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Upcoming US Democratic Convention's Historic Contrast to the Past

Next week’s U.S. Democratic Convention in Denver, Colorado, promises to be an unprecedented event. Leonard Williams teaches political science at Manchester College in North Manchester, Indiana. He also heads the Department of History and Political Science. In this fifth part of a five part series, he tells VOA English to Africa reporter Cole Mallard, “There’s no denying that it’s going to be one of the most historic conventions for the Democrats and probably for the nation, that we’ve seen, ever. The prospect of nominating an African American for president of the United States is certainly one that no one expected.”

He says in the past black speakers have played prominent roles at both Democratic and Republican conventions. The late congresswoman Barbara Jordan gave the keynote address in [1992] and the late Shirley Chisholm, also a member of Congress, [was a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1972]. Williams also mentions prominent black speakers at Republican Party conventions, such as former secretary of state Colin Powell and the current secretary of state, Condoleeza Rice. But as a nominee, he says, Barack Obama is ”one of a kind.”

However, Williams says other aspects of the Democratic convention will remain the same, with features that have marked the conventions of both parties down through the years. He says delegates will discuss a number of issues, including economics, foreign policy and national security.


The Manchester College professor says there will probably be demonstrations at both the Democratic and Republican conventions this year. At the Democratic convention he expects protests over the wars in Iraq (and Afghanistan) and accusations of sexism during the campaign. At the Republican convention, Williams says protests may also focus on President George W. Bush’s handling of the war in Iraq, and he expects demonstrations by people who want to make sure the Republican nominee is pro-life.

But Williams does not expect this year’s protests to equal the violent demonstrations at the 1968 convention in Chicago. The Vietnam war was underway and there were riots over the assassinations of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Senator Robert Kennedy.

Williams says, “Forty years ago was a very different time -- the riots in the streets, the conflict with police outside the convention hall, conflicts within the convention hall -- very traumatic for the Democratic party, and some would argue [it] eventually lost them the presidency and their majority standing “for almost these 40 years now.” He says the atmosphere will be more sedate, with a few protests – both at the Democratic convention and the Republican convention -- which are considered traditional and routine.

Good shows

Williams says today’s conventions are much more “scripted” than those of the past, which had an atmosphere of “smoke-filled-back-room-deal-making.” He says the invention of television and its coverage of campaigns has really taken political deal making, political compromise, off the floor of the convention and put it somewhere else.” These days, he says, conventions are primarily media events designed to put on a good show and to be energetically enthusiastic about the nominee “and to campaign heartily after the convention’s over.”