Edward McNally is a guest blogger for CL and is blogging about his experiences as a runner for the press at the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver.
The past 48 hours are a blur of faces, sounds, sights and physical extremes.
The Democratic National Convention may attract the strangest, widest mix of celebrities from the worlds of film, TV, sports, books, art, news media, underground protest movements and, perhaps the strangest entertainment form of all, politics.
Getting the obligatory name dropping out of the way, Ive seen, run into, greeted or chatted with: Hillary, Ted & Caroline Kennedy, Sean Penn, Hilary Duff (chatting together at The Brown Palace Hotel, believe it or not), Kal Penn, Richard Wright, Lou Gossett, Jr, Spike Lee, Jacob Dylan, Cyndie Lauper, George McGovern, Tom Brokaw, Katie Couric, Gloria Borger, Mark Shields, Tom Freidman, Sen. Harry Reid, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, Rep. John Lewis, Mayor Franklin, and Rev. Joseph Lowery .to name a few.
Sen. Reid wouldnt stop shaking my hand as he vowed to help Jim Martin beat Saxby Chambliss in the GA Senate race. Were gonna send him money and get Chambliss back for what he did to my friend! Reid declared, looking me straight in the eye. By friend, I assumed he meant Max Cleland, whom the GOP smeared in 2002 by running ads showing Osama Bin Laden, to make the claim that Max was soft on terrorism.
I can tell you that the Denver Police Department is absolutely NOT soft on terrorism or groups of 20-somethings in jeans and T-shirts standing together on the street without DNC credentials. The shock troops here are in full all-black riot gear from helmeted head to steel-footed toe.
They appear fully ready to tear gas or club anyone who doesnt follow orders immediately. Its an overwhelming show of force considering that the protest scene here is relatively meek. A few hundred marched Sunday afternoon and the fiery protest speeches in the Official Protest Zone 2 miles from the Convention hall are being observed by a mostly passive crowd of colorful onlookers.
Im in solidarity with most of whats being said during the issues forums in The Big Tent this years shadow convention but if ever a reformer was worried about speaking to the choir, this is the place.
Of course, the giant choir meeting is happening in The Pepsi Center, Denvers bigger, architecturally bolder version of our Phillips Arena. Anyone with any intention of getting near this citys Political Green Zone has to walk and walk and walk for several blocks beyond where any unauthorized vehicle can roam before they pass through Hartsfield-caliber security. I had to devour 2 apples and drink a bottle of water in 2 minutes or lose em ..and be ready to pay $4 for water on the inside. Denver seems to have lots of water fountains everywhere, which I really appreciate at this altitude.
My official gig in the 2008 Democratic Convention is as a Runner with Press Distribution, which means I sit around in the bowels of the arena with a rats eye view of the podium, waiting for my running orders. What Im running are hundreds of copies of meticulously proofed speeches that I have to hand in various quantities to press desks for the NY Times, CNN, Reuters, AP, etc, etc, etc. With dozens of speakers each day, and thousands of media on hand, thats a lot of already recycled paper being cranked out hour after hour. If you think you get bored hearing these dedicated public servants drone on and on and on on TV, you can be sure that reading their remarks is guaranteed to make your head nod and your eyes glaze over.
For me, and for the hardy band of the utterly converted in the hall at 4 in the afternoon only Dennis Kucinich has broken the monotone mold outside of prime time. As the only federally elected official with the integrity and the balls to instigate impeachment proceedings against the President and the Vice President, he has my respect and admiration. He was definitely NOT going through the motions yesterday when he challenged the delegates to fight like hell to keep John McSame from getting anywhere near the White House. He earned one of the very few standing ovations from a non-celebrity speaker at this convention.
What I appreciate most from being here in person, is being able to see the full range of participants. Being in the middle of the crowd .or in line for a burrito, or a button or a body pat, you start to get to know The Democrats as mostly (but certainly not all) ordinary folks with a genuine passion for the political process. They may be addicted to the show, but I believe the vast majority of the delegates really want to make change for the greater good. The corporate folks hosting most of the breakfasts and late night bashes are a different story.
As menial as my DNC runners role my seem, its forcing me to roam or race through the hall constantly, sliding, squeezing or flying past live radio call-in shows, on air TV interviews, booths laden with DNC and Obama-Biden swag of every description, (inc. some very clever button & T-shirt designs) and thousands of die hard Dems from all over America. And that includes Puerto Rico, Guam and American Samoa.
This invigorating diversity of participants is making the strongest impression on me so far. Young. Old. Middle-aged. Ancient and adolescent. Black. White. Brown. Redneck. Blueblood. Silver-haired. Red-headed. Grey-pin striped-suited. Short-skirted. Bashikied. Turban-ed. Bow-tied. Red-white-and-blue-scarved. Cowboy-booted. High-heeled, Gold-sandaled and Flip-flopped.
Note to female conventioneers: Practical shoes make a lot of sense here. Ive seen lots of women replacing band-aids on heels this week from wearing painfully stylish footwear.
The DNC is ultimately a Political Party. Meaning folks who share some but certainly not all of the same political views are here to PARTY. No matter what their situation back home, here in Denver anyone who can scam the right badge or get their name on a list has access to constant streams of booze, pulled pork, cold shrimp and cubed cheese.
The Georgia Delegation is being shuttled from dawn to late at night from breakfast to forum to luncheon to donor / special interest reception to The Convention Floor to concert and late night party. Whether this is their first convention or their ninth, they seem to be having the time of their lives.
For all the obvious reasons, Im most interested in what this week means for the black attendees of all ages. Every African American delegate or party official Ive spoken to expressed a similar blend of humble exuberance. Humbled to be witnessing something most of them thought they would never live to see. Exuberant to be HERE, On The Floor! at center stage and at the epicenter of this turning point in American, and by extension, world history.
It is as if each of them, by virtue of their race and lineage, has earned the right to share in the triumph of the Obamas, both Barack and Michelle.
Tonight, its hard to imagine Joe Bidens speech not being a bit of a let down after the volcanic, roof-raising Call To Action that Hillary led last night. Or the Grand Old Party hero worship that Teddys Last Hurrah inspired on Monday.
But Im counting on Joe to get the crowd going once again. He, more than most of the speakers on the podium, has really practiced his whole life to give this speech. Hes never lost the fire in the belly. And Ill bet hell make everyone in the hall feel super proud to be Democrats in the New Deal, Great Society, pre-Reagan way that only old pols can do.
Of course, the real challenge is Barack Obamas. Tomorrow night in Invesco Field, he will be up against not just the Olympian oratorical standards he set for himself since giving his landmark keynote address in Boston four years ago this week. Everyone knows August 28 is the 45th anniversary of Martins I Have a Dream speech on the Mall in Washington. In terms of the longer sweep of history, every big speech Obama makes is being compared to the legendary great moments of the 60s.
Ive heard Obama plans to speak as plainly as if he were in a small union hall in Iowa farm country. This setting is the same, as the last time I heard Obama in person was in Boone, Iowa when he chatted with a few hundred farmers.
After so many grand heroic moments in this campaign, Obama may want to be seen more as a dedicated, intelligent and compassionate human being than as a celebrity or a symbol, be it for blacks or youth or Democrats or progressive-minded people around the world.
I know after being immersed in shwag and speeches and symbols and spectacle for so may days and months, I look forward to getting on with the real work of repairing the damage of the past 8 years.
Of course, for now, Im having a blast.
What political junkie wouldnt be?
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