In The End, GOP Won Message War
Neither An Earnest Counter-Convention Nor Unruly Street Protesters Could Compete With The Party's Single-Minded Theme
Dan Bernard, Staff Writer, TheCarolinaChannel.com
August 6, 2000, 5:07 a.m. EDT
PHILADELPHIA -- You probably hadn't watched much of the Republican National Convention when it ended Thursday night, but you probably got the message anyway:
- The Republican Party welcomes people of color.
- The Republican Party welcomes moderates.
How could you miss it? From Colin Powell's opening-night keynote to Chaka Khan's farewell jam, every other image from the First Union Center conveyed that the GOP was holding an open house for people who aren't white or conservative.
Bob Archuleta got it. A Mexican-American who considers himself a Democrat, Archuleta (pictured at right) came to the convention from Los Angeles out of enthusiasm for Bush's candidacy.
"The message is, there are divisions in America that can come together. There are independents and Democrats, and there are minorities," said Archuleta, 50, who also serves as Los Angeles County's military and veterans affairs commissioner. Republican leaders "allowed so many diversities to come together and let everyone speak -- young, old, men, women, black, Hispanics, Asian."
While pundits may have whined that the convention was an infomercial with monotonous, uncontroversial themes, its simplicity was its power.
There were other messages competing for the attention of the national audience in Philadelphia. It's doubtful they got through to mainstream America with anywhere near the clarity of the GOP's message.
The Other Convention
Across Philadelphia on a university campus, progressive political action groups and self-appointed political visionary Arianna Huffington gathered for a "Shadow Convention" to discuss the issues that they said would be ignored by the Republicans (and the Democrats -- Huffington and company will hold another Shadow Convention in Los Angeles to coincide with that party's toast to Al Gore in mid-August).
In Philadelphia, the Shadows held respectably studious panels on campaign finance reform, the war on drugs and the growing gap between rich and poor. The roundtables of liberal policy wonks were leavened with celebrities including the Rev. Jesse Jackson, comedian Al Franken and rapper Chuck D.
Still, the counter-event's high water mark of national media attention came on its opening day -- when the Republicans had yet to convene, and reporters had less to distract them. And the news was that Sen. John McCain used an appearance before the gathering to promote, not a reform message, but the candidacy of George W. Bush.
The Loudest Ones
The other group that came to Philadelphia to spread a message was the most insistent.
Thousands of street protesters marched in the center of Philadelphia over liberal concerns including the death penalty, abortion rights and corporate power. Hundreds of them were more aggressive, locking limbs in the middle of streets to stop traffic. They turned downtown Philly into chaos for most of Wednesday afternoon, leading police on chases from one traffic obstruction to another.
An unknown number destroyed property and fought with police: Philadelphia police arrested more than 350 and say that a handful agitated for violence against police officers.
They were seen, but it's not clear if they were heard. Certainly not by the Republicans, who were snug behind layers of security in south Philadelphia. The relative few Republicans who heard the protesters did not appreciate their tactics.
"These people, I hope the local government throws the book at 'em," said Cornell Stroik, a 55-year-old Republican delegate from Milwaukee. "If they violated the city permits, they should get punished."
"They just made actual fools of themselves," Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson said in an interview on the convention floor Thursday night. "They didn't change one person's opinion.
"All they did was make people's lives inconvenient and cost the taxpayers of this city thousands of dollars," Thompson added. "It seemed like they were demonstrating just to cause problems."
Left Meets Left
While the street guerillas had many ideological points of agreement with the thinkers at the Shadow Convention, their methods were frowned upon by many at the forum.
Jim Walling, 21, of Portland, Ore., said he was in Seattle in December and sat in streets to disrupt the meeting of the global-trade-promoting World Trade Organization. But the Shadow Convention participant said such tactics were inappropriate in Philadelphia.
"In Seattle, we were trying to shut down an event that would have had direct consequences on real people, which shut us out of the process, and people were desperate," Walling said, sitting on the stairs outside the University of Pennsylvania lecture hall that hosted the Shadow Convention. "In this situation ... if a political party wants to have a rally and B.S., that's fine. I don't have any problem with political conventions, and I don't personally have any interest in shutting one down."
Unrest in the street may grab attention, but thoughtful debate like that at the Shadow Convention actually communicates, said one of the counter-event's co-founders, Peter Hirshberg.
"With the protesters, you knew they were upset, but about what?" Hirshberg said. "What we tried to do here was focus on the what."
Convention emcee Huffington contended that the two groups were complementary.
"What we're doing is, we are translating the protesters," Huffington said as Shadow Conventioneers packed up their pamphlets Thursday afternoon. "We are explaining why there is so much anger in this country from people who are left out of the prosperity, who are left out of the national conversation."
That kinship does not extend to the violent elements among the Philadelphia protesters, Huffington added: "Anybody who uses violence is completely undermining the cause by making it harder to identify with the cause."
On the stoop outside the Shadow Convention, Tom Rainey of Berkeley, Calif., (pictured, right) was more forgiving of the street rowdies, many of whom were in their early 20s. Rainey, 33, who satirizes Republicans on his Web site BushOnCrack.com, said he did a little "direct action" of his own in his 20s, with a group that chained themselves together to shut down a military arsenal in Rock Island, Ill., in 1998.
Even if the message wasn't clear, the protesters at least sent a clear message about their own tenacity, Rainey said.
"The fact that they were successfully able to disrupt business as usual -- in the face of the most organized police presence I've ever seen -- shows that no matter what they want to say about 'the kids,' they're very smart, they can communicate, they're organized," Rainey said.
Rainey added that young people are ignored by people in power: "Youth are not going to get attention unless they do something like this."
Wisconsin's governor denied that.
"I meet with everybody," Thompson said. "They could have a group of their spokesmen come here and sit down and discuss their issues."
Still, many Republican convention attendees said they respect the protesters' right to create a ruckus.
Grace Trujillo-Daniel, 53, a Republican delegate from Sacramento, Calif., was born in Mexico and moved to the United States as a child.
"If you are in some other country and you protest, you might be killed," Trujillo-Daniel said. "Guess what? We love the fact that you can protest and you are not in threat of your life."
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