It's not easy getting a political convention off the ground--especially when the convention is not really a convention but a "shadow convention," and especially when the politics being convened is not the old-fashioned kind but a new, revolutionary kind of politics that will "transcend the old categories of left and right." Arianna Huffington has been learning this lesson the hard way all summer. While Americans across the country--hundreds of them! maybe thousands!--eagerly await the twin spectacle of the Republican and Democratic conventions in Philadelphia and Los Angeles, the syndicated columnist and former Newt Gingrich confidant has been trying to round up participants for a self-styled alternative--the Shadow Conventions 2000, dubbed by sponsors as a "Citizens' Intervention in American Politics."
"It's really exploding in ways I could not have imagined," Huffington says, riding through downtown Philadelphia a few weeks before the Republicans are scheduled to arrive. Today she has already held a press conference, visited two newspaper editorial boards, met with a dozen area activists and scouted the arena where the shadow revels are to be held. But the complications never let up. An aide's cell phone beeps, and he hands it over. "Bill Bradley," he says. Bradley has unofficially agreed to appear at one of the shadow conventions.
"Bill!" she says, though in her heavily Greek-accented English it comes out "Beeeel!" "How are you?"
A long silence ensues.
"Oh, Bill, that's ridiculous," Huffington says at last. "No, no, no. He's just trying to make trouble, Bill. It is false. He does not know what he is talking about."
In time she hangs up, evidently having mollified Bradley. "He just saw Bob Novak on Inside Politics," she explains, referring to the conservative columnist and the CNN political show on which he regularly appears. "Bill's worried because Novak says no one knows who is financing our conventions. Novak says if people knew, they would not want to appear. This is false." She sighs deeply. "But this is the kind of thing we will have to put up with. The Establishment hates anything it cannot control. What it cannot control, it tries to eliminate."
Huffington and her colleagues are convinced they have hit on a formula that will roil the muddy middle of American politics, from Bushies on the one side to Gorites on the other. Their plan is media-savvy and politically astute. Concurrent with the party conventions, an assortment of activists, professional pols and show-biz celebrities with populist pretensions (from stand-ups like Bill Maher to superstars like Warren Beatty) will gather for four days of speechifying, seminar giving and satirical merrymaking, all on the indisputable assumption that the national press corps (and the public) will be so starved for spectacle and spontaneity that it will lavish attention on them--and their issues. CNN and C-SPAN have expressed interest in broadcasting some sessions live.