Part Two—What’s It Like to Attend as a Guest with the PA Delegation?
September 9, 2012
I made the trip to the Democratic Convention, with the help of the Pennsylvania Delegation, accompanying a delegate, Hon. Ruth Damsker, former Commissioner of Montgomery County. The schedule for a Delegate required receiving daily credentials for admission to the Arena, with breakfast and transportation laid on by the Pennsylvania operation. Guests like me could buy transportation vouchers and could eat breakfast in a room next door to the Delegation proceedings, but we could see the proceedings on closed circuit TV. After two days we could all eat together. The meetings consisted of short addresses by national and state politicians and party officials—largely pep talks and handy talking points. Once past the thanks and acknowledgments, these talks could be useful in encapsulating a Delegate’s arguments for supporting the Democratic ticket.
So each day required a bus trip to the Pennsylvania delegation headquarters—a different hotel than the one I was at – and then a bus trip back, either to a “home” hotel or to the Convention Center, where a great variety of issue group caucuses took place, from 10 AM to 4 PM. The proceedings of the actual Convention began 5 pm daily, next door in the Arena. Buses arrived about two long blocks from the Convention Center, near the NASCAR Hall of Fame. In order to enter the Center, pedestrians were routed through a single lane cattle chute ( I suppose for security purposes), which was lined with souvenir vendors and a handful of anti-abortion, anti-gay protesters. Other protesters (“Ninety-nine per centers” and others) were confined many streets away, but the numbers managed to hold up many buses of delegates, sometimes for hours.
The caucuses were a combination of short talks on tactics or miniature pep talks. A caucus on faith groups and politics featured two remarkable speeches by a rabbi and a black Congressman who was also a minister. There were two Women’s Caucuses, the last one a huge rally with many inspirational speeches, closing with talks by Jill Biden and Michelle Obama.
The fervor and the energy in these caucuses had to inspire all but the fanatical opposition. Between the celebrity speeches there were short, personal talks on why a person got involved and why (s)he was working for Obama. Scanning the population and the speech makers at the caucuses brought home the fact that the Democratic Party today is the party of the “minorities” of the past. As far as appearances and presentations are concerned, the Democrats are the party that is reaching out to non-whites and women and all sorts of minorities and placing their issues at the center of the campaign.
Pennsylvania delegates had to decide, either stay in town all afternoon and walk from the Convention Center to the Arena, or find a bus to get back to their hotel (for a nap?) and then take a bus to the Arena. This became a big decision: if you stayed in town, you had a long, long day; if you returned to your hotel, you had to depend on an unreliable, inevitably late, bus service to get you back uptown.
Transportation proved a big problem, although everybody eventually got to where they were going. (My observations from the third tier of the Arena were that several of the delegation sections grew in numbers from Tuesday to Thursday, but that most were filled by 8-9 pm each evening. Pennsylvania managed to fill up earlier.)
Buses and drivers had to be imported from all over the Eastern part of the USA. (So were the cops. A popular game was observing where a policeman was from by reading his shoulder patch.) I identified buses from Alabama and Georgia and drivers from Kentucky and Virginia. Buses were hired by the Democratic National Committee and by the Pennsylvania State Committee, in order to navigate among hotels and get from hotels into town center. Drivers used GPS devices to navigate, causing some delays, but the major delays were caused by traffic overload, VIP cavalcades, and blocked thoroughfares for security reasons. Charlotte has one light rail system which goes into the city center, but it was miles from our hotels, although sometimes a hotel shuttle could be arranged to connect with the light rail. From Day One it was clear that Charlotte is hugely spread out, like Los Angeles. To me, it appeared a series of suburbs in search of a city.