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The Republicans vs. Anybody But Bush;

New York City's Two Conventions

by Jo Freeman

There were two conventions in New York City at the end of the summer of 2004: the Republican Convention and the ABB (Anybody but Bush) Convention. It's anybody's guess which had the greater impact because, apart from a few streets around Madison Square Garden (MSG), the two conventions took place in different worlds.

Each was a ten day gathering of the faithful, though most only went to part of either one. For the Republicans, the highlight was Bush's acceptance speech Thursday night, which filled MSG with people who came only to hear their hero; on other nights there were a lot of empty seats. For the ABBers, Sunday's march around MSG and down to Union Square was the big event.

When the Republicans chose to come to NYC to tie themselves to the tragedy of September 11, they embraced a porcupine. In my 44 years of going to conventions, this is the first time that the protests at the Republican convention exceeded those at the Democratic Convention. This was partly because protest is part of the City's political culture. But it was also because the policies of the Bush administration and the invasion of Iraq mobilized and motivated people who usually prefer to take their political pot shots at their kissing cousins rather than at their natural enemies. Bush fulfilled his campaign pledge to be "a uniter"; he brought them all together to protest his presidency.

I traveled between the two conventions every day, but without a few clones I could only see snippets of each. For the most part my press credentials got me in, around and through to whatever I wanted to see, though there were a few moments when nothing worked.

The Republican Convention

This was the first time the Republicans met in Convention in this quintessentially Democratic city. New York City occasionally elects Republican mayors when the Dem family squabbles become lethal, but the city as a whole has voted Democratic since the party was founded. The Democratic Party has changed over time, and so has New York City but it is still Democratic culturally and politically.

The City closed down for the Republicans. The Javits Convention Center, which is normally bustling with business, was shut for two weeks, except for about 250 people attending meetings of the Republican convention committees the week before. While some hotels prospered, others businesses such as taxis and stores within the security zone suffered. Many locals who work in Manhattan took the week off if they could. Of course anyone associated with law enforcement did the opposite; students in the Police Academy got lots of on-the-job training. Close to 8,000 volunteers came to be part of the scene even if it meant standing for long hours handing out booklets or giving directions.

The Platform Committee

The Platform Committee is just one of four Convention Committees; since 1964 these have been composed of one man and one woman from each state or territory. The Democrats scatter their meetings around the country in the months before their convention; the Republicans concentrate theirs the week before in the convention city. These committee meetings have often been a window into the internal conflicts of the party, which has attracted a lot of press attention. The press loves conflict; the parties don't.

To avoid the inevitable appearance of divisiveness created by democratic debate of the issues, the Republicans maneuver to keep their squabbles less visible. This year there were no hearings and the Platform subcommittees met only on Wednesday morning. While there was some effort at these to move some planks in a more conservative direction, the few votes went the way the Bush campaign representative signaled. I asked Phyllis Schlafly, a perennial observer of Platform Committee meetings, if any of her core issues were threatened. "Immigration," she said. "We're having a little problem with that one." "And abortion?" I asked. "Oh no!" She looked surprised that I should even bring it up. "That's a lock."

Ann Stone, the conservative founder of Republicans for Choice, and also a Platform perennial, agreed. She said that this year none of the pro-choice groups even polled the Platform Committee to find someone willing to introduce language saying those holding different views were still welcome in the party. Stone said her group was working with the Log Cabin Republicans this year, along with a third group that calls itself the Republican Youth Majority. What they have in common is that their party has shut the door in their face.

The LCRs are a gay group who have been futilely begging for crumbs of recognition from the Republican Party for decades, even as the party shoves them further away. They claimed about 50 delegates to this convention, while stating that the "Republican Party Platform is an outrageous insult to all of us and our families." LCRs just can't cut the umbilical cord. The fact that they held their 'Big Tent' event for the Convention during the Big March on Sunday shows how little connection they feel to the ABBers.

The Bush campaign likes surprises even less than divisiveness. When the full Platform Committee met that night and on Thursday, proposed amendments had to be made in writing; the unapproved disappeared before they could be discussed. Jane Hartley of Oregon proposed language to give "stay-at-home mothers" tax credits for the child care that they provide to their own children; it was quietly withdrawn without a word.

Although the Committee meetings are public their time and place were not on the convention webpage. It took several phone calls to locate them. Getting in required not only press credentials and going through a bag search and metal detector, but leaving a photo ID at the gate. There were about 50 guests (not press, delegates or staff), all pre-screened. I watched the National Committeeman from Utah wait for a staffmember to come and OK his entrance because he hadn't called ahead.

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At Berkeley in the Sixties: Education of an Activist, 1961-1965. Jo's history and memoir of being a student at Berkeley in the early 1960's is published by Indiana University Press.


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