August 14, 2016
When I first signed up for a Political Science class in college, I took a course on American Government. I wanted to know about the party of Abraham Lincoln and that of Harry Truman.
But our cynical professor curtly tossed out an expression that I had never heard before: “Tweedledum and Tweedledee.” He said they were one and the same and it was useless and pointless to see them representing different traditions or ideologies.
Needless to say, he wasn’t into nuances and I was glad to hand him my last paper for the semester.
Years later, I read the autobiography of auto magnate Lee Iacocca, Where Have All the Leaders Gone?
He had a different take on America’s governing parties: “When the times were lean, we were all Democrats, and when they were better, we were all Republicans.”
The “we” in the statement referred to his family, but I took it to mean how most Americans related to politics.
Iacocca’s distinction became blurred again when I attended the Republican National Convention (RCN) in Cleveland and Democratic National Convention (DNC) in Philadelphia last month.
The Republicans were better dressed and I somehow thought they would be aloof: They wouldn’t care about with my message of friendship between Kurds, the world’s largest stateless nation, and Americans, the most powerful state in the history of humanity.
The Democrats were primarily business casual and I thought they would receive me with open arms, welcoming my self-evident message: Kurds are fighting the most dangerous and regressive force, the Islamic State, and Americans should support them without equivocation.
Although I made friends in both conventions, I had to revise my views of Republicans and Democrats.
I had them both pegged wrong. They each turned out to be the opposite of what I had initially thought.
Here’s what happened in Cleveland and Philadelphia.
Congress allocates funds for security of the conventions and this year $50 million dollars was given to each city for the safety of delegates as well as protestors.
Federal courts have ruled that the protesters should be “within sight and sound of convention hall.” Democrats disregarded this injunction. Republicans honored it.
The Republicans in Cleveland designated the Public Square as a place of protest. It was several blocks from the convention site.
The Democrats in Philadelphia picked the FDR Park for the same purpose, but erected a fence to keep the convention participants definitely outside the “sound” of demonstrators.
The Republicans held their conventions at Quicken Loans Arena, or Q Center. It was a stone’s throw away from Prospect Avenue and E 4th Street where their entrance was located. Everybody made use of it. And protestors were allowed to rub elbows with the convention participants.
The Democrats held their convention at the far-off Wells Fargo Center. You could still see it from the protest area, but with convention-goers whizzing by in busses, activists found it impossible to interact with them.
In Cleveland, we raised our banner in front of main entrance of Q Center. It declared: “Kurds are Fighting ISIS Tooth and Nail. America, Won’t you Help Them to Prevail?!”
For six days, thousands of Republican delegates and their families saw our banner and many stopped by to thank us for doing America a favor—fighting ISIS, and said things to the effect, “We are so glad you are here!”
When I told a Texan woman delegate that 3,200 of our Yezidi sisters were still missing, tears of pain gathered in her eyes. Needless to say, the same thing happened to me.
I probably met hundreds of delegates and gave scores of interviews, some of them to foreign journalists.
Most days were 12-hour shifts. We were there some days till we were so weary that we no longer could stand up straight. We distributed one thousand of our info sheets, titled, One Vital Word: Freedom.
In Philadelphia, the one vital word was: Distance. We were kept way off from any action.
One day, we raised our banner across from Pennsylvania Convention Center where 10,000 journalists were picking up their credentials. We ran into a number of journalists that we had seen in Cleveland.
The next day, we found out that Democratic delegates were meeting at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts. We camped across it, and got some waves of support from its distant terrace.
Given our dismal prospects at FDR Park, my helper Azad Kobani and I felt obliged to pack our banner and head home.
There were a lot of catchy banners at both conventions. My favorite, by far, was, “Bernie or Jill (Stein, Green Party candidate), but never Hill!”
I was definitely disappointed in the “City of Brotherly Love,” but I am not in the business of holding grudges.
In 2020, I am going to the quadrennial gatherings with my credentials, and hope Kurdish-Americans will do the same.
(This op-ed originally appeared in Rudaw, an online English daily, on August 13, 2016)
Kani Xulam—on Twitter @AKINinfo