Denver: So What Was It <i>Really</i> Like?

Jeff Alworth

I have now been home nearly 24 hours, and I've had a chance to digest the experience of the Convention; one of the key hallmarks of the event is that there's so much going on that you don't have time for a whole lot of reflection midstream.  I suspect there's more reflection to be made, but before we go to far past the event, I thought I'd recap what I now know that I didn't a week ago.

The topic of race at the convention has been little-discussed by the media or even the bloggers.  I understand that; we are generally reluctant to ever discuss race in America.  That reluctance creates a an almost physical presence we can't ignore when we are in public.  It is so well-established now that it doesn't even have to have an obvious source; the fact that it's always been there is enough to keep it going.  We look across the racial divide and wonder what the other person is thinking.  Is that guy a racist?  Does that guy think I'm a racist?  I wonder if that woman thinks I'm a threat?  Does that guy think I'm thinking that he's a threat?  It's an endless feedback loop.

To me, that presence was gone throughout the convention.  (I hedge slightly because I can only speak about my experience; as always, others' mileage may have varied.)  It was as if we were able to drop it off at the airport.  I guess that since we were all there to celebrate this nominee, to celebrate our work to make this man the nominee, and it gave us a common ground of trust.  It was helpful that the state delegations are more diverse than the US as a whole--44% were from minority communities, and a quarter were black.  But diversity alone isn't enough to guarantee that the old anxieties vanish.

I live in Southeast Portland, and there are pubs and coffee shops here where I don't ever hesitate to talk politics, religion, or class, so confident am I that I am among my fellow-traveling liberals.  We all have places we go to be with others like ourselves so we can feel comfortable and speak freely.   It felt like that, like we were all among ourselves.

The election of Barack Obama will by no means end the anxiety of race.  It may worsen it for a time.  Americans don't all feel like we're on the same page.  Racism does exist.  But the feeling at the convention was something special and unique, and it suggested that racial anxiety isn't something endemic to American culture.  It was certainly special to experience that for once.

The Faithful and the Parasites
I have never been in a place where there were two so distinct, clashing groups.  On the one hand, you had the party faithful--idealistic people who have volunteered tons of hours and money to get candidates elected.  While there are some cynics in the ranks, mostly the delegates, activists, and bloggers I encountered had a rawly emotional belief in the possible.  These are the most committed and the most involved people in the political process, and the Convention was the moment they gathered to rock out and party.  For these folks, it was a celebration of accomplishment.  Being in the blogger corps was further affirmation of that mood, because we contribute our own variety of belief into the process.  (At the end of the post is a must-see video from a Tennessee blogger that underscores the point.)

Then there were the parasites--those for whom politics is a business. Mostly this group was comprised of the immense cadre of media, but there were also peddlers, con men, and cynical hacks who added to the stew.  They didn't believe in the candidates; in many cases, they didn't seem particularly stirred by this exercise of democracy.  They were there to score: the next scoop, the next job, the next political gaffe, the next buck. 

The two groups overlapped and interlaced jarringly.  I'd walk out of some warm cocoon the first group and be thrust into the world of the second--a protester condemning me to hell or a camera crew with an aggressive, well-coiffed correspondent (inevitably running me over--they cede personal space to no one).  It was a bizarre contrast.

Liberals have an awkward relationship to flag-waving patriotism.  It's not that we aren't patriots, it's that we aren't by nature tribal. Patriotism invoked to stir up partisan sentiment strikes us as a suspicious endeavor.  Well, I can report that at this convention there was a lot of un-ironic, flag-waving patriotism going around.  Particularly during that last night in the football stadium, there was a sense of rebellion in the air, like we needed to seize back the country from the dangerous, corrupt madmen who'd taken over the country.  I was aware of it when I rocketed out of my seat, roaring at something a speaker had said, madly swinging my little flag around.  I looked around and saw others roaring with me, and there wasn't a note of irony or false stagecraft in it anywhere.

Other Cool Bloggers
In my request for guidance about what you all wanted me to cover, someone mentioned other cool blogs.  I encountered dozens of great bloggers, and they seem to all have great blogs.  Sorting through them would take five posts.  So instead I'm going to tell you about the most impressive blogger I met there.  Her name is Valerie Reynolds, and she blogs from Tennessee.  She is a lesbian, doing her best to fight the good fight in Nashville.  Important context: that state's version of Measure 36 passed with 89% of the vote.

She told me this amazing story about how in July last year, a local Fundamentalist Christian group conducted a silent march through the gay section of town to "reverse the curse of the sexual revolution" (that is, "the disintegrating family unit, divorce skyrocketing, sexual abuse is everywhere, pornography is the norm, and gross perversion, rape and violence ravage our land").  The GLBT community read this as a direct challenge, but instead of protesting openly, they provided the marchers with water instead.  The bottles read "Love is all there is."  Here's the vid. 

Other Random Observations

Okay, that's feeling like more than enough.  However, there's one more piece of business.  Yesterday, I forgot one picture in my batch, and it's a good one.  I reproduce it here and bid you adieu:


  • LT (unverified)

    Jeff, sorry the convention was so disorganized. In 1984 everyone came to the breakfast delegation meeting because that is when the credentials for the day were handed out. And the official bus service was the best way to go to the convention--credential got each of us on the bus, then the official bus could bypass some of the security. It also took us to official parties (welcoming parties, parties by local elected officials and the state party). Outside of to and from the train station, we only had to use cabs a few times.

    And about this: "Then there were the parasites--those for whom politics is a business. Mostly this group was comprised of the immense cadre of media, but there were also peddlers, con men, and cynical hacks who added to the stew. They didn't believe in the candidates; in many cases, they didn't seem particularly stirred by this exercise of democracy. They were there to score: the next scoop, the next job, the next political gaffe, the next buck. "

    I don't think the parasites realize a) how they are despised by some grass roots activists, b) how much of politics they can't control. To use a current example, there are lots of conversations going on among individuals about the Palin VP pick. No paid professional has any impact over discussions among neighbors, old friends, etc.

    Finally, Jeff, a suggestion. About this: "I have now been home nearly 24 hours, and I've had a chance to digest the experience of the Convention."

    Take it from a former delegate--you have only begun the digestion process. It looks like the sensory overload was even greater in Denver than it was in SF. If you took any photos, get them labeled as soon as possible. You have a window of maybe 10 days where you can write down everything you remember (people you met, parties you attended, etc.) before the detailed memory starts to fade.

    I met some wonderful young women the day we arrived and one of them told me she was from Clinton, Iowa. I thought that would be easy to remember. But by the time we got the "Official Proceedings" book (I hope they send those to delegates like they did to us--great hard copy souvenir) with the listing of all the delegates to the convention, I had forgotten the name. And there were 2 or 3 people listed as delegates from Clinton Iowa.

    This will be a life experience, whether or not you ever attend another convention. I still have all the buttons I picked up displayed on a dark background on my wall, incl. Harkin for US Senate and Reagan with a circle and slash over his face. I still remember the stories that go with most of the buttons.

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    Race: Which candidate a delegate was pledged to mattered more.

    Jarring: The "game" the next move, the next candidate, positioning, planning 2012, guessing who would run for House Districts next time, not in the moment..already moving the Queen for Checkmate.

    Stadium: The most amazing experience since sitting as close as possible to the speakers at a Grateful Dead concert long ago.

    Bloggers: Wrote a daily column for my local newspaper about the convention. For a first time column writer it was scary. My 84 year old dad was probably the only reader.

    Transportation: one rick shaw ride, DNC shuttle buses, one cab and light rail. No line problems with the exception of entering the stadium.

    DNC: Organized, on time, great transportation planning. Shuttle buses always in the same place.

    Explored: Spent a lot of time with the police officers in their big staging tent who were more than happy to explain how they were organized and how much they practiced for all sorts of potential issues. Lots of cooperation between several police agencies. Visited the convention volunteers big tent and thanked as many as I could. Really interesting to hear their stories about why they volunteered, from every walk of life, proud of Denver, incredibly friendly and helpful.

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    Didn't know where to put this, but thought this might be a good place...

    For those who don't know, iTunes has audio/video that is downloadable for free of the convention.

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    sorry you had to miss the fun of the lines, Jeff. i was about to join the longest one when a cop suggested people try going over the bridge; the bridge was normally the on-ramp to I25 but had been closed for the day. so off i went and met first Matt, one of our Bus drivers, and then others from BusFed who were "working" the crowd (that story to come in a day or two). i don't know how long it took me to get in. i think from the time i left downtown Denver until i took my seat (as began to perform) was about 4 hours. any self-pity i might have had was evaporated by the simple fact that i was in the goddamn stadium for Obama's speech and that tens of thousands of others were not yet.

    (according to the Denver Post, the Secret Service decided how many entrances they needed — three — but someone, whether it was the city or police or DNC, did not organize and monitor the lines at all well. clusterfuck indeed.)

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    <h2>For anyone interested, I was there as a delegate and I also wrote daily diaries about the convention, with photos, and I invite your comments.</h2>

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