New Orleans I actually know a lot about the national political conventions, both Republican and Democratic. ACORN was well represented every four years from the 1978 Memphis midterm under President Carter to 1980 in New York and Detroit, Dallas with the Republicans and Ronald Reagan in 1984, and on and on. Except for 1980, we were there in one way or another for decades, but I should add, on the outside.
We always pretty much ignored the “official protest area,” usually a cordoned off area at good distance from the convention and its delegates, surrounded by barricades, and the police that manned them. We picked out targets where we could have our people seen and their voices heard. Sometimes we caught them in their hotels. After hours studying the public schedule and analyzing the logistics and meeting places, sometimes we “met” them at those meetings.
The Democratic Convention that just ended was scripted of course, but they all are. More than that it was “produced,” as one report mentioned, as if it were a Hollywood movie. The talking heads of politicians and other big whoops were front and center, but more than the delegates were left out of the pandemic convention. The people weren’t just left out on the streets, where we had always been. They were left out completely.
There was no room for protests, for or against. The cameras and microphones were tightly held and pointed in only one direction. There was no way they could wander to find the voices that demand – and need – to be heard. The Republican Convention is coming. It will be more of the same. The usual quadrennial, especially Trump’s, might have seen huge protests not only about police and Black lives, but also from the vast army of the unemployed and maybe even from those demanding health and safety for their themselves and their families. This might have been the gathering of the tribes, something bigger than what Zoom can handle.
A bit over a year ago I was working with a group in Milwaukee in one of the lowest income minority communities in the city. Then I sat with leaders and organizers for hours talking about strategy and tactics to force attention that would trigger jobs and resources into the area. The convention was a huge opportunity and an economic driver that might have made a difference. That was then. This is now.
More even than the loss of so much opportunity, this antiseptic affair, so perfectly designed to elevate Joe Biden’s campaign, has plenty of heart and good wishes, but without a way to hear the voices of people on the street and feel the immediacy of their anger, it seems to have lost much of its soul.