A Day at the circus

Commentary: Center Field

There I was late Saturday in Washington’s historic Wardman Park Hotel — once used as a set for the film Advise and Consent — waiting in the audience for the Democratic National Committee’s Rules and Bylaws Committee to emerge from a closed-door meeting and announce a resolution to the dispute over National Convention delegates from Florida and Michigan. A gay Clinton supporter two rows in front of me saw my rainbow Obama button and started yelling insults. As I leaned forward to respond, several of my fellow Obama supporters held me back. I felt like Rock Hudson in Giant. Fortunately, this guy was no James Dean, and I was not sucker punched.

Earlier in the afternoon, Donna Brazile, a gay-supportive committee member, told former Michigan Governor (and Clinton surrogate) Jim Blanchard, ”My mama always told me to play by the rules, and to respect those rules.”

”You go!” and ”Tell it!” people called out. I rose to applaud her, and my reaction was caught on C-SPAN. (Some YouTube videos have preserved my 15 seconds of fame.) When Brazile arrived in the morning, the crowd had greeted her like a star. This was due partly to her regular appearances on CNN, and partly to her being our hometown girl.

The talk about mamas made me think of Smokey Robinson singing, ”My mama told me, you better shop around.” That seemed like an amusing way to pass the time, but a scan of the room reminded me that a gathering of political junkies is not exactly a Chippendales audition. The lovely Nigerian man sitting next to me had a charming way of tapping my leg whenever he made a point about the proceedings, but that had far more to do with his irritation at Harold Ickes than with any interest in me.

My reveries were interrupted by a deranged woman several rows back who had been heckling the committee all afternoon, and who now shouted, ”What about the voters?” I turned and retorted, ”What about your medication?” The DNC’s security was rather lax, but I suppose it made for better TV.

The committee finally agreed to seat all the Michigan and Florida delegates with half a vote each. Outside the ballroom, I ran again into Not James Dean, who, with the triumphant look often worn by fanatics after losing, observed scornfully that Obama is supported by the anti-gay Rev. James Meeks. I noted that Obama’s associations have not kept him from challenging homophobia from the pulpits of black churches, and I would have mentioned Clinton’s own anti-gay supporters including Bishop Eddie Long of Lithonia, Ga., and former D.C. Councilmember Vincent Orange (who denounced his opponents in the 2006 mayoral race for supporting same-sex marriage), but the guy was spitting at me, ”You’re worse than Andrew Sullivan.” This is a popular trope of leftists who cannot acknowledge that Sullivan has spent a decade and a half defending marriage equality. ”I take that as a compliment,” I replied. By then we had attracted several amateur videographers, and an alert Obama supporter prevailed upon me to withdraw. We mustn’t get between angry Hillaroids and the cameras.

African-American activist Mark Thompson interviewed me for his talk show on Sirius Satellite Radio. I expressed satisfaction with the day’s results and said that Clinton was not helped by her followers chanting ”Denver! Denver! Denver!” to signal their determination to wreck the party sooner than unite behind Obama. I also accused Clinton of overplaying the issue of sexism, and a woman nearby yelled at me, ”Be careful what you say!” Thompson interviewed her next.

Speaking of ministers, I attended Thompson’s ordination last year in Israel Baptist Church, whose pastor, Rev. Morris Shearin, is past president of the D.C. branch of the NAACP. Rev. Shearin once rejected a donation from the D.C. Coalition because the group was gay. Yet in 1997, Thompson invited me to help the NAACP launch a task force on police matters.

The bridge Thompson built back then has endured, in a relationship sometimes as raucous as Saturday’s DNC meeting. We have lasted because of something understood by the former community organizer who will be the Democratic presidential nominee, something once stated by Bill Clinton, a truth that I hope will be grasped by his wife’s angry supporters: What unites us is stronger than what divides us.

Richard J. Rosendall is a writer and activist whose work has appeared on Salon.com and the Independent Gay Forum (www.indegayforum.org). He can be reached at rrosendall@starpower.net.

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