5 Things I Learned at the DNC

by Nadya Okamoto

Me and the infamous balloons of the 2016 DNC

From July 25–28, 2016, I shadowed Wendy Davis, Former Senator of Texas, at the 2016 Democratic National Convention, and I haven’t been the same since. This, as I’ve been excitedly telling my family, is for two reasons: (1) Not only did I feel I was witnessing history being made, I knew that I was witnessing monumental change. I was in the audience as the “most progressive” party platform was presented and, more importantly, I watched the first woman be officially nominated for president by a major political party; (2) In learning from Wendy what life is like as a female politician (i.e. empowering and motivating), as well as hearing the passion and diversity of career trajectories of the many political leaders I met or listened to, I found where I belonged. The experience showed me I can create a career out of engaging in service leadership, something I love to do already and gives me the greatest fulfillment in life.

Besides those very personal #feels, here’s what I learned:

  1. Politics is tiring, but worth it. In shadowing Wendy for the week, my hours were long and tiring. I would wake up around 5:00am to do some research on the speakers/topics of the day, get dressed, and write about the previous day (check out my dispatches here, here, here, and here!). Then, I would head out to pick up credentials before 8:30am. Wendy usually had obligations all day. The official DNC proceedings were from 4pm to 11pm (some days they didn’t start until 4:30pm). By the time I left, it would be past 1am. I was told this type of schedule is typical of major political events, and when you are really passionate about your work, you want to maximize the time you have in your day. So, yes, politics is tiring (and may require ample amounts of coffee), but the outcome of your hard work and your amplified voice makes that commitment worth it.
  2. Politics is beautiful, and that beauty is strengthened by diversity. I loved that this year the DNC truly made an effort to celebrate diversity. Because they provided America with the opportunity to hear speakers with such different backgrounds, you felt that you were learning and expanding your own horizon of understanding. I say politics is beautiful because it empowers the people working to make a positive difference for other people living in their community. Diversity in all its aspects — of perspectives, career focuses, backgrounds, etc. — makes the world of politics more beautiful because it allows for more comprehensive and equitable change to be pushed.
  3. “Public service is about service,” has to be at your core in order to be a successful politician. This quote was said by Chelsea Clinton, Hillary’s daughter. As I previously mentioned, politics can be extremely tiring. In order to be a strong and impactful politician, it is essential that your commitment to your cause is unwavering. In the case of politics, your cause is public service, service to the people whose voices you are a megaphone for. Thus, you must hold your commitment and passion for public service (aka politics) at your very core.
  4. Collaboration is essential (#StrongerTogether!). “Stronger together” was a theme throughout the entire convention, plastered on thousands of posters and spoken by many during the proceedings. It makes total sense, especially in the context of the election right now. To ensure Clinton wins, both her supporters and those of Bernie Sanders have to work together to elect her as POTUS. The entire convention began on the first day with Sanders standing up and endorsing Clinton, speaking with pride about the party platform they worked together on. Collaboration is key to making both her election possible but also the party platform possible.
  5. Pay it forward, and invest in the next generation of (female) leaders. On Wednesday, Wendy spoke at an event for the Electing Women Alliance. I was inspired and motivated as I witnessed so much support and love between the female politicians present, all of whom were go-getters and competitive fighters themselves. Each time one woman got down from speaking, she was hugged, congratulated, and shed with appreciation while walking back through the speaker line. I felt emotional as I watched the beauty of “women supporting women” come to life before my eyes. Investing in the next generation of public servants is so important. To simply witness a political leader in work and shadow them like I did changed my life.

I am forever grateful to Wendy for her warmth and consideration throughout the week of the DNC. I encourage all you School of Doodle gals, if you are interested in politics, to contact your representatives and just ask to shadow them or hear more about their passions and motivations. You will learn so much. Even if you aren’t interested in politics in particular, reach out to your role model, take initiative, and try to learn from them — it is worth it.

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