney logo on her sleeve and lawman’s hat, and the young lad with the bucket in which he’d been collecting $20 bills to pay for the catering. I swear I didn’t see either of them until I was back outside being shooed down the corridor by the front desk manager.
Somehow negotiating the rabbit warren of passageways to the next room number we’ve been given, I find myself in a tiny room with a balcony beside which the TV is playing the Boston Red Sox football game. This is the Young Democrats’ party room and it’s pretty full, so I settle myself in the alcove between the bathroom and the bedroom, which turns out to be exactly two arm-lengths wide. I know this because at one point, the young person I’m talking with stretches both his arms out so I’m trapped up against the vanity and my natural reaction to being trapped is to get confrontational.
When I had earlier asked him which presidential candidate he supported, he said he started out supporting Obama, then switched to Edwards, before finally settling on Clinton. The reason he’s chosen Clinton is that she has the strongest campaign team. This 22-year-old university graduate tells me “the American system is the lesser-of-two-evils system and it would be impossible to change it.” I say using proportional representation would change it, and he says the Constitution doesn’t allow the way people are elected to be changed.
I ask him where it says that. He cites a Supreme Court case where Arkansas or Alabama—I forget which he said—had its term limits for federal representatives ruled unconstitutional. This is the point at which he physically pins me into the alcove by stretching out his arms and I start screaming at him, “That’s not f’ing what I’m saying.” (He’d previously used the F-word about the Red Sox so I figured it was okay, though not very ladylike.) Sure the Constitution says how many years Representatives and Senators should serve before facing reelection and doesn’t impose term limits on them, and it also specifies that the president will be elected by the Electoral College, but the Framers of the Constitution very deliberately left the method of electing its Congressional delegation and its Electors to each individual state.
Alex Barrio’s support for Hillary Clinton is also based on the perception that she would best Giuliani in the presidential race in November 2008. If Giuliani wins, he’ll bomb Iran, Barrio says, and the world economy will collapse because China will call in the loans it has made to keep the US afloat. I tell him Clinton will bomb Iran too. He thinks not. Well, she won’t bring the troops home before 2013, I say. None of them will, he replies. He also says that the state convention doesn’t need presidential candidates in attendance to be a success, “it’s all about state politics.”
I call it a day, but not before berating him for putting so much energy and passion into arguing for the “lesser-of-two-evils” system and voting for people not because of the their values but because they can afford to pay top dollar for the most successful campaign managers.
Here, right here, is where American democracy is rotten to the core and that rot is being spread through the misinformation that young people are getting in their education and in the type of role models they are taught to admire. Anyone trying to fight against that rot is increasingly marginalized within the political party they belong to, if not outright denied access to the support they need to put their views in front of the public at large, be they a candidate, like John Russell; a group of activists, like the Progressive Democrats of America; or a presidential candidate, like Mike Gravel who criticized Clinton for her war vote at an earlier debate so was classified “a distraction” and denied access to the one in Philadelphia.
(To be continued…)