The time I nominated an alternate VP at the Democratic Convention

It was August 12, 1980. New York City was sweltering amid a torrid heat wave, and there seemed to be no relief, especially in the halls of that year's Democratic convention. Ted Kennedy and Jimmy Carter were locked in a vicious battle for the Democratic nomination. Carter was going to take it, but Kennedy wasn't making it easy for him. I was on the floor of the convention hall when Kennedy gave one of the best speeches I've ever heard in my life. "We must insist that our children and our grandchildren shall inherit a land which they can truly call America the beautiful," he said. "The work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die."

It was a galvanizing moment for me and the other organizers from the Solar Lobby and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group who were feverishly trying to convince the delegates milling around the floor that Jimmy Carter's energy policy needed to be exposed. Though our country had already experienced two Middle East oil embargoes, his platform proposed almost no money to advance safe, renewable energy sources like solar, wind, and biofuels.

As activists and advocates for energy conservation and alternatives to oil, we were mad. But even better, we were organized. We wanted to expose this feeble plan before the national media and the political pundits. And the only way to do that was to raise the issue from the convention podium.

That should have been an impossible task. But after reading the convention rules carefully, we realized that, if we gathered enough delegate signatures, we could actually nominate our own candidate for vice president, a candidate who could talk about safe energy to the entire assemblage. We approached Rep. Ed Markey, a stalwart Democrat from Massachusetts who had always been a staunch advocate of petroleum-free fuels. He agreed to be our standard bearer should we meet our signatures goal.

We scrambled until we got our hands on the credentials we needed to access the floor of the convention. For the next 48 hours, we buttonholed as many delegates as we could to plead our case. We dodged Carter operatives who were trying to shut our effort down. I snuck into a press briefing being given by top Carter aides Hamilton Jordan and Jody Powell to flag Markey's upcoming speech for reporters. And on the day the vice president was due to be nominated, we presented our petitions to the Democratic National Committee. Having far exceeded the requirements, the DNC had no choice but to accede to our demands.

As Rep. Markey took to the stage, we hooted and hollered until we were hoarse. With delegates exuberantly waving symbolic cardboard suns in the air, Rep. Markey spoke to America about the need to kick our addiction to oil and even coal. Rep. Markey laid out a strategy to increase automobile fuel efficiency and promote energy conservation. And Rep. Markey stressed that developing renewable energy sources would be the key to a secure and affordable energy future. 

Carter's folks couldn't wait to get Marky off the stage. We never really understood what the hurry was. As we see more than 25 years later, our vision for an oil-free America made sense then, and it makes even more sense today. Fortunately, this time around, the Democrats -- and indeed most Americans -- agree.


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