After three days of citizen democracy writ large here inside the Democratic National Convention, the unanswered question in the minds of nondelegate observers remains:
"What's with the goofy, multicolored, oversized hats?"
After three days of citizen activism on the streets outside, a similar question in the minds of nonactivist observers - and cops - also remains: "What's with the goofy, multicolored, oversized puppets?"
To answer the first question, I approached Ruby Gilliam, a four-time delegate from Ohio, milling around the convention floor in a red straw hat festooned with flowers, Styrofoam, a stuffed donkey, and various birds and nuts.
"What's with the hat?" I said politely in my best, nonthreatening tone.
"I want to be noticed on TV," she said, just as two camera crews jockeyed into place behind me, apparently to grant her wish.
Virtually the same words came out of Maxine Goldstein, a seven-time delegate from Milledgeville, Ga., who was wearing a battery-powered choo-choo train atop a straw bonnet garnished with sequins and plastic figurines holding miniature flags.
"We've spent a year doing serious work," she added, switching a button that made her train engine whirr. "Now it's time to let go and be goofy."
To answer the second question, I stepped outside to brave the demonstration-clogged streets alongside Charley Wilkin, a veteran activist from Van Nuys, Calif. Marching in a throng of protesters that stretched for blocks, Mr. Wilkin balanced a rainbow-hued, papier-mch sculpture of Al Gore and George W. Bush over his head, Carmen Miranda-like. As he marched along, Wilkin blew into a quarter-inch tube like he was playing a sousaphone. The puffs made the green paper tongues of his Bush-Gore effigy-heads shoot out, before retracting with equal speed.
"I make these green tongues snap out to lap up more money because that's all Gore and Bush are about," Wilkins said. "My puppet represents a Republicrat," he said, "to designate that the two parties have essentially merged, bought out by corporate America."
Not far behind him, an officer of the LAPD barked out commands for the protesters to keep moving. He rolled his glaring eyes at me as if to say, "This is what we get in L.A. - all kinds."
Puppets and hats. All kinds. Like the country and political system that spawned them: goofy (but serious), multicolored, and oversized.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society