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Beating up on the minority delegates

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The disrespect show to Ron Paul delegates to the 2012 Republican National Convention is not the first time a minority delegation faced such treatment, nor is the Republican Party the only party where such goings-on occur.

In 2004, Dennis Kucinich arrived at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston with 65 national delegates, from 10 states.

Howard Dean had delegates, also, but before he arrived in Boston, Dean -- presumably because he'd been offered the job as Democratic National Committee Chair -- had released his delegates and urged them to support Kerry. The Dean delegates were ready to comply.

One difference between Democrats and Republicans is Democrats have their rules fights before their convention begins, so the Kucinich campaign knew going in it would not make the 125-delegate threshold to see Kucinich's name placed into nomination. The rules also made it clear that any votes cast for someone whose name had not been placed into nomination would be announced, but not be recorded in the official Democratic Party records. Yet Kucinich had vowed to stay in the race to the end to keep alive his signature issues of single-payer, universal health care and ending the war in Iraq.

In an effort to showcase only "party unity," Kucinich was under intense pressure to step down and call off his troops. The bargaining centered around whether Kucinich would trade his delegates for a prime-time TV speech where he could promote his healthcare plan, and speak out more forcefully than Kerry was prepared to do about getting out of Iraq.

The night before the convention convened, Kucinich gathered his entire delegation together and outlined the situation. He asked the group to decide whether voting for Kerry was worth the TV appearance. Emotions and opinions were mixed, but it was settled when a young woman from Washington state stood up. Trembling, she said she had just turned 18. She had worked very long and hard to become a delegate, and had traveled 3,000 miles across the country so that the very first national vote she ever cast in her life would be for a gentle man of peace, love and justice. Heart-broken to think she might not be able to do that, she broke down in tears and stood alone in the middle of the room until Kucinich approached her, hugged her, and said he could never ask someone to cast a vote they didn't want to cast.

"You are released from any obligation to vote for me," he told the delegation, "you should vote your conscience. I will respect any vote you wish to cast and will cherish any vote you cast for me."

Not only did that statement knock Kucinich off the prime-time speaking list, it also unleashed a torrent of lobbying against the entire Kucinich delegation. For the next three days Kucinich delegates were chased, lobbied, harassed, and downright threatened to change their vote.

The Democrats are just like the Republicans in the matter of signs. Any sign you see during the convention coverage is printed and passed out by the party. You are told what sign you can wave and when you can wave it. As a move to get around the ban on "unauthorized" signs, the Kucinich campaign had passed out pink scarves that didn't mention Kucinich at all but said "Give Bush a Pink Slip -- Democratic National Convention 2004." They were, of course, the perfect convention souvenir, many Kerry and Dean delegates asked for one, and the Kucinich folk gladly passed them out by the hundreds. When the Kerry people saw not only how popular the scarves had become, but how well this hot-pink Kucinich "sign" showed up on TV (in a long TV shot it looked like there were hundreds of Kucinich people throughout the hall), they tried to have them banned as a fire hazard because they were made out of polyester. In a heated back-room session, Kucinich convention manager Tim Carpenter noted that two of the Kerry operatives were wearing polyester pants. He said he'd take off his scarf if they'd take off their pants. The issue (but no pants) got dropped.

The Ohio delegation, including Kucinich, signed on to Kerry after fearing the Ohio Democratic Committee would provide no support for Kucinich in his re-election bid to Congress.

A woman from Minnesota arrived in tears one night after Walter Mondale had sat down next to her on the bus ride to the convention center, berating her for not being a team player and saying that she would never participate in politics again if she didn't vote for Kerry.

The six Maine delegates spent many coffee-fueled hours discussing what to do. On the night of the vote, party officials handed out the official ballots to all the Maine delegates except the Kucinich six. Those ballots were withheld for several hours while the Kerry people made one last, very aggressive, attempt to get them to abandon Kucinich. Patient for a while, the Kucinich delegates finally put their feet down and demanded their ballots. They got them at the last minute and were allowed to vote.

The Maine delegation hung tight and cast all six votes for Kucinich. Governor John Baldacci brokered, then read, a respectful roll-call statement that reflected the differences of opinion in the Maine delegation.

In all, 43 of the original 65 Kucinich national delegates cast their votes for Kucinich. What the Kerry people never knew until much later was that when the Maine delegates arrived at the convention on voting night, their vote was three to three. But those three who had finally decided to support the eventual nominee changed back to Kucinich after being treated so rudely by the Kerry people during the hours before they were allowed to vote.

In both the Kerry-Kucinich case in 2004 and this year's Romney-Paul dust up, there was never any doubt who the nominee would be, and it's hard to say how much of the vile behind the way the minority delegates were treated came from the old-time party-bosses whose donors and districts profit from war and who don't like young whippersnappers questioning authority, or whether the direction trickled down from these two uber-rich guaranteed nominees who had "paid for this microphone," weren't used to their serf subjects having a say in things, and wanted a picture-perfect coronation.

What neither the handlers nor their monied candidates seem to understand is that while they are trying to turn ever-shrinking free TV coverage of the conventions into an infomercial for the soon-to-be-anointed one, the public wants to see Whac-A-Mole reality shows, where quirky but allegedly "ordinary" people in funny costumes do crazy things in hopes of winning the big prize. Sounds like a political convention to me.

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Former newspaper reporter and editor Commercial organic farmer and progressive political activist. Member, Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners, Maine Farm Bureau and the National Writers Union, UAW Local 1981, AFL-CIO

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