A Arianna Huffington and Jesse Jackson For those who haven’t been scoring along at home, Arianna Huffington has switched teams. The syndicated colum nist \(Nancy Reagan with a sexy accent and fervid support of Newt Gingrich, Huffington is now a would-be left-winger, having come out to the nation in her most recent book, How to Overthrow the Government. She brought her latest project, the Shadow Convention, from its debut in Philadelphia to Los Angeles for a four-night engagement at Patriotic Hall. Two blocks and forty years from the Staples Center \(so new it has hosted only one Lakers conditioning building doubles as a dusty veterans museum and community center. The auditorium had been decked out like a convention hall, complete with state delegation signs inscribed with phrases like “Three jobs… No Access” and “Drug War Widow.” During the convention, the building also housed the Independent Media Center on its fourth floor, where activists broadcast their own alternative coverage of the convention and the protests. The Korean Veterans of the Korean War who showed up for a Sunday afternoon program never knew what hit them. With Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” blasting, Arianna kicked things off to a packed house Sunday night, promising an antidote to the “focus-group-tested fantasy” about to be played out down the street. “We’ll use the Shadow Convention here to translate the motley voices of the protestors,” she said. Whether she spoke for the kids or not, the message was very focused, hitting three themes on successive days: the failed war on drugs, campaign finance reform, and the growing gap between rich and poor in America all themes certain to be given short shrift at the Staples Center. The list of guests was the first speaker probably a poor choice given his wooden, professorial delivery. But he clearly relished the opportunity to be let his unreconstructed liberal flag fly before a receptive crowd. “Why do the parties seem so alike? Have all the great battles been won? All the big issues settled? Where are the prophets, the warriors for justice?” he asked. “I’ll tell you this: they’re not a few blocks away attending the cocktail parties!” On Sunday, Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin delivered a blistering attack on his own party for turning the convention into an extended, four-day fundraiser. By all accounts, Feingold said, the nightly parties, golf outings, and exclusive dinners held in L.A. were expected to set a new record for convention fundraising. “These conventions … may well be the worst display of fund-raising and corruption in the political history of our nation,” he said. “This is not a system of one person, one vote…it is a system of legalized bribery and extortion.” The speech he gave at the convention paled in comparison. Jesse Jackson and Maxine Waters, joined by guest stars Susan Sarandon and husband Tim Robbins, keynoted Tuesday’s presentation on the drug war. TV talk show host Bill Maher stole the show Tuesday night, with his signature brand of earnest cynicism \(“One of our candidates had an inappropriate relationship with Bolivia for saved his best for the Shadow Convention: “We must destroy this system, because it is destroying our children,” he said of the drug war at Patriotic Hall. As things heated up between cops and protestors on the streets outside, the Shadow Convention got dragged into the drama as well. Claiming to be respond ing to a phoned-in bomb threat from six hours earlier the cops emptied out Patriotic Hall just as Nation columnist Christopher Hitchens and company were about to begin their real-time, “rapid response” to Bill Clinton’s big Tuesday night farewell speech, which the IndyMedia center was set to broadcast live via satellite. A remarkably unflappable Huffington, along with Hitchens and the rest of the panel, clambered atop a van and began holding court in the street, despite the cops’ orders to desist \(the road, like many around the Staples Center, was already after Clinton’s speeth concluded, the cops ordered everyone back inside the building bomb threat or not. N.B. the Students Against Sweatshops movement, made the most of her opportunity to address the delegates. “First let me say I am not a Democrat, nor do I support the Democratic Party,” she began in a soft, nervous voice. The room went silent. As Barney Frank studied his fingernails and Dr. Robert Cox of the Sierra Club quietly glowered, she then methodically plowed through a litany of offenses abetted by the Democratic administration, from the ongoing drug war, to clearcutting in national forests, to the undercutting of campaign finance reform, to the widening gap between rich and poor. “I hope some progressive delegates can see that the changes needed can’t come from within the Democratic Party.” There it was, in a nutshell: the message that over ten million dollars in fences, security checkpoints, and police overtime pay had been spent to keep the delegates from hearing. The world did not end. “Very little that she said do I disagree with,” Jesse Jackson, Jr. SEPTEMBER 8, 2000 told the group. “I do long for the day when we are on the inside, and most of corporate America is on the outside.” Few inside Congress are closer to the grassroots protest movement in America than Jackson, whose Capitol Hill staff is known for its comprehensive list of activist contacts and its willingness to use them. As he had said very eloquently the night before, in a panel hosted by The Nation, Jackson made the case for working within the party, arguing that much could be accomplished by organizing progressive Democrats, and that getting behind Ralph Nader’s Green Party candidacy would only lead to victory for the Republicans. He cited the death of fast-track trade negotiating authority \(a major defeat for Clinton and the New passed the House last spring. Jackson was joined by each panel member in affirming, in a general way, the goals and strategies of the protestors. However, Cox’s Sierra Club has pointedly declined to THE TEXAS OBSERVER 11
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