Community Alliance at National Convention
The Community Alliance will have a reporter onsite at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., the first week of September. Michael Evans, who is on the Community Alliance Editorial Board and a frequent contributing writer, has received press credentials for the convention.
Because the timing of the convention, Sept. 3–6, does not allow for timely print coverage, Evans will report each day from the convention via a blog on the Community Alliance Web site. What follows are Michael’s daily dispatches.
Sept. 3, 2012 — By Michael D. Evans
I arrived in Charlotte, N.C., on Friday for the Democratic convention. I was greeted at the airport by movie posters of films shot in Charlotte and everyone asking if I was here for the convention. There was a lone reporter at the airport doing a piece on how the airport was going to handle the incoming traffic over the next few days.
This is my third Democratic National Convention. I previously attended the two Jimmy Carter conventions, both of which were in New York. At those, I found the activity outside the convention hall every bit as interesting as what was going on inside. As a college student at the 1976 convention, I was amazed to find myself riding an elevator with Hubert Humphrey and impressed with an impromptu hallway speech from progressive icon Ron Dellums.
Even though the Charlotte convention itself does not start until Tuesday, there is already a multitude of activities under way.
Despite the massive police presence, on Sunday the Occupy movement held a parade. The police, who were otherwise helpful and informative, estimated the number of participants at 100. But clearly there were more than 500 persons. Nancy Carter, a former Charlotte City Council member, noted that each person seemed to be promoting a different issue. Certainly, no one can accuse Occupy of being a single-issue “special interest” group.
The parade stopped in front of Bank of America, where various participants addressed the crowd with inspirational and informational speeches. (I had a number of photos from this event in my cell phone, which I misplaced. I will post those if I retrieve the phone.)
The peripheral events range from those that are free and open to the public to high-dollar affairs where we “riffraff” are not welcome. (Aren’t these supposed to be Democrats?)
One event I was able to attend was the National Women’s Political Caucus (NWPC) reception. The keynote speaker was Elaine Marshall, secretary of state in North Carolina. Marshall is unabashedly progressive and might have prevailed in her failed 2010 run for the U.S. Senate but for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) backing the “moderate” male over her in the Democratic primary. (Please, please, do not try and tell me that the DSCC does not take sides in a primary.)
Also on the NWPC agenda were Terry O’Neill, the current president of the National Organization of Women (NOW) and Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation and a former president of NOW. Both outlined the critical importance of the 2012 election for women and the need for involvement by all. Most of those present pledged to get 50 people each to the polls in November.
A day earlier, a huge event was held at the N.C. Music Factory for the media, although the restriction to media seemed loosely applied. The Music Factory is a number of old mill and industrial sites that have been renovated into a collection of clubs and concert venues. Being from Charlotte myself, I had seen the plans for this project years ago and I thought that it had boondoggle written all over it. But I was wrong. It has proven to be an amazingly successful concept.
I also had the opportunity on Saturday to visit the headquarters of the local Democratic Party in Mecklenburg County, where Charlotte is located. It was a beehive of activity, but their work was unrelated to the convention. They had more than a dozen folks calling on behalf of local candidates for U.S. Congress and County Commission (the equivalent of our Board of Supervisors).
Because of today being Labor Day, the convention will not convene but there is no shortage of activities under way including Charlotte’s annual Labor Day Parade and CarolinaFest, an all-day festival.
At the Democratic Convention: Convention Opening
By Michael D. Evans
With the official opening of the convention slated to start at 5 p.m. that left plenty of time to check out some peripheral activities during the day.
I started the day at the California delegation breakfast. Although the keynote speaker was Speaker of the House John Perez, the focus was primarily on the state’s female leaders including Sen. Barbara Boxer, Attorney General Kamala Harris, Secretary of State Debra Bowen, Board of Equalization member Betty Yee and a special appearance by Sandra Fluke, the women’s right activist who has experienced aggressive and inexcusable verbal assaults from Rush Limbaugh.
California Democratic Party Chair John Burton had returned to California. Perez noted that Burton had to decide whether to remain at the problem-plagued hotel where the delegation is staying or get a previously scheduled root canal and Burton chose the root canal (seriously). As it turns out, the hotel added a new wing that was originally scheduled for completion later this year. To take advantage of the convention business, the construction was rushed resulting in a multitude of serious (and possibly litigious) issues. To put it mildly, the California delegates are not pleased.
Later, I headed to the Planned Parenthood rally. The rally drew a few hundred supporters despite an intimidating security checkpoint leading to the rally site. Leading off was Newark Mayor Corey Booker, a rising star in the Democratic Party who moved into a low-income neighborhood before running for City Council and later mayor. (Check out Street Fight, a documentary that chronicles his first, albeit unsuccessful, campaign for mayor of Newark.)
Booker got the crowd going for the speakers that followed, including Fluke, actress Lisa Edelstein, Emily Sussman of Young Democrats of America and Rep. Gwen Moore (D–Wisc.). Moore, in particular, expressed her anger with the Republicans’ war on women and rallied those in attendance to act now. Every speaker expressed a call to action to register, vote and get others to the poll.
Curiously, the right-wing protesters seem to have better access to the conventioneers than the progressive ones. The anti-choice zealots—with the megaphones and graphic photos—have a choice spot directly in front of the credentialing entrance. A group of right-wing evangelicals secured the sidewalk space leading from the credentialing site to everything else. Aside from them, there are t-shirt, button, program and umbrella vendors but no progressive interests visible at this prime location.
The convention officially opened around 5 p.m. Despite the massive security presence throughout Uptown Charlotte (part of the city’s rebranding when it began its hugely successful downtown revitalization), security into Bobcats Arena (the arena has a corporate sponsor to which I refuse to provide free advertising, so I will give it a functional name), where the convention is being held, was not that severe with only one checkpoint. (And you didn’t even have to remove your shoes.)
Chair of the Democratic National Committee Debbie Wasserman Schultz opened the convention and announced, to enormous applause, that it was being broadcast simultaneously in Spanish.
The night’s first barnburner speech was from Booker, who commented that the United States “cannot be the world’s No. 1 economy if we’re not committed to being the world’s No. 1 educator.” Despite his gaffe earlier this year appearing to disagree with Obama when acting as Obama’s surrogate, Booker seems destined for bigger things.
The early speeches featured a lot of cheerleading and, surprisingly, some of the public officials were less than impressive. But there were definite highlights during the evening, and nothing seemed to deter from the overall plan for the night.
Among the highlights:
- Keynote speaker Julian Castro, mayor of San Antonio whose twin brother is a candidate for U.S. Congress, clearly lived up to expectations. He is now on everyone’s radar. And he could be the Democrats’ best shot at making the Texas governor’s office blue again. His primary message was to invest in opportunity. Castro referenced the Republican convention of a week earlier: “Of all the fictions we heard last week in Tampa, the one I find most troubling is this: If we all just go our own way, our nation will be stronger for it…We all understand that freedom isn’t free. What Romney and Ryan don’t understand is that neither is opportunity. We have to invest in it.”
- First Lady Michelle Obama further energized an already pumped-up crowd. The arena was electrified with excitement in anticipation of her comments. She personalized Obama in a way that no one else could. In referencing the letters that he insists on reading every day from average Americans, she referred to their content as “our collection of struggles and hopes and dreams” and noted that she sees “how that’s what drives Barack Obama every single day.”
- Some of the most engaging and emotional speakers were the non-professionals such as Lilly Ledbetter, whose name has come to symbolize gender pay equity and who continues this cause even though the law that bears her name came too late to benefit her. Or Stacey Lihn, whose child was born with congenital heart disease; she put an all-too-real human face on the shortcomings of our health insurance system and showed how the Affordable Care Act, flawed though it may be, does put us on a path to begin better addressing the healthcare needs of our populace.
- Rahm Emmanuel, the mayor of Chicago who previously served as Obama’s chief of staff, provided an insider snapshot of how President Obama deals with crisis management. He recounted Obama’s aggressive decision to tackle each of the crises he inherited all at once, challenging the advice of his trusted advisers. Emmanuel expressed his admiration with Obama’s ability to lead.
- Anthony Foxx, mayor of Charlotte and long thought to be the likely successor to Rep. Mel Watt (D–N.C.), was perhaps on the national stage for the first time but showed that he belonged with a rousing speech that connected the values he acquired in his upbringing with those of Obama.
These are but a sampling of the highlights of the evening. As expected, many of the speakers focused on the successes of Obama’s first term and there was some contrast with the Republicans. Look for more such contrast, and creative applause lines in that regard.
I’d like to see more emphasis on a broader range of Obama successes. Many of the higher-profile successes were positive but compromised; some of the lower-profile ones could have longer-term positive impact. It’s probably too much to hope for that we will hear anything about our areas of concern with the president such as homeland security intrusion and abuse issues, the environment, comprehensive immigration reform and bringing our military troops home.
Does Clinton Still Have the Magic?
By Michael D. Evans
I did a radio interview about midway through Wednesday’s convention program, and the host asked me what I wanted to hear from Bill Clinton. I thought for a second and replied, “It doesn’t matter what I want. He will deliver.” And he did. It’s been the buzz all day.
Clinton’s amazing ability to be both wonkish and endearing made him an excellent choice to refute the Republican agenda as outlined at their convention last week. His point-by-point analysis of the Republican falsehoods/whoppers/lies/deceptions (choose your favorite) should cause any thinking person to think twice about jumping into bed with Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan.
Interestingly, there appeared to be much less anticipation for Clinton than there was for Michelle Obama a night earlier. But when he was done, there was no shortage of accolades. Despite outstanding comments as the evening wound down from Elizabeth Warren, founder of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and Sandra Fluke, the women’s rights activist who has experienced the wrath of right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh, everybody was talking about Clinton. The impact of his speech even overshadowed the surprise visit from President Obama at the end of his speech.
An hour or so before the final speakers went on, word started spreading through the crowd that the fire marshal had stopped anyone from entering the arena. This seemed rather odd because there were a substantial number of empty seats, albeit in the nosebleed sections. Then calls started coming in from outside the arena that Obama was going to make an appearance, and the blockage started to make sense.
Doug Kessler, husband of Selma-based delegate Estella Lorona Kessler, had volunteered for the convention and was assigned to work VIP security. That afforded him a brief opportunity to meet President Obama.
A local highlight of the night was the appearance of Jim Hunt. Known in North Carolina as “The Governor,” he is the longest serving governor (16 years) in the state’s history. One of Hunt’s enduring legacies is a focus on education in the state. Not surprisingly, his comments focused on education and Obama’s commitment to it, stressing in particular Obama’s support of community colleges.
From a historical perspective, the evening will be remembered simply because Barack Obama received the Democratic nomination to seek reelection as President of the United States.
Nomination and Aftermath
By Michael D. Evans
The final day of the convention was essentially a waiting game. A lot would happen in the interim, but everyone’s focus was on President Obama and what he would say and how effective he would be with his delivery at the end of the night.
But let’s put to rest one right-wing talking point. The decision was made to move Thursday’s convention session from the stadium (where the Carolina Panthers play) to the arena where the convention was situated the first two days. This decision was made because of the prospect of inclement weather; there had been rain showers and thunderstorms throughout the week. As there was a waiting list of almost 20,000 to get tickets to Obama’s speech, the decision clearly had nothing to do with any problem filling the stadium.
Many attendees felt that the overall speaker lineup for the final night was weak, with a few notable exceptions, and that conservative/moderate speakers (e.g., Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer and former Florida Governor Charlie Crist, Jr.) were given too much prominence. Perhaps such scheduling was intentional to ensure that Obama would be the real “keynote” of the night.
Nevertheless, the arena was nearly brought to tears by Rep. John Lewis of Georgia recounting the discrimination he had experienced in the segregated South and the implication that we could be headed back in time if we make wrong choice in November.
And Jennifer Granholm, who hosts The War Room on Current TV and is a former governor of Michigan, gave the type of barn-burner speech that used to be a staple at political conventions. Focusing on jobs created from the auto bailout, she roused the crowd into a screaming frenzy. Her speech would have been better positioned as the lead-in to Vice President Joe Biden and President Obama.
Responses were mixed on Biden’s comments, and the decision to have him speak on the same night as the president was questionable. Nevertheless, he made some effective points and seemed to warm to the occasion the longer he spoke.
Obama followed and, like Bill Clinton a night earlier, focused on a careful explanation of policies. He added a vision for moving forward. And unlike the Republicans a week earlier, he showed that our president must live in the real world. His closing comments reflect that reality:
America, I never said this journey would be easy, and I won’t promise that now. Yes, our path is harder, but it leads to a better place. Yes our road is longer, but we travel it together. We don’t turn back. We leave no one behind. We pull each other up. We draw strength from our victories, and we learn from our mistakes, but we keep our eyes fixed on that distant horizon.
As we left the arena, the excitement level was genuine and infectious. People were indeed “fired up and ready to go.” I remember thinking how different this exit was from the 1980 convention, when many of those present (myself included) were lukewarm about the nominee and later turned to third-party candidates (Rep. John Ashworth, the last liberal Republican, or environmentalist Barry Commoner of the Citizens Party).
But on the crowded streets of Charlotte that night, Obama fever was everywhere.
Being from Charlotte myself, I was pleased that the convention was held here. But I was surprised at the decision. When I was a university student here in the mid-1970s, such a prospect would not have seemed remotely feasible. In fact, I left Charlotte in the early 1980s because I felt it was too “small town.”
When I returned in the late 1990s, the city had successfully restructured itself. Two of the five largest banks in the county had their headquarters there, and all of the large employers in the city were huge advocates for the city and, in particular, downtown redevelopment (including the rebranding of downtown as Uptown). The makeover didn’t occur overnight; it took about 20 years for the full impact of the downtown efforts to take hold. But Charlotte is now a vibrant city with a downtown that is active well into the night and numerous lively and walkable neighborhoods throughout the city. And the restaurants, in part driven by the presence of Johnson & Wales University (a culinary school), are outstanding.
Although the city has professional sports teams in football and basketball, it lacked that stamp of legitimacy as a major American city. This convention has changed that. And it has no doubt improved the already-promising political prospects for Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx, a Democrat. He noted that the city is already looking ahead to try and secure the Super Bowl, the Republican National Convention or even the Olympics.
What is the future of the national political convention?
Some have speculated that the Charlotte convention will be the last such extravagant affair, that the format has outlived its usefulness and network television no longer provides anything close to gavel-to-gavel coverage.
It is true that little actual business takes place at today’s national conventions, and a brokered convention now seems little more than a quaint anachronism for students of history and trivia buffs. Media and money typically ensure that no presidential nomination is still undecided by the time the convention starts, and no party wants to be put in the position of having such a late start to its nominee’s extra-party campaign.
Still, a weeklong party to rally the troops does have its benefits both in terms of energizing the base and better defining the nominee for the public. The convention is much more than what you see on the agenda at the convention site. There are caucuses, state delegation meetings, seminars, information sessions and, yes, lots of parties. The networking opportunities are endless, and one meets people from around the country with the same issues and concerns. And the sharing of frustrations and best practices has the potential to benefit everyone moving forward.
As for the nominee, it is a prime opportunity to present him/herself on her/his own terms, without intervention from reporters or hecklers. The nominee can and should lay out a clear vision for the next four years and, just as important, how it will come to pass.
So I for one vote to keep the national party convention intact but to downplay the massive security presence. Let the convention goers enjoy the host city and allow the host city to optimize the benefits from their presence. And the parties should look for ways to get even more people involved in substantive ways during the convention. Let’s make democracy a reality.