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2004 DNC Opens in Boston: Democracy Now! Speaks with Legislators and Delegates Inside the Convention

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Democracy Now! goes inside the FleetCenter to speak with legislators and delegates at the opening session of the 2004 Democratic National Convention. We hear speeches by former president Jimmy Carter and former vice president Al Gore and we speak with Rep. Jerrold Nadler(D-NY), Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA), Sen. Bob Graham (D-FL) as well as delegate for Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH). And we go from the halls of the convention to the streets of Boston to speak with demonstrators staging a “die-in” to protest the Israeli occupation of Palestine. [includes rush transcript]

This is Democracy Now! Breaking With Convention: War, Peace and the Presidency. We are broadcasting from Cambridge Community Television in downtown Cambridge, just across the river from the Fleet Center where the Democratic National Convention kicked off yesterday with a series of major addresses by some of the heaviest hitters in the Democratic Party.

  • Fmr. President Jimmy Carter
  • Fmr. Vice President Al Gore

While Gore spoke out against voting for 3rd party candidates, some delegates on the floor of the convention complained that the speeches coming from the podium did not reflect a clear enough distinction between the policies of President Bush and the platform of John Kerry, particularly on the issue of the occupation of Iraq and civil liberties. The events last night were highly scripted and everyone in attendance was expected to remain on message. And as Gore and other high profile Democrats spoke, some delegates charge that their rights to free expression were being denied last night. Delegates for former presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich alleged that they had some of their signs and placards confiscated, as well as scarves they wore that identified them as peace delegates. On the floor of the convention, as the speeches wrapped up last night we caught up with 2 Kucinich delegates from Minneapolis: Donna Cassutt and Charles Underwood.

  • Charles Underwood, Kucinich delegate from Minn.

The halls of the FleetCenter yesterday were full of Senators and Representatives. One of those we spoke with was New York Congressmember Jerrold Nadler.

  • Rep. Jerrold Nadler(D-NY)

Nadler’s view on what some call Israel’s apartheid wall is certainly not shared by all of his colleagues from the Democratic party. People like Virginia Representative Jim Moran. In 2003, on the eve of the Iraq invasion, he was attacked by a number of right-wing pro-Israel groups like AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee after he said “if it were not for the strong support of the Jewish community for this war with Iraq, we would not be doing this.” Last night, I caught up with Congressman Jim Moran.

  • Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA)

Outside the center, beyond rows of riot police and US Army MPs, and behind concrete barriers covered in razor wire, Palestine was on the minds of demonstrators. In the so-called “free speech zone” outside the convention center, dozens held a “die-in”, draped in Israeli and Palestinian flags, representing the mounting death toll since the start of the Intifada in 2000.

  • Protesters speaking to Democracy Now!

This week in Boston there has been a lot of discussion about the 2000 elections and the possibility of a repeat of what happened in Florida. Sen. Bob Graham, who himself ran for the democratic nomination against John Kerry, comes from Florida. We talked to him about the prospects for a fair election for November.

  • Sen. Bob Graham (D-FL)

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Former Vice President Al Gore also gave a major address which we will hear part of in a moment, but first we turn to former President Jimmy Carter.

JIMMY CARTER: The United States has alienated its allies, dismayed its friends and inadvertently gratified its enemies by proclaiming a confused and disturbing strategy of pre-emptive war. With our allies disunited, the world resenting us, and the middle east ablaze, we need John Kerry to restore life to the global war against terrorism. (applause) In the meantime, the Middle East peace process has come to a screeching halt for the first time since Israel became a nation. All former Presidents, Democratic and Republican, have attempted to secure a comprehensive peace for Israel with hope and justice for the Palestinians. The achievements of Camp David a quarter century ago and the more recent progress made by President Bill Clinton are now in peril. Instead, violence has gripped the holy land with the region increasingly swept by anti-American passions. This must change. (applause) Elsewhere, North Korea’s nuclear menace, a threat far more real and immediate than any posed by Saddam Hussein, has been allowed to advance unheeded with potentially ominous consequences for peace and stability in Northeast Asia. These are some of the prices our government has paid with its radical departure from basic American principles and values that are espoused by John Kerry. (applause) In repudiating extremism, we need to recommit ourselves to a few common-sense principles that should transcend partisan differences. First, we cannot enhance our own security if we place in jeopardy what is most precious to us, namely, the centrality of human rights in our daily lives and in global affairs. (applause) Second, we cannot maintain our historic self-confidence as a people if we generate public panic. Third, we cannot do our duty as citizens and patriots if we pursue an agenda that polarizes and divides our country. (applause) Next, we cannot be true to ourselves if we mistreat others. And finally, in the world at large, we cannot lead if our leaders mislead. (applause). You can’t be a war President one day and claim to be a peace President the next, depending on the latest political polls.

AMY GOODMAN: Former President Jimmy Carter addressing the opening session of the Democratic National Convention. Earlier in the evening, former Vice President and Presidential candidate Al Gore addressed the crowd inside the Fleet Center.

AL GORE: Take it from me, he have vote counts. In our democracy, every vote has power and never forget that power is yours. Don’t let anyone take it away from you or talk you into throwing it away. And let’s make sure that this time, every vote is counted. Let’s make sure that the Supreme Court does not pick the next President and that this President is not the one who picks the next Supreme Court.

AMY GOODMAN: Al Gore addressing the democratic national convention. Later on in his speech, Gore directly challenged those considering voting outside the two-party system.

AL GORE: Even though we meet here as Democrats, we believe this is a time to reach beyond our party lines to Republicans as well, and I also ask tonight for the consideration and the help of those who supported a third-party candidate in 2000. I urge you to ask yourselves this question: Do you still believe that there was no difference between the candidates? Are you troubled by the erosion of America’s most basic civil liberties? Are you worried that our environmental laws are being weakened and dismantled to allow vast increases in pollution that are contributing to a global climate crisis? No matter how you voted in the last election, these are profound problems that all voters must take into account this November 2. And of course no challenge is more critical than the situation we confront in Iraq. Regardless of your opinion at the beginning of this war, isn’t it now abundantly obvious that the way this war has been managed by the administration has gotten us into very serious trouble? Wouldn’t we be better off with a new President who hasn’t burned his bridges to our allies and who can rebuild respect for America in the world? (applause) Isn’t cooperation with other nations crucial to solving our dilemma in Iraq? Isn’t it also critical to defeating the terrorists? We have to be crystal clear about the threat we face from terrorism. It is deadly, it is real, it is imminent. But in order to protect our people, shouldn’t we focus on the real source of this threat? The group that attacked us and is trying to attack us again? Al Qaeda? Headed by Osama Bin Laden? Wouldn’t we be safer with a President who didn’t insist on confusing Al Qaeda with Iraq? (applause) Doesn’t that divert too much of our attention away from the principle danger?

AMY GOODMAN: Former Vice President Al Gore speaking last night at the Democratic National Convention. While Gore spoke out against voting for a third-party candidate, some delegates on the floor of the convention explained or complained that the speeches coming from the podium did not reflect a clear enough distinction between policies of President Bush and the platform of John Kerry, particularly on the issue of the occupation of Iraq and civil liberties. The events last night were highly scripted. Everyone in attendance was expected to remain on message and as Gore and other high-profile Democrats spoke, some delegates charged their rights of free expression were being denied. Delegates for former Presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich alleged that they had some of their signs and placards confiscated, as well as scarves they wore that identified them as peace delegates. On the floor of the convention as the speeches wrapped up last night, we caught up with two Kucinich delegates from Minneapolis, Donna Kassett and Charles Underwood.

CHARLES UNDERWOOD: I am just very disappointed that had there is no ability to express any hope for peace on the floor of this convention. We’ve had our signs confiscated, we’ve had our scarves for peace — you know — Delegate For Peace, confiscated. We’ve had people that tell us to sit down and be quiet. We’ve got no particular points for peace in the platform. This is becoming an extremely narrow democratic tent. And I’d love nothing better than to get behind a peace candidate for President. A little something, a little bone for us who want peace. And I am not getting any of that. And I am very disappointed. See these people in the lime vests? Those are the Kerry enforcers.

AMY GOODMAN: And what were your kerchiefs… ?

CHARLES UNDERWOOD: The kerchiefs -

DONNA KASSETT: “Delegate for Peace” and “Give Bush the Pink Slip,” which a lot of the delegates are wearing. We are finding a lot of our delegates here — we have common ground on the issues. They want to talk about the war, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: And this is what they told you to put away?

CHARLES UNDERWOOD: Yeah, It’s just that we are off message when we talk about peace. It’s that simple.

AMY GOODMAN: As Charles Underwood and Donna Kassett spoke, Charles Underwood, the Kucinich delegate, held up a pink kerchief that said “Give Bush the Pink Slip” He said they were told to put the kerchiefs away. This is Democracy Now! We will be back with Congress members and Senators in a minute.

AMY GOODMAN: This is “Democracy Now!” As we broadcast from Cambridge Community Television just across the river from the Fleet Center where the Democratic National Convention is underway, tonight, the second night. One of the remarkable things about the convention is the high concentration of those representing power in Washington that just walk by you every day in the hallways as they are trying to race to or from their seats. So we had a chance to stand in the hallway and speak to many different Congress members and Senators on the floor as we heard some Kucinich delegates concerned that their signs were being confiscated, that they were being told they could not simply express what they wanted. In the hallway, we caught up with New York Congress member Jerrold Nadler.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you say to those, the majority of Democrats who poll anti-war, that feel that a strong message against war is not being sent here?

JERROLD NADLER: I think that there’s some truth to that. But the reality is that I think most delegates here feel, I think it’s clear, that getting into the war with Iraq was a mistake, that we were mislead into it. I think you will hear a lot of statements from the podium that the President misled the American people as to the war, that what he said wasn’t true. Having said that, the question is: Now, how do you get out of it? I hope we will hear some talk about that.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you sense a hesitancy to condemn the invasion outright?

JERROLD NADLER: No, I think — I think we have heard that, and I think you will hear more of it. But I think there’s a desire on the part of the party leadership and the Presidential candidate to be forward looking. Because the fact is, I mean, to be talking practical politics, I think most Americans have decided at this point and the polling shows it, that invading Iraq was a mistake. That they know, most Americans know, that there were no weapons of mass destruction, that there was no real connection between Iraq and Al Qaeda, and that we were misled into it. And I don’t think you have to, at this point, focus on that. People want to know what are you going to do now? That’s the question.

AMY GOODMAN: : New York congress member Jerrold Nadler. While he spoke out expressing his concerns about the occupation of Iraq, he expressed a very different view of the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.

AMY GOODMAN: A lot of people feel that the middle east conflict, Israel, Palestine, is fueling a lot of the animosity toward the United States. Last year, John Kerry said that the wall, what many call the apartheid wall, was a barrier to peace. This year, he supports it. He has supported the assassination policy of the Hamas leaders. What are your views on that?

JERROLD NADLER: I totally support the fence. It’s not a wall except in something like one percent of it’s length, but I totally support the fence because Yassir Arafat and company started a war against Israel back in 2000. They deliberately started it. They fomented it there. They continue to do that, and you can’t deny self-defense. And yes, the fence is very inconvenient and harms some Palestinians, but it’s better to be harmed economically than to be dead. The fact of the matter is that where that fence has gone up, it’s cut the incidence of terrorist attacks against civilians by about 95%. I don’t see how anybody civilized, frankly, can oppose a defensive fence such as Saudi Arabia is building with, along the Yemen border now, such as China built. No one condemns those fences. Is this a defensive fence. The wall in West Berlin was a wall to keep the people in. This is a fence to keep terrorists out and the Israelis have made it perfectly clear that as soon as there’s any sort of a peace agreement that the fence will come down. It’s a temporary structure. I think that Kerry’s absolutely right to support the fence. I think frankly the people who, most of the people who oppose the fence either don’t really understand what’s going on or are pretty hypocritical.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you think of the Hague’s decision?

JERROLD NADLER: I think it’s disgusting. I think what the Hague decision frankly said is the Israelis among all people on the earth have no right to defend their lives. And it also made the assumption, which is not borne out by international law or by U.N. Resolutions 242 or 338, that all of the land East of the so-called Green Line is Palestinian. The fact is that land is disputed and the boundaries between Israel and what should be a future Palestinian state have to be negotiated. But until then, there is no boundary.

AMY GOODMAN: New York Congress member Jerrold Nadler of New York speaking to us in the hallways of the Fleet Center. Nadler’s view on what some call Israel’s apartheid wall is not shared by all of his colleagues in the Democratic Party. People like Virginia Congress member Jim Moran. In 2003 on the eve of the Iraq invasion, Moran was attacked by the powerful D.C.-based APAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee after he said, quote, “If it were not for the strong support of the Jewish community for this war with Iraq, we would not be doing this.” Last night, I caught up with Congress member Jim Moran.

AMY GOODMAN: Many people say that until the middle east conflict is solved, particularly between Israel and the Palestinians, that there is going to be continued anger generated around the world. Last year, John Kerry said he thought that the wall was a barrier to peace. This year, he condemned the Hague and the World Court for condemning the wall. Your response?

JIM MORAN: Those people who say that we have got to resolve the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians before we can have any kind of sustainable peace in the Middle East are accurate. They are right. And I do think that, we are going to have to have at least a fair and balanced foreign policy with regard to the entire Middle East. We need to realize that the vast majority of Arabs and Muslim people want a better future for their children. And many of the governments in the Middle East are not providing that. My own view is I happen to be a much stronger supporter of the Labor Party than I am of the Likkud Party. I am not a supporter of the Likkud Party. I find them to think much the same way as the Republican Party in the United States and I, but it doesn’t mean that I am not supportive of Israel and I don’t understand the need for security. I just think there might be better approaches. To achieving that kind of security and a sustainable peace.

AMY GOODMAN: You have been criticized for your criticism of Israeli military policy.

JIM MORAN: And I am still critical of some of it. I am not critical of the young Israeli people that are fighting on behalf of their country. I am critical of some of the leaders that I don’t think have been quite as — as thoughtful in terms of the long-term history of Middle East. You know, basically, Israel has to got to figure out how to live with its neighbors. It can’t be an island unto itself. And that’s what it comes down to.

AMY GOODMAN: We had on the first lady of Israeli human rights who came here —

JIM MORAN: Oh, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: She was a member of the Parliament. And when she came here, she said that the stance of the administration in this country has served to disempower the Israeli peace movement and the establishment Jewish organizations, the mainstream Jewish organizations in this country have silenced dissent that would support the peace movement. Your response.

JIM MORAN: I think there’s some truth to that.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think that the Democratic party should take a stronger line that the kind of criticism you’re came under has squelched a lot of dissent in Congress?

JIM MORAN: I think the Democratic Party is going to bring us a lot closer to sustainable peace in the Middle East, than the Republican Party. The Republican Party policy has been basically been one of disengagement and unequivocal support for the Israeli government decision making. And I think Bill Clinton’s approach was much more thoughtful and I think more progressive. He brought the parties together and said look, you’ve got to work it out. What we want is peace. We want an end to the bloodshed. And we want to know what is reconcilable between the two parties. And the Bush administration is has not brought that about. And I think that had President Clinton had another term, there’s no question in my mind but that we would have a sustainable peace in the Middle East between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and we would never have been in this conflict in Iraq.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think that would happen under John Kerry?

JIM MORAN: I think that — I know that it has a much better chance of happening under John Kerry than George Bush because we have seen what George Bush would do, and it’s nothing.

AMY GOODMAN: Congress member Jim Moran of Virginia speaking to us inside the Democratic National Convention at the Fleet Center in Boston. Outside the center, beyond the rows of riot police and military police, behind the concrete barriers covered in razor wire, Palestine was on the minds of demonstrators in the so-called “Free-Speech Zone” outside the convention center. Dozens held a die-in, draped in Israeli and Palestinian flags representing the mounting death toll since the start of the Intifada in 2000.

TOM WALLACE: My name is Tom Wallace. I’m with Boston Committee For Palestinian Rights and Boston To Palestine. Boston to Palestine works with the International Solidarity Movement sending people to the West Bank. Last spring, I spent several months in the West Bank as the Media Coordinator for the International Solidarity Movement. Today, we had a die-in representing the deaths of both Israelis and Palestinians as a result of the occupation, Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. The ratio is basically three to one. Three Palestinians die to every Israeli that is killed. And half of those are soldiers, as well. So what we are doing here today is trying to represent and trying to put an end to American support for Israeli occupation. And all of the money that America provides Israel, in terms of whether it’s — for both financial support and military support. So it’s time, I think, for not just a regime change in Washington, not just a face change, but a real change.

PHYLLIS BENNIS: My name is Phyllis Bennis. I work with the U.S. Campaign to End Israeli Occupation. We are here today, we thought this was going to be a protest of U.S. Policy in supporting the Israeli occupation of Palestine. We thought this is what Democracy looks like. In fact, we find out this is what military occupation looks like. Fences, sharpshooters, walls, just like the Palestinians are forced to live under, only theirs is permanent. Ours is only for the length of our protest. We are here to tell the Democratic Party that we need a change in policy the same as we need for the Republican Party. The policy of supporting Israeli occupation needs to change. We need a policy that will support international law, stop funding occupation, stop supporting occupation, stop supporting the Israeli occupation of Palestine and stop imposing the U.S. Occupation of Iraq.

AMY GOODMAN: Phyllis Bennis and others speaking in the protest pen. Razor wire above, below a train track. Snipers there, military police, riot police.

AMY GOODMAN: Senator Bob Graham, a number of people, including Reverend Jesse Jackson, have called for UN monitors for these elections based on what happened in your state: Florida. Would you support that?

BOB GRAHAM: No I don’t think we need United Nations monitors, I think we need to have United States monitors. The Democratic Party is setting up a very strong, extensive network of lawyers and volunteers, county by county, to be certain that all the procedures are being followed. No surprises like we had in 2000.

AMY GOODMAN: At the time, Al Gore called off the protests in the streets. Is there going to be a different approach to people deeply concerned about the disenfranchisement, of say, a million black voters in this country, 2 million over all voters?

BOB GRAHAM: They should be outraged if any group of Americans, as a group, are denied the right to vote. I’m not sure what you mean about calling off people in the street, but uh….

AMY GOODMAN: Calling back protests when people like Jesse Jackson wanted to protest in the street. Mainly the people who were protesting were Republicans rather than Democrats expressing outrage. Instead the discussion, the decision, was taken to the courts and not to the people, to the streets.

BOB GRAHAM: There was certainly a lot of energy and a lot of concern being expressed in Florida during those weeks in November and December and I was in the middle of a lot of that. But the ultimate decision, in our form of government, is going to be made by democratic means and in this case, it was heavily involved in the judicial process. Both the state judiciary and the federal judiciary.

AMY GOODMAN: Are you for the end of the—of people who have been imprisoned in Florida not being given the right to vote?

BOB GRAHAM: This is a new procedure. I was governor for eight years and my predecessor had been governor for eight years, and our practice was once a person has served his sentence, served any post sentence probation, and had lived a good life, almost automatically they got there civil rights restored. Let’s say, in an average year, somewhere around 15,000 people got their rights back. Under this governor, Governor Jeb Bush, each case is treated as a little trial and the numbers have dropped down to under 1,000, maybe even under 500 a year. So there has been a dramatic change in the process. The result has been thousands of people who otherwise would be able to vote being denied the right to vote.

AMY GOODMAN: Florida Senator Bob Graham speaking at the Fleet Center last night during the opening session of the democratic national convention.

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