BOSTON — John Kerry and John Edwards left the Democratic National Con-vention July 29 to barnstorm across the country, buoyed by ringing calls both inside and outside the convention for George W. Bush’s defeat as a menace to world peace and democracy.
Pollsters claimed that the convention produced only a small “bounce” for the Democratic nominees, but a combined total of 100,000 people showed up at campaign rallies the following week, including 17,000 in Scranton, 25,000 in Harrisburg, 10,000 in Greensburg — all in Pennsylvania, 10,000 in Wheeling, W.Va., and 25,000 in Canton, Ohio.
The convention delegates as well as the estimated 35,000 activists in Boston put aside their many and sometimes profound differences in the interests of one overriding historic imperative: Dump Bush!
The scores of forums and rallies at churches, hotels and campuses complemented and reinforced the message of unity against Bush and the ultra-right. Hardly a single constituency was overlooked. More than 5,000 youth turned out for a “Rock the Vote” concert featuring Maroon Five and LL Cool J on July 29.
The Old South Church was packed for an interfaith service July 28, on the theme “Let Justice Roll,” in which preachers quoted scripture to uphold the rights of the poor and the oppressed. The congregation read aloud in unison, “We insist that everyone has the opportunity to work, be compensated fairly … the right to organize … a fair minimum wage and a true liveable wage.”
The service, sponsored by the National Council of Churches and other faith-based groups, is to be repeated in churches and temples across the nation as an answer to Bush’s hijacking of religion to promote his ultra-right, anti-union agenda.
Meanwhile at the Fleet Center, many convention speeches showed the stark difference between the ultra-right Republican agenda and the Democrats backed by a broad “oust Bush” movement. Convention delegates were a cross-section of the country itself. Nearly 40 percent of the 3,500 delegates were people of color and 800 were union members. Speakers hailed a unity in Democratic ranks not seen in 50 years.
But the Democrats didn’t just stop with appeals for party unity. They called for an end to the nasty GOP tactics used to divide the country, whether based on race, gender, or sexual orientation.
Barack Obama, the U.S. Senate candidate from Illinois, said in his prime-time keynote speech that certain forces like to keep the country divided between “red states” and “blue states.” But “E pluribus unum … Out of many, one,” he said.
Winning the undecided
Great pains were taken in the convention’s final session to present Kerry as a war hero, surrounded by his fellow Vietnam War vets, ready to serve as commander in chief. There was a parade of generals, admirals, and veterans, including former Sen. Max Cleland, a triple-amputee Vietnam vet, who introduced the nominee. Kerry vowed to increase the numbers of troops by 40,000 but promised they would not be deployed to Iraq – a concession to the demands of the peace movement.
“I will be a commander in chief who will never mislead us into war,” Kerry said, vowing to “end the back-door draft of National Guardsmen and reservists.”
His promise to appoint an attorney general “who upholds the Constitution” was clearly directed at John Ashcroft. The speech was greeted with cheers reflecting confidence that Kerry’s eloquence succeeded in deflating Bush’s pose as a “war president.”
Delegate Peggy Tanksley, dressed in a stars and stripes costume, told the World, “As a delegate with AFSCME and Ohio, I care about letting people know that labor is alive and well and will most definitely bring victory to Kerry in November. Bush is dishonest and arrogant about it. He lied to the American people. I feel sorry for John Kerry because he will have to undo all the damage that Bush has done.”
Ana Riewerts, a Cuban American delegate from Hoboken, N.J., denounced Bush’s draconian measures that make it virtually impossible for families to contact their loved ones in Cuba. “I believe that the new policy of the Bush administration towards Cuba has divided the Cuban American community for the first time in 40 years,” she said.
Carmen Boudier, a delegate from Hartford, Conn., said, “This convention has attracted lots of women and many from the younger generation. … Our future is at stake and they will play a great role in defining it.”
The convention and the outpouring that greeted the Kerry-Edwards road trip sent the White House scrambling for a diversionary ploy. Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge convened a news conference and raised the terror index to “Code Orange.” The alert, he intoned, “is the result of the president’s leadership in the war against terror.”
Later it leaked out that the alert was based on three-year-old intelligence.
The Republicans’ hopes for holding on to the White House rest on their success in dividing the voters and instigating fear. In Boston, Ridge had filled the streets with police from as far away as Washington, as well as National Guard units, in hopes of instilling fear. But the atmosphere was upbeat if not outright jubilant.
Pox on both your houses rejected
The argument that Kerry is “Bush lite” and should be rejected in favor of a vote for Ralph Nader was resoundingly rejected. That argument surfaced at the convention of Progressive Democrats of America (PDA), which packed the gymnasium of Roxbury Community College July 29.
After one speaker expressed disdain for all “you Democrats” forced to endure the “boring” Democratic convention, Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) took the floor. With anger in his voice, Conyers said, “This is the most exciting convention I have been to in my life.”
He asked for a show of hands of those thinking of voting for a third-party candidate. Conyers told the scattered few that their votes could help to a second term “the most crypto-fascist government that has ever existed in my lifetime. … Don’t tell me Ralph Nader didn’t cost Al Gore the 2000 election, because he did. Don’t tell me he can’t cost Kerry the election in 2004. He can.”
Questioning progressives who could be responsible for a Bush second term, Conyers said, “Is that what you are able to show millions of potential progressive voters?”
He added, “There are 97 days between now and the day that may be the most important in your lifetime so far. Is it going to be Kerry and Edwards?” The crowd answered with stormy applause.
With unity, victory is in our reach
The PDA convention underlined the role played by progressives in uniting the anti-Bush coalition and convincing them that victory is within reach if they stand and fight. Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean decried “those in the Democratic Party who did not stand up against the most radical right-wing extremist of our lifetime. … I say it again: We are not safer since Saddam Hussein was arrested. Now a majority of the American people agrees with me.”
Victory for Bush-Cheney and the ultra-right, he said, rests on “the 50 percent of the people who do not vote. You know how you get that swing vote? By strong convictions.”
A few moments later, Dean greeted Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), hailing him as the “real deal” for inspiring a grassroots movement that continues to grow. The two former presidential candidates stood on the stage with their hands clasped together over their heads as the crowd cheered.
“We’re going to make John Kerry the next president of the United States,” Kucinich said. “But we are not going to be suddenly quiet. If they think that, they haven’t been watching. … This election is not just about a race that ends in November. It’s about continuing the struggle and never to yield. Our efforts are constant and ceaseless.”
Kucinich welcomed Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) to the platform. The two lawmakers mustered the 126 lawmakers who voted against the Iraq war. “Being a progressive means we don’t want our civil rights and civil liberties violated,” she said. “It means jobs with justice. Not only are we going to get our voters to the polls, we are going to make sure our votes are not stolen. And we are going to insure that we have a seat at the table of a new Kerry-Edwards administration.”
That same note of urgency and hope was expressed by former California legislator Tom Hayden, who told the crowd that Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and John F. Kennedy were forced to respond to powerful “social movements” for progressive change during moments of grave national crisis. Kerry too will face those pressures if elected, he said.
“This election is going to be a referendum on whether we go along with this war or not,” Hayden said. “If Bush gets a second term, the rest of the world will say, ‘Well, I guess the majority of the American people go along with this madness.’ Elect Kerry and give him the mandate to end the war and take the country back from the right.” The crowd responded with a long standing ovation.
We can win Ohio
Jim Barrett, a Kucinich delegate from Cleveland and retired director of the Cleveland Municipal Court, was sitting in the crowd. “I think this is a great awakening,” he told the World. “People of the same mind are coming together and learning they are not alone. … We are leaving Boston energized. A populist leader like Dennis Kucinich gives us a rallying point. Dennis was the first to say that Bush told ‘lies and damn lies’ about his invasion of Iraq.”
Ohio voters can be convinced to vote against Bush, he said. “We’ve got to get a large vote in cities like Cleveland. Nobody wins Ohio without a plurality of 150,000 votes in Cuyahoga County. What is happening is that people who thought of themselves as conservatives are hurting. The failed policies of Bush, his outsourcing of jobs, has played havoc on the people of Ohio.”
Incredible energy to dump Bush
Inayat Lalani, a retired surgeon and Kerry delegate from Fort Worth, Texas, also attended the PDA convention. “The delegates to the Democratic National Convention are far to the left of the leadership,” he told the World. “On Iraq, the delegates want the troops brought home now. They want a single-payer health care plan. Expand Medicare to cover the whole population.”
He added, “We need a big Democratic sweep both in the presidential and congressional elections to convince the Democratic Party leadership that the people are a lot more liberal than they are willing to concede. The danger in pandering to the right is that more progressive voters will just stay at home.”
He shook his head vehemently when asked if Texas is a sure win for Bush. “No, not at all,” he said. “Texas is a battleground state. There will be another attempt to steal this election as they did in 2000, but we won’t let it happen.”
Kim Cohen, a Kucinich delegate from Boulder, Colo., said, “I personally plan to work like hell to get Kerry elected and at the same time put him on notice that I will be watching. Politics as usual is not acceptable. I am a nurse’s assistant in home health care for seniors. It costs $5,000 a month to put them in nursing homes. Home care is better for seniors and far more cost efficient. Kerry should change the system.”
Kerry sent John Norris, national field director of the Kerry/Edwards campaign, to appeal for PDA support. He flashed slides on a screen showing 21 battleground states with 5.8 million swing voters and millions of non-voters. “You are the most effective communicators in this campaign,” he said. “There is incredible energy this year like I’ve never seen before to take back the White House from George W. Bush.” The crowd roared.
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