BOSTON -- The Sunday morning sun fought to break through the thick clouds over Beantown as I ran through the haphazard streets, laid out before either the automobile or city planning became a part of the American lexicon. I was searching for the Old West Church -- founded in 1737 and now home to a Methodist congregation -- for what was being described as the spiritual kick-off for the Democratic National Convention.
What with all of Kerry's recent eluviations about his "conservative values" and his personal relationship with God, I had a hunch that this gathering might be an exercise in hubris so crass that it would be worth any amount of sacrifice on my part to witness it first hand. In fact, I left D.C. at 2 a.m. in order to make it to the church by 11.
As I turned the corner of the street the church sits on, I saw more than 100 people gathered in Kerry T-shirts outside the building and worried that I might not even make it in for the sermon.
I shouldn't have been concerned. The Kerry brigades were gathered to watch some folk rock guy do a sound check on a nearby stage and had been corralled onto the church lawn by police attempting to set up metal barricades along the street. Inside the church were exactly five -- that's right, five -- Democratic delegates immersed in Sunday worship. Reports of the Party's turning over a new God-fearing leaf, I realized, have been greatly exaggerated.
SO I DECIDED TO spend the rest of the day looking for Democratic convention totems. I hailed a cab and asked its dreadlocked Jamaican pilot to take me to where the action was, and without a word he drove me to a small patch of green in the concrete jungle by Emerson College.
A group of several dozen college kids were marching back and forth across the common, holding up signs that read "Don't Let Cheney Cancel the Election." In this artist's rendering, the veep had horns and blood-dripping fangs.
Across the street, in a small auditorium, I found my first liberal worship service of the day. Around 50 people -- ten times as many as were in the church -- had gathered for a panel discussion: "Why Are Minorities With Similar Visions in Separate Communities?" -- quite possibly the most confusing conversation I have ever been privy to.
The first speaker, a self-proclaimed black activist, started her segment by forcefully saying she didn't see any problem with the "black community" being separated on the basis of their origin country, only to intone moments later that the only way they were going to be able to end race exploitation was for everyone "to come together."
The next speaker began by pointing out that as an Asian she had never felt comfortable in the black or white communities. A collective sigh of understanding wafted from the crowd. Like a devout congregation watching one of their own speaking in tongues, the audience reveled in the speaker's discomfort with her background. Once her victimization had been firmly established, she moved on to the things she felt she had in common with the other panelists, namely "struggle," "suffering," and "despair."
"We share that our peoples don't show up in history books, and can't read about ourselves," she shouted to applause. "We minorities share a larger vision of the world. It's not all about America for us."
As I made my way to the exit, I was handed a polling report labeled, "Blacks, Hispanics Resist Republican Appeals; But Conservative White Christians Are Stronger Supporters." I wondered briefly how anyone who had any grasp of the political landscape would see this as news: You mean born-again Christians aren't voting for abortion-loving gay marriage advocates? Somebody check those numbers! That simply can't be right.
AFTER THE MINORITY pity party, I walked the town looking for more liberal worship services. In the waning hours of the day, I struck pay dirt with an invitation to a party called "Stand Up for Choice!" being thrown by Planned Parenthood and hosted by none other than Gloria Feldt.
It was held at the swank waterfront offices of the law firm that represents the organization in Massachusetts litigation, and had security rivaled only by the actual convention site itself. My bag was searched no less than three times by the police.
Once inside the party had morphed into "Stand Up for John Kerry." But that didn't matter to the parishioners of the Church of Choice. Five hundred people packed themselves into the 13th floor overlooking the harbor. They were mostly young, attractive women, although I did see a few sensitive-looking men in the crowd. Somebody gave me a button that read, "Choice on Earth."
Somehow, these abortion fanatics got it in their head that they should tie the theme of the convention -- "Stronger at Home, Respected Abroad" -- into their party, and so we had to listen to the most ludicrous explanations of how abortion rights were a part of helping the U.S. win the War on Terror.
House member Louise Slaughter (a name that Evelyn Waugh in all his glory couldn't have invented) told the crowd that in 2004, "Vote as if your life depends on it. Because it does." She told the crowd that if Bush was reelected, he had a plan to take Medicare and Social Security away from communities that support abortion, and that if stem cell research was not allowed to go forward America would become a "scientific backwater."
Pretty grim stuff, but the crowd was in ecstasy, cheering raucously as Slaughter implored the young idealists not to let conservatives fool them: The "religious community," she warned, was behind abortion with "great force."
JOHN KERRY'S SISTER Peggy was similarly shrill. She called 2004 "the most important election of all of our lives" and pledged that if elected, her brother would refund the United Nations population fund for all the cash it lost out on under George W., and appoint only pro-choice judges to both the Supreme Court and lower district courts.
That's not a litmus test. It's just common sense.
I tried to stick it out through Gloria Feldt's speech. I really did. But the first five minutes of it was a rambling story about some swimmer whose name she couldn't remember accidentally flashing a crowd at some competition. Someone had apparently quipped, "It's no big thing."
"Well, 2004 is a really, really, really big thing!" Feldt shouted, and the crowd went nuts. They were responding to her as if she were some cult leader or a motivational speaker. I walked through the door, dropping my "Choice on Earth" button in the trash can on the way out.
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