Notes from the Perimeter

Saturday, August 30, 2008

A Season of Change


Thursday night. The Denver Sheraton has run out of food. Seriously—both restaurants. We came into town on the light rail along with most of Denver. When we passed Invesco Field at 3pm we could see an endless line snaking toward the security entrance points. Later that would be our destination but first we have to pay our final respects to what has become our personal Situation Room. And to contemplate once more some of the many stories that animate the perimeter.

On our way down the 16th Street Mall we pass pods of riot cops on horseback—the horses wearing eye shields like their riders— and a couple, Anita West-Ware and her husband Kim McKinney, offering photo ops with Barack Obama (cardboard cutout version). That’s as close as I’m likely to get so I avail myself of the chance to hug the Contender.

At the Sheraton we say goodbye to a few of the friends we’ve made during this extraordinary week and decide we better pick up a sandwich before catching one of the media busses to Invesco. We know this is important since, if Invesco is going to be anything like the Pepsi Center, there is no food worth eating on the premises unless one wishes to die of heart disease before the election. In addition, about four hours before the end of each day, the secret service limits access to the hall so once you’re at your media desk with annoyingly non-functional Internet (available only to those who cough up $1300 for a link!) you cannot leave. As in CANNOT. As in: need to use the bathroom? Tough. In an email posted a couple of days ago by the NH Republicans, they mention that we “special interest liberals” were lounging about the convention hall munching on our soy burgers. Soy burgers? Where?? I’d have given an eyetooth for a soy burger. And I have to wonder how we possibly could trust a party that can’t tell the difference between a lentil and a corn dog.

By the time we acquired our sandwich (which is massive and apparently created with an expansive sense of leisure) from an outside vendor since the Sheraton, which bears repeating, is out of food, we’re fearful that we’ve missed the last bus. Then one turns the corner so we dash and a nice volunteer waves the bus to a stop. On board are driver Brandi and Deputy Wilson and nobody else, so our final convention ride (at the time we didn’t realize it would be our last) is taken in spacious luxury. Entering the stadium is far easier than we’d expected -- our most recent experience of getting into the Pepsi Center on Wednesday involved standing in line for literally an hour with about 5000 (not an exaggeration) other people waiting for one of the dozen or so security checkpoints. Do you think they might have thought that through? We make good time clearing the Invesco security and suddenly find ourselves, amongst reminders of the Denver Broncos, in the stadium itself: the sky a cloudless blue, the breezes cool and gentle, the speeches rousing and brief. We listen to Sheryl Crow and Stevie Wonder and do the wave. Today no thunderstorm threatens the sunny mood: we’re all just 85,000 people ready to party.

I won’t belabor the magic of the night, the sense of history in the making, the absence of fear-mongering and cynicism. I find myself dumbstruck at how some would say that the ability to inspire is a party trick, even a weakness, and that inspiration itself is just a gimmick. Those people would claim that “hope” is nothing but a fool’s fantasy and that the only thing real is fear – by claiming that, they diminish us. They would paint Americans as frightened little people who can’t come to grips with the world as it is and who don’t care what is lost as long as a circle of safety surrounds their small comfort zones. Their version of America is, for me, the very essence of mediocrity. And to that I say PHOOEY. I swear there was greatness in Invesco last night, a sense of destiny and purpose beyond the personality of Barack Obama. In each of our own lives, we have those moments of glimpsing beyond our concerns and limitations something larger, not larger than ourselves but an exalted version of what we truly can be. It’s the call to embrace one’s potential and to step forth with courage and integrity to make of the world a better place. Call me a sentimental idiot, if you will, but that call was present last night, exhilarating and palpable, and at least in me something profound shifted.

Of course, for every sublime there is a ridiculous, and we found it when we tried to leave Invesco. Apparently, nobody figured out that removing 85,000 people all dependent upon public transportation—no parking in the security zone—might require some coordination. The light rail station nearby apparently was experiencing some “problems” – ah, we say, don’t go there. About twenty bus routes had been set up but in trying to find ours – the bus to downtown – we were directed entirely around Invesco twice. Twice. This took an hour. When we finally stumbled upon our bus area we discovered about ten full busses stuck in gridlock and over 1000 people waiting for the next one. The lure of wine and non-processed food was oddly greater than our desire to wait in line for hours so we left Invesco on foot and made the long walk into town. When we finally got seated, at an outdoor table in a strangely uncrowded restaurant (then we noticed the wine list had bottles available for $4000 – no kidding – so we understood why it wasn’t overrun) we raised our glasses to an unforgettable week.

I want to go back to the Denver Sheraton one last time to relate one of the most memorable stories from the perimeter. His name is David Redic – he’s a musician, artist, and graduate student in Los Angeles getting his PhD in clinical psychology. On the mere wisp of a chance to perform a song he’d written for the convention, David and eight of his fellow musicians rented an Avis van and hauled themselves over the mountains to Denver. They did get their opportunity -- we met David when he and his group performed at the National Newspaper Publishers Association party honoring the Los Angeles Sentinel and other Black-owned newspapers. He has a voice like crushed velvet blended with molasses and a luminous smile: one look at David and you want to give him a hug and buy him a milkshake. I asked David what it was about Obama that inspired him: “As an artist, I’m drawn to hoping that things will be better and Obama represents tangible hope. It isn’t pie-in-the-sky – we all have something to contribute. Obama is at the helm of the change but we’re all part of it.” As I contemplate a few days of solid sleep after the whirlwind of excitement, late nights and inspiration along the perimeter, I leave you with the lyrics of David’s song (you can hear him sing it at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9AM599RHWtQ.)

A Season of Change

In a world full of sorrow, pain & disbelief
Everyone seems to be searching 2 find strength & some relief.
Round & round our lives spin –
When will the cycles of what’s been
Come to an end?
What we stand in need of is a season of change.

Hope springs forth out of misery –
Light breaks through the darkness.
Peace will speak to the confusion.
Brace yourself for a season of change we can believe in,
A season of change we can rely on.

The movement is bigger than bloody war & politics.
We gotta get beyond our self-centered selves & petty cliques.
The writing’s on every wall.
Let’s seize the day, answer the call.
What we stand in need of is a season of change.

We know the road ahead will be filled with ups & downs.
But united as we stand we can turn things around.
But it takes you & it takes me to push the change through.
Get ready, get ready, get ready
For a season of change.

© David Redic, 2008.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Interview with Ralph Nader


The Pretender

Talk about the ultimate perimeter dweller: I had the chance to sit down for ten minutes with Ralph Nader. Oh boy. I have a lot of admiration for much of what he accomplished in the past but in the interview I wanted to scream at him: WHAT ARE YOU DOING??? Get yourself a talk show! I listened to his arguments about why his candidacy is not just important, but absolutely critical, to the salvation of Democracy As The Founders Intended. Unfortunately, I was not persuaded. So, instead of getting into a futile disagreement, I decided to write him a respectful but heartfelt letter, which follows.

Dear Ralph Nader,

I’m writing to you with pain in my heart.
I used to believe that you were quite a guy.
Your principled protests set you apart from
People too willing to let justice die.

However, I fear that you’ve gone too far.
Your ego now serves an unbridled ambition.
Your ideas are strong but their impact is marred
By a hubris long nurtured and due for fruition.

You insist the two parties are basically the same:
In bed with big business, to the people a traitor.
The only way out of this mess, you would claim,
Is to sack them both and vote for Ralph Nader.

I cannot keep silent in light of such twaddle.
They differ in ways too clear for debate.
One will condemn us to perpetual battle.
One stands for change we’ll together create.

You act angry, defensive and misunderstood.
At times you seem even a bit like a bully.
It’s your way or no way, yet you never would
Explain with some nuance why opponents you sully.

I never have heard you admit a mistake
Or accept any blame for the way things turned out.
You say from Al Gore no votes you did take
But you do make that claim with a hint of a pout.

You say what you want but not how you’d do it.
You say that those other guys will let us down.
Harsh rhetoric can be persuasive, I admit,
But not when delivered with an arrogant frown.

If you are a spoiler again in this season
Enabling the election of John S. McCain.
You will lose all the honor that had been your reason
For all of the causes your advocacy gained.

So, dear Mr. Nader, your voice is essential
But not in the role you have chosen to play.
I don’t consider your path presidential
And yet I believe you can find the right way

To reclaim your status as a warrior for fairness,
To become the voice for those who have none.
There’s a place for you to increase awareness,
To finish the job you had early begun.

Keep tilting at windmills, debating convictions
But leave by the wayside your superior stance.
The road you are on is full of contradictions
But humility would your reputation enhance.

As you see I am upset, bedeviled and fuddled.
I appeal to the man that I know you can be.
My rhymes might be awkward but the message ain’t subtle:
Get out of the race and set us all free!

Sincerely,
Peaco Todd

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

PUMAs on Patrol


Yesterday as we were leaving our home-away-from-home (the Denver Sheraton where WiFi and cappuccinos are in abundance) we happened upon a small but vocal demonstration of women, brandishing “Hillary” signs and waving orange balloons declaring that they were “PUMAs.” Hhhmmmm, I think. Maybe PUMAs are like “cougars,” but more politically active. Or, considering the ferocity of their chants (“18 million! 18 million!”) maybe PUMA means “People for Upsetting Male Agendas.” I thought I’d chat with one of these women to find out what she believes and why she’s protesting so I culled one from the herd.

Me: Can I talk with you for a minute about what this is all about?
Her: Walk with me.

So I joined the march.

Me: What does PUMA stand for?
Her: “Party Unity My A$$.” We’re protesting the fact that Hillary had the nomination stolen from her! And now they want us to unify… the nerve!

Me: So what do you hope to gain by continuing to support Hillary?
Her: This isn’t about Hillary. It’s about the process.

Me: What do you mean?
Her: The process was corrupt from the start. How do you figure that the votes in Idaho counted for more than those in Pennsylvania? Huh? HUH?? And Barack Obama benefited from this unethical process!

Me: Okay. So, what you’re saying is that, in terms of the process, Obama was unethical but Clinton wasn’t?
Her: Well, not exactly. Nobody is claiming that Hillary is perfect!

Me: But, in terms of the process, you’re saying that Hillary ran her campaign in a morally responsible way but Barack didn’t?
Her: No. The process was corrupt from the start! I would have protested no matter who won the nomination.

Me: So, you started protesting at the beginning of the process.
Her: No, not exactly.

Me: So, you started protesting when it became clear that Hillary wasn’t going to win.
Her: Well, yes.

Me: It sounds like what you really object to is the fact that Obama is the nominee. So, it’s not really about the process.
Her: It IS about the process! He stole the nomination! Just like men have stolen from me MY WHOLE LIFE!! I had a puppy but my brother took him! I ran for high school president and I had the votes but then this guy stole the election right out from under me! Okay, so he was a merit scholar, a concert pianist and an AIDS volunteer – big deal! I quit grad school so my husband could finish his PhD and what happens – yeah, you guessed it. He gets his degree and a good job and then he leaves me for this ditsy scientist – eeeeeeoooooooooo, a planetary vulcanologist, how sexy. That should have been MY degree! Hillary was my payback and now Richard – I mean Obama -- has stolen it! I want Hillary! I’m entitled to Hillary!!

(Editorial note: up until, well, the last paragraph, this is a true recounting of a real interview with a PUMA. Don’t get me wrong: I think Hillary is wonderful and that women everywhere are indebted to her for her grace, strength, courage and leadership. However, I believe that she made some strategic errors and that Barack ran a smarter campaign, not a less ethical one. So, ladies, give it up! A foolish consistency starts to make one wonder what your agenda really is….)

Monday, August 25, 2008

Monday August 25

It begins! I'm parked in Press Pavilion 2, where the 'independent' (read 'unimportant') journalists are located. Outside the sky is dark grey with forks of lightning striking at ominous intervals. Today has not been without its challenges: my Conway Daily Sun business card, necessary for credentials, reads "Peaco Tood" despite the fact that two of us proofed it twice. (There will be an upcoming post about seeing what we want/expect to see as it applies to the peculiar world of politics.) The security folks took away my brand-new metal water bottle (empty) which cost me FIFTEEN DOLLARS! The press working area inside the Pepsi Center is absolutely freezing. No Internet access exists within the convention hall, which strikes me as exceedingly quixotic. Once you get inside the Pepsi Center (shuttle busses take an extraordinarily slow, apparently circular and idiosyncratic route from downtown through what seems to be a swamp and an amusement park) it's the Hotel Colorado: you can check in but you can't leave, at least not until 9pm when all 25,000 attendees will be queuing up. That promises to be fun. And there's nothing, apart from nachos and corn dogs, to eat. But I'm soldering on, despite the fact that I have no cartoon for this post -- my Internet-free afternoon rendered that impossible. However, tomorrow I'll relate my fascinating run-in with some "Pumas" -- women who are still supporting Hillary and have the orange t-shirts and Hillary masks to prove it if not a clear rationale. I'll be heading into the convention for the last couple of hours: Jimmy and Roslyn Carter just stepped onto the stage and I believe we're to expect Ted Kennedy as well. Ciao till then!

Labels: , ,

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Sunday at the DNC


It's nearly 6pm & I'm sitting where I've been sitting for most of the day: at the Denver Sheraton, in the piano bar, grappling with the press officials for more access, meeting all sorts of movers & shakers, & working on my first cartoon. The parties begin in earnest tonight and I plan to attend at least one, despite three hours of sleep. The reason I'm still sitting here is due to the very large amount of equipment I'm needing to carry about: laptop, portable scanner, several trees worth of convention info. This place feels like party central so I'm heading off to unload some stuff, fluff up & hoist a toast or two. Live on CNN is a tornado on the ground not too far from here so unless the universe objects to the gaiety and hopefulness, I'll be around to post tomorrow.

Here's today's toon: