CLAIM DEMOCRACY CONFERENCE REPORT
NOVEMBER 22, 2003
SynopsisThis was the first official day of the conference, which was held at the Washington Convention Center. It started with a plenary session of speakers, highlighted by Jesse Jackson, Jr. who gave an incredibly powerful speech (listen in MP3) explaining the need for a Constitutional Right to Vote. Then we did breakout sessions. I stayed mostly on the State Reformers Track (the other tracks were Youth and Democracy and the Law). The second session of the day that I attended was especially helpful and included Doug Clopp of Maine Citizen Leadership Fund (who helped get public financing of elections in Maine), Dan Johnson-Weinberger of CVD and Midwest Democracy Center, and Steven Hill who is a major guru on Instant Runoff Voting and headed the San Francisco campaign that passed IRV.
Detailed Report as emailed in from D.C.Ok so today I woke up at about 8 and headed over to the Washington Convention Center. There were exhibits for a lot of organizations and as I walked around, and gave our stuff to a couple, I got to meet John Anderson, who ran for President in 1980 as an Independent and is chair of the Center for Voting and Democracy. Then the morning speeches were up and the highlight was Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. No, not the other Jesse Jackson, but his son, who is a Congressman from Illiinois. Despite having been awake for 26 hours because the House of Reps. was in session all night voting on legislation, he gave one of the most powerful speeches (listen in MP3) I've ever heard. I had tears in my eyes and for once got to give a couple standing ovations not because I was just following along, but because I actually wanted to. His speech focused on explaining the need for a Constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right to vote and went into the history of the Constitution, slavery, and a lot of other issues. It was truly unbelievable. I don't think I've ever seen a speech that powerful. After, I was lucky enough to get a picture with him and shake his hand.
Then it was off to the breakout sessions. These are all great because they show how many others out there feel like I do about the need to fundamentally reform the basic mechanisms of democracy which are so broken. The second session was particularly helpful and included some of the key people in the country on Instant Runoff Voting, which is the issue I'm here for, but also on clean money elections/public financing for elections. These included Doug Clopp of Maine Citizen Leadership Fund (who helped get publicly financed elections in Maine), Dan Johnson-Weinberger of CVD and Midwest Democracy Center, and Steven Hill, who is really a major guru on IRV, author of Fixing Elections: The Failure of America's Winner-Take-All Politics, and who headed the campaign that passed Instant Runoff Voting in San Francisco where it was supposed to be used this year, but will now be used starting next year (long story). I had a few people from around the country come up to talk to me about what we're doing in the Detroit area who want to do the same things in their cities. By the way if you DON'T know what we're doing, look at FIRV's Website.
There were then more speeches, including Dr. Ron Daniels and Chellie Pingree, who is the President and CEO of Common Cause. She addressed the issue of media consolidation, and talked specifically about her own personal experience with low power radio in her home of Maine in a little town I believe called Rockland where Clear Channel took over and they started a low-power FM station to bring it back local. Another person I met and gave our stuff to was Simone Lightfoot who was on the Michigan Help American Vote Act (HAVA) advisory commission. She said how great our Greens are in Ferndale when I told her where I'm from and she remembered all the brouhaha of our letters hassling them all about the new machines :) So she got our info and she is someone worth knowing.
The final highlight was getting to talk to Jamin Raskin who is a Professor of Law here at Washington College of Law at American U. He impressed me all along, but I just found out tonight he defended Nader through a lot of the debate stuff that went on last election. He also defended Ross Perot when he was excluded from the debates. He went to law school with Jennifer Granholm at Harvard, and he is the type of person that, just as I'm narrowing down my career options, throws public interest lawyer back in the mix again. Damn him, it was just getting easier! It is just amazing when someone with the intelligence and talent that this guy has decides to devote it to fighting for what is right instead of just what can make him the most money. So I got to talk to him for a bit and get his email to talk more later.
Then, on the way out I ended up in conversation with a gentleman named Rick La Monica from Alliance for Democracy and when I told him I'm from near Detroit he started telling me about Harold Stokes :) I told him yes of course we know Harold and he was involved in the initial meetings that led to M-FORE. Small world.
So another great day of contacts and learning. I'm exhausted after only getting a few hours of sleep the last two nights, so I am going to go relax and get to sleep early. Tomorrow, Ralph Nader speaks and runs a workshop! You can bet I'll be at that one. More soon!
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