Jen Just is a schoolmate from long ago (don't ask how long) who was a delegate to the Democratic Convention this past week. She has been kind enough to answer a few questions about the experience, which I thought would help some of those who have never been to an event like this get a feel for what it is like for an attendee in a way which is a bit more personal than watching the speeches and events on television.
Jen is a mom and a writer and was an Obama delegate from Connecticut. She kept track of her experiences at the convention (a bit fitfully) with a blog called Things to Do in Denver When You're Jen, some articles for the New Haven Register and a collection of photos, some of which I've included here.
So, with thanks and no further fiddling around, here are my overly convoluted questions and her straight answers:
DN: Going back to the prelude to the convention, how did you react to the selection of Senator Joe Biden as Obama's running mate? What do you think Biden adds to the ticket and is there someone else you'd rather have had in that spot?
JJ: I was so happy that Joe Biden was added to the ticket… hate to sound like some of the pundits, but I do agree with some of them! He adds unquestionable foreign policy experience, he is 'in Washington but not of Washington,' going home to Delaware every weekend, and he can ask the blunt questions that are often deferred to the VP pick. Plus he’s a nice guy who’s been through some horrific challenges and come up smiling. A quality human being.
DN: I assume that you saw or ran into some of the PUMAs. Do you think they were driven more by love of Hillary, dislike of Obama or some other motivation? Are they really going to vote for McCain in large numbers, or were they coming around by the end of the convention?
JJ: I think many of them were coming around by the end of the Convention. I haven’t talked to anyone recently who said they were going to vote for McCain. It is hard to believe, once you take emotion out of the equation, that any Democratic woman would vote for a man with such an abysmal record on issues important to women. As for motivation, as an ardent Obama supporter and Democrat I am actually a little unsure as to their motivation. I am guessing that in the vast majority of cases it was a combination of having been long-time Hillary supporters and being emotionally invested in seeing a woman become president. (I am guessing many of them are re-examining their passion for the latter after examining John McCain’s pick for VP – I think most Democratic women would assume a female president would be pro-Choice.)
DN: I liked your photo of the media compound which looked rather like a prison camp. Was the media presence excessive or intrusive? Did it ever seem like the whole thing was just a spectacle orchestrated for the TV audience?
JJ: Interestingly it was only once I was able to have time to watch some of the media coverage – AFTER the convention! – that I really felt that not only was the media presence excessive but excessively focused on itself; the narratives it had decided to go with, etc. Even reading the paper a couple of times I wondered “are you all at the same convention?” When you are there, you see them a lot, but you are not seeing the product, so in a way it’s like any other convention where the folks with the big bucks have the larger displays for their booth.
Regarding whether it was created for the media: yes, to a certain extent. A number of us could not understand, for example, why Hillary wore that pumpkin colored outfit, until I saw it on TV and saw how well it went against the blue backdrop. Same thing with the set at Invesco Field – it made no sense at all to me until I saw it on TV, but then again I was also too short to see it in total – everyone was standing.
DN: We all saw the speeches, so I'm not going to ask you about them. But I imagine you saw things we didn't get to see while watching at home. Did you get to see any of the committee reports or working sessions? Any fun parties or other events?
JJ: I have been watching many speeches again via YouTube because even with the bigger speeches it was hard to concentrate on them, there was so much else going on. Sitting with my delegation was so much fun – there were people I hadn’t known well before that I got to know quite well, and it was festive – our guy was in, so we were really, really happy. I was sadly unable to go to some of the events I really wanted to go to, such as Common Cause’s symposium on new media. My hotel was a 30 minute ride by light rail out of Denver center so my schedule didn’t allow for much. Also, I was covering different aspects of the Convention for our delegation. I went to the Youth Caucus (as a reporter, not a participant!), and yes a number of CT-related parties. I didn’t get to go to any of the ‘good’ parties; I heard that Barack came to the DNC party Thursday night to thank everyone, but I was also tired! Somewhat to my own surprise I was happy to have one drink and go to bed.
DN: Did you get to visit the exhibit hall? I always like to see the groups that want to be represented at these events. Was it as heavily dominated by union-funded advocacy groups as has been my observation at similar events?
JJ: I didn’t really examine them but yes the unions were well-represented in general – going by t-shirts! There were also three or four exhibits for folks raising money for the gulf states. Going into the Colorado Convention hall (the hall where the real Convention work got done, as opposed to yes, the spectacle at the Pepsi center)
DN: As a regular citizen delegate did you have any encounters with the various protests, or were you pretty well isolated from the rallies held by Code Pink, Recreate68, and other groups. Did delegates you talked to have any opinion of the protesting which was taking place?
JJ: I only saw protests by individuals – and I was looking for them! I was curious to see the action, especially the anarchists who actually had a website listing their schedule of protests. No one I knew had an opinion. Everyone has a right to speak out.
[As we now know, the reason why delegates saw very little of the protests was that they were kept at considerable distance from the convention in a fenced-in free speech area deliberately designed to make sure that no one at the convention could possibly see any of the organized rallies - DN]
DN: As an individual voter and a delegate, do you feel like this process gives you any real input into how the party picks candidates or sets its agenda? Did your presence at the convention really make any difference?
JJ: Well, of course most of the work took place before the Convention. Getting the votes for him, and working on the platform at the platform meetings the Obama campaign had set up, I did feel as if I had a big impact. I do wish in a way that more was decided at the Convention – that is the reason they were established in the first place. But if one of the main functions of a Convention is still to get the party faithful unified and geared up for the coming hard work, then it was very, very successful. Fifteen minutes after I got home, I was already back at work planning for the campaign!
DN: Was it as hot as it looked in the stadium waiting for Obama's acceptance speech?
JJ: Thankfully, no, at least where the CT delegation was seated! That had been one of my big concerns all week, because I don’t do heat well. Because I was a delegate, it only took 45 minutes to get in and by the time I did get in, our area on the floor was actually partly in shade. I loved where we were seated, toward the back, so that I could wander around, do some celebrity watching, some dancing, etc.
DN: Would you do it all again?
JJ: Not only would I do it again, it was one of the best and most emotional weeks of my life. I think it already says so much about how far our country has come that we have nominated a Hawaiian-Kansan (!) for the highest office in the land; there were lots of tears as Barack’s speech came to a close.