Democratic National Convention Media Walk Through at the Pepsi Center
As a representative of Colorado Indy Media, I was waiting to hear more about how to get media access to the Democratic National Convention that will take place in Denver, CO in August 2008. I was at the rim of the Denver Pepsi Center Arena, somewhere around the cotton candy stand, when the corruption began to take hold. The corporate coliseum was teeming with the American Press Corpse (intentional), ambitious politicians, corporate gladiators, moral deformities and billable hours. I could hear the siren song of swiping credit cards and the cling clang of cold hard cash in this place where money rules all. It was shortly thereafter that I realized I was standing with weak knees and an uneasy stomach in the mangled crotch where corporate interests and party politics bind together like conjoined twins.
You didn’t have to look any further than the press packet welcome letter to know that the press’s dignity was about to be trampled yet again. To be frank, it wasn’t so much a welcome letter as it was a thinly veiled attempt to remind the media that their job is to tell the Democrats story to their readers, listeners and viewers. Period. The following statement says it all: “This is a story [referring to the convention] that deserves to be told and we cannot do it alone.” The implication being that your job as the press is to tell our story. Nothing more. They’ve set the stage for this convention to be nothing short of the most expensive infomercial ever made, and it will be designed to move well-placed Pepsi products and politicians - not to inform.
The press credentialing process for this event further evidences this mouthpiece mentality. The bottom line here is that if you don’t get credentials, you don’t get inside to cover the event. That means you have to cover the credentialed coverage of the event from outside of the event. This is most unfortunate as the credentialing process for this convention is driven by focus group logic that concerns itself only with finding the demographics that the Democrats need least (people without disposable income) and removing them from the event with scalpel precision.
To give you an idea of what I’m talking about here, consider this: if you want to get a television camera crew in the arena, you have to put down a $15,000 deposit. That’s $15K for the down payment alone! For those of us in independent media this is simply not feasible. It gets worse. The Democrats will credential only 1 blogger from each of the 50 states and the 6 U.S. territories to cover the event. In order to qualify for this elite status, you must meet the following criteria:
· The applicant’s blog must have been in existence six months prior to requesting credentials;
· The applicant must have at least 120 politically related blog posts;
· Bloggers must submit their daily audience (number of hits) and list their authority on Technocrati stats (On the World Live Web, bloggers frequently link to and comment on other blogs, creating the type of immediate connection one would have in a conversation. Technorati tracks these links, and thus the relative relevance of blogs, photos, videos etc.)
Isn’t it fascinating how this new media originally designed to facilitate broad, grassroots participation in politics, and to elevate the voices of those that will never find their way to mainstream media, is being shut out of this convention.
Covering the event from outside won’t be any picnic. The Democrats are requesting $50,000,000 to fund fortress-like security for this one event. To be clear, that’s not a typo. They want 50 million dollars for security alone! Once the funds are in hand, the Secret Service and Department of Homeland Security will be in charge of security around the Pepsi Center. The Denver Police Dept. will be in charge of security elsewhere in the city. They will be bringing in officers from other jurisdictions to supplement their own forces. It’s also worth noting that the Democrats have not ruled out the use of private security firms in meeting their excessive security needs. I don’t know about you, but I’m really pulling for Blackwater. While the convention will be visited by hand-picked delegates and well-placed products from corporate sponsors, those of us covering the event from the streets will be visited by helicopters, surveillance, agents (some secret, some not so secret), riot gear, pepper spray and jailers. Would you please rise for the National Anthem?
It’s clearly not lost on the Democrats that the 2006 elections when they took back the House and the Senate were supposed to have marked a turning point in US politics – or so we thought. Esteemed journalists, Mumia Abu Jamal, who has spent the last 25 years on Pennsylvania’s Death Row, recently addressed this issue in one of his radio essays on Prison Radio. He points out that “the election changed majorities, but did it change policy? No. The election had one overarching purpose – to end the wars. Democrats now say openly that no significant troop withdrawal can come before 2012 – 5 more years! Why shouldn’t we expect to hear of another 5 or 10 years 2 years from now? War isn’t a Democratic or Republican program – it is a corporate one where both corporate parties play the game laid down by their sponsors. Here we see the convergence between neoliberals and neoconservatives who unite in their service to corporate power. Their fight, if you can call it that, is over whom can best represent their bosses, and by this I don’t mean voters.”
The Democrats know damn well they will be held accountable when they arrive in Denver and greeted with protests and direct action demands for change from those forced out of their sanctified ceremony. At one point during the Q&A session of the walk-through a reporter asked how the Democrats plan to “manage the protests” that are already beginning to take shape. He was addressing the protestors as an obstacle to covering the event as opposed to people with legitimate views that are not allowed in the event. To learn more about these key issues, check out ReCreate 68. The Party Spokesperson assured the reporter that security would be airtight and that those people would have access to designated “free speech areas.” It’s chilling to think that in today’s United States you can only enjoy free speech in designated areas away from elected officials and under the watchful gaze of the Department of Homeland Security.
The question then becomes, why do they fear us? Why so much security for so few and so insignificant a demographic? The answer: those of us in the streets can defy those in power, and the worst part about defiance is that it establishes precedence. People working through popular movements can change policy. The Democrats know this to be fact, or they used to anyway. People in sharp, sustained protest change policy every day, even when it is diametrically opposed to corporate interests. Even in a diminished democracy such as our own, people, even those that choose not to vote (or cannot vote) can change how politicians speak, think, and act.
Jamal points out that if you put your trust in the same politicians, and in this party, and the media blindly reports their conventional diatribes, you can expect the same results that were earned in 2006: “disappointment, frustration and betrayal.” He urges us to ask ourselves: “what kind of democracy is it if you vote for peace only to get more war?” The Democrats answer is less participation in the debate, not more.
“To finally bring peace, the people must bring it,” says Jamal. In August of 2008 in the city of Denver we can and will bring peace back to the table! We will remind the Democrats that while they are locked away in their corporate compound, we are everywhere. They will be forced to hear the people’s message of peace that spans communities, civilizations and continents. We will show them through an unfiltered lens what is possible when we lock arms at the intersection of media and democracy and speak truth to power.
Media coverage of the street protests is as important (if not more so) as the events taking place within the Democrats' fortress. The real story will NOT be the story that the mainstream media will be covering about the Democrats - but they should. It will be the media shut out of the fortress, the independent media, which will bring that important coverage to the public. And while the corporate media continues to broadcast horrible election news horribly and actively seeks to splinter and cast us apart like embers thrown from a fire, those of us in the streets of Denver will work to rekindle a larger sense of meaning, connectivity, and public purpose with a lightning bolt charge!
Jason O. McKain is an independent media journalist. He also does outreach and fundraising for Free Speech TV, the nation’s first and most powerful progressive television network.