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Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Convention Volunteering, Day 3

As with the last two nights, this will be a long chronological story of my day in Boston. I'll update as I write portions through the night.

When I left the convention area last evening, I was somewhat dismayed by the lack of volunteer work I was encountering. Today I had better luck, as I walked in to the Hynes Convention Center volunteer headquarters a little after 9 and almost immediately was sent on my way to Copley Place. There I spent over an hour putting Boston guides into more goodie bags for members of the press who didn't get them at the media party on Saturday. After I and others opened boxes and filled hundreds of these bags, I got to take some over to the Sheraton hotel, adjacent to the Hynes Convention Center, arriving shortly past 11. I stuck around the Sheraton after dropping off the bags at the hospitality desk, and I found myself right in the middle of a bunch of caucus meetings. I made many celebrity sightings during the midday there.

Before I get to that, though, more on the media bags for a minute. The Kerry campaign has an office space that they're using for storage up at 4 Copley Place, in the posh office space above the Copley Mall (Bain & Company and Morgan Stanley are up there, among others). For no reason at all, I and other volunteers had to have our photo IDs checked before entering the upper level, since no terrorist could ever get a photo ID, as everyone knows. Then we got to the office, and I was surprised at how trashy it was inside. Garbage lined the halls, and they had filled a bunch of rooms with big cardboard boxes containing tons of New Balance bags with the Boston 2004 logo. The bags already were filled with the lame goodies dissed in the Globe Friday. One room had the floor covered with contents of the bags that had been poured out; you literally could have body surfed on packs of Craisins, containers of Dunkin' Donuts coffee, Gillette Mach-3 Turbos, pocket city maps, and Kraft macaroni and cheese with pasta in donkey shapes. (That trashed room would've been revealed to people on an escalator below in the mall if the shades by the window had been opened--I'm sure the Copley office manager would be pleased.)

One of the guys helping to fill the bags was complaining about the convention being a "coronation" and I wondered why he was volunteering if he was so angry. While our only mildly incompetent blue shirts (who are higher-up volunteers, as opposed to me, a lowly white shirt, with reds being team captains) wasted lots of time figuring out how many bags we needed to take where, I got in a good bit of freeloading... I ate some craisins (dried out cranberries with flavoring) and a molasses cookie from a local bakery that was supplying goodies too. I even found a diet coke in the office to wash it down. I grabbed a box of the limited edition mac and cheese to take home, and I thought that if I had had a bag, I could have taken several boxes and sold them on eBay. One of my fellow volunteers--obviously a liberal commie who doesn't grasp the importance of the free enterprise system--suggested instead that the leftovers be donated to the homeless.

While waiting on the blue shirts, I met a security guard in the hall outside the office door who said she had to stand there for 14 hours today after 16 hours yesterday. She said her legs hurt. Don Rumsfeld then issued a press release saying he felt no sympathy for people who are required to stand for many hours on end.

Finally we went to the Sheraton, where the entrance through the Prudential Center Mall was blocked off by security. This was annoying because I was loaded down with bags at the time and we still had to walk around to the street entrance. We went inside and up an escalator to a mezzanine level that was filled with delegates and reporters. After dropping the bags off, I ducked into a big conference room that I found out was hosting the Latino Caucus meeting.

Terry McAuliffe was speaking very enthusiastically, pointing out Latinos who had done good things for the party, singling out Bill Richardson, for one, for the efficiency of the proceedings the first two days of the week. McAuliffe added that those assembled should "tackle" people on the street, get them registered to vote and get them to the polls for John Kerry. A big ovation went up near the end of McAuliffe's energetic appeal, as Hillary Clinton came into the room. The room seated several hundred people and I was in the back, but I still had a decent view of things. Hillary was next up at the podium, offering remarks of less note than her mere presence. She was followed by Teresa Heinz Kerry, who made some interesting points. She had a puzzling digression into national income accounting, complaining that other countries count women's work around the home toward the GDP, whereas that is not the case in the US. She claimed that counting housework in the economic stats gives women more dignity and pride in their role, but I highly doubt many people at all are aware of how these statistics are gathered or care. She recovered, though, in my estimation, by making a particular pitch for the Cuban vote based upon her understanding of what it's like to live under dictatorship. She got a good reception when she discussed her personal experience as an immigrant too.

When the Latino Caucus broke up, I went back out into the open mezzanine area. I can now partly rescind my call yesterday for a central political buttons emporium because vendors had set up many tables that contained every (Democratic) button imaginable. I'm not kidding: Garage Sale Moms for Kerry (?), Mine Workers for Kerry, many unions whose letters I didn't recognize for Kerry, etc. There were myriad variations on "John Kerry and [insert name of state's candidate], the Right Team," with pictures of Kerry and the state's senate or governor contender side by side. One area had the anti-Bush selection, my favorite of which featured the Enron logo. I didn't get anything since they were selling the buttons, not giving them away, and I still think something like this would do well at Quincy Market or near the FleetCenter for those many people who aren't loitering around the few main delegate hotels this week.

I crossed the hall to an even bigger conference room that was hosting the African-American Caucus. Teresa was now addressing this audience, and she had different remarks specific to the caucus concerns. The bit I caught was about how investment in early childhood education is something that economists of all stripes endorse, and she linked this to Head Start. Having seen Teresa already, though, I headed back to the other room where the Latinos were leaving and the GLBT Caucus was coming in. When I reentered, a Kerry-Edwards rainbow logo had appeared splashed across the big screen up front, and the loud speakers were playing '80s synthesizer pop dance hits with female vocals, such as "Tell It to My Heart"--gay enough for you? It was really a conscious effort to get the room looking and feeling as gay as possible before the program started up. I had a cup of excellent coffee from the dispenser in the back of the room, and I was handed a DVD that appeared to be about same-sex PDA in the Middle East--the cover was of two men kissing on the street in Tel Aviv.

The caucus program started with a listing of GLBT elected officials attending. The biggest ovation went to Rep. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, a convention vice-chair, and Ben Affleck suddenly appeared and waved hello but didn't say anything. The first speaker was Rob Reiner, who flogged Bush for reading "My Pet Goat" on 9/11. The gays weren't really into the terrorism stuff, cheering Reiner loudest when he mentioned holding a party for San Fran Mayor Gavin Newsom. Bill Richardson stopped by to give a brief speech too--did you know New Mexico is the only state with a hate-crimes law that extends to transgendered people?--and by the time Teresa Heinz Kerry was on her way in to talk to the GLBTs, it was nearly 1:00. It's amazing how after one viewing, the excitement of seeing someone famous diminishes a lot, so I went to get lunch at the Prudential Center food court, after which I returned to the on-call lounge in the Hynes.

After reading the Herald, I lucked into a job carrying a bag of additional supplies to the hospitality desk at the Boston Park Plaza. Volunteers were going to all of the hotels through the city with more maps and guides for the hospitality desks, many of which were running out, and I knew I wanted the Park Plaza so that I could have an excuse to check out where John Edwards was staying. I had seen the Park Plaza on Sunday, and there was clearly more security there today. The one prominent thing on the outside was a tent that was built out from the hotel front into the street, blocking two lanes of traffic. There were guards around the tent, and when I approached I could see a massive SUV beneath, presumably the vehicle that would be carrying the VP hopeful to the Fleet Center tonight. Why the Secret Service thought the SUV needed to stay there, rather than in a garage somewhere I'm not sure. Inside the hotel, where the NY delegation is also staying, there are a bunch of flat screen TVs around the lobby tuned to every cable news channel. I went into the basement to use the bathroom, and I noticed that a restaurant down there had been turned into a space where the national press could file their stories. I lacked the credential to enter, but I did see the rows of tables with computers.

My required shift now an hour past over, I went for a walk across the Boston Common, looking for the protesters who have been congregating there. I encountered a Falun Gong demonstration that graphically depicted the torture that some members allegedly are suffering in China. They had life-size plastic figures attached to torture devices and locked in cages, with real people dressed as prison guards standing over the dummies. It was quite life-like, with blood on the dummies and everything, and a good number of people were looking at the torture exhibits, museum-style, while reading the written descriptions. "This Is Happening in China Right Now" was on signs as well. A girl convinced me to sign one petition to free a dissident, though I declined to ask President Bush to bring Jiang Zemin to justice since that doesn't seem like the wisest policy course at this point in time. A bunch of Falun Gong folks were meditating there too. Smaller collections of Falun Gong have been other places around the city this week.

Up by the State House, there were tons of state police standing around, looking foreboding. The State House is totally shut down this week, and I don't know why it had to be protected so heavily. Perhaps they had some indication it could be a target? Over at Quincy Market, David Broder was sitting at the Hardball set, looking like he was waiting to go on MSNBC. I then walked toward the Fleet Center, stopping first at the free-speech zone, which was filled with far more press than I had seen there all week.

I figured out that the fuss was over some protesters who were lying on the ground, their hands bound and hoods over their heads, a la Abu Ghraib. They were right in the main entrance to the FSZ along Canal Street, so it was hard to get by, especially with all of the photographers hovering. As I walked through, one of the hooded guys said to me, "Look at the soldiers above us!" referring to the military police on the elevated platform overhead.

Outside the FSZ there was a guy dressed as Uncle Sam with a picture of Bill Clinton as Pinnochio--a little outdated, but still getting some media notice. Along Causeway Street I also saw that the girls dressed as cheerleaders for "Electoral College" were getting some much deserved attention from reporters after being around the last few days. Eventually I got back to the place where I had spent a lot of time directing people along the security fence the last two days. At this point, the celebrity sightings got a little out of hand. Gideon Yago of MTV walked by talking on a cell phone. Dennis Kucinich came through the security fence--ho hum, saw him yesterday, I thought. Then Ed Gillespie came out the same way, again ho hum, saw him yesterday. The volunteers I had been with in previous days told me they had seen Triumph the Insult Comic Dog earlier. Shortly thereafter, I heard Triumph was being filmed over at the FSZ, so I headed that way. ("Your protest is really good--for me to poop on!")

Sure enough, a woman had the dog puppet on her hand and a cameraman was filming it near the fence. I asked her where the guy was who did the voice and made the insults, and why they were filming without him. She responded that they were making a movie and thus needed tons of video footage to use. I heard from others that the comedian would be returning tonight some time. Another story I heard was that Monday night, Triumph was thrown out of the Fleet Center and had his press credentials revoked for the duration of the convention, so I guess they're reduced to doing stuff outside the security fence. Nothing comes up about this on Google News, though there is a very brief note of this in today's Globe along the margin of a page in the convention section. I came back through the FSZ once more a short time afterward, and Triumph was up on stage with the microphone.

The one other thing I wondered about in advance of tonight was the umbrella issue. It was cloudy and overcast here all day, threatening rain, and many people were carrying umbrellas, but as was reported earlier in the week, umbrellas get confiscated if you try to take them through the security around the Fleet Center. I bet many delegates weren't aware of this and tried to bring umbrellas tonight, only to have them taken. How pissed will they be if it's pouring when they get out of the arena at 11:00?

The lead story in today's special convention section in the Globe discusses how ugly the streets are around the Fleet. This isn't exactly the way we want to show off the city.