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CONVENTION 2000 / THE DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION

Shadow: The '60s Alternative

The other convention in town takes an activist approach to its issues. A major focus is bringing the have-nots closer to the haves.

August 15, 2000|ANNE-MARIE O'CONNOR | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The last time America reached this level of prosperity and political street protest was the '60s.

That combination of social forces helped set the stage Monday for the Shadow Convention, which took on the appearance of a '60s revival meeting, including a surprise standoff with riot police and street theater by author Gore Vidal.

As Angelenos streamed in wearing jeans, caftans and Indian-print skirts, the dusty neo-Mediterranean marble corridors of Patriotic Hall hummed with the purposeful festivity of a '60s coffeehouse, the intensely engaged sociability of a sit-in and the anticipation of a pre-rally meeting.

The veterans center was transformed into a center for another breed of self-professed patriots, and cases of military medals shared wall space with signs demanding "Ban soft money now!"

Local power politico Jodie Evans, the former campaign manager for Jerry Brown for President '92, promised that "the whole building will be a happening."

And speaker after speaker called for the American political landscape to be reshaped, again, so that the growing divide between ordinary people and the economically powerful does not threaten democracy.

Audiences exploded into applause at the mention of names shrouded in the mystique of the civil rights era, such as Selma, Ala., or by invocations of leaders of social justice movements, such as Nelson Mandela. Politicians such as Antonio Villaraigosa and Jesse Jackson Jr. called on their own party to return to the days when the Democrats represented the common man.

What people are hungering for, several attendees said, is some tangible connection with the political parties, which seem increasingly distant and impersonal.

The mutinous mood was mirrored back at attendees by the biggest collection of political slogans this side of UC Berkeley's Sproul Plaza. "We can only vote every four years. Money votes every day," read one sign.

The protest signs intermingled with floor after floor of military paraphernalia: Mannequins dressed in Revolutionary War get-ups, complete with fife and drum, were mingled with bright red signs demanding that Americans "Wake up! To the budget deficit."

State assemblyman and Los Angeles mayoral hopeful Villaraigosa said: "We need to say if people don't have health care, that's immoral. We've got to create an America where the American dream is for all of us--not some of us."

Attendees touted appearances by Warren Beatty and other celebrities, but few seemed to be awaiting them.

Dan Johnson-Weinberger, 25, said he was more excited about seeing former presidential hopeful Gary Hart and Green Party candidate for California senator Medea Benjamin.

Then, shortly after 8:30, dozens of police officers in full riot gear cleared the auditorium to follow up on what turned out to be an erroneous report of looting at the site.

The officers cordoned off Figueroa and found themselves staring into the faces of Vidal, noted journalist Christopher Hitchens and Shadow Convention co-founder Arianna Huffington.

As a police siren wailed, Vidal leaped onto a nearby satellite truck and told the crowd: "Offend them in no way at all and save your lives. I'll do my best to report from the front. It reminds me of Chicago in 1968."

Finally, even author Huffington manned the barricades. "I think we sent a clear message that we will not be silenced. And if they take us out of Patriotic Hall, we will take to the streets," she said.

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