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Shadow Conventions 2012: What They Will Not Be Talking About in Tampa and Charlotte

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Tampa, Florida has more homeless people per capita than any city in America. Yet you won't hear much -- if any -- talk from the podium on the Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired convention set about America's poverty crisis.

And this lack of attention won't be exclusive to the GOP. You can expect more of the same (or is that actually less of the same?) when the Democrats descend on Charlotte next week -- after all, President Obama hasn't devoted even one speech to the subject of poverty since he moved into the White House.

This bipartisan back-turning is why we are reviving the Shadow Conventions -- gatherings I helped organize in 2000 with the goal of sparking a national conversation on three issues that neither party was seriously addressing: the corrupting influence of money on our politics, the persistence of poverty in America, and the disastrous war on drugs.

Twelve years later, both parties are still largely ignoring these issues. As a result, each of these problems has gotten worse:

In 2000, 31 million Americans lived below the poverty line. In 2010, it was over 46 million -- including 16.4 million children -- a figure that is expected to rise when the new census figures are released this fall. This is the largest number of people living in poverty in over half a century.

The drug war numbers are similarly troubling: There are over 100,000 more arrests per year for possession of marijuana than there were in 2000 -- yet over 6 million more Americans are using illicit drugs today. A quarter of all prisoners in U.S. jails are there because of a nonviolent drug offense. And while African Americans represent just 12 percent of all drug users, they make up 59 percent of those in state prison for a drug offense.

As for the increasing role money plays in our political campaigns, the founding democratic principle of "one man, one vote" has been replaced by the arithmetic of special interest politics: Thousands of lobbyists plus billions of dollars equal access and influence out of the reach of ordinary Americans. While $54 million was spent by outside groups on the 2000 presidential race, that number has already reached $318 million in 2012. And, thanks to Citizens United, that includes large piles of money funneled through super PACS and "dark money" groups.

To battle the two parties' neglect of these issues, HuffPost Live and The Huffington Post are hosting Shadow Conventions 2012 -- devoting a day during each of the national conventions to focusing on one of the three issues. Today and next Tuesday, a wide array of HuffPost sections -- from Politics to Green to Entertainment to Science -- are featuring stories and blog posts highlighting the effects the war on drugs is having on so many aspects of our lives. On those same days, between 12-4 pm ET (and again between 6-10 pm ET), HuffPost Live's team of host/producers will be joined by a broad range of politicians, thought leaders, activists, and celebrities for in-depth interviews and panel discussions on various aspects of the drug war. Tomorrow and next Wednesday the focus will be on poverty and jobs, while the many ways money is influencing our politics will be front and center on the next two Thursdays.

And we want you to be a central part of these discussions. That's what HuffPost Live is all about -- sparking real conversations about issues that impact our lives.

Among the drug war-related topics being discussed today on HuffPost Live are over-incarceration; how racial disparity in the drug war has led to the disenfranchisement of millions of Americans (especially people of color); the drug war's impact on families; and the reasons why the drug war is such an electrified third rail of American politics. Click on any of the above to go to a HuffPost Live "green room" page where you can learn more about the specific topic, leave a comment, and sign up to join an on-air Shadow Convention conversation.

The Shadow Conventions are for the 96 percent of Americans who have not contributed to a political campaign; the nearly 90 percent of Americans who favor treatment over incarceration for first-time drug offenders; the 80 percent who believe that Congress today is being run not for the benefit of the people but for the benefit of special interests; the more than 40 percent of Americans who are not planning to vote in November; the more than 22 percent of our country's children living below the poverty line.

The Shadow Conventions are your conventions. Join us and be part of a convention that's unscripted, surprising, and a lot more interesting than the over-produced political commercials in Tampa and Charlotte.

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