In Our Hands-My First Visit to my Local Democratic Convention
Yesterday I attended my first Democratic convention. This is something I should have been doing for years. It was truly fascinating to get so up close and personal with our electoral process. According to folks that had attended the convention in prior years I was far from the only new person at Cobo Hall. In fact the place was packed with concerned citizens eager to jump into action with the goal of saving our democracy.
I arrived at 8am, an hour after the doors opened, and started through the enormous convention center, passing a boat show and hundreds of cheerleaders preparing for competition. Not sure you can get much more American than having these three things taking up the same space at the same time.
Once I finally made it past the giant-who-really-needs-pontoon-boats-that-big display and the hordes of glitter encrusted girls I found a long L shaped registration line. I settled into my spot and tried to take it all in. Within moments I was handed a flyer by a woman making her way down the row. It was then that I noticed a small handful of flyer wielding people working the line. This fascinated me. Here we all were together for our chosen party and yet groups were jockeying for attention. Obviously I had to talk to each flyer pusher to find out why.
Like I said this was my first convention. I was learning.
It was a slow moving line, so I had time to talk with all the flyer folks, some twice, and that is when I learned about the different caucuses. Before yesterday to me caucus was a thing that states like Colorado did instead of holding primaries. What I found was that since the party itself is so large the convention starts by dividing attendees into the groups with which they most identify. Those groups, or caucuses, then meet in designated rooms where they vote for representatives which is why getting attention is so very important. You want people in the right room at the right time to hopefully vote for your candidate. You also have to make sure those people know who your candidate is and what they stand for, so the flyers are good old fashioned campaigning on a smaller, more personally immediate scale.
There are a lot of different caucuses all taking place at the same time. I looked over the morning schedule trying to decide where to go, what group was I most passionate about giving my vote too?
The morning schedule broke down like this:
- Young Democrats
- Progressive caucus
- Disability caucus
- Youth caucus
- Asian American caucus
- Women’s caucus
- Scandinavian caucus
- Black caucus
- Federation of College Democrats
- Environmental/Energy caucus
- Yemeni American caucus
- Hispanic/Latino caucus
- Veteran’s caucus
- Bangladeshi American caucus
- LGBT & Allies caucus
- Labor caucus
- Justice caucus
- Indo American caucus
- Pakistani American caucus
- Arab American caucus
- MEA caucus
- Faith caucus
That is a stunningly diverse list of American citizens looking for governmental representation.
Rather than bury my head in a piece of paper I opened my experience up to conversations with my line mates. Behind me stood a pair of aging white people, a man and a woman, who came across as salt-of-the-earth working class. These are the people I grew up around, many of whom made the switch to trump this past election. It warmed my heart to learn that they too were attending for the first time.
While in front of me was a collection of members of the Black caucus. Danny Craig had been attending the Michigan Democratic Convention since 1981, spending many of those years serving as a sitting member of the Black caucus. He was astonished by the number of people in line, saying that in all the years he had never seen anything like it. He was also dismayed at the disorganization of it all, there were three people working the registration line as hundreds of attendees poured in. Beside him stood Carlos Cross, a young man hoping to be elected to the Black caucus for the first time. Mr. Craig and Mr. Cross seemed to be working together to get him elected, a hopeful passing of the torch. Yet directly in front of them stood Keith Williams, former Wayne County Commissioner, also hoping for election to the Black caucus. Mr. Williams was eager to move the party forward, stating he wanted to clean the party out from the bottom up. The rivals eyed each other. I enjoyed the smell of competition early in the morning.
Eventually I made it to the front of the line only to find out that my online registration had not gone through, so I was not eligible to vote. This was shocking. I had gone through the online process well in advance of the cut off date, paranoia tickled my neck, but I decided against causing a scene. I asked if I could still attend the event and was told that was fine. Mentally I switched gears from average citizen to journalist and headed toward the Progressive Caucus.
On my way there I ran into Gretchen Whitmer, a former Michigan Senator and member of the Michigan House of Representatives as well as having served as the Ingham County Prosecutor. Ms. Whitmer has the distinction of being the first person to enter the gubernatorial race here in Michigan. She has committed herself to being a full time candidate for the next two years. I grabbed her attention for a quick interview and was treated to my first ever “walk and talk”. Thankfully I’m up to date on all my Arron Sorkin shows.
Ms. Whitmer spoke of being focused on rebuilding Michigan. That sounded like another vague political catch phrase to me, so I asked for more details. She told me she is ready to fight for the state and is eager to see the return of good paying jobs. She understands that the days of plentiful, good paying factory jobs are mostly a thing of the past.
Manufacturing itself isn’t going away — — it has just changed.
Looking at the present and the future it is clear that technology jobs need to become a focus for Michigan. She touched on her key phrase again by saying that she wants to build pathways for education and job placement in technology, help students gain technical and vocational skills. Along those same lines she is determined to bring the power of public education back, stating that public schools were once the backbone of our nation. She told me she is ready and willing to start holding charter schools accountable, which includes shutting down the poor performing ones. We touched on the state of roads, an important issue for all Michiganders, of course she wants to fix them, but unfortunately there wasn’t much time for details as to how.
What stood out the most to me was her determination to hold the Democratic party accountable. Ms. Whitmer seems to feel the way most of us do, that the party has lost its way and become far too apologetic. She wants to push them forward into action and stop assuming everyone will vote blue.
It was at this point we had to part ways. Having reached the conference room holding the Progressive caucus, she was headed to the podium, I to the corner in a very crowded room.
The place was already packed, leading to high temps and higher tension. Given the pre-existing discord in the Democratic party left from the fight between Hillary and Bernie camps, I expected a good show. I was not disappointed.
After Ms. Whitmer finished speaking, she was treated to a standing ovation for a crowd eager to get out from under the thumb of Governer Snyder and District Attorney Schutte. That was the end of the shared comraderie. From there came one point of order after the next as old leadership attempted to rush voting while people remained outside the room still trying to get their credentials.
Without those credentials you cannot vote. Sure you may already have registered at the front entrance, but for each meeting a delegate attends they have to sign up for the credentials needed to vote. With such a crush of new people the registration table was once again overwhelmed. What gets fuzzy to me is the cut off for getting those credentials. Is there a time limit or is the list kept open until the end of the line? I never got the answer, but I can tell you this was not the only meeting that day to suffer the same problem. While the majority of people wanting to vote progressive seemed to get in, thanks to the insistence of a determined woman sporting an American flag bandana, throughout the day I would hear unfortunate stories of the list being shut down in people’s face. Again paranoia tickled the back of my neck.
Voting was put on hold as the situation was worked out. Taking the break in action as an opportunity to catch a different show I headed downstairs to Women’s caucus.
Held in a much smaller room I opened the door to find many empty seats. Typical, I thought to myself, thanks for caring about us ladies everybody. Didn’t we just have some giant march or something? Our caucus room should be packed! Turns out it got that way. The wait for entrance at the main registration had extended to 90 minutes! People were slowly trickling in to every caucus until each room was overflowing.
I missed seeing the Women’s caucus fill with bodies because I made the decision to head back up to the circus in the Progressive room. Before doing that I was fortunate enough to see Senator Debbie Stabenow speak.
Fun fact: I used to play basketball with Senator Stabenow’s son back when I was a wee little child in our church youth league.
I had to interview her, more importantly I had to tell her my Mom said Hi. As she finished speaking I waited by the door outside the room, ambushing her with memories from the 1980’s when she appeared.
Senator Stabenow is up for re-election in 2018. Michigan surprised the nation by voting red for the first time since 1988, so Senator Stabenow has the unenviable job of fighting for her position while trying to fight against the disruptive trump agenda. She was happy to talk, but being on the campaign trail had only a fleeting moment. The Senator admitted that the past election was awful, but now we have to get to work. As she puts it our new so-called president does not own democracy, nor do the republicans. She is asking for help from the people in keeping pressure up to hold the republicans accountable. When I asked what she was doing to get people more involved Senator Stabenow said that she is in the process of setting up online mobilization with the intention of fighting back against fake news and social media trolls. She herself said she feels very focused, determined and energized. I believed her and I believe she will stay that way, Senator Stabenow has proven herself to be a tireless public servant throughout the years.
Back up in the second largest conference room I shimmied into a spot along the wall. It was standing room only now going two deep. They were still waiting to vote as the poor pressed people working the table attempted to get everyone credentialed.
Once ready the speaker called for order and he got it, for a couple minutes.
While I have used certain derogatory terms to describe this event(circus comes to mind) the truth is that this chaos is a result of a government run by and for the people. And the people are woke. There is a revolution taking place across the whole of the American political system, nowhere is that more evident than within the Democratic party. Saying this is a battle between an old and new generation would be too simplistic, this is a battle of idea’s and expectations. Are we capitalists, or are we socialists? Do we reach across the isle in compromise, or do we shut down any unwanted policies? Maybe most importantly, do we support members of our own party who may not agree with us 100%?
None of this was answered at the convention, but it certainly was hashed out. Many a point of order was made from both sides. Angry people, still hurt by the Berniecrates refusal to vote for Hillary, spoke over the gavel demanding to know who those running for a position had voted for in the presidential election. A Berniecrat attempted to get a rule change made right then and there, he wished to see an end to cumulative voting asking for individual voting instead. Together we all learned that by-laws cannot be changed at the big convention, that would be up to the reps being elected that day to decide over the course of the next two years.
It was long. It was hot. It was entertaining as hell, but eventually all positions were voted on and a much needed lunch break was called.
Long established groups bring in trays of food for their members. Meanwhile the Berniecrats high off a round of big wins scattered across many different caucuses gathered in a large group in the hall and began using the people’s MIC to spread information and encouragement. I’ll give the Bernicrats this, they have the best chants, ie. The revolution will not be corporatized!
It was at lunch that I ran into a middle aged woman also attending for her first time. She spent her day in the Women’s caucus and the Justice caucus, it was from her that I learned just how full the rooms became. One of the most prominate issues discussed at the Justice caucus was handling the oppressive gerrymandering handed out by the republicans in past years. While it is good to know that the rooms got packed and an incredibly important issue such as gerrymandering is being looked at, she admitted that she felt there might be some unscrupulous tactics going on in the party to maintain the status quo.
Paranoia seemed to reign the day. I certainly wasn’t the only one wondering why the party hadn’t better prepared for a large turnout. It has become clear by bow that most citizens are engaged, so to feign surprise when lots of people show up seems like a calculated move toward suppression.
As I munched on my almonds Senator Gary Peters walked by. I considered getting up to try for an interview, but in a packed dining area he was already surrounded by others asking for a handshake and a word. I did manage to flag down one of his aides who sat for a chat. He seemed happy to get off his feet which gave me extra time to push for information and influence. I asked what Senator Peters was intending to do about trump’s Supreme Court nominee, was he willing to block appointments with the same ferocity as the republicans had shown? Senator Peters’ aide wasn’t able to give me a clear answer. The Senator seems unsure about expending that much political capital right up front. I reminded him that the Senator is not up for re-election in 2018, so he has some security. Plus with the backing of most of the people he should feel confident in putting his foot down. I never got an answer, but at least I was heard.
State Representative Donna Lasinski suddenly sat down with us and joined the conversation. Her focus seemed very close to mine and so many ordinary citizens, how can the party better come together and organize all this momentum and energy? She informed me that currently there is only one female Democrat Senator in Michigan. There are a number of Republican women state Senators, but just the one Democrat.
I’m not running Donna, but I know some good women who should.
Originally an educator Representative Lasinski said she got into politics when she ran for her local school board, from there she saw the need to reach for higher positions in the hopes of effecting greater change.
When asked if she had had many run in’s with Betsy Devos she replied, “I’ve been in public schools, so I’ve never met Betsy.” Best laugh I had all day.
After lunch I wandered downstairs towards the smaller conference rooms holding district elections. As I passed the registration table I saw that they were still checking people in, though it seemed to be the end of the line. I wondered what time they arrived?
Much like the caucuses the district election rooms are also packed with too many people to please a Fire Marshall. I saw delegates sitting in the hallway fanning themselves, trying to cool down before heading back in. One woman in a red UAW beanie expresses outrage at not being allowed to vote. She told me that when she reached the table the officiant removed the sign up list and informed her that registration for district 9 was closed. She’d come in years past and hadn’t seen such a large turnout, but she had also never been turned away.
I snuck into a room with fewer bodies only to find more of the same from the morning. Great debate between the old and the new, clearly we have a power struggle on our hands.
Back out in the hallway I spoke with a union member eager for a return to the simplicity of the 1970’s. He wants to keep his social security, he’s going to need it soon. And though he wants to see a return to the steady economy of the 70’s he admits that he doesn’t think trump can do it. Instead he is worried trump will get us into more trouble than we will be able to get out of, I nod in agreement.
I speak with a woman who is concerned about the science of vaccines, stressing she isn’t anti-vax, just wants a more thorough investigation. Since I have little knowledge on that subject I simply listened to her. She came to the convention with the intention of talking to Congressman Dan Killdee about the issue. While she did track him down an aide intervened, but she feels confident that she can secure a one on one meeting with him during the upcoming recess.
I hope that she can.
By this point it was well after 2pm and I was worn out. Since I had no voting power there seemed no real reason to stay. My brain felt full of new knowledge and information, so I went home to eat a real meal before heading out to work.
While I learned a great deal about the democratic party, how it works from the bottom up, I also learned that it isn’t at all prepared for the dragon that has awoken. American’s have been dismayed and frustrated with their government for far too long. In 2008 Obama rode a title wave of positivity toward hope and change, only to have every move he made blocked by a republican party afraid of the changing demographics within the country. And thanks to widespread fear and misinformation many of those same people that voted for Obama refused to see just how crippled his work towards hope and change was by the GOP. Eight years later we all witnessed an eruption of demands for real alternatives, three candidates were pushed forward by the people and only one of them came from the old team. Even then she was a she who ran on the most progressive Democratic platform ever. Instead of being able to utilize that momentum of love for Obama and enthusiasm for Bernie’s idea’s, the party dropped the ball where a con-man and Nazi could pick it up to run back down towards the other end of the field.
Let this be a wake up call Democrats. This country is on a radical new course. We have the numbers and the momentum to run back towards progress, but you have to listen to your constitutes and get the fuck out of the way. Change is happening, if we come together it will be wonderful, but if we cannot unify with the same ferocity as the republicans than the American experiment will come to end in the hands of fascism.