The people's party

Published July 26, 2004 4:58AM (EDT)

If you're looking for some dissent in Boston, it is easier found outside the Fleet Center and the main hotels, on the periphery of the convention machinery and stagecraft. On the periphery would well describe the Jamaica Plain People's Party, an event sponsored by several progressive groups in a Boston neighborhood Sunday night. It was a subdued affair: Maybe 200 people milled around or laid on the grass, listening to slam poets and speakers that included Rep. Dennis Kucinich and Mimi Kennedy, the actress ("Dharma & Greg") and mother turned political activist. A few Kerry buttons were visible, but it's safe to say the crowd was, well, less than enthusiastic about the Democratic nominee. One man wore a T-shirt bearing the faces of Bush and Kerry and the slogan: "They both suck." John Anderson, a recently retired "number cruncher" for the Veterans Administration, wore an orange jumpsuit and held a handmade prison fence in front of him, giving him the incarcerated effect. To his left was another one-person fence, this one with a mirror behind it. "So people can see their future," Anderson said. He wants the Democratic Party to take a stronger position against the abuses at U.S. military prisons.

Bill Moyer worked the crowd handing out T-shirts and literature for the Backbone Campaign, a Vashon, Wash., group urging the Democratic Party to get a spine -- and to make their point, they're touring Boston with an enormous spine puppet. The group hands out Backbone Awards to candidates who take bold stands on behalf of progressive initiatives, such as universal healthcare and the Kyoto Treaty. Howard Dean has received a Backbone Award. Rep. Jim McDermott, who took a pre-Iraq war fact-finding trip to Baghdad, has received a Backbone Award. John Kerry has not.

"We would love John Kerry to give us a reason to give him a Backbone Award," said Moyer, the group's project director. "We don't see ourselves in opposition to the Democratic Party or in opposition to John Kerry. We are desperate to get George W. Bush out of office, of course, but we feel that it is essential for the Democratic Party to remain relevant in 2006 and 2008 they've got to take advantage of the groundswell of energy in the grass roots." Moyer voted Green in the last two elections. But this time, he said with a tight jaw: "I will vote for John Kerry this election, no doubt about it."

Kucinich had people off the grass and on their feet with a short but rousing speech that touched on some of the campaign points he has stressed all along: cutting the Pentagon budget by 15 percent to pay for social programs, eradicating domestic "WMD" like poverty, homelessness and racism, and reordering the power structure of American politics. He may have endorsed Kerry last week, but he's still critiquing his party on this last score: "It's time we restored the Democratic Party to being the party of the people," he said.

Asked afterward by Salon whether he thinks the party is too afraid to be labeled as "angry" and too liberal in the campaign against Bush, he seemed to agree, but focused on his issues rather than criticizing the party: "We need to break the fear. When you talk about the left, there are 8 or 9 million left in joblessness, 45 million left without healthcare, millions left homeless. Let's talk about the left."

By Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at

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