The Blog

"D" Is for Dysfunctional

Kerry's sister, Edwards's daughter, and their disabled, gay, Native-American brothers and sisters.

6:30 PM, Jul 26, 2004 • By KATHERINE MANGU-WARD
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DOZENS OF CAUCUSES met on Monday in the Boston Sheraton. Walking through the door was like walking into the worst possible combination of a family reunion and Kerry pep rally. Hundreds of delegates and activists milled around in the lobby and exchanged greetings uncomfortably, unable to remember each other's names. Everyone was relieved when the sessions got started and they were able to break off into smaller, more homogeneous groups.

My first stop was the Native American caucus. Slipping in behind Charlie Rangel (D-NY) I try to remain unobtrusive. It's easy to do, because Rangel is already in full barn-burning mode, having burned the barns of several special-interest groups already that morning. Before he makes it to the podium, a Native-American amputee runs up to him for a quick snapshot. The rest of the crowd gazes on adoringly, peering over their impossibly high cheekbones. By the time Rangel is introduced, it's clear that the crowd is in love. "My brothers and sisters," he says to the group of about 120 Native-American delegates, activists, candidates, and sundry hangers-on, "they need us." "They," it seems, are John Kerry and John Edwards--and white Democrats in general. Rangel's subsequent remarks about the virtues of the Kerry-Edwards ticket are greeted with what the less-than-politically-correct reporter might call a "war whoop." Rangel thanks the assembled crowd for "giving us an opportunity to live in this country." The crowd cheers, though it's not clear why, since later speakers emphasize the unfairness of "them" living on "our" land.

I can't stay to hear more, though, because the Asian/Pacific Islander Caucus is just letting out on the other side of the hall. As the Asian and Pacific Islander delegates stream out of the conference room, numerous sub-groups are advertising their events. Though the Democratic party is all about unity, the Asian delegation apparently is not. There's a South Asian reception in a couple of days, to which only those who were conspicuously members received invitations, for example.

As the APIC crowd files out of the Republic conference room, they are replaced by the Disability caucus. But I decide to return to them in bit, since the logistics of getting dozens of motorized wheelchairs into a hotel conference room (without running over the tails of the seeing eye dogs) are time consuming and wildly uninteresting.

In the meantime, big things are happening down the hall with the AFSCME, whose giant green banner proclaims "We've got the power." A woman named Lorraine greets the group with a cheerful, "Good afternoon, my brothers and sisters." Lorraine, it seems, has gotten the memo--everyone's family at the caucus meetings, fellow union delegates most of all.

Front and center at the union event is a cute joke that's making the rounds through the caucuses. Four life-size cardboard cutouts of Dick Cheney, John Ashcroft, Donald Rumsfeld, and George W. Bush are sharing the podium with Lorraine. At their feet sit a small pile of bags of rice. The Democrats, we learn, are "going on a No CARB diet. No Cheney. No Ashcroft. No Rumsfeld. No Bush. And certainly no [Condoleezza] Rice." In so doing, their goal is to "lose 869 pounds of unwanted fat."

The way the AFSCME has chosen to express their distaste for these particular CARBs is to have each of their speakers pick up a bag of rice (get it? Rice?) and chuck it at the cutout of their choice.

Leaving the union reps to gleefully stone (excuse me, rice) the effigies of the current leaders of the free world, I decided to check back in with the Disability caucus.

Things seemed to be going smoothly. Everyone is now cheerfully sporting buttons exhorting their fellows to "Roll to the Polls-Vote Democratic" and the official program is underway. The tables are segregated by disability. Blind in the back, deaf in the front, presumably to take advantage of the translation services provided by one of the ubiquitous sign-language interpreters.