Hidden Beneath all the Hype Exists a Great Democratic Divide

BOSTON — Lauren Haldeman, a 25-year-old delegate from Iowa, was moved to tears when she walked past anti-war protestors outside the perimeter of the Fleet Center on Monday afternoon to attend the opening ceremonies of the 2004 Democratic National Convention (DNC). The graduate student at the University of Iowa poetry program — one of the best in the country — was wearing a pink ‘Delegate for Peace’ scarf around her right arm, reminiscent of the garments sported by the women’s peace movement Code Pink, and that immediately set her apart from most of her fellow Democrats.

‘They asked me why I was going into that building if I supported peace,’ Haldeman recalls. ‘It made me cry, and I felt torn over whether to go inside or join the protestors, because I agree with what they are saying. I said ‘I’m going in there because of Dennis Kucinich.’ I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for him.’

The young woman was swept off her feet by the congressman from Ohio, an outspoken critic of the U.S. decision to invade Iraq even as most of his fellow Democrats crossed party lines and fell in line with their commander-in-chief. Haldeman discovered Kucinich on his campaign website and was so moved that she showed up at her precinct on January 19 to support Kucinich. She even plays the accordion for the ‘Kucinich polka’ on his website’s culture corner.

But her faith in the party is not so crystal clear. And what she’s heard at the DNC this week has done little to change that, as speech after speech and song after sterile pop song have buried the issue most important to many delegates — the decision to support the Bush administration in going to war. A Boston Globe report claims that a whopping 95 percent of all DNC delegates oppose that decision.

‘I think we need to get a backbone,’ said Haldeman. ‘We’re not unified, though we should be unified around the idea of change. And our elected officials need to be courageous enough to question the status quo.’

She added that the decision to vote for a party devoted wholeheartedly to peace vs. unseating the current war-mongering president is a difficult one because she has two brothers of draft age, and she is worried what will happen to them if Bush is reelected in November.

‘First and foremost we need to focus on the giant elephant in the room. Though it’s racking me inside, we need to do as Dennis has done and give Kerry our support, for the sake of party unity.’

But Haldeman is crystal clear about one thing. There should be more debate allowed on the Convention floor.

‘I think there should be more debate prior to this, but not at the convention,’ said Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick. ‘The convention should be the momentum point for when we start to move. But there should be more substantive debate beforehand and not just petty show.’

According to the official bylaws of the DNC, no banners — only buttons, stickers, and, in Haldeman’s case, scarves — are allowed in the hands of delegates unless the party, itself, hands them out. And those distributed by hundreds of Democratic Party representatives both inside the Fleet Center and all over downtown Boston are intentionally devoid of controversial ‘issues.’ While the names of senators, representatives, civil rights leaders and former presidents dot the crowds, an ‘issue’ like the word ‘peace’ is not allowed, raising the question, ‘Since when did peace become an ‘issue?’

Of course, issues have long since been swept out the door so that the Democratic Party could sterilize Boston, dress it in banners of red, white, and blue, position photographs of John Kerry in his Vietnam regalia in key entrances to the Fleet Center arena and corral the protestors into the draconian Free Speech Zone outside.

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