The Sights And Sounds of Charlotte

The first impression is about the “sounds ” that engulfed everyone in the hall. The energy and enthusiasm were overwhelming. So much so that it was impossible to hear at times and we were all forced to look up at the giant TV monitors in order to read the scrolled words of all the really GREAT speeches…..of which there were many.

Most of the three day sessions in the Time Warner Arena lasted 8 hours plus. 4pm to 11pm or 12am……It’s a full day. Plus, there were over 1500 different meetings and events you could attend from Sunday to Thursday! Some type of interest group or caucus or party for everyone. Things started at 7:30 am and didn’t stop until 2am, if you were determined to try and get it all in. Not me.

I don’t think the television coverage can really capture the energy that bordered on frenzy in the arena. It made it impossible not to get caught up in the cheering and chanting. I’m not one to shout “USA, USA” but after hours of everyone around you standing and screaming, I found myself almost forced into rising from my seat, again and again, to join in. Nobody tells you that there’s not going to be any sitting and relaxing into convention nirvana. It’s hard work, all that enthusiasm!

The most remarkable thing I noticed was the diversity of people. It’s repeated often that we’re a party of diversity but I could not believe what I saw all over the Arena and in all the buses and hotels and throughout city. People of all colors, races, ethnicities, many people with a variety of disabilities, people of all sexual persuasions, new citizens struggling with the English language, Sikhs in orange and yellow turbans, Moslem women in hijab, good old white boys from the south, (yes, there were white men there as James Taylor remarked after a great song set), nurses and doctors, young students, movie stars, the very young and very old alike. And the usual career politicians in suits, men and women, working the room, shaking hands and generally being accessible to their constituents.

One of my favorite people was a small 91 year old Los Angeles World War II vet, Staff Sargent Stephen E. Sherman. He went to everything with unbelievable enthusiasm. He went early and stayed late. He wore his army jacket with a chest full of metals to all the events. He was a favorite of the cameras. He’s been to the White House as an honoree for all the work he’s done for veteran homelessness issues since retiring almost 30 years ago. He’s still helping vets get jobs and get off drug addiction in the LA area. What a guy! He had more energy than most of us. And he wasn’t even the oldest delegate there! That was a woman who was almost a hundred. The youngest was only 17 but she’ll be 18 by the election so she can vote.

One of my good friends remarked that watching conventions depressed him because it reminded him that we are still a “top down” democracy. When I looked around at the people participating, I felt that what he said wasn’t true in this 2012 Democratic Party. When the President said that what this was all about was citizenship, I was struck by how right that sounded. You could see that people felt they owned this convention, they owned their caucuses, they owned their candidates; that we really could and should organize and get things done. It felt like a giant grassroots democracy that worked from the ‘middle out’.

It made me feel, for a few fleeting moments, that money was not the only way to win elections. Now, as I fly out of Charlotte, reality bites and I remember that gross amounts of monies need to be raised and spent. That’s what depresses me.

Some memorable moments and quotes
I went to both sessions of the Women’s Caucus. Some wonderful people spoke to both the women and the large number of men there. (were the men spies?) Cecile Richards, Anne Richards’ daughter (who knew?), the president of Planned Parenthood, said some amazing things.

She told an amazing story about what happened during the debt crisis last year. When John Boehner went to the White House to negotiate with the President the one and only condition he insisted on before he would agree to signing off on the debt deal was that the President must stop ALL funding to Planned Parenthood immediately. This happened at both successive meetings. The President adamantly refused—twice.

“Can you believe that the Republicans think that all solutions to unemployment and job creation lie in our uterus?”
“Birth control? I can’t believe I have to fight this shit all over again.”
“It’s not Obamacare it’s Obama Cares”!
She really is Ann Richards’ daughter.

Secretary Kathleen Sibelius said that when they talk about getting rid of Medicare what they really mean is getting rid of care for women. We live longer and we’re the larger percentage of healthcare usage for the elderly. Makes sense.

Lily Ledbetter told the same story she’d told the convention but in a more intimate manner. Fran Drescher spoke about her book and cancer organization, “CancerSchmancer”. Ashley Judd spoke eloquently about her passion for the women’s movement and health care.

Sandra Fluke, the young woman who spoke everywhere, is the Georgetown law student who was Rush Limbaugh’s target, said that the younger generation has not forgotten what the older generation of women in the room did to fight for the advances women have gained up to now. “We, the Milliniums are here to stand with you, the Menopausals”. Big cheers.

The second session of this caucus had a really special treat. Michelle Obama and Jill Biden spoke. It was up close and personal, felt less scripted and was different in tone and substance than the convention speech.

Bill Clinton. The Arena, which is a huge jumble of people all talking and milling around constantly for the whole 8 hours, was silent during his 48 minutes on that stage. People were hanging on his every word. And you definitely got the feeling that all of us would have stayed there for another 48 minutes if he had gone on. A remarkable event. Tough act to follow. I heard that Obama said in New Hampshire on Friday morning that someone sent him an email saying that he should make Bill Clinton Secretary of Explaining Things! Not a bad idea. And it was pretty significant that both Sister Simone Campbell AND Elizabeth Warren were put on the program as a lead in to Clinton. Both women are out there fighting for the poor, the underrepresented and the middle class.

Michelle Obama was authentically heartfelt and gracious. I just wish she had talked more about being a working mom, supporting him while he campaigned. More democratic, less Republican-take on being First Lady/Mom. But boy, could you feel the love and respect she generates……..a classy woman.

The exciting newcomer, the keynote speaker, San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, was a reminder of the young Barack Obama in 2004. Castro and his twin brother are both obvious rising stars in the party. The delegates were also talking about Deval Patrick, governor of Massachusetts……a big hit with a great hardhitting speech.

Lots of other great moments that I’m sure most of you couldn’t see since it wasn’t televised. The very influential Cuban television host, Cristina Saralegui, who reaches tens of millions of Latino viewers, was warm and authentic. The former governor of Michigan, Jennifer Granholm, who blasted Romney from her perspective of living and governing in Michigan, the minister from Mississippi who gave us a real church, rafter-raising sermon, and John Kerry! Who knew he could be funny? And you could see Joe Biden tearing up with his honest to goodness loyalty and love for the President and his family. So many really good, different takes from a really diverse bunch of speakers. Best collection of speeches….ever.

I felt very fortunate to be at a convention that was obviously so focused on women, by women and for women. It permeated everything and had the full support of everyone. An often repeated statement was “how could any woman in this country vote republican”? HoW indeed.

The second most obvious reach out was to the Latino population. From Chairman Antonio Villaraigosa, to the keynote speaker, Julian Castro, to the young Latino students used to introduce the bigger guns like Jill Biden. Latinos are the fastest growing members of the party and not just in California. There is a big push to get out that vote.

On a more practical matter, the transportation to and from events was a nightmare, the hotel was a major, expensive disappointment and all the food there and in the Time Warner arena and the two area restaurants where my sister and I went, was pretty awful. Plus, the security was so tight that it was virtually impossible to get into any place you were supposed to be. It took hours to get anywhere. Not enough cabs by a long shot, and not enough DNC secured buses on a reasonable schedule. However, the people of Charlotte were exceedingly helpful and gracious and apologetic for all the mishaps. The general impression of most people was that Charlotte was not quite ready for this onslaught. But the well documented southern hospitality was on full display.

Would I do it again? In a heartbeat. It was an experience of a lifetime. Have these conventions outlived there usefulness? Probably. Not worth the party’s or the Congressional expense? Definitely. Is it one big networking opportunity? Absolutely. They’re probably a dying breed but I’m still glad I got to do it in my lifetime.

One last comment. The President’s speech may have taken awhile to reach inspirational levels but once he got there it reminded me of why I got into all this in the first place. Watching the brilliance of our first African American president made me realize again what a historic time we are all living through. No matter what happens, I believe that people will look back on this and think how lucky we were to be part of history in the making. Hopefully, it won’t end up being a long, long time before it happens.

Gail B Mackler

PS please help in anyway you can to help in the election. Talk to everyone you know and encourage them to vote. It’s going to be really, really close!

There were over 6000+ delegates and everyone single one of us is committed to getting B/B re-elected.

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