Live, on the Street Outside Convention
Advocate groups make noise, hoopla for press
NEW YORK — AT the 1992 Democratic Convention, not all the hoopla, chanting, and applause is going on inside Madison Square Garden. At times the noise in front of the convention center - from shouting voices promoting diverse causes to blaring car horns from drivers caught in gridlock - is louder than the enthusiastic din inside.
Yet the "outsiders" are not necessarily unhappy about their expatriate role. For being "outside" means having access to the thousands of reporters and television camera crews gathered here. Moreover, a few of the outsiders, particularly national groups, often have some access to the convention itself by testifying before the platform committee, or through individual delegates.
"Stop abortion now," chant members of an anti-abortion group on 7th Avenue. "Pro-choice, Pro-choice," yells an abortion-rights group, standing just a few feet away, while wary New York police officers look on. Want media coverage
"We're not angry at the Democrats, but we need to have [our cause] covered as a national political issue," says Cecilia Blewer, a spokeswoman for the New York Coalition to End Violence Against Women, another protest group. Scores of demonstrators from the coalition assembled near the Garden to demand a national policy against domestic violence. Meanwhile, several blocks away candlelight prayer vigils were held in front of a church in support of federal assistance to the homeless.
Many of the interest groups most active here involve key constituencies within the Democratic Party, including blacks, Hispanics, and Asian-Americans.
These groups tend to have access both within and without the convention - often holding meetings, for example, that are officially recognized by the convention. Thus, the Asian Pacific American Advisory Council has planned meetings listed in the convention program guide. Other groups "officially" recognized include the Democratic Hispanic Caucus and the Women's Caucus.
Some advocacy groups here have forged important political or business links, such as the Association of Communities Organized for Reform Now ("Acorn") - a New York-based organization seeking to foster equitable bank lending for inner-city neighborhoods.
Some 50 bankers met at a pre-convention "summit" sponsored by Acorn that ended this past weekend. But not all major banks in New York chose to attend. "We picketed Citicorp [on July 13] at their headquarters on Lexington Avenue because they stayed away from the summit," says a spokesperson for Acorn. Most won't be heard inside
Still, most street protesters here have few political links; nor will they get into the convention hall - from lone individuals carrying flags and banners to formal groups. "We want to stop lawyers from charging exorbitant fees," argues Harvey Kash, co-chairman of the Long Island chapter of the Americans for Legal Reform. Mr. Kash, shouting into a bull horn, is pacing back and forth before a phalanx of policemen behind Pennsylvania Station, near the Garden.
Fellow supporters, some of them carrying flags, are shouting "Stop the lawyers! Stop the lawyers!" Victoria Zinkarvitch, of Long Island, is carrying a large poster board spelling out her group's objectives, while wearing a huge hat decorated in red, white and blue.
Nearby, a lone protester - Bill Dunovan, who says he is from Boston - is enthusiastically marching past the police barricades, carrying a large sign announcing that he's for George Bush and the Republican Party. "But only two and one-half years ago I was a Democrat," he yells out to anyone who will stop and listen. Not many people do.
Individual protesters and citizen-action groups at national conventions are not by themselves a new trend - particularly for the Democratic Party, which has always tolerated diversity, notes James Sundquist, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, in Washington.
Mr. Sundquist helped coordinate the party platform for the Democratic conventions of 1960 and 1968. But in recent years, Mr. Sundquist notes, more splinter groups have appeared at conventions, representing often relatively narrow issues.
What most of these groups have in common, he says, is a general inability to actually influence party platform writers. That may be particularly true this year, he says, since the 1992 platform was largely nailed down before delegates arrived in New York. Small groups powerless
With a few exceptions, most "issue" groups found on the streets are relatively powerless, Sundquist notes. By contrast, major national organization such as organized labor, business groups, or national education associations often "don't feel obligated to have to go on the record" - either before the platform committee, or before the glare of TV cameras here - because "delegates know their positions."
If any groups are largely inconspicuous here, it is labor and business organizations, such as the AFL-CIO and the Chamber of Commerce of the US.
Groups like the pro- and anti-abortion organizations need to mobilize masses of people and attract national media exposure," says John Jackson, a professor of business administration and political science at the University of Michigan, in Ann Arbor. "These [cause] organizations need to motivate people. They are based on a crisis atmosphere and symbols."
But "traditional organizations" such as big labor and business groups deal with individual members of Congress and the Executive branch. Their objectives are "sophisticated and specific." What they don't need, Professor Jackson says, is mass exposure on the streets of Manhattan.