I'm in DC today, ostensibly live-blogging the Planned Parenthood Action Fund's roundtable, where Elizabeth Edwards, Barack Obama, and Hillary Clinton are speaking. Edwards and Obama were on this morning, and I was poised and ready to do the "on the scene" coverage that gives me that crazy rush, but get this: NO WIRELESS in the Ritz Carlton downtown. No internet at all, as a matter of fact. If you're going to invite bloggers to the table - which in fact wasn't a table at all, but a row of chairs in the back of the ballroom - you need to have the wireless, friends...the connectivity, if you will. Typing in Word felt weird. It felt like I was writing a term paper instead of really processing what was going on and putting it into some kind of wordy form on the page as I went, but that's what I got. And that is why I am not struggling to find a place in the downtown Borders that has an electrical outlet and a place to sit. The twain aren't meeting, so I'll go with whatever power I have left to talk about this morning.
Cecile Richards, President of Planned Parenthood and daughter of the late great Governor Ann Richards, opened the day. She said they're aiming for one million new members this year to join the fight for reproductive rights in the political realm. "I have a dream – that George Bush is the last anti-choice President in the United States of America. The American people are on our side. They support Planned Parenthood and the values we represent."
Planned Parenthood volunteers - teens and young adults - are introducing the candidates. The first was a girl who started the student chapter at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Having recently driven through North Carolina twice, a state I love but where I'm not sure I could ever live because it is so conservative, I can say that there are many, many pockets where Edwards' poverty fight needs waging - hard. And where the girls there could go for birth control, I have no idea. The student said, that for "young people it’s impossible to find someone who speaks truthfully and from the heart on issues we care about," and she puts Mrs. Edwards in that category.
And I have to say - I really get a good feeling from her. I have nothing whatsoever to base it on, but she seems to have this strength about her that's admirable and it doesn't strike a false note, which is uncommon. She'll be at the Blogher conference too, so today was a nice chance to see her before all that madness starts. John Edwards wasn't able to attend because he's on his poverty march or train - I'm not sure how he's traveling, but anyway, he's on the road. His wife delivered her remarks on his behalf, and I'd say if a person is going to go into politics, they're well served by an articulate, thoughtful person like her. Wow.
I mean, really, that is love, on some level - to support what is undoubtedly by now a mutual ambition, but is still ultimately his race, and to do it through illness and parenting and all the other demands that life brings day to day is true commitment. I got to thinking about that while she was talking and how partnership is still really fascinating to me on that level where it seems to work. In Lady Bird Johnson's obit on NPR the other day, they quoted her as saying that "In our case, we were better together than we were apart. And I knew that, and I loved my share of life with him." Of course the article goes on to say disappointingly that "throughout her marriage, she remained fiercely devoted to her husband, despite his extra-marital affairs," which led me to wonder if ANY man in office can keep his hands to himself, but that's another matter.
Edwards is on message with the poverty platform, definitely, and it's true that it does present those who are in it with limited options. I mean, I have friends who DON'T live in poverty who are under- or uninsured, but most of those people would still have someone to bail them out if things got really bad. And in most cases we're all armed with enough information to avoid undue trauma, but not all of it. Dip down about twenty thousand dollars or more, and it's a different story entirely. Here are a few of her quotes:
"John is pro-choice. Always has been. It is not a political calculation. John Edwards would never equivocate on his belief in a woman’s right to choose. This right is too precious for that. As a lawyer, a senator, a candidate for vice president and now president, he has stood his ground. I promise you he will support it today, tomorrow, the day after that, and every day after that."
"This is a fight for women’s equality and for dignity. We’ve been on a very long and difficult journey for dignity and equality. Women’s rights to control reproductive rights are central to this."
"Even a debate about whether a woman can be trusted with a choice about her body is demeaning, By continually suggesting that women make this choice lightly and for frivolous reasons...(says that we are) selfish children who need guidance from some legislature so we don’t behave too recklessly.”
"Extremists do not get a monopoly on defining values...We are all people of values and...some of us of faith."
"We as women must value women enough to trust their judgment about their bodies. Who should not be involved? The government. If I wanted Rick Santorum’s opinon on what I should do, I would call him up.
If the government wants to be involved, it can work with organizations such as Planned Parenthood to support prevention...comprehensive sex education, not just abstinence only...access to family planning services - that would be a nice change, birth control and emergency contraceptives...medically accurate prenatal care...replacing it’s decision making and categorical judgments with the medical and personal judgment of women and their doctors."
"With respect to the Supreme Court’s decision on the Federal ban on abortion, we are one justice away from overturning Roe vs. Wade...the recent 5/4 decision is evidence of that threat...(We have) retreated and taken the most radical step in a generation against reproductive health and rights...We need a pro-choice candidate, elected on a pro-choice platform. John is such a candidate and will be such a president."
"John has a true universal healthcare plan, not a promise that we’re going to have a healthcare plan in the future. This is a real plan that covers every man, woman and child in America. Since woman are disproportionately under the uninsured, only a truly universal healthcare plan guarantess that every woman will have her healthcare needs met. All reproductive healthcare, including pregnancy termination will be available components of his plan."
"John understands something that all of us know, that reproductive health is primary healthcare for women, that it needs to be comprehensive, provide a range of services...make and act on legitimately informed decisions in safety and dignity."
"Choice is about more than abortion. In order for a woman to make a real choice, she needs acces to sex education, affordable child care, a living wage, a life free of violence and coercion..."
"The news revealed the fallacy of the opposition's arguments again...(they have) long suggested that any information other than abstinece (was negative)...(that the) use of condoms would result in more underage sex activity and births. (These are) not a permission slip for teenage sex. It heightens awareness, results in more deliberation in sex activity."
"Good science and medicine includes birth control and sex education. John wil follow this. Whoever thought anyone would have to say this in a campaign? John will appoint a surgeon general committed to medicine... driven by science and not ideology...He will release to taxpayers all reports, if taxpayers pay for it, they oughta be able to see it, and without any editing by political operatives."
"People who oppose the right of women to terminate a pregnancy also oppose access to the tools that prevent that pregnancy."
"...(He) supports abstinence as part of a medically accurate program - children’s lives are too precious to provide them with inaccurate information. There is no time too early to give your children information to protect them from these diseases. (Edwards will support) comprehensive stream of sex education programs throughout the country."
"In the US – nearly half of all pregnancies are unintended, fifty percent end in abortion... A million and a half of unplanned pregnancies could have been prevented, if women has info about and timely access to emergency contraception."
"These issues are so important and values so central that to position ourselves out of them is to lay down the mantle of leadership. John will face political opposition when he believes he is right. Women’s lives are at stake and our lives are not fodder for compromise. There is a time when compromise means capitulation."
"You can’t be a little bit pregnant, and you can’t be a little bit deprived of the right to control your own body."
"Hiding behind the curtain in the theatre of politics is not just distasteful, it’s unecessary."
J will be a strong and committed leader protiecting choice and health issues for women, as gwb has been endangering them
He will not delay or defer, shy away or compromise, he will not equivocate.
This is not just a campaign promise. It is consistent with a philosophy that underlies all issues, that fuel him, animate him...the commitment to ending poverty, providing universal healthcare, bettering the lives of individuals, and the equality and rights of women."
"We are a voice for a lot of people who are not in this room, meeting with John today, who are counting on you...that promise to those women is as sacred to John as it is to you, and that promise will be kept."
That's as much as I have the battery power for, but I thought she hit on all the points and it's clear where the priorities are for the reproductive rights community. I'll follow up with Obama and Clinton later.
That's vaguely, poorly alliterative, eh?
It's the morning after the All-American Presidential Forum that I've gone into just a little bit (harhar) on my little website so far. I've got a couple more posts in me about it yet, at least, but today I thought I'd share some of my observations from the question and answer period after the actual forum, and what I saw and heard in the media center during that time.
Later on in the far away galaxy of my weekend I want to talk about what an interesting time this is to be a blogger of any sort, and what it felt like for me to be a decidedly newbie political blogger amidst a crew of veterans, but those are posts unto themselves and I'll need more coffee and probably a nap, but you really don't need to hear about my personal problems. (See? THIS is the hyrbid mess that happens when life bloggers try to crack the big issues! Actually, you may come to like getting a dose of political madness with a chaser of my occasional ruminations on my FEELINGS. Maybe. And if you don't, can't help you. It's all (or most) of what I got.)
LOOK: the Blogger's side! This was definitely the fun side (or at least the side that led the laughter after Biden's weird "Barack got tested comment," which led to a classic camera cut from him to Obama to Sharpton.)
After the forum was over, which felt like a minute after it began, to be honest, some of the candidates came over to the media center to be hounded mercilessly by microphones and cameras (anywhere from my little Powershot up to the big guys with the telephotos and whatnot.) John Edwards,
Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama did not show. That was disappointing. It seems to me that particularly with the numbers of journalists of color who were covering this thing, the amount of hype that it got, and what most of them referred to as its historical significance, that it would have been nice for all of them to make an appearance, at least. Advance news had been that Obama wouldn't show, but no word on the others...until there wasn't any.
I did what I do best, which is to kind of wander around through the fray, saying my "excuse mes" and keeping my antennae up for anything interesting. Note to self: bring digital recorder. Most of this gig is about watching people, to be honest, and there's really nothing I do better, so in that case I have an advantage. At first I was a little hesitant, but when Professor Kim came back to get something and said, "I got a quote from Richardson. I'm going back in!" I was emboldened.
Here's a little bit of what I saw.
*Tavis Smiley getting into a heated discussion with a tall, blond, male reporter who I was told was from the Washington Post. The reporter was incensed that Smiley had spent time he could have spent asking questions, hawking his book and his tv show instead (at least according to the reporter.) Smiley wasn't having it, of course, told the guy he was "missing the point", and walked away. The real kicker to me was Smiley's makeup artist (I suppose, based on her patting him with foundation sponges and the arsenal of brushes in the kit on her belt) getting into a verbal spat with the same reporter after Smiley moved on. "At least you'll get good copy, baby," she said, as she walked away.
*Gravel, whose responses spawned one of my favorite quotes of the night, continuing to expound on the War on Drugs. Next episode, he and a red-clad Nancy Reagan are going to spar, Real World Inferno-style. I watched him talking with another reporter, and walked up just in time to hear him say, "Why should people go to jail for marijuana, when they don't go to jail for WHISKEY?"
Good question, and he's going to answer it for you. It's the WAR ON DRUGS, fools! He also told a young African-American woman who was interviewing him that the African-American media (because it's no one else's responsibility, hmm?) needed to stand up and tell the truth, "That they're the most damaged" in this drug war. He also told her that "people are dying as I'm talking to you...These people say "I want to be President, and they can't even lead in Congress," making refreshing-for-this-event mention that there's a war on, and continuing his complaints about his competitors.
*Overhead: Vernon Jordan saying, "It was a great night for democracy and for the American people."
*Cornel West stood in for Obama, and responded to Gravel's closing statement that slammed the other candidates by saying, "I take exception to that man's statement...That is wrong. Barack Obama shows moral leadership."
*Smiley continued to be asked by others around the room about the lack of time for candidates to answer questions, and the frenetic pace of the whole event, in light of the length of the introductions and his own comments. He said they "made the best of what we had," and that these were nine questions that "hadn't been asked before", resulting from people "wrapping their arms around the Covenant" (for Black America.)
(I have more pictures but they're not behaving. I'm going to post and try to get them in a little later. Meanwhile, here's the evolving Flickr set for the forum.)
This is the final excerpt from my liveblog efforts. I've seen and heard a lot tonight, and therefore have an equal amount to process. This has been a very important experience for me and for a first crack at political coverage I don't think it went so poorly. Please stay tuned for some clarifications and clean-up in posts here and at Blogher.
The next question was about the criminal justice system. As Professor Kim and I discussed yesterday on Blogher, this was an issue that hasn't been covered very well in the candidate position statements, and it is an issue of great importance to the African American community.
The overall response to this question was the elimination of mandatory minimum sentences, the reduction of hard time for nonviolent offenders, and the "disparity between crack and powdered cocaine." Chatter from some of the bloggers online and around me reflected concern about too much of a focus on drugs - there are other issues here. Not too much talk about profiling here, but again, with thirty seconds per answer, it's difficult to go too deep.
The next question is about Katrina and responses to crisis.
Would you support a Federal law supporting the right to return to New Orleans?
Gravel says "squander" yet again. This time we're squandering money on the war instead of building homes.
Dodd says New Orleans and Katrina are a symbol of what we can do right, in contrast to what the Bush Administration did wrong.
Clinton says we have to fix the infrastructure. We have to rebuild it. Until recently the administration wouldn't give them FEMA money without a ten percent match.
Edwards draws on his own emotional connection to New Orleans in a response that I didn't catch the bulk of. This thing is moving fast...I think it might be better suited to round-up posts after the fact than in the moment sorts of things, but I'm already into it so I'll see it through!
Obama says big contracts went to Halliburton et al instead of NOLA citizens. He says we need a President in touch with the needs of the city before the next one hits. It was the assumption that everyone could "jump in their SUVs, load up with sparkling water and head to the nearest hotel," he says. He also adds that the people in NOLA were neglected prior to the hurricane. There are "potential Katrinas" all over the country - left untouched.
The next question is about outsourcing.
Gravel strays again from the drug wars to note that outsourcing is not the problem. Problem is trade agreements that benefit management and shareholders. It's the way all these people want to finance health care on the backs of businesses. It makes us uncompetitive.
Dodd says outsourcing is a huge issue.
Biden says we need to make jobs more attractive in America. Richardson adds that we need to upgrade our science and math standards. Create 250 science and math academies to deal with the gap. We need trade agreements that don't support slave and child labor. What is it going to take to keep you here?
Edwards calls upon the emotional again, and says he's seen the impact of outsourcing up close. The mill his Dad worked in closed - devastated the community. We need to eliminate tax breaks for businesses that move jobs overseas.
Obama says there was never a Federal effort to come in and retrain workers for jobs of the future. Kucinich is going to cancel NAFTA. A Democratic administration started it, another one will end it.
Darfur is the last question. We did nothing in Rwanda. What is this country's unwillingness to move to end the slaughter in Darfur? What does it say about our moral authority?
Dodd says we should be able to take some unilateral action. Get our military out of Iraq, regain our stature and build coalitions.
Clinton says there are three things we have to do: Move the peacekeepers into Sudan as soon as possible. There has to be airlift and logistical support from the US or NATO. No fly zone over Sudan. We should make it very clear to the government of Khartoum. We will shoot down their planes if they go there.
Biden says he's been calling for three years to stop talking and start acting. We don't ahve to wait to get out of Iraq to regain moral authority. if the rest of the world would not act, we shojld have two years ago installed a no fly zone. Put American troops on the ground to stop the carnage.
Richardson upset some people because he said we should use leverage with China to impact their Olympic chances - fighting genocide is more important than sports. We need to instiute no-fly zone, economic sanctions from Europe. In Darfur three mnoths ago - rapes must be stopped We should not forget about Africa.
Edwards Darfur part of bigger question for America. How do we reestablish ourselves after Iraq? Lead on stopping spread of disasease , water, and econ. deve.
Obama is no fly, protectiv forces, have to look at Africa aside form after crises, what are we doing tp ay attnetion to Africa w/ trade, economic develoopment. Our long term security will depend on whether we give childfren in Africa alternatives to violence.
Kucinich says it's time for the US to stop looking to Africa solely as a place where corporations exploit the people. If Darfur had a supply of oil, we'd be there right now. This was met with much applause.
Gravel wraps up the forum with an incendiary statement. He starts by saying that if we have a president he (read: HE) has to have moral judgment. He adds that most of the people do not have that judgment, including all of these people on the stage with him, and that they have proven it by "the single fact of what they've done."
More to come on the meetings with candidates after the debate.
The third question is from Michel Martin and speaks to the AIDS crisis.
Obama says that the African American community does not deal with AIDS upfront - in churches, at home, partially as a result of homophobia. When we are impoverished, when people don't have jobs, they're more likely to have a number of ills. We have to provide economic opportunities to create healthier communities.
Gravel says, again, that "the scourge of our present society is the War on Drugs. There's no reason to continue it in the slightest. It creates criminals out of people who are not criminals." He doesn't seem to have anything else on his mind.
Dodd mentions that universal coverage and access to coverage is necessary for a number of health issues in the African-American community.
Hillary is talking about women becoming infected in rural and underserved urban areas, and noted that if as many white women as black women had AIDS, there would be an uproar here. This is a multiple dimension problem, she says. And this is where things went a little nuts for a minute and I lost my train of thought.
Biden announces that he was tested for AIDS, and "so was Barack". Al Sharpton looked askance, and the pressroom erupted in laughter - mostly the bloggers, I have to say. Obama clarifies to his wife, sitting in the audience.
The next question is about economic disparity. I'm still recovering from the end of the last one. Everyone speaks to taxes - primarily the repeal of the tax breaks for the wealthy. Gravel skews away from the war on drugs for a minute to say that the income tax should be eliminated.
Richardson suggests tax-free holidays for tech start-ups. We should be pro-growth Dems - the party of innovation and entrepreneurship. Can we say that globalization works for the middle class? Use the tax code - make it fair, generate jobs - Tavis cuts him off. Tavis is sassy.
The first question spoke to inequality, particularly in light of today's The first issue brought to the forum was the question of race, in light of todays unfortunate Supreme Court decision.
The candidates are agreeing that inequality is an issue - not a difficult stance to take, I'd say. Almost to a person, they denounced the Supreme Court decision.
The march is not over, Hillary says. Hillary is yelling. Loudly.
Bill Richardson's remarks seemed canned.
"We have two public school systems and health care systems", says John Edwards. One for the wealthy and one for everyone else.
Obama thanked the Howard community and went on to speak to those who have inspired him to fight inequality, specifically Thurgood Marshall. Kucinich wants No Child Left Behind repealed.
Gravel is irritated by the War on Drugs. Addiction is a public health issue. He's tying it to the jail problem, and has given an oddly specific answer to a very general question. Strange choices, all around. I don't think any of them sound or look comfortable.
Second question: Education
Biden's time gets called while he states emphatically that the achievement gap for minority children begins before the child reaches school.
Richardson: Access to education for all Americans should be Americans' foremost priority. Pay teachers and have accountability. We have to give every American access to a college education.
Edwards says poverty is the cause of his life. Education needs to be improved all around. We have to support access to education.
Obama agrees with Richardson and Edwards that education must start with young, single parents and with children before pre-school. We must give training to teachers, in particular in areas where they are most needed. "You can't leave the money behind for No Child Left Behind," he says. These are our children, and they don't achieve because too many of us think it's okay. Every child can learn given the resources and opportunities.
Kucinich quotes Dr. Martin Luther King...the link between war and fear and poverty, as opposed to peace, security and prosperity.
Gravel is using the word "nostrum". He's fired up about squandering money in Iraq that we could use for education. Al Sharpton is nodding.
Dodd says this is the most important topic we're going to discuss this evening. Clinton reminds us that it takes a village, and she's the one to lead it.
Dr. H. Patrick Swygert opened the show, saying this is a "single honor and moment in the history of Howard University. This is a serious moment." Tom Joyner hit the stage, excited and honored as "we make not just African-American history but American history."
He mentioned what Dr. Swygert had initially stated, that this event was taking place at the historically Black Howard University. He expressed gratitude to Tavis Smiley for bringing a "purpose to our party". When America catches a cold, Black America gets pneumonia. We deserve more than a last minute visit during Sunday morning church services. Our vote cannot be taken for granted."
Here come the candidates, introduced by Massaschusetts Governor Deval Patrick.
I'm here in the "Media Center and Spin Alley" at Howard University for tonight's Presidential Forum moderated by Tavis Smiley. I'm covering this along with Professor Kim Pearson for Blogher and our own sites. This has been great fun already. I got here really early, and after a brief bit of confusion over parking, I jumped on a golf cart that happened by, and hitched a ride up to the Blackburn Center on the Howard Campus where I got my big old press pass. I got a rush from it, I have to admit. I almost cried. It's so embarrassing sometimes, how my tear ducts are tied to my visceral experiences and emotional reactions of every sort, but it is a good signal for how right or wrong things are. This has felt very right so far.
I made it back to my car with my press credentials without incident, and moved it up to a lot really close to Blackburn. I met up with Liza Sabater in the parking lot, and she introduced me to Susie Madrak outside. I'd checked out her site already from the list of bloggers and had been to Liza's many times through previous Blogher events, so it was nice to meet people right away. We had dinner together, joined by Maegan "La Mala" Ortiz. It's been worth the trip already - interesting women and good conversation. We even got to tell a couple of cameramen from CNN what a blog was - they said they didn't think they'd ever seen one.
You can find the feed for tonight here on the Mediabloggers Website. Check out the updates from the people who are here writing with me.
We have one large monitor in the middle of the room and two really small ones on either side. The Forum is in an auditorium on campus, so the press had to be located in another building. The pre-show just started, it appears, and a quartet of men are singing..."The Star-Spangled Banner" so far, and a couple of other songs I don't recognize. The President of PBS is speaking now. I'm going to regroup for a minute.
The All American Presidential Forum is tomorrow night.
This is where the list of bloggers is who will be covering the event with me, as well as the feeds from everyone's blogs.
Everyone's, that is, except for mine, it seems. I can't seem to figure out how to get Feedburner to sync my posts with this page. I'm hoping I can get that straightened out early tomorrow. I'm trying really hard to stay on time with this whole thing. It's a ton of new information to take in, which is actually really energizing. I just wish the week wasn't so weird on top of this, because I could have used the extra time to focus on just this information.
I haven't posted anything about BlogHers act, yet, and I need to get on the ball with that, I know.
Since I've been involved with this site as an editor over the past year and a half, I've been perpetually amazed by the creativity and the vision behind it. I feel really lucky to have gotten involved and once things get switched up for me this year, I'm hoping I'll have more time to join in. Meanwhile, I'm excited that Cooper and Emily are heading this up. They have brought so much attention to the natural and political disaster that was Hurricane Katrina, and also have advanced the cause of mothers who think and write online like few others.
The links will tell you what BlogHer's Act is all about, but it's basically an effort to identify a single global issue that needs attention, and also to create a "voter manifesto" for the 2008 candidates, identifying four major issues that the community would like to focus on.
We were asked to give our suggestions in both of these areas, and it was really, really hard to narrow it down. This is what I came up with in my submission. It's a little ranty and I can't say I was happy with it, but I posted it anyway. I feel really strongly about so many things and I so want to believe that there can be some positive change in our world. I can't say I'm completely optimistic, but at least there's an opportunity here to discuss issues of global and national concern that sometimes get swept away in the tide of daily life.
I hope you'll link to the BlogHer's Act initiative in your own work, and get involved in whatever way makes sense to you. I'm still thinking about what equates "action" instead of just pondering and perseverating over the problems. Hopefully that'll come clearer as 2008 gets closer.