July 30 2004

In Boston, Seeking A Role In The Democrats’ Script

By Roberto Lovato

BOSTON—Headlines, video images and lead stories in the local press were all part of the script for the four-day Democratic Convention that opened this week at the Fleet Convention Center in Boston, Mass. But I came here to see what role the Democratic script would assign to us “people of color,” who are now the majority in Boston, Los Angeles and most other major American cities.

I wanted to walk through the “city on a hill” so touted by Puritan leader and Boston’s founding father John Winthrop, and more recently, Ronald Reagan — a hill both men described as a beacon to global freedom. I wanted to compare the values embodied by the tree-lined Puritan burial grounds, the abolitionist churches and other staid, brown brick buildings lining the nearby Freedom Trail, with those expressed in the Fleet Center.

Blockbuster Bill Clinton and a very presidential Hillary Clinton delivered the opening page of the four-day script set to climax with the entrance of presidential hopeful John Kerry. Listening intently to their speeches were African American women who caravanned into Boston as part of the Civil Rights Pilgrimage from the Deep South, alongside Asians and Latinos who took the Immigrant Worker’s Freedom Ride. Clinton, “America’s first black President,” captivated many with his passionate appeal to “create a world where we can celebrate our religious, our racial, our ethnic, our tribal differences because our common humanity matters most of all.”

Some were moved to tears watching the speech, others seemed to reserve judgment. Perhaps they were still reflecting on what Clinton’s script meant for non-whites when he said, in 1992, “Let’s forget about race and be one nation again.”

Meanwhile, at Freedom House, a community action center located in the Dorchester area far from Boston’s official Freedom Trail, childcare advocate and Civil Rights Pilgrimage leader Sophia Bracy Harris of Montgomery, Ala., told of crowded, rusty trailer homes located in parts of Alabama where the nearest health clinic is more than 50 miles away.

“I’d like to know when some of these politicians will take the time to pay us a visit so we can show them we’re also part of the human family,” said Harris. Following on the trail of civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer on her historic trip to the 1964 Democratic Convention in Atlantic City, more than 68 women from Mississippi, Alabama and other Southern states joined Harris on a journey designed to raise human rights issues — housing, health, education and, especially, women’s rights — not fully addressed in either party’s script.

When Harris hears talk of terrorism enter into American political discourse, she recalls the Molotov cocktails lobbed into her home when she was a teenager seeking to attend white schools. She’s troubled about the way “both parties bandy about that word (terrorism) without including the terror inherent in hate crimes against African Americans and others.”

DNC delegate from Queens, Morshed Alam, shares Harris’ concerns about what’s being left out of the Democratic script. He recently ran for city council. “Even though the party didn’t include me in their plans for Queens, I won more than 42 percent of the vote. Imagine what we could have done with their support,” he recalls.

Alam, a Bangladeshi American, supported this year’s Immigrant Worker Freedom Ride promoting legalization for immigrants, policies reuniting families and civil and workers rights. Delegate Alam was not among those cheering Hillary during her DNC moment. “She didn’t even support the Freedom Ride. What kind of freedom are we advocating and freedom for who?” wondered Alam, who estimates that more than 500 Arabs, Muslims and South Asians in the New York area have experienced the terror of hate crimes (most of which go unreported).

At a Massachusetts Mayan retreat on the beatific lands of the Mashpee Wampanoag Indians (the first tribe to encounter English-speaking immigrants in colonial America), Anibal Lucas, a Maya Quiche Indian and Immigrant Freedom Rider was far from the goings-on on the city on a hill. An undocumented worker in a local fish factory, he’s had to live his life without an official script since coming to the United States in the 1980s after the Guatemalan military murdered his father.

Lucas left because the military, backed by Reagan with his Cold War policies, was gunning for him next. He doesn’t believe that the convention — which he watches after working at his sometimes-injurious fish-cutting machine for 12 to 14 hours — will make Mayan issues part of the script. “We have a different sense of place and a different sense of time. I don’t think they understand us; I don’t think we’ll be included.”

Glenn Marshall, former U.S. Army sniper during the Vietnam War and President of the Mashpee Wampanoan Indian Council, offers a pragmatic approach. “I fight every day for my family, my tribe,” says the direct descendant of Massassoit, the storied Mashpee Wampanoag leader who first entered into a treaty with the English Pilgrims that so altered native life. “We’re organizing a reception for the (Democratic) staffers who deal with our issues because we have to,” he said.

Like it or not, the rest of us will have to negotiate and demand better roles in the grand script too — regardless of who captures the presidential seat come November.

Lovato (robvato63@yahoo.com) is a Los Angeles-based writer. This article was produced with the support of the Independent Press Association.

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