At the Convention:
Diversity In Play in the Caucuses
by Jo Freeman
Much of the activity of the Democratic convention takes place in caucus meetings during the day. The actual convention proceedings are just a show for the media in which delegates are the backdrop. The caucuses are for the delegates, as well as other members of the pubic who want to participate and can get in.
This year the Democratic caucuses met at the downtown Colorado Convention Center, a well laid out and spacious building much easier to get to than the Pepsi Center. Inside, the cavernous Center sometimes seemed almost empty as DNCC volunteers carefully screened all who entered, even those going to 'public' events.
At the Sunday press briefing, DNC Secretary Alice Germond announced that this was the most diverse Democratic convention ever. She read the statistics to the gathered press.
Labor delegates met on Sunday afternoon. The 2500 or so people who came to hear their leaders were far in excess of the thousand or so Democratic delegates who belong to unions. Unlike the other caucuses, this one was run by the AFL, not DNCC staff. Brought in by local unions, the mostly local union members who came to cheer the Democratic ticket had no trouble getting inside to hear AFL-CIO President John Sweeney and Change-to-Win President Anna Burger tell them to get out the vote for the Democratic ticket.
Labor is the big kahuna in the Democratic Party. Unions plan to spend 200 million dollars in this year's election as well as mobilize their members to knock on doors, run phone banks and just talk to fellow workers on the job.
Labor organizations occupy two aisles of about a dozen large rooms at the Convention Center, carefully guarded to keep anyone without the proper pass from entering. Through the 2000 convention I could get into the Union section by showing my union card (the National Writers Union, local 1981 of the United Auto Workers). Not any more. Now it is just as inaccessible as the many private parties going on in the hotels throughout convention week.
Although union members still heavily favor the Democrats, others in the white working class are much more unpredictable in their voting. They were the "Reagan Democrats" in 1980, and the Hillary Clinton supporters who told pollsters that they might vote for John McCain. The Dems need Labor to appeal to fellow workers, inside and outside of unions.
Toward this end, the AFL has carefully researched the themes that might deter Republican votes. At the Labor meeting numerous speakers identified the messages that labor will use to appeal to the working class during this campaign. One is aimed at vets, who tend to support other vets. Two million union members are military veterans. A typical ad features an ordinary union member and Vietnam vet telling his fellow workers: "John McCain. Military hero? Absolutely. Voice for Working Families? No way."
Other ads criticize his Senate record and his public statements. They emphasize that on economic issues, his record is lousy.
The other main theme was race. Labor is clearly concerned that at least some of the white working class will have trouble voting for a black man for President. Speakers at the Labor meeting told their members to confront directly any one they hear saying that they can't vote for a black man for President. If anyone knows how race can be used to divide, workers know, they said.
The AFL "race" ad provides "Straight Answers to Real Questions ..." about Barack Obama, such as those about whether he wears a flag lapel pin, his religion, where he was born and does he place his hand over his heart during the Pledge of Allegiance. No other Presidential candidates have to deal with questions like these.
Thirteen caucuses are meeting at the convention Center under the asupices of the DNC. Eight met on Monday and Wednesday: Asian American Pacific American, First Americans, Ethnic Co-ordinating Council, Seniors, Rural, Hispanic, LGBT and Black. The College Young Democrats also met on Monday. On Tuesday and Thursday the caucus rooms were taken over by the Women, Disability, Faith, Veterans and Military Families and Youth caucuses. Although I sampled all of them on Monday, I didn't have time to listen to the individual speakers at any of them. Participation ranged from less than 20 for the Rural Caucus to over 200 at LGBT.
Timing is everything. Just as I arrived at the Black caucus, where the few dozen participants were dwarfed inside the rather large theater, I heard a man yell "Barack Obama means black genocide." He was quickly ushered out by two cops.
Hillary was speaking when I arrived at the Hispanic Caucus. I tried to work my way down front for a photo but was stopped by two women who identified themselves as Secret Service agents. No press beyond this point, they said. A young man with a DNC badge came through asking if anyone wanted to be escorted down front for a photo op. "Me," I said.
He took me to the rope line that separates the crowd from the speaker's stand. Hillary finished her speech and turned to hug those behind her, giving me a good view of her back. After she descended the platform she turned back toward my end of the room and started working the rope line.
Everyone pushed and shoved in order to get to Hillary. They wanted to touch her, get her autograph, or just say 'hi'. Precariously balanced on one foot, I held my ground and got several close shots as she went by, speaking to those around me.
I also got thoroughly squished.
Jo's other Democratic convention articles: