Walking The Gauntlet In Charlotte

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — To reach the Convention Center, you must first walk the gauntlet of dead baby parts.

It’s one of the newer and more gruesome tactics in the fight over reproductive choice, protesters hoisting large color placards depicting aborted fetuses torn in chunks as a group of men preaches an unending sermon on the evils of abortion. As rhetorical tactics go, it is a bludgeon.

The street preachers have other things on their minds, too: Muslims are bad, homosexuals are worse, and if you vote Democrat, you’re going to hell in the fast lane. Also, if you don’t believe as they do, then you don’t know Jesus like they know Jesus.

But always, they return to the medical procedure they deem child murder.

Most people walking to various functions in the Democratic National Convention ignore them. Some don’t. “They better not have that same d–n picture,” growls one man as he approaches the corner. He is shepherding a small child. Another man can’t resist yelling the obvious when the preacher starts extolling the Christian virtue of the Founding Fathers, i.e., that those virtuous Christians trafficked in human beings. I don’t see this myself, but one guy tells me he saw two guys salute the preachers by sharing an ostentatious kiss.

Late in the afternoon, it begins to rain hard. The preachers preach on as people rush by, seeking shelter from the wet. It makes for a bizarre, yet appropriate sideshow to an opening day the Democrats devote largely to women’s issues.

Though speakers address other matters — gay rights, military families, education — the overriding theme of the evening is that President Obama and the Democratic Party stand on the right side in the so-called “War on Women.” At one point, female representatives and candidates even take the podium in a group, their very presence and numbers making a statement. That statement is, Look at us, we’re women.

More substantively, Stacey Lihn, mother of a little girl with a congenital heart defect, says in a short speech that she fights for the president because he fought for her family. His health care reform enables her daughter to get the care she needs even if it costs more than the lifetime cap on expenses their insurance company once imposed.

In a honeyed drawl redolent of her Alabama home, Lilly Ledbetter praises the president for one of his first official acts — signing a bill named for her that helps a woman paid less than a man while doing the same work to seek redress in court.

And then, of course, there is Michelle Obama, the self-described “Mom-in-Chief” who, speaking with a gracious smile and a warmth palpable enough to bake bread, makes the implicit point that, ladies, here is a man who gets it about what matters in our lives. Not just the big things — reproductive rights, equal pay, access to health care — but also the small ones that are the stuff of life: “Saturdays at soccer games, Sundays at grandma’s house.”

It is a bravura performance that brings the crowd to its feet. In the iPod of my mind, Kool and the Gang are singing “Ladies Night.”

And it occurs to me: Women are half the human race and slightly more than half the American populace. How thoughtful, then, is the party to allow them a night. How generous are street preachers to offer them such visceral counsel in making the most wrenching and intimate moral decision of their lives.

And so it goes as we lurch along the bumpy road toward enlightenment.

The night is steamy but the rain has let up by the time the convention adjourns. Bars and restaurants are doing lively business and every few feet, a vendor is selling memorabilia — T-shirts, buttons, caps. A man is hawking Obama hand puppets in the spot where another man stood with pictures of dead baby parts just a few short hours ago.

(Leonard Pitts is a columnist for the Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla., 33132. Readers may contact him via e-mail at lpitts@miamiherald.com.)


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