Home of the 43rd Ward Democrats - Michele Smith Committeeman

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Sunday, September 7, 2008

Live From The Democratic Convention!

Day One:
Desperately Seeking Credentials, or Networking Gone Wild!

I arrived in Denver early Monday after only a few hours sleep. After dropping off my suitcase, I spent the day with a friend who is a veteran of conventions. First order of business? Get me a credential so that I can watch the convention tonight!

As I am not a delegate, I have to get new credentials every day of the convention. My experienced friend said to get credentials we have to talk with everyone who might have access to them - party officials, large contributors, and political figures and see if any of them has an extra.


The Illinois Democratic Party is having a lottery to allocate their excess credentials. I put my name in, and we move on. Along the way, I chat with all the people I know - in no particular order, Com. Mike Quigley, State Rep. John Fritchey, Peg Roth, State Sen. Kwame Raoul, my old collegue from the U.S. Attorney's Office Sheldon Zenner, Debra Shore, Jesse White, Jesse Jackson, Jr., Ald. Bob Fioretti, Ald. Danny Solis, Rep. Luis Guitierrez, Sandye Jackson, and many more. We took off for the Ritz, then the Hyatt, the Comfort Inn, back to the Marriott, back to the Hyatt. . .

Finally, about 3:00, credentials appear for me. I'm an "honored guest" of the Democratic National Committee. But boy do my feet hurt!

Finally, we entered the Pepsi Center - and bedlam. My so-called "honored guest" passes were great, but by the time we got there, the place was well over capacity. Up in the bleachers, we were urged to sit on the floor of what I believe was a maintenance catwalk, with nothing more than a 2 foot railing separating us from a long drop to the convention floor. Finally, after a stint of sitting on the steps of the balcony, a seat opened up, and I got a bird's eye view of a magnificent speech by Edward Kennedy, with a full demonstration of support by the crowds of delegates on the arena floor.

Later, we got into a skybox (free hotdogs) to watch Michelle Obama deliver a speech that the delegates on the floor carefully listened to, and enthusically endorsed. Spirits are high.

Day Two:
Women's Day


I thought I had a source of credentials for the day, so I decided to take in a few of these meetings. First up - the Women's Caucus of the Democratic Party. Not truly a meeting, the caucus was a rally of about a thousand women, listening to many prominent Democratic women, including for example, the President of Planned Parenthood, officials of the Democratic Party, and a few television celebrities - Eva Longoria ("Desparate Housewives" and Fran Dresser ("The Nanny") - who are both active in women's issues.

Frankly, after a while the speeches seemed sort of the same ("We need change! We need Barack Obama!) while the spectators cheered and shook tamborines (furnished on each chair courtesy of Lifetime Television). But I sat up straight and listened to businesswoman Sheila Johnson, one of the founders of BET, as she called it straight on the issues of race, sex and age in this campaign. "Women hate negative campaigning . . . We have the power to bring back honor the political process." After dropping in for a buffet by another organization, I moved on to the main women's event of the day - a rally sponsored by Emily's List.

Again - thousands of women in a room (no chairs!), with speeches from incredible women. My favorite - Barbara Mikulski, the first woman elected to the Senate without inheriting the seat from a husband. I remember Barbara Mikulski as a Congressman in 1974, when I was a student intern on the House Subcommittee on the Environment. Mikulski worked hard on those issues, and then walked down the hall to serve on the House Judiciary Committee to impeach President Nixon. She is fiery and passionate. She is very very short and well, stout. She said when she decided to run, she was told "This isn't the way a Senator looks." Well, she remarked, this IS the way a Senator looks. The crowd cheered, and I felt better.

When Hillary Clinton appeared, the place erupted. Ellen Malcolm, the founder of Emily's List, was a chair of the Clinton Campaign, and had already made a passionate endorsement of Barack Obama. Hillary, in a preview of her speech last night, told the crowd "all the hours of work and doors you knocked for me, I want you to do the same for Barack Obama."

The Emily's List event ended at four. I walked back to the Marriott to drop off the buttons, pamphlets and posters accumulated during the day and then marched off to the Denver Performing Arts Center for a reception hosted by Mayor Daley. By the time I got there, the food was all gone (and that reception started at 4:00). But I ran into more people I knew - Aldermen Richard Munoz (nursing a broken foot), Bob Fioretti, State Rep. Barbara Currie, former State Rep. Judy Erwin, and many others.

To avoid a repeat of Monday, many left early to trek over to the Pepsi Center and get in line, where I met Sun-Times columnist Lynn Sweet. And then onto the convention and that great speech by Hillary Clinton. We have to get Barack Obama elected.

Day Three:
All Politics is Local

I haven't yet reported that each day of the convention starts with a breakfast for the Illinois delegates and an hourlong meeting, chaired by Mayor Daley. The Mayor and others address the delegates and the rest of us "hanger-oners" watch or kibbutz in the back of the room.

But today was an amazing experience. We heard from Senator Durbin, Congressmen Bobby Rush (recovering from cancer), Danny Davis (who represents part of the 43rd Ward), Governor Blagovich and finally, Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr.

As everybody knows, politics down in Springfield are - well - complicated. And troublesome right now. The message of every speaker on the panel was unity - between Hillary and Barack delegates, and among Illinois politicians.

I wish I could report all the terrific remarks and stories. I admire a good political speech and today was filled with them. But Jesse Jackson, Jr. topped it off. You may have already read reports about this in the papers or on the evening news.

Frankly, part of the reason I came to the convention was to meet many people I had not had the opportunity to meet. Rep. Danny Davis graciously spent a few minutes with this newcomer, and I have chatted with a large array of local Democrats (many from the Ward) - Marilyn Katz, Cynthia Kobel, Aldermen Tom Tunney and Joe Moore, Water Commissioner Patricia Horton, and many others.

But I was most amazed by the young reporter I met while talking to someone. He mentioned that he lived in the Ward, and finally admitted that he was a high school student from Lincoln Park High School covering the convention for Pioneer Press. I was so proud - I invited him to our 43rd Ward event on September 4.

I don't mean just on the convention floor - I mean everywhere. Speaker Madigan hosted a reception for Illinoisians at Coors Field. There was more food and drink that I can imagine. Buses to the event from the hotel were sponsored by Peabody Coal Company. Thought you would like to know.

And I just got back from the Illinois delegation's party sponsored by Speaker Jones, State Senator Mattie Hunter (who represents part of the 43rd Ward), and others. I was so fired up from the proceedings on the floor tonight - incredible speeches by President Clinton, Joe Biden and the roll call - that I just wasn't tired.

Day Four:
From the Precinct, to the Ward, to the Nation

Attending this convention has benefited our Ward in so many ways - I have met public officials who are interested in our ward, and met fellow Democrats from whom I am learning.

But more directly, after the morning Illinois caucus, I stopped in for a seminar called "Precinct First" for a seminar on precinct organizing. Here were some progressive Democrats from Denver, teaching a Chicagoan how to organize a precinct. Of course, we think we know it all, but these guys are organizing precincts in places you can hardly find a Democrat. I picked up some nice materials that I'm sure we'll incorporate into our precinct organizing training.

In a terrific turn of credential olympics, my friend Mary gave me her "special guest" credential while she got a better one. That allowed me to sit in the 100 section of Invesco Field, which if you know football stadiums, is right below the skyboxes. The rest of the day was spent getting to and attending the incredible day at the stadium. We took shuttle buses from downtown. People with community credentials (that is, public tickets) were not allowed on the shuttle buses and had to walk from public transportation (like parking at McCormick Place for a Bears game).

Mary and I stood in line behind State Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie and State Senator Julie Hamos, and it took us a long while to realize that we were standing behind actress Jorja Fox, who is on CSI and played Secret Service Agent Gina Toscano on the West Wing (you know, the one who protected Zoe Barlett). I had to take a picture.

When we arrived, we learned Congressman Jan Shakowsky had already spoken. Then followed a succession of Colorado politicians, a salute to Martin Luther King (yesterday was the anniversary of his "I Have a Dream" speech), and many many other politicians and musical interludes - Sheryl Crow and Stevie Wonder each did two numbers. But most remarkable was the text messaging. The Obama campaign asked people to text in their name and city and flashed them on the screen (did anyone see the "43rd Ward Democrats - Chicago" that I texted?). What a tremendous strategy - they collected 30,000 text messages - meaning 30,000 cell phone numbers for the campaign.

At a couple of points, teams of orange t-shirted volunteers appeared in the aisles, distributing the American flags and posters that you saw being waved.

As I watched speech after speech from politicians local and national, some that were terrific and others not-quite-so and then heard the combative and moving speech by our nominee, Barack Obama, I realized that every person on that stage was just a person, an ordinary person, who for some reason wanted to do something, make a difference. I hope I can, too.

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