Monday, July 26, 2004
Setting The Scene
Report by Frank O'Brien

From the convention city....

At the first of our nation's 2004 ultimate trade shows, Democrats from Alaska to Beacon Hill converge in Boston today to kickoff the final fall rollout of their newest product: the Kerry / Edwards presidential ticket.

But despite the immediate electric atmosphere in well-appointed hotel lobbies - a mix of federal power, media celebrity and country carnival - in the post 9/11 world, anxiety over security and terrorist threat seem the prevailing mode.

The mythology and intrigue of conventions past - the legendary political bosses who could alter history and make a man's fortune with a flick of a cigar in a smoke-filled room - seem as relevant in Boston 2004 as telegraphs, cross-country railroad trains, daguerreotype photographs and straw boater hats.

On a cool, cloudy summer Sunday, final preparations for the 2004 Democratic convention are in place. Most conspicuous, the division of the city into two parts: the "hard zone" (using the term of Boston security planners) immediately surrounding the Fleet Center, and the "soft zone," outside the perimeter established by high fences, checkpoint gates and closed off streets.

Hologram identification cards, patrols of police, buzzing helicopters, all combine to create a sense of institutional obsession with security, a reaction immediately tempered by recognition of what the nation experienced on September 11.

Most significant is the strict limits on access to the convention center in the interest of antiterrorism. National electronic media with massive trailers packed with electronic gear are established within the "hard zone," positioned to beam the Democrats carefully focus-group calibrated message to the country at large.

Meanwhile, the loosely organized clusters of citizens expressing alternative views have been given a designated protest zone of 26,000 sq. ft offering only a fleeting view of delegates as they file from tour buses directly into the convention hall.

Local chapters of the Lawyers Guild and the ACLU have filed an appeal of US District Judge Douglas P. Woodlock's decision late last week upholding the constitutionality of the segregated free speech area. Issuing that ruling, Judge Woodlock stated "[o]ne cannot conceive of what other elements you would put in place to make a space more of an affront to the ideal of free expression than the designated demonstration zone."

The free speech zone is immediately alongside a large concrete and steel subway wall and is enclosed by mesh fencing. Groups involved have announced their intention to boycott the designated zone. As of Sunday there has been no ruling on the appeal.

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In its Sunday, July 25 recap of convention-related security news, The Boston Globe reported that "The biggest sighting of the day by far" was the arrival of a liquefied natural gas tanker into Boston Harbor on Saturday. The Globe described "a heavily fortified blue tanker" cruising through the channel less than a mile from the Fleet Center, while military helicopters patrolled overhead.

Boston Mayor Thomas M. Manino has repeatedly warned that the LNG tankers headed to the Distrigas terminal in nearby Everett, MA a threat to the city when they enter the harbor.


Brooklyn New York-based artist Sheryl Oring has created an alternative free speech zone. Setting up a small black manual typewriter under a shade tree on a busy sidewalk, Oring invites passersby to compose a postcard message to President George Bush.

In Central Square in Cambridge, MA, as pedestrians and traffic flow by, she listened carefully Sunday afternoon to a student sitting opposite, first aligning two postcards and carbon paper into the polished old-fashioned typewriter. Dressed in a conservative red business suit like an impassive court stenographer, Oring types along as the man expressed his views.

Oring has a visitor sign the stamped original, to be mailed to the White House, and then the copy, which she retains for her "archive of public opinion." This performance piece, entitled "I Wish to Say" began in San Francisco and has been presented in locations across the country. An August New York show is planned for the Republican National Convention.

In contrast to mass media deploying its significant technological resources in Boston, Oring, with her small black manual typewritter, postcards and carbon paper, provides any individual direct experience of personal and cooperative communication.

This free expression zone is at once physically small and imaginatively large. Oring's patient willingness to serve individual citizens as their correspondent in a hand-crafted message contrasts favorably with the one-way channel of electronic media channels.

A large American flag is displayed behind her as she works. After the student was finished an impetuous youngster pushed up to her table and asked "How much does this cost?" "It's free" Oring said, as his eyes widened in disbelief.

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Billionaires for Bush is a political action committee of corporate lobbyists, profligate heiresses, Halliburton executives, and other winners under George Bush's economic policies.

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- The California Delegation gathers
- President Clinton speaks.



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