Intrepid Reporter for the Inside Press Jazzed to Cover the 2016 DNC
By Susan Youngwood
I came to political consciousness during Watergate. Glued to the television during the hearings, I devoured newspaper coverage. I remember two things about the summer of 1972–watching the Olympics and the Democratic National Convention.
I’ve been watching conventions ever since (I did miss a few because of traveling–I still regret being overseas when Barack Obama introduced himself to the country in 2004.)
I love the roll call, when each state announces trivia about itself when nominating its candidate. I still remember the days when there would be one lone vote for the state’s favorite son–usually its governor or senator. I marvel at the loss of decorum, when distinguished-looking middle-aged folks don crazy red, white and blue garments and dance in the aisles. The funny hats, the turn-of-phrase buttons. I get a thrill watching our peaceful change of power.
Funny enough, though, in the 25+ years I was a journalist, I wasn’t a political journalist. I didn’t cover statehouses and political campaigns, focusing instead on business and education. So I never went to a convention, never became a girl on the bus.
This weekend, that will change, as I head south to Philadelphia to cover my first political convention. It’s a homecoming of sorts, because I lived in Philadelphia for three years in the early 1980s. I’m looking forward to being a tourist in my former hometown, as much as I am excited about attending my first political convention in person.
My internal vision of political conventions is what you see on television. And television covers what happens in the arena–the delegates seated behind their state sign, television reporters roaming around with microphones, a garishly decorated stage where a blue-suited politician gives a somber or rousing speech.
So my first lesson about political conventions is that what you see on television is really not what these conventions are about.
To prepare, I chatted with a journalism school buddy who covered four conventions for national media.
“The delegates are really there to party,” he said. My job is to find the parties.
You know, I had never really thought about what the delegates do before and after the three to four hours they sit in the convention hall. I had also never realized the other people who come to conventions, drawn to the flame like fireflies. There are the uber wealthy donors. The lobbyists. The special interest groups. The media. The politicians and their staffs.
And what I’ve learned is that there are hordes of events happening over a six-day period to keep those hordes busy.
There are big parties–Emily’s List and Planned Parenthood throw two of them (pretty sure they didn’t show up during the GOP event). I’m told all the large media outlets, like CNN and BuzzFeed, throw parties.
Each state delegation is assigned a hotel, and holds events there. I’m supposed to hang out in the lobby of hotel housing the New York delegation and follow the delegates to their social events.
There are concerts and food festivals and movie showings.
There are panel discussions about the economy and infrastructure and energy policy.
There are fundraising events, dinners and lunches where only a check lets you in the door.
Here’s a sampling of what I can chose from:
The Creative Coalition Benefit Gala costs $7,500 for two tickets — celebrities from entertainment, policy and business will get to listen to Fergie. A Yacht Party is raising money for autism and is relatively cheap at $100 a ticket. The American Muslim Democratic caucus is charging $125 to attend its luncheon. The DNC welcome lunch thrown by the American Trade Association for Cannabis and Hemp + Drug Policy Action costs $250. The LGBT GOTV fundraiser event is called Equality in the Sky.
The less well-off can head to the Passyunk Passeggiata Street Festival for street food, outdoor bars, al fresco dining, vendors, and live music.
“Story Slam: Inside the Political Machine” features stories about the inside world of politics.
There are events are sponsored by the marijuana lobby, the LGBT community, veterans, the Muslim community.
Sponsors include the Truman National Security Project, The 21st Century Democrats, Emerge America, RealClear Politics, Save the Children, Atlantic Magazine, the National Marine Manufacturers Association, the Center for American Women and Politics, the American Sustainable Business Council, Nuns on the Bus and the Milkin Institute.
There are caucuses for women, Latinos, youth, African-Americans, Jews, rural America, the disabled, veterans.
Panel discussions on every possible topic–“How Tech and Data are changing politics;” “10 secrets to winning campaigns;” “The future of immigration and how we define American;” “The future of reproductive health: Congress, the courts and your body;” “Business case for a sustainable economic policy;” “What CEO transitions can and cannot teach the next generation.”
And post-gavel parties thrown by People for the American Way, Climate Hawks Vote and Friends of the Earth and the Grammys–featuring performers like Grace Potter, Dawes, Lady Gaga, Lenny Kravitz, Snoop Dogg.
It’s a wonder all those delegates show up on the convention floor.
I thought I was going to Philadelphia to watch the first woman to get nominated to be president of the United States. That will happen. But most of the action of a political convention takes place out of the television limelight.