Greetings from the Conclave of the Great Order of the Nation of Tomorrow

by sawamix

The way I see it, if you’re going to share a hotel and conference center with the Order of the Sphinz convention, you might as well get in the spirit.

I don’t know why I have this knack for staying at hotels hosting conventions of Masonic orders. Maybe it’s from having read The Illuminatus Trilogy. Or having been one of those Trash Culture Mutants looking for Illuminati symbols everywhere. But this is the second time for me. First time was at a Shriner’s convention in Virginia Beach. This time it’s the Order of the Sphinx, which looks to be an African-American order consisting of elegantly-dressed, largely unsmiling but friendly people in star-studded neckpieces and fezzes. When combined with the strange pagan rituals of the 2000 or so progressive activists (no, they are not all Kossacks) currently powwowing here at the McCormick Place Convention Center, it’s making for an interesting, convivial environment.

I can’t tell you anything about the Order of the Sphinx (though Melina is trying mightily to find out), but the strange pagan rituals at the group I’m with consists largely of drinking coffee, sitting hunched in front of laptops, partcipating in caucuses on how to be more effective activists and bloggers, wandering the cavernous halls of the Center looking for coffee, bathrooms (in that order) and free food — the latter because at this joint, a cup of coffee will set you back three bucks, a bottled water $2.50, and a salad $15.

Right now I’m at Wesley Clark’s Friday morning keynote. Those of you who were hoping Clark would throw his hat into the ring, it’s time to take the bumper sticker off the car, because Clark made it clear this morning (albeit not in so many words), that he is not running. Clark is a far more effective and engaging speaker then I expected him to be. He’s speaking to his particular area of expertise, which is the military and the handling of Iraq in particular and terrorism in general. I wish that anyone (*cough* Republican s *cough*) who thinks “Democrats don’t get it” could hear this guy.

What’s coming out of this conference is an emphasis on how to most effectively try to repair the horrific damage done by the Bush Administration, from gutting the social safety net to raping the planet and everything in between. This is hardly the Two Himutes Hate envisioned by Loofah Boy and his mouthbreathing, slobbering undead minions. The only people who need be afraid of the people here are those who truly believe that America should be a fundamentalist Christian theocracy, run entirely by wealthy white men with the power to decide how many scraps they’re going to share.

But while this may be the progressive politics junkie’s Jerusalem, the real fun here is talking to other bloggers. The term “bloggers” is loosely used here, and spans from the ridiculous guys who lurk on Daily Kos and thought this would be a good place to pick up easy chicks to the people who identify as bloggers because they post a comment on Daily Kos every now and then, to people like Christy Hardin Smith and Bob Geiger, who find the irony of so-called progressive bloggers earning their living off their blogs and then pulling up the ladder behind them and helping only each other.

(Aside: Clark is really on fire here, noting what every Democratic candidate ought to say to George W. Bush and the Republicans. “THIS IS YOUR WAR.” Damn, he is really, really good. Diplomacy. Engagement. Strategy. Notions that shouldn’t be radical, but in the context of six-plus years of Republican warmongering seems so.

So who am us, anyway? We’re one of you….and you’re one of us…and…

OK, enough of that.

If there is one major concern that the denizens of this conference should note is the relative lack of diversity at this conference. This crowd is whiter than the array of Democratic candidates. Last night Howard Dean (video to be posted on YouTube later) talked about Democratic strengths among young, Latino, and black voters. Yet minorities are seriously underrepresented here. Some of this may be attributed to the cost of attending a conference like this, for unless you’re prepared to spend close to a grand on airfare and the $149/night conference rate at the hotel, you’re not going to be here.

If anyone from the organizing committee is reading this, may I just suggest something? While the centralized conference is seriously fun, and is of course the best way to attract national candidates to attend, why not put together at the same time a group of regional satellite conferences, wired into the main one via videoconference, thus making it a truly national convention that represents the diversity in the progressive movements. Barring that, at the very least, the minute this conference ends, and if possible before, start putting together a “scholarship fund” to help defray some of the costs of attending this conference for those who cannot afford to attend. For if there’s one reservation I have about this conference (other than the Big Boiz walking around as if waiting for someone to kiss the ring), it’s that it is an extremely white group. On the one hand, it means that the Republicans are not, much as they would like to be, the political home for Comfortable White People, but that not everyone who is Caucasian carries the “I got mine and fuck you” attitude that Republicans think is part of the definition of being white. On the other hand, it still feeds into that old “limousine liberal” stereotype. We need to find a way to get the voices of underrepresented communities into this annual dialogue.

UPDATE: Here’s Clark’s speech, courtesy of Pam: