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CONVENTION 2000 / THE DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION

Defining Moments

While the Candidate Addressed the Nation

August 18, 2000

Thursday was the night Al Gore had been waiting for, his chance to accept the nomination and tell the nation what he thinks is important for America in the next four years. Outside Staples Center, many at that moment were not tuned in but already knew what was important to them.

* Jerry Williams, 31, is in his usual state and place, homeless on Winston Street in downtown L.A. It's pretty safe, he says. Not much traffic after 5. Gore's speaking right now, he is told. He's telling people what's important. That gets Williams talking. "What's important to me is I'm hungry. Gore's got to raise the minimum wage so I can get a job that'll feed my belly and put a roof over my head."

* Violeta Veliz, bathing her daughters, 5 and 2, in her two-room Hollywood apartment, talks of spending so much time on the younger one's health problems. Social Security helps a lot. But when asked what is most important, Veliz doesn't talk about health care. She doesn't hesitate and is intense: "The first thing is education for the kids. To have better education, more teachers and more schools. This is the first thing for me."

* David Jones looks 15 years younger than his 58 years. He's a yoga instructor in a small room in Diamond Bar. To keep his students loose and limber, he boosts the temperature to 100 degrees, probably the only room in Southern California being heated. There is no discussion of conventions or politics. There is only calm. And there is no doubt, he says, about what is most important: "Having an inner feeling of peace."

* The TV is on in the American Legion Post 804 bar in East L.A., where Ralph Calderon, 61, first vice commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4696, is downing a beer and listening to Gore. But not too closely. He prefers chatting about his Army tour in Lebanon, his years as an L.A. County sheriff's deputy, his buddies in the corner laughing and paying no attention to the speech. So what's most important to him? Calderon stiffens and begins a recitation: "Veterans of Foreign Wars are nonpolitical. However, we do encourage all our members to participate in the political process, this having been fought for in order to provide us the freedom we all enjoy." No more questions.

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