After all the hype about violence in Denver, the provocative name of one of the protest coalitions (”Recreate ‘68″) proved oddly prophetic, as slightly more than 68 people actually showed up for Sunday’s anti-war protests. Along with countless cops from numerous jurisdictions. The few hundred protesters, lacking a real place to convene (the “free speech zone,” once it was found in an area with one entrance and enclosed on three sides, turned out to be about 30′ x 30′ and was filled with counter-protesters; by contrast, the area set aside for law enforcement to process arrested protesters was several acres), simply marched around downtown and occasionally did random blockades of streets.
That’ll bring the war machine to its knees.
Not sure whether the pathetic turnout (hyperventilating coverage by Fox and local Denver media notwithstanding) is a reflection of bad organizing, the generally rudderless state of the anti-war movement, or people being scared away by police and media hype. (Tentative answer: yes.) Locals seem much more involved in organizing the immigrant march on Thursday, though the threat of police harassment could certainly keep a lot of those folks away, too. Regardless, even though disgust with Obama, Biden, and especially the Democratic Congress of the last two years is nearly universal among anti-war activists, most delegates hobnobbing in the various downtown hotels today had no idea protests were underway. The ones that did know were usually clueless about why people might be protesting — other than that somebody’s always protesting something. If first impressions are any guide (and they might not be), many of the attendees here, both the pols and the rank and file, seem blissfully unaware of just how much contempt they’re held in by folks who really, really wanted to believe the Democratic promises of 2006.
Instead, it’s been business as usual.
Which brings us to the swag.
Like any trade convention, attendees get canvas bags with lots of free gifts of dubious value. In this case, lots and lots of them. All, of course, provided by corporations (most of them big) and the occasional union, all hoping to buy a favorable impression.
If the Democratic Party’s standard bearer has vowed to turn his back on lobbyist business as usual in government (which is the rumor), someone organizing this convention never got the memo. Sponsorships are everywhere. Thanks to various loopholes in campaign finances laws, the parties and hospitality suites, all paid for by generous benefactors, are more elaborate than ever.
(One example of very, very many: the Washington state delegation is hosting four “Breakfast Meetings” on Monday through Thursday. They are sponsored by, in order, Amgen, Merck, Qwest, and Eli Lilly. Multiply that by fifty state delegations — plus D.C. and the territories — and every suite in several dozen upscale hotels, and one begins to appreciate why we don’t have any real movement toward universal health care, and why the Democrats caved on telecom immunity. Among many other things.)
In the absence of actual news, so far most of the media coverage seems to be media interviewing other media, and that includes the blogger tent (”The Big Tent”), which opened today. The DNCC does deserve credit for recognizing bloggers and setting up a special program for blogger access to the convention; the Republican convention in St. Paul next week has nothing similar. But at first glance — and bearing in mind that many of the Big Tent people had just seen each other in Austin — the whole exercise seemed just as incestuous as the MSM we endlessly criticize. Only, well, not as richly compensated. For all of the vaunted independence and orneriness of the blogosphere, so far not many people seem willing to be a skunk at the party. Or, you know, exercise critical judgment.
Most of that will happen outside the convention proper. For example, the Progressive Democrats of America are hosting symposia all week that look to be promising. (In a church, nearly two miles from the Pepsi Center.) But inside the convention, the one serious possibility of conflict, the Hillary fanatics (aka “PUMAs”) that have been openly fantasizing about disrupting the convention in various ways, is all about cult of personality and entitlement, not about any substantive differences to speak of on issues between Obama and Clinton. Sure, there will be the usual tussles over wording of the party platform that nobody reads. But you’d really never know that some polls recently have put favorable ratings for the Democratic-led Congress in the single digits, and that said rating among self-identified Democrats is worse than among Republicans.
Plenty of interesting things will undoubtably happen behind the scenes. But don’t expect any serious expression in Denver of the anger of many in the public over two years of failed congressional Democratic promises to reverse the disaster that has been George Bush (or even to try very hard) — not from delegates, not from media, and not even, apparently, from well-organized public protests.