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What a national convention is like
A week in the Queen City
September 25, 2012
By LORRIE DEKAYHow does one summarize a National Convention? This was my first, and also my first visit to Charlotte, N.C.. Charlotte was certainly up to the task of hosting 6,000 delegates and alternates, plus an estimated 15,000 journalists. From my arrival at the airport, where I was welcomed by a legion of people in blue T-shirts holding Ask Me signs, until my departure six days later, the people of Charlotte made us feel very welcome. We were fortunate to have our hotel located near a light rail station. I rode the Lynx every day rather than rely on buses. It was a great way to meet people.
Volunteers from Charlotte, and other places around the country made navigating the convention venues easy. The energy in the city was very positive. Security provided by police departments from all over had us noticing their patches and thanking them by city: Thanks, Philly! Thanks, Chicago! The police did an outstanding job. They were present and watchful, but not intrusive. Only when large groups gathered for various protests and parades did you see many of them gather in one place.
Secret Service security was very tight, with VIPs in a hotel just a few blocks from the Convention Center, so several blocks were off limits to all but those with proper credentials.
I had great expectations of sending reports back in a timely manner, not realizing that days started at 6:30 a.m. and ended in the wee hours. Or that as the Arena filled, the wi fi access diminished. And that so much would happen in 18-20 hours that it would be impossible to process. I'm sure it's the same no matter which party convention you attend. I highly recommend this Disneyland for Political Junkies.
Busy schedules included credential pick up, breakfast meetings that lasted up to two hours, caucuses, security lines, protesters to navigate, light-hearted vendors hawking their wares, celebrities and media personalities everywhere.
Finally, there was the convention itself. It was thrilling to hear the First Lady, Bill Clinton, and President Obama in person. I loved listening to Julian Castro (and his twin brother Joaquin), Kamala Harris, and young Joe Kennedy III, who introduced a wonderful video tribute to the late Senator Ted.
It was great to see the younger generation stepping up. We had no shortage of ex Presidents, Governors, Mayors, Senators or Congressmen. Even President Carter sent a video message.
Carolina Fest, the public opening event on Labor Day, was held on several closed city blocks Uptown, with music stages. The Lynx was packed with families heading into town. There were booths, kid activities, and food carts. Estimated attendance was 30,000. The only damper (literally) was a wave of tropical downpours, remnants of Isaac, which canceled several acts and cut James Taylor's set short, as we were evacuated to buildings for shelter due to tornado warnings. Fire and Rain, indeed.
During Carolina Fest, I participated in a home building project. Half of the house was built in Tampa during the RNC, the other half at the DNC in Charlotte. They were put together on a plot donated by the City of Charlotte for a deserving veteran.
Our group of 25 WA delegates had a shift during which we painted molding, removed painter's tape, cleaned cabinets and floors of spatters. As we finished our shift, the rains hit, some taking shelter in the house, the rest huddled under a pop up tent.
One of the things I enjoyed most was our Washington delegation, which, of course, had targets for diversity. This group surpassed all goals. We had equal parts men and women; college students to retirees, native born and immigrants, Caucasian, African American, Native American, Hispanic, Asian, Pacific Islander, Arab American, and LGBT. In other words, a healthy cross section of Washington State and of America.
We shared our patriotism and hopes for our democracy. Looking out at the humanity packing the Arena was a very emotional and powerful experience. Our colorful characters were in many national media shots during speeches, on the screen cam during dance breaks, and interviewed by various outlets.
The Washington State designated area? Exit, stage right. Party leaders told us these were the best seats that Washington has had in many years. Jesse Jackson must have liked them because he came and sat with us Wednesday and Thursday.
Messages were linked from speaker to speaker, day to day, in a well coordinated presentation over the week. Some people think the Democratic Party is a big tent with too many factions to unify. Themes were Moving Forward, Not Back; Greater Together; Focus on the We and not the Me; and Don't Close the Door of Opportunity Behind You.
Video clips of people whose lives were impacted directly by policies. such as the Affordable Care Act, the Auto Company Bail Outs, Medicare, Pell Grants, GI Bill, Women's Issues, Equality, and the Dream Act were followed by live appearances of those in the videos. Lilly Ledbetter, namesake of the Pay Equity Act, spoke at Caucuses and to the full convention.
I can't leave out the moment Thursday night when Rep. Gabby Giffords walked out unassisted to lead the Pledge of Allegiance. We'd heard rumors earlier in the day that she would be there. Usually the evening program began with an invocation, color guard, pledge and national anthem. That night, the pledge was later in the program. After welcoming Rep. Giffords with a standing ovation, she began in a clear voice, "I pledge allegiance..."
Even the disappointment of moving indoors for the President's acceptance speech didn't bring spirits down. Alternative viewing parties were popping up for the volunteers who weren't lucky enough to get inside the Arena that night. People I met were philosophical about it. They were well aware of the intensity of the storms we'd had all week. The buzz about not being able to fill the stadium? Definitely negative spin. It would have been Standing Room Only. This city was totally engaged. By the way, it did pour close to gavel time. I saw the drenched delegates in the ladies room.
As I waited for my flight to Boston Friday morning, I was treated to the sight of Air Force One taking off on the runway in front of me, a grand finale of sorts. The energy of Charlotte will now be focused on moving Forward, and getting out the vote for Election Day.