Democratic 'shadow convention' opens Sunday
LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- With the Democratic National Convention just two days away, political activist Arianna Huffington and an umbrella group of mostly left-leaning organizations are set to play host to another "Shadow Convention," a five-day event that organizers say will focus "on the issues that the parties won't touch."
As it did during the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia two weeks ago, the Los Angeles "Shadow Convention" will focus on three issues -- campaign finance overhaul, poverty and the "wealth gap" in America, as well as what organizers say is the failed war on drugs.
"Neither party has anything to say about this," Huffington said recently, arguing that the major party conventions have evolved into little more than "pre-programmed infomercials."
While the Philadelphia venue was miles away from the GOP convention site, its Los Angeles counterpart will be held within walking distance from the Democratic gathering at the Staples Center downtown.
Protesters also will be allowed to congregate much closer to the convention this time around, and subsequently, the shadow gathering. Arizona Sen. John McCain was greeted by hisses and boos from protesters during his speech on campaign finance at the Philadelphia shadow gathering, particularly when he voiced support for GOP nominee George W. Bush.
McCain won't be attending the Los Angeles event, which organizers say is less prone to similar protests because the 550-seat venue, Patriotic Hall, is owned by the Los Angeles County and will be heavily staffed by local law enforcement.
Mixing parody with serious talk, the event is open to the public and will feature, among others: Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minnesota; the Rev. Jesse Jackson; authors Jonathan Kozol and William Greider; and comedians Al Franken and Bill Mahr.
Huffington, a conservative commentator, will kick off festivities Sunday night. Actor Warren Beatty, a proclaimed liberal who last year entertained the idea of mounting his own presidential bid, is expected to join her on stage Sunday night.
Opening night events will include previews of the convention themes by speakers including Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wisconin, Rep. Tom Campbell, R-California, and Dr. Cornell West, a Harvard professor and former campaign advisor to Bill Bradley, who unsuccessfully challenged Vice President Al Gore for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Comedian Bill Mahr, host of the television show "Politically Incorrect", will deliver a stand-up act, followed by a music performance by former "Public Enemy" rap star Chuck D. to wind down the festivities.
The shadow proceedings over the next four days will follow a similar pattern, with debates and forums each morning in advance of the Democratic convention sessions. "Rapid Response Panels" comprised of politicians, journalists and authors -- including former Democratic presidential candidate Gary Hart, Newsweek senior writer Walter Shapiro, and author Gore Vidal -- will provide commentary immediately after the real convention sessions. The panels will be followed by musical and political satire acts each evening.
Those not attending can also take part in the fun by checking out the shadow event's Internet "bozometer," which allows users to voice approval of disapproval during Democratic convention speeches.
On the serious side, the first day's shadow theme, "Poverty and the Wealth Gap" will be hosted by three advocacy groups, Call to Renewal, the National Campaign for Jobs and Income Support, and United for a Fair Economy.
"In an economy with record-breaking prosperity, it's past time to put poor people on the political agenda," argued Jim Wallis of Call to Renewal.
Washington-based groups Common Cause and Public Campaign will host the second-day theme, "Campaign Finance Reform" and the Lindesmith Center, a liberal drug policy institute, will organize discussions around "The Failed War on Drugs" theme.
Sen. Feingold, co-sponsor of long-stalled legislation to ban unregulated "soft money" donations to the major parties, will headline the campaign finance panel discussions, which will include singer and songwriter David Crosby and Scott Harshbarger of Common Cause.
New Mexico Republican Gov. Gary Johnson, who has called for the legalization of drugs, will address the drug policy panel on Wednesday. The day's event will also include a presentation of the film "Grass" by the marijuana advocacy group NORML, as well as "medial marijuana testimonials" by individuals.