When I came back from Washington DC and the Take Back America Conference last week, my mind was churning with all the sights and sounds of the convention. I'm not entirely sure that everything has had a chance to settle but if I don't get something down on paper now, it will start to fade, pushed aside by future events.
An anecdote to start: When I made my travel arrangements for the convention, I took into account the fact that this was my first time back since my junior high school trip oh so many years ago. I left myself a day and a half to do the museums and wander around the city a bit. On my last day, I made my way to the Holocaust Museum and found myself in line with a vet (probably Viet Nam, but we didn't discuss it) named Frank from Kansas City. He was in town visiting his son and pregnant daughter-in law. We whiled away the thirty minute wait talking about family. Then, he asked me why I was in town. I told him about the convention and my "Invisible Ballots" lending library project. I explained about the Harri Hursti hack (December 13, 2005, Leon County, Florida), and the GAO report of September, 2005, which vindicated all of those with grave doubts about the election anomalies and electronic voting. We talked about Bruce Funk, of Emery County, Utah and his investigation into the voting machines and the faulty paper trails that they produce. We talked about how California's Secretary of State is being sued by citizen groups to stop the use/purchase of more Diebold machines and his re-certifying those very same machines after commissioning (and then disregarding) a report by computer specialists which essentially said "Don't do it!"
We talked about the documentary "Invisible Ballots" and how I saw it last summer and found it such an effective tool in raising public awareness. By the time we were done, he had a copy of the DVD (which I just happened to have with me) and was chomping at the bit to follow up and send it out to his network of friends, family and colleagues. Never was this mentioned in a partisan context. I still have no idea if he was a Democrat, a Republican, an Independent or a non-voter. This struck him, rightly, as a threat to all voters and our democracy as a whole. I couldn't agree more. It was not a hard sell. Any of you could do it. Really. You'll have to take my word for it that his eyes didn't glaze over once and he didn't even try to bolt for the door.
I came to this conference with my own agenda and set of expectations. Being a newcomer to the political sphere, representing a website whose staff I had 'met' only online, being in an unfamiliar city, all made me feel very much the new kid on the block. I walked around, eyes wide with wonder. I desperately wanted to be two or even three places at once, so as to take advantage of all the interesting sessions and networking going on. While I often consider myself a cynic, I found myself extremely stimulated and invigorated by it all. What can I tell you? It was very exciting. This is not going to be a blow by blow of the conference. I'm not a journalist and that's not my beat. I'm going to offer more of an Impressionist tableau.
Kudos to Robert Borosage and Roger Hickey, who orchestrated a smoothly run conference and brought together a stellar group of activists and speakers. Also, Mr. Hickey greased the way for me to distribute copies of "Invisible Ballots," for which I am very grateful. This was my first conference, but I'm willing to bet that most gatherings don't bring together speakers such as John Kerry, Hilary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, Russ Feingold, Jan Schakowsky, Barak Obama, Tom Harkin and Harry Reid. I'm sure that Robert Redford was a big draw. So were the Nation's Katrina Vanden Heuvel, MoveOn's Eli Pariser, Huffington Post's Adrianna Huffington and former Senator Gary Hart. I loved that Hilary spent the first portion of her speech talking about voting integrity and how to make sure that the elections reflect the people's will. Jan Schakowsky, my own representative (and participant in the "Invisible Ballots" lending library project since last fall), had been strangely silent on the whole voting issue, despite our best efforts. And yet, after reading RFK, Jr.'s recent piece in Rolling Stone, she said that she believed that 2004 was stolen and that we need to take special care this next time around. Kerry came out and apologized for his initial vote on the Iraq war. Feingold was his usual, feisty self, although he didn't mention anything about the 2004 elections or voting integrity. Being a member of the press, I was seated in the first row and was able to shake his hand after the speech and slip him a copy of "Invisible Ballots". (Can't hurt.)
I was disappointed that the conference didn't have any sessions on voting integrity and the electronic voting machines. And yet, at the sessions that I attended and afterwards, it was often brought up and favorably received. I gave away almost 1,000 copies of the DVD and was approached by numerous people who thanked me for my efforts. That was very gratifying.
Last summer, I read Molly Ivins' Bushwhacked, about W and his policies. Her wonderful sense of humor made the litany of accusations slightly less painful. The third chapter, "Class War", offered a counterpoint to Bush's policies and values. It outlines the life of Bernard Rapoport, Texas entrepreneur, large-scale philanthropist and unique human being. After reading the book, I wrote to Mr. Rapoport, who is in his late 80's and now retired, and we struck up an email correspondence. I sent him a copy of "Invisible Ballots" in December and I was enthused to read that he was being honored by the conference for his lifetime service. Having an opportunity to meet him in person and join the crowd that feted him was a further enticement for me to come to the convention. In his gracious remarks at the gala dinner in his honor, Mr. Rapoport recalled what his father used to tell him every night as he was growing up: "When too many have too little and too few have too much, it's not a sustainable system." This made quite an impression on him, later guiding his business ethics and extensive philanthropic efforts. In fact, this could easily become the ideal slogan for Democrats, progressives and/or any forward thinking individuals: short and to the point.
Three new movies were shown, accompanied by their filmmakers. I was able to catch two of the three: "The Big Buy: Tom DeLay's Stolen Congress" and "The War Tapes". (I missed the "Motherhood Manifesto".) The first was about how Tom DeLay gained a Republican majority in the Texas House and was able to redraw district lines to give the Republicans a majority in the US House of Representatives, with major consequences nationwide. The filmmakers chose a highly effective film noir style to highlight the crime and how it was accomplished. "The War Tapes" was the first war movie shot by citizen soldiers on the front lines. Members of a New Hampshire National Guard unit shot their own footage over the course of a year. This movie is unlike others of its genre. Candid, more personal, immediate, difficult to watch, powerful.
At the convention, I made contact with many voting activists and other progressives. Putting all of these people together in one hotel generated a tremendous amount of positive energy. I invited many of the participants I met to write about their projects and accomplishments for OpEdNews. I'm hoping that they will take advantage of the opportunity to share and that our readership will find their experiences inspiring.
One of the most interesting people I met over the three days was Ann Wright. She was a careerist in the Army and then worked for the State Department. When it became clear that there were no weapons of mass destruction, she resigned her post as Deputy Ambassador to Mongolia in protest. She has partaken in many anti-war rallies and explained to us the ins and outs of civil disobedience and getting arrested. Her strong principles and willingness to act on them are belied by her mild mannered appearance. Inspiring is a largely overused description; in this case, it is apt. Amanda is making plans to interview her for OpEdNews; you'll see what I mean.
While at the conference, Rob Kall, my boss and owner/editor of OpEdNews asked me where I plan to "go" with the project after the conference. Let's first sum up our progress to date. Since mid September, I have given out 379 copies of the DVD to various individuals and groups in thirty-five states. In addition, two hundred copies went last week to Minneapolis for the National League of Women Voters convention and 970 copies were distributed at the "Take Back America 2006" Conference in Washington. That means that more than 1,500 copies are circulating so far. It's a good start. The GAO report of September 2005, the California task force report for Sec. of State McPherson, Kennedy's article in Rolling Stone, the recent coverage by Lou Dobbs of CNN, Rep. Schakowsky's and Sen. Clinton's acknowledgment of the need for election reform all point to more attention finally being paid to this crucial issue. It will be much easier to interest the public than it was a few short months ago.
The midterm elections are fast approaching and the 2008 elections are not that far off. We need to push hard for that elusive tipping point. Last week, there was a straw poll on Lou Dobbs' website about whether we should abandon electronic voting. Over 11,000 people responded in less than twenty-four hours and the ratio was 84 to 16 for abandoning electronic voting. Lou Dobbs is not a progressive and his show is not a bastion of liberal thinking. We should take heart from this and push ahead with the confidence that our way of thinking more and more reflects mainstream thought (if not the media) and that we are doing our part to restore and protect the cornerstone of our democracy: the right to free, fair and transparent elections. I've said it before and I'll say it again. Everything rests or falls on whether our elections are fairly run. There is no project more worthy of your time and energy.