If you stay in the hall, you'll miss the show
Atlanta — THE gold-leaf dome of the Georgia State Capitol glinted through the haze of another muggy Sunday afternoon. Just below, foot soldiers of the white supremacist ``Nationalist Movement'' traded taunts with the ``All People's Congress,'' while helmeted riot police tried to quell the melee. Across town, Black Muslim leader Louis Farrakhan pounded the pulpit at the Wheat Street Baptist Church, announcing what was billed as ``the black agenda.'' Up the street, former White House chef Henry Haller demonstrated his favorite presidential recipes and offered autographed copies of his new book. And in an emptied parking lot designated the ``convention protest zone,'' 120 people marched about and complained about Ethiopia's occupation of Eritrea.
The week's main event, of course, is taking place here in a converted basketball arena under the watchful eyes of some 13,500 journalists. Yet the Democratic National Convention, far from being the only show in town, is but the biggest attraction in a 90-ring circus.
There is another convention outside the official convention, largely out of the national media's field of vision. An untold number of protesters, hangers-on, hustlers, and politicians have descended on Atlanta this week, each with a cause to promote, a book or a button or a T-shirt to sell, or just some time to kill. ``It's a zoo,'' snorts one of the ubiquitous Georgia state troopers assigned to keep order.
Some of the arrivals, like Lester Pincus, are enduring no small amount of hardship to be heard. Summer has hit Atlanta with a vengeance. But every sweltering day Mr. Pincus, a real estate broker from Nebraska, can be found standing on a street corner near the convention site, preaching the virtues of libertarianism.
``A home for the politically homeless,'' Pincus shouts to no one in particular. ``A haven for those on the left, who are concerned about civil liberties, and those on the right, who are concerned with economic liberties.'' Few passersby stop to engage Pincus in a dialogue, though he has managed to press into their hands several hundred copies of a political tract.
Disciples of ``presidential candidate'' Lyndon LaRouche are out in force, manning leaflet-laden folding card tables on busy sidewalks downtown. ``Are you a delegate?'' they ask any pedestrian with convention credentials dangling from the neck.
The task before the LaRouchers is to find 300 delegate signatures so that their candidate's name can be put into nomination Wednesday night. Though they say they're making progress, their petitions always seem bereft of signatures.
Then there are, of course, the protesters, whose rallies have been relegated to the designated parking lot. Lack of crowds does not seem to have dampened their enthusiasm for their causes. Early yesterday morning, a dozen individuals mounted the platform set up in the middle of the parking lot and spent an hour haranguing the United States government for its policy toward Cuban detainees. The lot was otherwise empty, save for the obligatory deployment of helmeted riot police.
Another time, several homosexual groups took to the lot, protesting federal AIDS policy with a ``queer awareness day'' followed by a ``die-in'' followed by a ``kiss-in.'' An organization called ``Arts Pluribus Unum,'' a local organization of ``arts activists,'' convened to protest US aid to the Nicaraguan contras. Then representatives of the local service employees union, on strike against the Marriott Marquis hotel, where many convention attendees are staying, came by to recruit people to help them crash a party at the home of one of the hotel's owners.
The ultimate convention-outside-the-convention may be the media encampment in an enormous convention hall adjacent to the Omni arena. The hall is said to be the size of seven football fields - plenty of room for the hundreds of print, radio, and television organizations that have staked out territory here.
But with the threat of peace and harmony reigning over what might have been a raucus - and, consequently, newsworthy - convention, many of the assembled journalists have been left scrambling for things to write about. Many of them have been writing about each other, and about what a tough time everybody is going to have finding things to write about.
Not surprisingly, this can go to extremes. One reporter for this newspaper received a call from a colleague at the National Journal. The Journal reporter was writing a story about reporters writing stories about how there was nothing to write about at the convention. Would anyone at the Monitor, he wanted to know, be writing such an article?