Protests Illustrate Problems Facing Divided Democratic Party

If the protestors demonstrating Saturday outside a Democratic National Committee Rules Committee meeting in Washington, D.C., are any indication, it won't necessarily be easy to unify the party this fall. Demonstrators wielding signs (such as COUNT MY VOTE OR COUNT ME OUT) screamed loudly in the minutes before committee members arrived to debate the seating of the disputed Florida and Michigan delegations. Many wore COUNT OUR VOTE T shirts and toted American flags.

A group from Florida clustered together, easily identifiable in their matching black and yellow shirts that read "1.75 Million Votes RIP" above a picture of a tombstone. Police officers wearing fluorescent jackets frantically directed traffic, while inside the staid marble hotel lobby, DNC staffers and security guards kept a watchful eye to make sure no one got out of hand.. Passing cars honked in support, provoking whoops of joy from the chanting crowd, which seemed to be comprised mostly of Hillary Clinton supporters. Party elders might take some solace in the size of the crowd; only several hundred showed up.

James Quinn, a 28-year-old bartender from Carbondale, Pa., spread the Clinton message to anyone who would listen, including a middle-aged couple from Boston in town for a wedding. Wearing a well-worn "Count Every Vote" shirt, Quinn told the couple that Barack Obama took his own name off the ballot in Michigan "because he thought he couldn't win the state and he hedged his bets." Quinn added that he has concerns about Obama's patriotism, and that he'll only consider voting for Obama if Hillary is on the ticket. When Quinn left, Andy LaGrega, the Bostonian Quinn had been preaching to, said he was shocked by the younger man's views. "It was almost like those weird e-mails you get about Obama that obviously don't seem to be truthful, it's almost like he's buying into that," LaGrega said.

Unlike Quinn, many of the protestors tried to stick to the scripts they were given. Edith Liu, a 30-year-old doctoral student from Philadelphia, showed a reporter talking points she pulled off of a pro-Hillary Web site. Liu said protestors were instructed to emphasize the importance of counting every vote and not just ramble on about how "we love Hillary so much." As Liu was speaking a "What do we want?" Democracy! When do we want it? Now!" chant erupted behind her, spurred by emcees holding megaphones. "The Web site says we're not here for Hillary," Liu said.

Jehmu Greene, 35, a member of the recently formed WomenCount PAC, thinks the protests could actually help the party. Greene said she made the trip from her hometown of Austin, Texas, in part because she believes that if the votes from Florida and Michigan aren't counted, Democrats will lose in November. "This is a beautiful thing, people who wake up and get on a plane, get on buses and travel for hours and travel for thousands of miles to have their voices heard," she said. "It is why this country was founded [and] it is absolutely making this party stronger that this race is so contested, that so many new voices have come in." Greene, who plans to support Obama if he is the nominee, argued that Democrats will be better organized in the fall thanks to the surge of interest spurred by the primary race.

Still, hard feelings abound. Jim Hannigan, 45, president and founder of Florida Demands Representation, said he has spent more than $60,000 of his own money to get the Florida delegates seated. His group has mailed Florida oranges to Rules Committee members and tea bags to state party chairs in Iowa and other early states (invoking the taxation without representation protest of the Boston Tea Party). Hannigan has collected more than 230,000 petition signatures, held several rallies throughout the Sunshine State and bankrolled the travel costs for about 300 Floridians who were dispatched to the DNC meeting. If Clinton loses the nomination, Hannigan said he does not know if he'll vote for Obama. And he warns that Clinton supporters will not go away quietly: "There will be some type of citizen-oriented action to try and affect change within the convention. From our perspective calls to get out of the race are unfounded and absolutely undemocratic. Abraham Lincoln was nominated after the third ballot, and FDR after the fifth ballot."

Republican Marc Spitzer, a former state Senate leader from Arizona who now works in Washington as the commissioner of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, said that a historic event was unfolding outside the Marriott where Democrats were meeting. Spitzer woke up his son Ben, 12, at dawn to bring him downtown to watch the protests. Ben, who was posing for a picture with a protestor dressed as Uncle Sam when he was interviewed by NEWSWEEK, said, "Some countries like Saudi Arabia, they don't really have a democracy, and this kind of makes me realize some of the great things I have in America like the freedom of assembly and stuff."

Two foreign visitors who observed the protest from the balcony of another hotel across the street said nothing about such lofty ideals. Constance Bastiaans and John Human, visiting from Namibia for a telecommunications conference, were amused by the political theater on display. "It's a bit weird, but I like it," Bastiaans, 44, said. Human chimed in, saying that politics in Namibia is nowhere near as emotional. "Definitely we would not have, in one party, a race like this," he said. "It is normally our carnival that looks like this."