Of Democratic Party Protests, Politics and Partying

ATLANTA--It's really just a formality.

On Wednesday evening, delegates at the Democratic National Convention here will make Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis the party's nominee.

With his landslide victory in the California primary last month, Dukakis clinched the top spot. And he's already chosen his running mate, Sen. Lloyd M. Bentsen of Texas. So there's not a lot of suspense here, aside from the Jackson-Dukakis brouhaha which seems to have passed.

But the 14,000 delegates, party activists and media people who have flocked South have been far from bored.

Democrats are anxious to show the nation a united party. And they're eager to bash George Bush and the Republicans on prime-time TV. And when they're not sounding out inflammatory oratory, there's plenty to keep them occupied.


On Sunday alone, there were at least 87 major parties, receptions and brunches. Plus at least 13 rallies, protests and demonstrations.

White supremacists held a rally near the Omni Convention Center which provoked an anti-Klan demonstration that led to a clash with city police. Meanwhile, Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan addressed a crowd at a local Baptist church.

While some delegates flocked to hear Oprah Winfrey and the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra, others were invited to attend a rally sponsored by "Justice for Janitors." Marching down the streets of Atlanta, a group advocating the legalization of marijuana shouted, "We smoke pot and we like it a lot."

An "anti-capitalist coalition" gathered downtown, but it is doubtful many delegates attended--half of all delegates at the convention make $50,000 a year or more, the Atlanta Constitution reported.

The Democrats, always on the cutting edge, consulted experts who assured them that a pastel-colored podium would be more pleasing to the eyes than red, white and blue. Somebody forgot to tell Atlanta business owners, however, who have covered the town with the traditional colors.

On street corners, vendors are busy hawking political buttons. About half the pins praise the Democrats; the rest insult Bush. One of the most creative says, "George Bush for President: He Does the Work of Three Men." That button bears a picture of the Three Stooges.

Atlanta business people predict convention goers will purchase 30,000 T-shirts during the week, as well as 1000 keychains and 200 ashtrays.

Also lingering on most street corners are supporters of extremist Lyndon LaRouche, himself a one-time pretender to the White House. His followers try to convince passers by that the Queen of England is a dope pusher and accuse opponents of being cocaine addicts.

The nation's media have blanketed Atlanta in search of news. When the "Jackson Action Rainbow Express" pulled into town, it was met by a crowd of 5000. One-fourth of the crowd was from the media.

But the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson isn't the only preacher eager to capture some of the media spotlight. The Rev. Al Sharpton is in Atlanta to draw attention to the plight of Tawana Brawley, the 16 year-old New York girl who says she was kidnapped and raped by six white men in a racial attack.

Dukakis has set up headquarters in the luxurious Hyatt Regency Hotel, but his Massachusetts delegates are housed in the Holiday Inn, where the billboard proudly notes the presence of "President Dukakis's" homestate supporters.

Jackson headquarters are at the Marriot Marquis. In the lobby, members of the Rainbow Coalition offer T-shirts for $10 and hawk copies of Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream" speech for three bucks.

Dukakis volunteers have covered the city with pro-Dukakis signs. These vastly outnumber signs put by a group calling itself "Concerned Massachusetts Democrats" which quote Harvard economist Robert Reich who claims Dukakis wasn't responsible for the "Massachusetts Miracle."

Another group eager to rain on Dukakis' parade is the Republican party. While Vice President George Bush is fishing somewhere in Wyoming, a GOP "truth squad" has been dispatched to Atlanta. Headed by the Republican's foremost hatchet-man, Kansas Sen. Robert Dole, the squad is eager to dampen the spirits of its Democratic rivals.