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Inside the Democratic National Convention

BOSTON - Thirty thousand extra people are in Boston today, and they are all
lost. So am I, despite decades of having lived in Cambridge just across the

Cosseted in my laptop case is a letter from the 2004 Democratic National
Convention Committee awarding me press credentials. Present the letter,
identification (with photo), and proof of affiliation with the newspaper I
was representing at the FleetCenter, the letter read, and I would receive
the documents I needed.

Ha! The press credential office is A) Something of which the many police
officers stationed at every corner had never heard; B) Not where my
official letter said it would be; and C) Reproducing itself at a terrifying

I finally found a press credential office on North Washington Street, a
stone's throw from Haymarket subway station where I had arrived an hour
ago, after having found that the promised shuttle between the Charles Hotel
and the FleetCenter would not begin running until tomorrow, and determining
that there was little chance of cadging a ride with Bill and Hillary even
though they were staying at the hotel.

This press office, however, only had press credentials for today, July 25,
when, the young man in charge assured me, nothing was happening anyway. His
assistant directed me to Haymarket station where I could take a trolley to
Copley Square and go to the Westin Hotel where the "real" press credentials
were being distributed.

I had noticed when I came into town Friday night that the city was
immaculate - even the floors in the subway stations had been polished. The
T (the Boston area's public transportation system), however, had not made
much progress on keeping its escalators running. As usual, only about half
of them worked. When there was a choice, it was the down escalator.

Arriving on the third floor of the Westin Hotel, I was directed from door
to door until I finally found someone willing to look at my prized letter.
She was very friendly, took my letter, handed me an envelope with a 4" x 9"
press pass in it, told me to come back on July 27 for a new one, and said


Where was that cool thing I was supposed to wear around my neck with a
triple reinforced plastic holder to protect my hard earned press pass from
rain, snow, sleet, theft and random graffiti artists? Everyone else with a
camera larger than a credit card had one. But apparently I was to get
neither a cool press pass strap nor a schedule of events.

I went in search of the latter. Up one more escalator (this is a five-star
hotel, not the T, remember) only to be greeted by a very sturdy man in a
dark suit, wearing a wireless ear piece and undoubtedly heavily armed.

He didn't have a schedule, and he was sure that I wasn't going any further
up in search of one. So I went down, found someone who did have a schedule,
and when she offered me a "2004 Convention, No Taxation Without
Representation" paper bag with a handle and a free T-shirt, my damaged
self-esteem was somewhat repaired.

The DNCC has come through with not only a lovely blue strap and clear
plastic media pass holder, but also a large, appropriately garish media
tote bag. Inside the bag are many other gifts:

An Official Used Car Guide, shrink-wrapped;

A Gillette Mach 3 Turbo Razor ("total comfort even against the grain");

A glossy magazine titled "Democratic National Convention" with many
pictures of Kerry and Edwards, lest I forget what I'm doing here;

A map of the T (with no mention of the escalator problem);

A 2-oz. package of Dunkin' Donuts ground coffee;

A pamphlet titled "On the Campaign Trail with John F. Kennedy: A Delegate's
Guide to his Wit and Wisdom";

One 5.5-oz. Kraft Macaroni & Cheese Dinner with a donkey on the front -
it's the "Limited Convention Edition";

A pamphlet titled "2004 Democratic National Convention Media Guide" full of
"fun facts," and a two-page description of Boston politics, which I can't
wait to read;

A gold pin commemorating the 2004 DNC and AT&T, whose logo figures
prominently in the middle of said pin; and finally

A small package of Ocean Spray orange flavor Craisins.

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Oops, I forgot "The Good City", vaguely-famous writers' descriptions of
Boston. It was hidden under the Gillette Turbo razor.

I wonder what CNN reporters got in their media tote bags.


Arriving at the Sheraton, I found the Native American meeting, which I had
seen listed on the Convention Web site. It had morphed into an "American
Indian meeting" on the guide's schedule, and then into the "Native American
Caucus" on the banner inside the meeting room, which was packed. Frank
LaMere from the Winnebago Tribe in Nebraska announced - to rousing cheers -
that this is the year Native Americans will take their rightful place in
the American political process. Arizona Governor Napolitano turned up, as
did several senators. Another meeting to talk about issues was scheduled
for July 28.

Right at the beginning of the meeting two very loud bangs were audible from
somewhere - probably outside the building. People looked around and tacitly
agreed not to react. Nonetheless, it was a bit unnerving, especially as
there are newspaper and television reports this morning that four
parachutists were seen landing on a federal building in the middle of the
night and flashing Morse signal-type codes at someone. Despite an
exhaustive search, the unauthorized night flyers have not yet been found -
also a little unnerving, but the story has all characteristics of an urban

By the time the caucus ended, the person I was supposed to interview
afterwards had escaped, which was not a bad thing since I desperately
needed a restroom. I cornered my interviewee later in the lobby and
discovered that he plans to run for Arizona Congressional District 1 in
2006 or 2008 - and the thing is, he might win against incumbent Rick Renzi,
which this year's Democrat contender probably cannot do.

The FleetCenter was packed last night. I discovered that the particular
press pass I have allows one a seat near the roof - if one can find a seat
at all. After standing for a while (not allowed), making myself as small as
possible and sitting on the stairs for a while (also not allowed), I was
lucky that someone just behind me left her seat, which I lost no time

As Al Gore was speaking, I began to notice a lot of noise coming from
behind me. A discreet backwards glance revealed a diehard Democratic
groupie, complete with baseball cap, several hundred buttons, and a
compulsive need to comment on everything, including reading aloud the names
of the speakers as they were presented - in letters at least 10 feet tall -
on the screen. Interspersed were commentaries such as "Nothing happening.
Good night. So far, so good," and something that might have been whistling.
I became very annoyed and threw him some not-so-discreet unpleasant
glances, which he either ignored or didn't register. I thought of reporting
him to security ... as a crazy person? A Republican? A terrorist? A crazy
Republican terrorist might have done it, but I would have lost my seat.

Glenn Close introduced a tribute to those lost on 9/11. A woman whose
daughter, son-in-law, and unborn grandchild had been killed on one of the
planes spoke. "It was," she said, "the day we acted as if we were
responsible for each other."

Hillary Clinton also talked about 9/11. "I visited ground zero the day
after, and I felt like I was standing at the gates of hell." She was
received with wild applause, outdone only by the reception given her
husband. The crowd was ecstatic, and he has clearly lived down his past, at
least in the minds of these most ardent Democrats.

I'm getting the hang of this convention reporting, almost. When I arrived
tonight I saw that if I went to Level 4, I should be able to get into the
press area with the little desks, movable chairs, and individual lights,
aka "The writing press stands." But it was not to be. The different shades
of green on press passes were not printing variations. They had
significance. Dark green got you a little desk. Light green put you back in
the rafters.

And tonight not just any rafters, but the ones behind the stage and
speakers, with no view of the giant screen and in a spot where the
acoustics are so bad I can't hear what the speaker I can't see is saying.
Though just at this moment, everyone is cheering wildly - Howard Dean, my
neighbor tells me. I do not ask why she recognizes the back of his head.

The one helpful thing I did learn tonight is the existence of the rolling
floor pass. The floor is not actually rolling. Nor is the pass. But if you
turn in your light green press pass, you can get a red floor pass, which
you are required to return to the window within 60 minutes - at 8:36
precisely, in fact - they don't fool around here. Being on the floor for an
hour did give me the opportunity to hear and see Ted Kennedy, and more
importantly, to interview two tribal leaders from Arizona, Vivian
Juan-Saunders, Chairwoman of the Tohono O'odham Tribe, and Joni Ramos,
president of the Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community. I was fortunate
to be talking to Chairwoman Saunders when a live satellite feed from San
Xavier showed the world tribal members Michael Enis and Alicia Childs
singing the "Star Spangled Banner." The Chairwoman had tears in her eyes as
they finished.

Janet Napolitano, the unlikely Democratic governor of Arizona, is throwing
a party for the Native American Caucus tonight, to which I have been
invited and to which I plan to go if I can find it ...

I did find the Native American celebration hosted by Arizona Governor Janet
Napolitano by taking the advice of a police officer outside the
FleetCenter. "Mam," he said, looking down at me because I was at least a
foot-and-a-half shorter than he, "you had better take a cab."

The party was at the Boston Trade Center down by the harbor, and even if I
had been able to find it on my own, I probably would not have enjoyed -
possibly not even survived the sheer terror of - a walk through the utterly
deserted downtown financial district. Ten dollars well spent.

By midnight hundreds had arrived, and the festivities were officially
opened when Navajo Redwing Ted Nez (Sacred Woodland Spirit) from Indian
Wells Chapter sang a chant, having asked the governor to hold the sacred
medicine bundle for the occasion. Then Steve Emory, a Sioux member of the
South Dakota delegation, sang an honor song.

The food was ... eclectic - filet mignon, tabouli, hummus, roasted red
peppers, coconut-crusted shrimp, fresh fruit kabobs, creme brulee,
mousse-filled meringues.

Then it was time for the band, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, a name that the
governor had as much trouble learning as I did writing down, according to
the Arizona Republic (where I looked it up). They are an excellent swing
ensemble whose energy brought many skilled dancers to the floor.

This morning's Native American Caucus meeting was standing-room-only well
before it was even called to order with the offering of a prayer. A few
Native speakers were joined by such Democratic luminaries as Senate
Minority Leader Tom Daschle from South Dakota, New Mexico U.S. House
Representative Tom Udall, Representative Patrick Kennedy from Rhode Island,
former Vermont Governor and presidential contender Howard Dean, New Jersey
Congressman Frank Pallone and Oklahoma Governor Brad Henry.

These politicians are seriously courting the Native American vote for John
Kerry - and for themselves. Gov. Henry said, "I won my election in Oklahoma
against all odds ... During that election the Native American tribal
sovereign nations registered more than 25,000 new voters. Over 1 million
votes were cast in that election, and I won by just over 6,800 votes. The
Native Americans in this country can make the difference in this election
and send John Kerry to the White House."

The loud and oft-repeated message coming from non-Native leaders in states
with significant American Indian populations is that Democrats desperately
need the Indian vote.

Tanya Lee is a freelance reporter based in Flagstaff, Ariz. and Cambridge,
Mass. She writes on topics of interest to American Indian communities
across the country. Lee was managing editor of the Navajo-Hopi Observer for
three years before she became an independent reporter.