Experiencing the DNC As a Delegate

Exactly one hundred years ago, in July of 1908, Democratic National Convention delegates merrily cooled off with an old-fashioned snowball fight right inside the convention hall. The host city of Denver, Colorado, charged with providing entertainment for their guests, arranged for trainloads of snow to be hauled in from mountains since none was readily available in town.

The city then topped off the fanfare by commissioning a band of Apache Indians, dressed in full native regalia, to perform tribal war dances. They ended the “show” by whooping up a storm replete with frenzied battle cries. Damon Runyon of The Rocky Mountain News described the audience of conventioneers as “a lot of badges and yelling all the time.”

Even in 1908, delegates couldn’t deny the fact that the DNC sure knew how to throw a party. No one can say for sure that there won’t be a few snowball fights among delegates on the convention floor this year. Or that the party for the party will be any less festive in Denver this time. But that’s only half the story.

A day in the life of a delegate at the DNC involves much more than a few days of good television. Invitations to sponsored events start arriving by mail about two months before the convention. As Doris Turner, a veteran of two Democratic National Conventions puts it, “Mail-lots and lots of mail”.

Any organization with an interest in being seen by high-profile, networking delegates will host an event or reception of some kind. Other than publicity, the purpose of each event isn’t always clear, except to remind delegates to be sure and vote Democrat.

Unless a delegate is sponsored by an organization, they pay their own way for everything. Everything that is, except for food. The catering budget alone for the convention and the sponsored events now runs well into the millions. This is a week-long gig for roughly 35,000 people and they all need to be fed. Even the daily breakfast meetings are lavish spreads offering a whole lot more than just coffee and doughnuts.

Speaking of the early morning meetings, exactly what are delegates meeting about? Setting the daily agenda appeared to be the only purpose. Deciding which meetings and lectures to attend seemed to pretty much cover the delegation game plan. Well, that and enjoying a darned good breakfast. After that, the rest of their morning is free.

The meetings, seminars and lectures can be a time for delegates to either catch up on a nap or pick up interesting information, depending on who is speaking. High-priced motivational speakers, celebrities and other television personalities are booked for the occasion in an attempt to draw the delegate’s attention to their cause.

Celebrity watching provides a big thrill for many delegates. It’s not at all unusual to see crowds gathering to get autographs from their favorite party stars. All of the major television networks cover the convention by broadcasting live on location. Ordinary delegates may find themselves mingling with Diane Sawyer of ABC or NBC’s Matt Lauer during a morning interview. And even more find it hard not to gawk at celebrity party supporters like Bono or Brad Pitt. For some, it’s one of the highlights of the trip to the convention.

There are a few minor annoyances that crop up during the week for a delegate. Long lines and extensive security checks can test the patience of the best of them. Rules about what can be brought into the convention hall may leave a few angry or confused, but for the most part, they take it all in stride. It’s all a part of the life of a delegate.

Most delegates agree that the best moments are the last two nights when everyone fills the convention floor to hear the speeches of the real stars of the show, the Democratic presidential and vice-presidential nominee. One of them described the floor of delegates as props for the greatest show on earth. The crowds are loud, excited and often emotional. The speeches, one after another, can move them to tears or start rounds of repetitive shouts of support.

It’s almost anti-climactic when the confetti and balloons drop. Most of the delegates are exhausted physically and mentally. Their throats are dry from shouting but their voices have been heard. It’s time to return to their respective homes around the country, with their autographs, goody bags, souvenir buttons and campaign propaganda and remind everyone what they went to the convention for: to be sure and vote for the Democrat for president.