Rocking the Vote in Boston

Santa Fe Reporter | July 27, 2004
You can almost forget the goings-on inside Boston’s Fleet Center, a too-small sports arena that can seat just over half the 35,000 participants this week. The program of speeches is firing up the delegates, but offers few surprises.

Inside the arena there’s confusion, with few directional signs, mixed signals from staff and considerable confusion. Considering the row of 20 outhouses servicing the reporters’ tent in the parking lot, it is surprising media coverage of the event isn’t less enthusiastic.

Draconian post-9/11 security is doing its best to crimp the show too. On Monday morning, State Rep. Danice Picraux, a delegate to the convention from Albuquerque, shook her head as guards blocked access up a hotel stairway to the New Mexico delegation’s office. Like so many in Boston this week, she shook her head: “It doesn’t really make us safer. It feels like it’s just supposed to scare us.”

Down the street, another woman, stopped by a bouncer at another hotel doorway, practically growled: “This pin means member of Congress.”

But there are remarkably few outbursts, even when they might be deserved.

Consider Rock the Vote, a big party that kicked off the convention Sunday night at a nightclub across the street from Fenway Park. The event was part of the nonstop series of small parties that make up the week-long party.

At around 9:30 when we climbed out of our cab, the line into the club snaked down and around the block. Twice, fly balls landed in the street, echoing the excitement.

Cutting to the front of the line, we talked our way in, making the cut just after a group of a college political frat. Inside, a Cingular wireless desk gave out free calls anywhere in the US Too bad the signal didn’t work. Barely a hundred paces from a shi-shi bar where models sold $9 martinis, Ben and Jerry’s gave out free ice cream samples.

10:00. The crowd was in a frenzy. DemocraticGAIN, a party group that trains activists, took the bi-partisan Rock the Vote a step further by giving tickets to college students who went through a day-long training program.

10:15. Howard Dean made a surprise appearance. He denied the crowd a crazed celebratory howl a la New Hampshire. But dressed in his trademark slacks, white shirt, and red tie, he forcefully repeated his message: This is all about you. Young people need to vote, of course. They need to get out and volunteer, and run for political office.

11:00 Jerry Springer is rallying the troops, echoing his grand marshal role at Mardi Gras. Natalie Portman, Jerry Springer, and Al Sharpton all appeared, separated by a rap or hip hop interlude.

By 12 the place was packed with a couple thousand cheering would-be voters waiting for a promised appearance by Bill Clinton and his saxophone. Whenever the music lulled, a chant broke out: “We Want Bill! We Want Bill!” For hours, workers rearranged the stage with more mikes and cables. Then they rearranged it more.

1:40. We’re told to wait because we’re in for a surprise. About 15 minutes later the stage filled and the crowd went wild. Out came Lauren Hill for a one-song set. “Thank God we can make a change,” she sang over and over, angrier than most Democrats, and probably more anti-Bush than pro-Kerry.

At 2, everyone’s feet sore and voice hoarse from a night of cheering, the lights went up to a chorus of boos. Still no announcement and no one from the party had the courage to explain. Finally, a sandy-blonde haired man in a blue suit went to the mike, stared out at a crowd that looked about to pelt him with old fruit, and thought again. “Due to a scheduling conflict,” he finally said, “Mr. Clinton won’t be able to make it.”

Everyone knows that Clinton’s schedulers overbooked him, reportedly with an impossible 28 events in a two-day period. But after the big get-out-the-vote message, the no-show was a huge slap. The explanation the club manager later gave me: “Sometimes you get one and sometimes you don’t.”

The crowd turned to heavy boos and grumbled as they filed out into the dark streets. “And they wonder why more young people don’t vote,” a 22- year-old was overheard saying. Oh well, just another party.

Santa Fe Reporter

When it was founded in 1974, the Santa Fe Reporter's mission was to create lively competition for a stodgy and timid daily press. That tradition continues today. The Reporter investigates beneath the surface, presenting in-depth stories often overlooked or uninvestigated...
More »
Contact for Reprint Rights
  • Market Served: Metropolitan Area
  • Address: 132 E. Marcy St., Santa Fe, NM 87501
  • Phone: (505) 988-5541