Tim Carpenter led the Southern California campaign for Jerry Brown for President in 1992. In conjunction with Jody Evans, Jim Clarke, Tom Hayden, and many others of his confidants from previous campaigns dating probably back to George McGovern or something else he likely worked on from the cradle, I joined him with other later to be Progressive Democrats of America SoCal faithfuls like Mary Carter and Diane Valentino of Laguna Beach. Together we captured votes for Jerry in a local county straw poll and organized a very successful rally on Pacific Coast Highway at Laguna’s Main Beach that drew more folks and small dollar contributions in a single event than any of us had ever seen or imagined it would.
Among many other things, this eventually led to both Tim and I becoming elected delegates to the Democratic National Convention that year held at Madison Square Gardens in New York City. And as California’s favorite son in a primary that had at one time as many as six or eight viable candidates, Jerry ended up getting almost half of our pledged delegates despite our primary election also being held late in the season as it has mostly been throughout the modern era.
So going into the Convention, despite the fact that Bill Clinton had won almost 80% of all the elected delegates in the various state elections and caucuses, we the Brown delegates knew that California still had the largest body of delegates with any semblance of purpose other than anointing Clinton as the nominee. Jerry had run on a “Humility” agenda, with such high principles as Campaign Finance Reform and Single Payer Healthcare, he accepted no donations from corporations of course, but not even any greater than $100 from any individual.
We initially convened for our state party’s mandatory delegate meeting later that June in Sacramento, much as we're doing now in Long Beach to get the final word on delegate and committee appointments, only to be mostly disappointed by many rejections from the status quo so-called party leaders. I even recall a very informal meeting of the SoCal Brown delegates prior to our going to the New York convention that occurred in my own backyard here in South Orange County, where about 40 to 50 very perturbed folks, including Tim and I, mostly vented for 3 or 4 hours over potluck snacks, still with little idea of how to proceed to make our presence and the considerable expense of our going be ultimately worthwhile.
Tim and I planned to share a DNC reserved room at our state’s convention hotel at his insightful recommendation, which was why after all I grew so dependent on Tim for just that kind of wisdom. The very remarkable events of that week I now know would probably not have transpired to any degree as significantly as they did if we had not.
Day 1 in NYC for me at least began the Sunday night prior to the Monday afternoon the convention was to start. Tim of course was already on the ground in NYC way ahead of me. He had gotten word to me somehow that I should meet him in an area of Central Park for a rally which I think was actually a non-partisan protest of George H W’s first Iraq war and intent to disturb Bush’s reelection plan, which was seemingly a “done deal” at least to the mainstream media at the time, not yet having earned the “out of touch” label Bush would later acquire.
Ross Perot had stirred up the works with his independent run, but promised to take as many votes away from the Democrats as the Republicans, so we were pretty far behind in the grand scheme and looking to upset the apple cart in any way possible, hopefully in our favor, of course.
Anyhow, miraculously finding Tim at the end of the rally there in Central Park at dusk when I first arrived, he had of course at least 8 or 10 things he felt we should do before even thinking about calling it a night. Not the least of which was trying to pull together a pre-meeting meeting of the California Brown delegates having heard that our first official convention event would actually be the next morning at a breakfast sponsored by Arco there in our hotel, featuring a keynote address by none other than Hillary Clinton.
Tim explained again, as only he could, that we would need a strategy going into that first joint meeting of the delegation. He said that with over 500 delegates and almost half being for Jerry, we would be in a unique position as a body to leverage the Clinton campaign to at least allow a respectable presentation of our platform, despite the fact that other candidates such as Paul Tsongas and Tom Harkin had already conceded for what they thought would be quality time at the podium, even before any of us got there.
Tim further explained that Jerry’s not having already conceded actually created even more leverage due to the strain it would put on convention planners and especially Clinton operatives to keep a lid on any “upstarts” like us. And he convincingly advised those at the above mentioned Sunday night pre-meeting meeting to help do just that, although it was by no means certain I think even to Tim just how we would do that.
Needless to say, the pre-meeting meeting carried on into our hotel room, which became the unofficial headquarters, packed with California Brown folks, delegates and others, who were looking for ways they could contribute. We ended up with as I recall 6 to 8 people sleeping in our two beds and one rollaway plus others in chairs and on the floor pretty much through the entire week, in particular because of what happened that next Monday morning.
In a booming voice we all know and remember so well, and seemingly out of no where, Tim Carpenter stands and starts to chant, “Let Jerry speak! Let Jerry speak!”
Again, a Monday morning pre-meeting meeting at 6 a.m. of 200 or so of us California Jerry Brown supporters ended up rich with strategy but poor on tactics, and going into that Arco breakfast (yes, you can gag here, we all did) due to start at 7 a.m., all we had clearly in mind to do was to make sure we all sat together, not an easy thing to pull off for that many folks, but we did.
When the breakfast started, the tension and hubbub on our side of the room alone was near the breaking point. Nonetheless, we all quieted enough to allow the convener to commence and then the inevitable introduction of the keynote speaker, then first lady of Arkansas and lawyer Hillary Clinton. Applause was respectful but seemed to drop off abruptly and in its place came a remarkable sound from the center of our side of the very large room.
In a booming voice we all know and remember so well, and seemingly out of no where, Tim Carpenter stands and starts to chant, “Let Jerry speak! Let Jerry speak!” And before we all knew it, that 200+ body of folks who came long distances with their hearts and souls poured into this effort, began chanting along with Tim, “Let Jerry speak! Let Jerry speak!”
It became our mantra for the entire week, at least up until the vote Wednesday evening took place and Bill Clinton was nominated. We then owned that convention for those first two and a half of the four days it took to finally do the nominating.
When Tim and the rest of us confronted Hillary and by proxy the rest of the status quo in that first breakfast meeting, we were momentarily silenced after a period of what seemed like a very long and passion-filled time artfully by Hillary herself with her also now famous but not nearly as effective comeback of something to the effect of “You know, I’ve known Jerry Brown a very long time and I’ve never known him not to speak!”
Of course she was right about that and we all knew that was our Jerry Brown she was so aptly describing, and which did after a nervous laugh by all in the room manage to quiet us at least for the rest of that breakfast and her Kumbaya speech that day. However, we left that breakfast feeling strength we didn’t even know we had.
The word got out to the other Brown delegates what had happened in our breakfast showdown with the Clintons, including to Jerry Brown himself who let us know through Jody and then through Tim that was exactly the kind of tactic we needed to carry on into the "streets and suites," as Tim loved to say, for the duration of the convention.
We began to be swarmed as the only newsworthy thing coming out of that convention, and by the time of the opening our delegation was corralled off by the media despite the Clintons having placed us at the far end of the hall. We sent small, nonviolent armies of delegates up to the podium intermittently with signs and noisemakers and all the while of course chanting, “Let Jerry speak!”
This floor action culminated for us with Tim being asked by Jerry to be one of his three nominators, which otherwise included Jody Evans herself and moviemaker Oliver Stone, and despite the Clintons’ attempt to silence us with non-prime time speaking time, we really did own the media and the convention at least through those speeches and Jerry’s of course.
Incidentally, Tim was asked to prepare what he said then was the speech of his lifetime just about 2 hours before the Wednesday nominating convening. And despite the fact that we had been running on less than 3 or 4 hours sleep the night before, Tim had me take over floor operations or troublemaking as it were. But it was a magical moment indeed, and besides for the fact that it is Tim Carpenter we’re talking about here, I to this day don’t know how we pulled it all off.
The convention as a whole and to a large degree thanks to our efforts, impressed the entire country and even the likes of Ross Perot himself to drop out at least temporarily after he pronounced his new belief that there was a hope of the Democratic Party having a chance of being the representative body it had claimed to be.
I know that having a veritable campground of activists in our DNC designated hotel room helped tremendously. I don’t know that replicating that in this primary year or at this year's convention in Philadelphia or in the present atmosphere of the digital age, and especially without Tim Carpenter himself there at the helm, would result in anything that meaningful or effective.
I do believe however, that we should give ourselves every opportunity to do so, and if I am ultimately designated as a delegate I certainly intend to avail myself to any and all to try. With the lesson of Tim’s now classic rally cry of “Let Jerry speak!” we should also heed his most recent and frequent salutation of “Teamwork!”
We’d be fools not to.
“Feel The Bern!”
Dr. Bill Honigman