Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Other, Corporate Side Of The DNC

I am sitting Denver out on the sidelines this year, but I do know what a convention looks like, at least in Boston. The speeches, the freebies, the networking and especially the parties. Now the Democratic Party is my party, but it still needs some work and reducing the corporate influence is especially important. At the moment though, big business has tremendous influence and it is on display if you look for it. I remember going to a couple of bashes in Boston where it had to of costs in upwards of half a million to produce the venue, band, amazing food and all that free alcohol.

My roommate and I (he was a delegate in 04') were getting back from the Fleet Center that Monday night and were looking for something to do. We ran into one of the state party brass at the hotel and he couldn't go to the premiere event because his daughter was feeling ill, so he gave us his tickets to the Democratic Governor's Association Ball. At this time I was more awed by tickets, getting into the cool parties and I was all about the free food and booze.

We got there around midnight and the place was breathtaking, the band was amazing, the view of the harbor spectacular and there were at least a dozen tables filled with shrimp, crab legs and lobster. In addition to the regular open bars, there were attendants that poured cosmos and martinis through ice blocks to give the drink that perfect chill. So with food and drink in hand, we set out to mingle in the crowd, but that was where it all fell apart.

First I looked up and noticed the huge banners on the walls, adorned with the logos of the corporate sponsors who ponied up for the event. The sight of them gave me a funny feeling in my stomach, and I knew that it wasn't a good sign. However, I figured what the hell, those bastards aren't going to influence me and in the meantime I'm going to have a good time at their expense.

Then came the mingling part. People were friendly at first for the most part, but when the "what do you do" question came up, most conversations died quickly. I ran into investment bankers, Wall Street execs, Hill staffers and some party elites and when I introduced myself as a grassroots organizer (working in AZ at the time) they lost all interest in me. Clearly, this was a place for the moneyed to connect with those that had political influence.

After repeating this pattern a few times, I started wandering the tables and just listened to the band play. It was definitely a wake up call that there was some serious problems in our party. Unfortunately they still exist, despite the fact that we fight so hard against it. Amy Goodman did a piece yesterday that highlights the corporate influence when she tried attending one of these parties Sunday night. Here is a portion of her conversation with Glenn Greenwald and others outside the Blue Dog party sponsored by AT&T. Clearly, the organizers of the event did not want the press, and certainly not people like Amy Goodman anywhere near the people who attended this event.

From Democracy Now:

AMY GOODMAN: These were big guys, and they weren’t kidding around. It was interesting. The lobbyists were a little more willing to speak than the actual delegates who were being rushed in there. A lot of limousines were coming in.

GLENN GREENWALD: Absolutely. I mean, I found the symbolism of the event very revealing. First of all, as you say, there was a very intended-to-be-intimidating wall of private security surrounding the event, and they were actually infinitely more aggressive and angrier than the Denver police were. And in fact, I was there with Jane Hamsher, the blogger from FireDogLake, who at one point was trying to speak with one of the individuals entering the party, and she was physically pushed by one of the private security members, notwithstanding the fact that the Denver police had been there the entire time, navigating and negotiating where it was that we could stand.

The other aspect of it was, was that what the police had been clearly trained to do is create this fa├žade of being accommodating and cooperative and pleasant, but what it really does is it masks the fact that their strategy is to ensure that any sort of dissident voices, or people off script, are relegated to places where they can’t really be heard.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s very hard to figure out in these situations. You know, you have a sidewalk, which is owned by the private venue, and where the public can use the public sidewalk, they’re showing you the cracks, the crevices in the sidewalk, and they’re saying that’s theirs, this is yours.

So as you can see from this brief excerpt and even more so from the entire exchange, there is an influence on Democratic politics that isn't 100% kosher and needs to be remedied. The combination of money and politics is nothing new in America, but that does not mean that it has to stay this way. That is why we must elect more and especially better Democrats to make sure that the people at large take precedence over those that can write large corporate checks.