Leading from the Left

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Long Summer Break Over

Well, as you have noticed, I took a long Summer break from blogging. School's back in session, today there is the first chill of fall in the air, and the leaves of the white poplar in my back yard are starting--ever so slightly--to yellow. Time to get back to work routines.

I spent the last week of August at the Democratic National Convention in Denver. As you might imagine, it was an amazing experience. Words can't really describe the week. It was historic, moving, inspiring, exhausting, emotional.

Now, the weeks since--the nomination of Sarah Palin and the insuing media frenzy, McCain's bounce in the polls, concerns over effectiveness of Obama's campaign--have been nerve-wracking. I predict we'll have another 7 weeks of ups and downs before election day, so fasten your seat belts.

The following may be a bit dated now, but here is a copy of an article about my experience at the Democratic Convention that I wrote for the Orange County Democratic Party newsletter:

Words can hardly describe the electricity coursing through Denver’s Invesco Field on the night Barack Obama accepted the Democratic nomination for President.

We delegates stood on the field long afterwards, fireworks exploding above the stage, tears in our eyes, and the roar of 84,000 citizens washing over us. We all knew we’d just experienced an historic American moment.

One of the great honors of my life was being elected delegate to the 2008 Democratic National Convention; it was a gift to be able to stand on that field, at the culmination of an extraordinary week in American political history. What a week it was!

All in all, there were 8 delegates from Orange County: Michael Brader-Araje, Nancy Park, Graig Meyer, Jack Sanders, State Reps. Bill Faison and Joe Hackney, Congressman David Price, and I. We had a wonderful time representing Orange County values at the convention.

From beginning to end, it was a week filled with inpiring speeches and events that recommitted all of us to working as hard as humanly possible to elect the Obama-Biden ticket on November 4th. After eight long, long, long years of Bush-Cheney, we’ve got our work cut out for us. Republican mis-rule has left the country in shambles: massive debt, bogged down in war, a crumbling infrastructure, political polarization, high unemployment, and a faltering economy.

But the 2008 Democratic National Convention got all of us energized to take this country back, to end the polarizing political rhetoric of the last 8 years and to turn the page on the past and move—clear-eyed—into the future.

The convention week was a blur of caucus meetings, events, parties and speeches. For delegates the days were long, typically from 8am to after midnight. The North Carolina delegation began each day with an 8am breakfast at which we heard from leaders such as Governor Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas, Governor Mike Easley, and all 7 of NC’S
Democratic Congressmen.

After breakfast, many of us would attend special events or caucus meetings. I attended the LGBT caucus meetings, but there were also women’s caucuses, seniors, Asian-Pacific Islanders, Latino, etc. One of the great strengths of the Democratic Party is our diversity; unlike the Republicans we don’t just TALK about having a big tent, we actually DO have a big tent.

I attended 3 meetings of the LGBT caucus. This year there were nearly 380 out LGBT delegates, just shy of 10%. We heard from Reps. Barney Frank and Tammy Baldwin, currently the only two openly gay members of the US House of Representatives. They will most certainly be joined next year by Jared Polis of Colorado who recently won his primary to represent a Democratic-leaning Boulder district. Polis also addressed our caucus meeting.

Of course the main event each day was the convention session itself, and we all looked forward to hearing from statesmen and heroes such as Ted Kennedy, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the Clinton’s and the Obama’s. Michelle Obama’s remarks opening night, in which she introduced to America the Barack Obama she knows and loves, kicked things off just right. She had the audience eating out of her hand.

And the video tribute to Ted Kennedy, followed by his surprise appearance, left us at once grateful that the country has benefited from the leadership of the Kennedy family and a little sad than an era is coming to a close. It felt as if we were saying goodbye to an old friend, a friend we might never see again.

Tuesday night we heard from a pack of Democratic Governor’s. Montana Governor Schweitzer was the most memorable of the bunch, giving a stem-winder of a speech on energy that was direct, honest, funny and riveting. Tuesday was Hillary’s night, though, and she gave the speech of her life. She hit all the right notes and did everything she needed to do to unite the party, to demonstrate her commitment to the ticket, and to put the past behind us. For many us in the audience who’d waiting most of our lives to see a woman break through the hardest of all the glass ceilings, it was a bittersweet moment. Clinton’s persistence and competence on the issues forever opened the doors to American women. American politics will never be the same.

On Wednesday night, Bill Clinton reminded us afresh what it was like to have a President who was smart, competent, and focused on regular people instead of protecting the privileged. But the night belonged to Joe Biden. Beau Biden’s introduction of his Dad left no eye dry in the convention hall. Beau told the story of his mother’s death, and how his father took the train home from Washington to Delaware every night thereafter to tuck his two sons in. It was a story of familial love, first and foremost, but it was also the kind of story that tells us exactly what kind of man Joe Biden is---and why the country would be fortunate to have him as vice-president.

Thursday night was a night like no other. Barack Obama delivered as good an acceptance speech as any candidate has ever delivered. He hit the mark, driving home the message that after 8 long years it’s well-past time for a change. It was a memorable night and a memorable speech.

But the memories that will last the longest for me are those that reflect the barriers that are being shattered this year, particularly, a brief exchange I had that last night on Invesco Field. During that evening’s festivities, I sat next to an older African-American woman from Rocky Mount. Although I was far too polite to ask, I’m guessing she was in her late 70’s or early 80’s. She’d lived through Jim Crow and Martin Luther King, segregation and integration, and now was witnessing the nomination of Barack Obama for the presidency. Before Obama spoke, I leaned over and asked her if she’d ever thought she’d live to see this day. Her answer, as you might expect, was “No!” As she spoke, however, there was the slightest hesitation in her voice, as it she still couldn’t quite believe that it was really about to happen, that Obama would be the Democratic nominee for President of the United States.

Standing in that stadium, listening to the sound roar of history, you could almost feel the earth move. Win or lose, Obama’s nomination has changed America.