Pubdate: Fri, 21 Jul 2000
Source: MoJo Wire (US Web)
Copyright: 2000 Foundation for National Progress
Contact:  731 Market Street, Suite 600, San Francisco, CA 94103
Fax: (415) 665-6696
Author: David Rabin
Note: David Rabin is a freelance writer based in Washington, DC.
Cited: groups are listed at the end of this item.
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Political celebs are planning to descend on L.A. and Philly this summer to 
throw their own counter-conventions in an effort to draw attention to the 
issues both parties prefer to ignore.

Looking forward to watching the Democratic and Republican National 
Conventions this summer? Didn't think so. Some say it will be like watching 
a tennis game where both players will be on the same side of the net.

You will have an alternative, however, as long as you have access to the 
Internet, or possibly cable television, or can get yourself to Philadelphia 
July 30 through Aug. 3 or to Los Angeles Aug. 13 through Aug. 17. There, an 
eclectic collection of activists, with help from various celebrities and 
maverick politicians, will be running innovative "Shadow Conventions" near 
the two parties' traditional confabs.

Featured names include Sen. John McCain, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, and actor 
Warren Beatty. Also on the bill: regular folks personally affected by some 
of the nation's ills, from the growing gap between rich and poor to the 
excesses of the war on drugs. A major force behind the Shadows is former 
conservative vamp Arianna Huffington, with a hefty assist from billionaire 
George Soros' Open Society Institute, which has given $175,000 toward the 
projected $500,000 project.

The Shadows will offer "a way of having a voice," says Jim Wallis, convener 
of Call to Renewal, a coalition of faith-based organizations and a 
co-convener of the Shadows (other co-conveners include Common Cause and the 
National Campaign For Jobs and Income Support, among others). "We're having 
the town meetings the big conventions ought to be. [Theirs are] more 
coronations than conventions."

The Shadow Conventions will focus on three issues: campaign-finance reform, 
the war on drugs and the growing gap between rich and poor. A day will be 
given to each of these topics at both Shadow Conventions, with a kick-off 
rally on the preceding Sunday night, in coordination with "Rock the Vote" 
in Los Angeles. Panels of experts will hold sway from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. 
each "issue day," followed later in the afternoon by organizing workshops 
and discussions. In the evenings, Shadowers will watch the, er, 
conventional conventions on simulcasts, seasoned with political satire from 
the likes of Harry Shearer, Al Franken, and "Politically Incorrect" host 
Bill Maher.

Other parodies are planned as well, along with interactive opportunities 
like the "bozometer," which will enable online viewers to vote on 
Democratic or Republican Convention speakers. Most of the proceedings will 
be carried on the Shadow Conventions Web site. C-Span also may pick them up.

In the campaign finance reform arena, Ellen Miller, president of Shadow 
co-convener Public Campaign, says she'll be "raising the flag high for the 
most systemic reform -- a full public-financing, clean-money system." Such 
systems, she points out, have already been enacted in Maine, Arizona, 
Vermont, and Massachusetts, and two more states -- Missouri and Oregon -- 
will have proposals for them on their ballots in this election."

Miller sees action in the states building towards public financing on the 
federal level. Polls, she says, indicate that almost two-thirds of 
Americans want public financing as long as icandidates agree to spending 
limits and take no private money. "We have to break through the 
politicians' hold on this issue, and the only way to do that is to take it 
to the American public," says Miller.

Lindesmith Center Director Ethan Nadelmann will be setting the tone for the 
drug war discussion. Drug abuse can certainly cause enormous damage, and 
needs to be reduced, says Nadelmann, but "drug prohibition, like alcohol 
Prohibition decades ago, generates extraordinary harms as well. It, not 
drugs per se, is responsible for creating vast underground markets, 
criminalizing million of otherwise law-abiding citizens, and corrupting 
both governments and societies at large."

Nadelmann sees the Shadow Conventions as one way of putting drug policy 
reform on the map. He's intent on countering what he sees as the draconian 
war-on-drugs "spin" the main parties will undoubtedly provide at their 
conventions. Nadelmann will be aided by numerous individuals whose lives 
have been damaged by current drug laws. According to Nadelmann's Lindesmith 
Center, nearly 500,000 non-violent drug offenders are behind bars in the 
US, a number that has increased ten-fold in two decades.

Call to Renewal's Jim Wallis, along with Chuck Collins, co-director of 
United for a Fair Economy, will lead the discussion on the widening gap 
between rich and poor. "There's something wrong when we have a record 
economy and rising inequality at the same time. This rising tide is lifting 
all the yachts but not all the boats," says Wallis. "If we don't deal with 
this question in a time of prosperity, I'm not sure when we will."

Wallis says the big party candidates are so busy talking about "soccer 
moms" they've forgotten about what he calls "Burger King moms." He coined 
the term after observing a woman at his local BK: "She was racing back and 
forth between the drive-in window and a table in a corner where there were 
three kids sitting -- her kids. She was helping them with their homework."

The catalyst behind the Shadow Conventions is the controversial syndicated 
columnist Huffington. In recent years, since her days as an acolyte of Newt 
Gingrich and wife of Michael Huffington, the former Republican congressman 
who broke spending records in his failed attempt to win a US Senate seat in 
1994, Huffington has taken a sharp left turn. Exhibit A: "When Al Gore 
talks about 'leaving no children behind' at the Democratic Convention, 
he'll be doing it in a city [Los Angeles] where one in three children live 
in poverty," she intones. "We want acts, not rhetoric. "

Huffington's displeasure with the two-party system is not driving her into 
the arms of any third-party candidate. Ralph Nader is expected to address 
the Shadow Convention in Philadelphia, and Huffington says she likes him. 
But she's opting for "none of the above" when she enters the ballot booth 
in November.

The Shadow Conventions do have nay-sayers, of course. One is Democratic 
Congressman Barney Frank. He dislikes what he sees as the Shadow 
Conventions' "plague on both your [Democratic and Republican] houses." He 
thinks there are some significant differences between Al Gore and George 
Bush: "abortion, gay rights, gun regulation, affirmative action, and race," 
to name just a few. Frank says the Shadow Conventions do a disservice by 
ignoring these clear differences. He believes the dissenters should work 
for Gore's election in the short run while pushing to create better choices 
in the long run.

Comedian Al Franken, for one, says he will be pointing out those 
differences when he reenacts, along with Arianna Huffington, the "Strange 
Bedfellows" routine the two did for the cable channel Comedy Central during 
the 1996 conventions. "I'm actually going to take the pro-status quo side 
... we did it in '96, when I was the liberal and she was the conservative. 
Now she's way to my left ... I've stayed exactly where I was." What do you 



Shadow Conventions

Open Society Institute

Call to Renewal

Public Campaign

Lindesmith Center

United for a Fair Economy
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake