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Star Trek fans are known for having conventions. UFO enthusiasts traditionally hold their conventions in Rosewell, New Mexico. Dermatologists get together to talk about skin. The National Rifle Association opted not to move their 1999 convention from Denver, following the Littleton tragedy.
Virtually every group, association and organization holds a convention. A convention allows like-minded individuals to come together in a common place to talk shop and set agendas. At some conventions people even get awards.
Political parties are no exception. Every four years, political enthusiasts from around the country get together and come up with a candidate for president.
They also share ideas and adopt a platform - a statement of - "hey this is what we believe, this is what we stand for." And even if conventioneers dont agree with the nomination, by election day, party members are certainly rallying around their candidate.
Republicans are holding their 2000 nominating convention July 31st through August 3rd in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. 2,066 delegates are expected at the convention. This will be the sixth time the GOP meets in Philadelphia. The very first-ever Republican convention was held there in 1856.
Democrats are holding their 2000 nominating convention August 14th through August 17th, in Los Angeles, California. 4,368 delegates are expected.
Even though recent conventions have seemed made-for-TV political rallies, some of the greatest moments in political history have taken place at conventions.
Barbara Jordan, an African-American congresswoman, gave a famous keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention in 1976.
By the way it was over 100 years ago (at the Republican National Convention in 1868) that black delegates first attended a major political party's convention.
The First Conventions
Conventions started in 1831, with the Anti-Masonic Party holding the first-ever presidential nominating gathering. The first parties nominated their candidate in a meeting of party members in Congress, called a caucus.
But when the American population started moving beyond the east coast, party members not living in Washington still wanted a voice in picking the partys nominee.
The Anti-Masonic party set at date and a location, allowing party members from around the country to get together in one place and select the nominee. Now, people vote for delegates during primary elections and those delegate gather to pick a candidate.
Conventions can be raucous events. Todays candidates know theyll be the party nominee long before the conventions even start. Not so long ago, delegates came to conventions unsure of who the nominee would be.
Back then, delegates
at the start of a campaign season would pledge themselves to a candidate,
but by the convention could have a complete change of mind. This would
make for highly-tense
Delegates would cast their votes, but there often wasn't a clear majority. Then there would be more speeches and more promises.
Election reforms of the 1970s and 80s now lock delegates to the candidate they voted for in their state's primary.
This year's conventions will mix politics with bravado, giving material to the 15,000 photographers, television, radio, newspaper, and Internet press core. But what goes on inside the convention halls could pale to what happens outside.
The Season of Protest
Gather politicians, gather protesters. Protesters are preparing to hit the streets of Philadelphia and Los Angeles, calling themselves the R2D2 coalition.
R2D2 wants to draw attention to poverty, health care, AIDS research, environmental issues, criminal justice and campaign finance reform.
Demonstrators are planning to erect Bushville, a camp of poor and homeless people, on the main street across from the convention. Unity 2000 has obtained a permit for 20,000 marchers and a monster Corpzilla. Corpzilla, is a 80 foot float that devours democracy for the greater corporate good.
Philadelphia police will have 7,000 officers on convention duty. Officers are taking special training for the expected swell of protesters. Some of the training includes watching hours of videotape of previous skirmishes between protesters and officers in D.C. and Seattle. Los Angeles will put 9,000 cops on the streets to keep the peace.
When the Republican convention ends, R2D2 will focus on the Democrats.
The Democrats have had their fair share of run-ins with protesters. In 1968, the country was dealing with assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, and we were at war with Vietnam.
Vietnam protesters wanted to make their message heard, but Chicago Mayor Richard Daley wanted to promote a positive image to the world and didn't want demonstrators spoiling the convention. Daley called in the National Guard.
During the nine day convention, the streets of Chicago exploded. Captured on television, Americans saw protesters clash in bloody riots with police. During the 3,000 reported skirmishes, 200 police and demonstrators were injured. More than 500 people were arrested, including the now famous Chicago Seven.
Location, Location, Location
Chicago survived to become the most popular convention city. And conventions have become big business.
A convention is a perfect opportunity for a city to highlight itself to tourists and businesses, plus share some of its history. Host cities try to recoup the money spent on police overtime and city beautification, by asking big business to help pay for some of the events and parties.
The location of a convention is also political. Pennsylvania is an important swing state to win, if you want to be president. Pennsylvania has 23 electoral votes, and it is important to Republicans. Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge was a front runner for the Republican VP slot.
Likewise, California Senator Diane Feinstein has been touted as a front runner for the Democratic VP slot. California has 54 electoral votes, the most of any state.
It's Really a Big Party
So confetti will rain down and balloons will burst. There'll be entertainers, singers and music. Conventions can be exciting and fun.
And there will be speeches. Ronald Reagan delivered a speech at the 1981 convention that moved many Americans to tears. Former New York Governor Mario Cuomo, speaking at the 1984 Democratic convention, addressed poverty in a well-received "Tale of Two Cities" speech.
At the Republican convention this year, Colin Powell and John McCain will speak. At the Democratic convention, Bill Clinton will give his last address before his party as president. And celebrities are sure to attend both.
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