Editor’s note: Collin Haba is from Kigali,Rwanda,and wrote this story for The New Times,which published it today.
BOSTON – Politicians,delegates,security personnel,reporters and protesters all converged in this city as the Democrats gathered for their national convention,which for the first time has been held in Boston.
The national conventions take place once every four years.
With just under 100 days to go,the presidential election campaign is now heating up. The Democratic National Convention ended last week,one month ahead of the Republicans,who will hold theirs at the end of August in New York.
The FleetCenter that hosted the Convention is a sports and concert arena that can seat more than 19,000 people. This can be compared to the estimated 20,000 people who were present in April when President Paul Kagame was giving his speech at the 10th Anniversary commemoration of the genocide at the fully packed Amahoro Stadium.
The Democratic convention attracted an estimated 15,000 media people working round the clock,and more than 4,300 delegates from around the United States. The convention had a big impact on this city,bringing a boom to some businesses here and raising hotel prices.
However,with tight security measures for the first U.S. political convention following the Sept. 11,2001,terrorist attacks,a number of businesses cried foul. Roads and some commuter rail stations were closed,and blocked walkways deterred people from coming to areas around the FleetCenter. The changes deprived some local merchants of their regular customers,who were urged to stay home
Madison Square Garden in New York City,known for heavyweight boxing matches,will host the Republican National Convention.
History of Political Conventions
The first U.S. political convention was held by a third party,the Anti-Mason Party,in 1831. Soon after,the Republicans and the Democrats also began holding conventions. In these early days,the conventions were often held as much as a year prior to the election because transportation was so difficult.
Conventions were organized to pick the nominee for the presidential race. That has now changed. Today,conventions are basically advertising for the candidate and the party.
Former vice president and the 2000 Democratic nominee,Al Gore,while speaking at the convention,had this to say: “Even though we meet here as Democrats,we believe this is the time to reach beyond our party lines to Republicans as well.
Conventions appear to be a marketing tool,where each party puts on a show.
The Democrats’ approach
Kerry-Edwards: “A stronger America.” That is the 2004 Democratic ticket and their theme. Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts leads the Democrats with Senator John Edwards of North Carolina as his running mate.
Kerry’s magical campaign magnet is clear. As a former U.S. Navy officer,he rescued a mate from a river under fire during the Vietnam War where he was a swift boat commander. He hopes this metaphor can be extended to the American people whom he would rescue from health,education and environment crises that President George W. Bush hasn’t dealt with to the liking of the American people.
Former President Bill Clinton,in his speech on the first day of the convention,had this to say: “Since we are all in the same boat,let us chose as the captain of our ship a brave good man who knows how to steer a vessel through troubled waters to the calm seas and clear skies of our perfect union. We know our mission. Let us join as one and say in a loud clear voice: Send John Kerry.”
Despite the Republicans’ argument that the Democrats don’t have the ability to handle the demanding security issues in terrorist times,the Democrats are saying that the Bush administration has mishandled the war on terrorism.
They said it
Speakers at the convention were drawn from all walks of life: ex-presidents,senators,clergy,actors,musicians and children. This is what some of them had to say at the Democratic National Convention.
“Wouldn’t we be safer with a president who didn’t insist on confusing al Qaeda with Iraq?”
— Al Gore,former vice president and the 2000 Democratic presidential nominee.
“They would give me an African name,Barack,or ‘blessed,’ believing that in a tolerant America your name is no barrier to success. … My face on this stage is pretty unlikely. My father was born and raised in a small village in Kenya. He grew up herding cattle.”
— Barack Obama,candidate for the U.S. Senate from Illinois whose mother was from the U.S. state of Kansas.
“They think that the role of government is to concentrate wealth and power in the hands of those who embrace their political,economic and social views,leaving ordinary citizens to fend for themselves”
— Bill Clinton,U.S. president 1993-2001.
“I’m confident that he will restore the judgment and maturity to our government that is sorely lacking today. I am proud to call Lieutenant John Kerry my shipmate,and I am ready to follow him to victory in November.”
–Jimmy Carter,U.S. president 1977-1981.
“John Kerry is a serious man for a serious job. Let’s work our hearts out and send him to the White House. I know a great leader when I see one.”
–Hillary Clinton,U.S. senator from New York and former first lady.
“Today,the better angels of our nature are just waiting to be summoned. We only require a leader who is willing to call on them. … I think I've found just the guy. I'm married to him.”
–Teresa Heinz Kerry,wife of presidential nominee John Kerry.
“We will have one clear unmistakable message for al Qaeda and the rest of these terrorists. You cannot run. You cannot hide. And we will destroy you.”
–John Edwards,vice presidential nominee and U.S. senator from North Carolina.
“We are here united in one simple purpose,to make America stronger at home and respected in the world. … I am proud that after September 11th all our people rallied to President Bush’s call for unity to meet the danger. There were no Democrats. There were no Republicans. There were only Americans. How we wish it had stayed that way.”
–John Kerry,presidential nominee and U.S. senator from Massachusetts.
With black hoods on their heads and wrists tied with black and yellow striped rope,people protested the confinement of demonstrators at the 2004 Democratic National Convention.
Enacting a prison scene reminiscent of recent Iraqi prison photos,an instructor clad in a red Democratic National Committee shirt told demonstrators playing the role of prisoners to hop on one leg and kneel with their faces on the ground.
“From Abu-Ghraib to Camp X-Ray,Guantanamo Bay to the streets of Boston,” said the instructor,who declined to be interviewed. “We are gathered here today in solemn and silent protest at the incarceration of pro-democracy demonstrators in the barbed wire cage known as the DNC free speech zone.”
Protesters at the convention were confined to a fenced area just outside the FleetCenter.
“The fact that they have fenced us is the most ridiculous thing this week. It’s like we are caged animals,” said Vicente Ortiz,44,a protester from Texas.
“What does it mean when Boston,a city built on the history of revolutionary dissent,builds a barbaric confine for people who want to express their democratic rights?” read a statement from the protesters.
Even some convention delegates marched to the fenced-off area to complain that confining demonstrators violated their constitutional rights to free speech.
Other protests at the convention were anti-war,for human rights,anti-abortion and in support of gay marriages.
Protesters,who wanted to draw the delegates’ attention and most importantly catch the eye of TV cameras,were amidst tight security with heavily armed police in full force and hovering helicopters a near constant.
The protesters needed permits issued by the city of Boston,and one group filed a lawsuit to gain the right to march after the city denied the permit.
An Entertainment flavor
There is no way other than with a live band,playing and providing back up for applause,to keep the audience awake all through the nine hours of a day’s duration of the convention.
Not only did the audience listen,but the music swept them off their feet and they swayed and danced from side to side,creating a fun environment
Music stars,including Wyclef Jean and the Black Eyed Peas,performed live,and Brian McKnight sang the National Anthem at one convention session.
Movie celebrities like Ben Affleck,who is from Boston,and Michael Moore of the controversial “Fahrenheit 9/11” fame mingled with the convention crowd.
Neck-to-neck tight race
According to two CNN polls taken in July,the two main candidates remain tied. Forty-seven percent of respondents said they would vote for Bush,and 49 percent for Kerry. The margin of error for the CNN polls was + or – 4 percent,meaning the candidates are essentially tied.
Another dozen polls showed similar results.
Vs. the Republicans
Where the Republicans have failed,Kerry and Edwards are promising help and hope,with Iraq,9/11 and taxes at the forefront. In a month’s time,the Republicans will have responded through their convention. Even though the Democrats have set the ball rolling,it will not be until November that the next tenant of the White House shall be declared