Democratic National Convention in Charlotte: A Day for Irish-American Dems!

Wow! What can I say about President Clinton’s fabulous speech last night? Fox News, of course, proclaims it too long and wonders why Clinton spent so much time talking about himself and so little time touting the accomplishments of the current POTUS. Which only begs the question: What speech were they actually listening to? To my mind, Clinton knocked it outta the ballpark. He methodically addressed every single issue facing voters as they enter the polls next month, while the RNC never even uttered the word “Afghanistan” once during their entire convention. And even though Clinton spoke for 20 minutes longer than scheduled, I enjoyed every second. He’s an engaging and substantive speaker, and I always hate to hear him close . . . no matter how long he’s gone on. He’s got just that much to say and I want to hear it.

Before I get too far into actual Convention activities, though, I want to share a little of the action on the periphery. In an earlier post, I mentioned the Huffington Post Oasis located just a couple of blocks from the convention center where all the caucus meetings have been held. The Oasis operated during the RNC, as well, but I must admit I had never heard about it until someone pressed a flyer on me this past Monday while I was walking into the Charlotte Convention Center for the first time. That afternoon, and Tuesday and Wednesday, too, my colleague and I made our way to the Oasis. First of all, it’s beautiful. Clean and spare, the Oasis oozes zen – which is a very welcome thing to ooze during Convention week. Nobody is getting any sleep, passions are running high, adrenaline is spiking, and pretty soon you’re feeling all that in some part of your body. It’s different for all of us, but I feel it in my back and shoulders. The Oasis has an app for that. Massage therapists and reflexologists volunteer their time to help work out the kinks engendered by those symptoms, as well as by sitting in arena seats for six hours per night. (That’s my colleague, Carol Leblanc, waiting for her table massage, above.) The Oasis is a beautiful thing . . . on all kinds of levels. Also, healthy food, sleep counseling, books and pamphlets. And did I mention that it is all free? At least to the end user, but paid for by the sponsors (Huffington Post and Off the Mat, Into the World). Arianna Huffington was running around on Tuesday, but she was too busy to stop for pics. So I got a photo with her right-hand lady, Catherine, who demonstrated the soon-to-be-released app called “GPS for the Soul.”

But, I’m getting ahead of myself. The morning started off with the usual hearty breakfast in the big tent behind the hotel. Our guest speaker was Amy Klobuchar from Minnesota, one of the wonderful women who represent the Democrats in the U.S. Senate. She told a charming story about a football bet she lost to our own Mary Landrieu in which she had to cook a pot of gumbo while wearing a Drew Brees jersey. Mary said it was too bland and proceeded to dump a “Sam’s-size bottle of Tabasco” into it.

 

After breakfast Carol and I rode the shuttle downtown to visit the temporary studio that MSNBC had set up near the convention center.

 

Walking back across downtown Charlotte, on the way to Oasis, we fell into a conversation about my upcoming trip to Ireland. A very tall, white-haired gentleman walking in front of us overheard, stopped and turned to us. He asked whether he’d heard we were going to Ireland and I said yes, he had. He proceeded to introduce himself as the Irish Ambassador to the United States, at which point I blurted out: “So are you Sean Donlon?” He started and said that Sean Donlon had not served as ambassador for more than 20 years. Oops! Then, he asked me why I’d asked about the former ambassador and I told him that someone had recently asked me if I were related to Sean Donlon. As she put it: “Now, would you be related to Sean Donlon, the Irish Ambassador?” Not knowing one Irish Ambassador from another, I took him to be the current one. (Foolish American mistake.) I was slightly embarrassed, but I got a good story out of it, anyway.

Now we come to the Convention, itself. What can I say? It was the most exciting and engaging event I’ve ever had a part in. Gotta rush through here because I’m running behind and must make the shuttle for the big day — Thursday — when Obama and Biden speak. So, let me just say that an unexpected highlight is the roll call of the states, when party chairs announce the delegate votes for the candidate. Louisiana has 72 delegates, but could only announce 65. Seven of us did not attend the Convention because of problems with Hurricane Isaac and there are no proxy votes in this game. Only real signatures count. (I intend to frame the copy of the page on which I signed, which the party provided to each delegate.) One fun note is that celebrities are told they can sit wherever they want in any delegate section where seats are available. Mr. Monk, of course, found a home in our delegation!

Can’t close without including a few pics from the Irish American Dems party I attended at Ri Ra Irish Pub in downtown Charlotte after the Roll Call Vote. Will post details later, but you’ve got to see who showed up as the guest of honor: my friend, Michael Collins, the good Ambassador!

 

 

Here’s the band, who — of course — provided a rousing round of “Nobody so Irish as Barack O’bama.”

 

 

 

 

Here’s Henry Healy, Barack’s cousin from Moneygall.

 

Gotta fly!

 

 

Democratic National Convention in Charlotte: We Love Michelle!

Hello, Friends! Tonight’s entry will be brief because it is almost 3:30 a.m., credential call is at 7:00 a.m., and I am plain tuckered out. I promise to catch up on details tomorrow night, so please bear with me. At some point I’ll also fill y’all in on my experience with the Huffington Post Oasis, a complimentary rejuvenation service right in the midst of the madness, just steps away from the convention hall. The Huffington Post, along with Off The Mat, Into The World, hosts the Oasis — a reminder to find balance in the hustle and bustle of the conventions. On the activity list? Private and group yoga classes, massages, mini-facials, makeup refreshes, sleep consultations, meditation and healthy snacks. The Oasis operated in Tampa, during the RNC, and has set up in Charlotte to provide a calming respite for harried conventioneers here. I’ve posted one pic, but will talk more about the Oasis later because it is just that cool.

Our guest speaker at breakfast was actress and Baton Rouge native Lynn Whitfield, a lovely lady and a strong democrat. She spent a lot of time taking photos with the delegates, including me.

The buses are still giving the delegates and guest fits as they fail to show up on time and take an inordinate amount of time to complete the proscribed loops. Carol LeBlanc (Raceland, LA) and I finished breakfast and walked out front to where the bus should have been waiting — we rushed to finish so as not to miss it — but no bus. We waited for about 45 minutes until a few friends came out to claim the taxi they’d summoned and invited us to ride with them since they had two extra seats. So we did. Arriving at the Convention Center, a crew from Canadian Broadcasting Corporation asked me for an interview. The reporter asked a few issues-based questions, then inquired about what I was most looking forward to during the Convention. I told her — and I guess lots of Canadians — that I was most excited about hearing Michelle Obama’s speech and to the Irish-American Democrats party on Wednesday night! (More on the latter later.)

At about 8:30 this evening, several folks texted me at once, telling me they’d seen me on national T.V. I asked each of them how my hair looked!

Tonight was the first full night of the actual convention and the arena was electrified as one fantastic speaker after another took to the podium, squared off at the lectern and faced the teleprompter. My favorites included Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Kathleen Sebelius, Rahm Emanuel, Cory Booker, Joseph Kennedy III, Martin O’Malley, Julian Castro, and — of course — Michelle Obama.

Moving forward, not backward was the major theme of this first evening, and the DNC faced controversial issues head-on, from don’t ask/don’t tell to women’s reproductive rights. They took no prisoners as they held forth the Democratic Party Platform as the mission for America. The crowd went wild.

Small groups of energetic women worked each aisle, handing out the signs and conducting a sort of impromptu choreography with the delegates, instructing them when to hold up and wave them. There were five signs, each one reading FORWARD, NOT BACKWARD, OPPORTUNITY, OPPORTUNIDAD (sp), and I LOVE MICHELLE!

I cannot tell you how thrilling it was when Michelle walked out on stage and we all whipped out our I LOVE MICHELLE signs. A veritable sea of signs proclaimed our affection for our charming and intelligent first lady. She did a very slight double take as she entered the stage that I somehow feel was genuine. Could she really not have known that this was planned, or was it just that she had not adequately prepared for the overwhelming impact of all those signs held by all those people. The arena erupted into applause as soon as she stepped onstage and the sound was deafening. It was truly one of the most impressive social events I have ever participated in and/or observed. I am really so very glad to be here . . .

She gave the best speech of the evening, as usual, and all across the arena, eyes welled up. She spoke of being young and in love and in debt, as she described how she and Barack had taken out so many student loans to pay for college. She was a marvel!

Michelle, I love you!

 

Democratic National Convention in Charlotte: Caucus Meetings and a Benefit Under the Big Tent

Monday started early with credential call at 6:00 a.m. Delegates must retrieve separate sets of credentials each day so security can get accurate counts and IDs for that day. Any credentials that are not claimed by a certain time are then distributed to the waiting list of non-delegate folks who are hoping to get into the Convention site on any given day. That’s why the credential call comes early.

After that the Louisiana delegation enjoyed a really delicious breakfast buffet — in the big air-conditioned tent behind the hotel — catered by Lucien, a New Orleans native who was displaced by Katrina, came up to Charlotte and opened a Cajun restaurant here. This morning he served up eggs and grits, real bacon and turkey bacon, blackened tilapia, chicken salad (?), orange juice, and coffee and chicory. C’est bon!

Alfre Woodard (True Blood; Memphis Beat) was the featured speaker over breakfast and she was great. A tiny little woman with a whompin’ big message for Dems about standing fast and challenging every GOP lie that comes up. She acknowledge we’d be working really hard in this endeavor, but that the alternative would lead to failure and that was inconceivable. Ms. Woodard admired my Louisiana Dem button so I gave it to her. Here she is showing it off.

The shuttle buses are running well, but slowly, which is really OK because I find a great deal of the action takes place en route. This morning Sen. Gerald Neal, 33rd District, Kentucky (Louisville), climbed on and sat next to me in the first seats. After a number of the Oregon delegation got on when the driver stopped at their hotel, Sen. Neal stood up and announced he was taking over the bus, and that he intended to storm the convention center with us. For the rest of the longish bus ride, a bunch of Louisiana ladies (Slidell and St. Tammany) competed with each other in offering up special regional recipes, handing slips of paper over to the senator with their contact information so he could email them and ask for the recipes.

As I write this I’m waiting for the next set of sessions to begin at noon. I missed the first session because of bus delays, which is OK because I’m quite enjoying myself, watching the stream of folks in front of me. (I’m in the food court, which is always a strategic positioning, in my experience.) There are all kinds of folks here, wearing all sorts of attire, and operating on all levels of ambulation. And there seems to be nary a tight-ass in the bunch! This is great fun!

This just in: Had a charming conversation with a volunteer who told me the names of the five most important people from her home state of Georgia. They are 1) Martin Luther King, 2) Jimmy Carter, 3) Ray Charles, 4) Alma Thomas, and 5) Bridget McCurry, who is the volunteer!

Bridget’s job was to ensure that conventioneers followed the directions for disposing of refuse. Who knew that there was actually a right way to handle trash? The Charlotte Convention Center even provided a little tutorial.

 

 

Here are two more interesting things I saw at the convention site: One is the sign for Public Engagement, which I think is a laudable concept.

The other is the patriotic lady and her Welcome Home outfit. Presumably, she was talking about the troops?

 

Today I missed most of the first session because of bus delays, but caught the Youth Caucus and that was very interesting. Turns out that this “enthusiasm gap” that the GOP has identified among young adults is just more hooey. With more than 650 delegates under the age of 34, the 2012 Convention has attracted more young people than any other Democratic Convention in history. More interesting to me is the fact that almost 250 of them are students!

On the way out, walking to the bus stop, the largest truck sign I’d ever seen rolled past. Wish we could have some of these for our local Dem campaigns.

 

The only problems I’ve experienced or observed since arriving in Charlotte has been with the shuttle buses. They just can’t seem to get the buses serving the University Section, which is where our hotel is and the furthest away from the convention center, coordinated. We were very late to the opening reception on Sunday evening, and havoc broke out today when more than two hours passed — in the blazing sun and heat — without nary a #8 bus. Adding to the frustration was the fact that we kept seeing the other numbered buses rolling by multiple times. We finally got back to the hotel without any of the older folks passing out, but I was worried for a bit, there.

After all that time in the sun, I needed a nap so I took one. The first band warming up for the Hurricane Isaac Benefit in the big tent out back woke me up. The tent is right below my window, so I could listen to the opening announcements while I got ready to go downstairs. Sweet!

 

The party was a blast, even for me and I’m not much of a shindig kinda girl. The first band played jazz and was OK, but the second was all soul and R&B. Pretty soon the tent was rockin.’ The food was great and lots of folks from other state delegations came to play. I don’t know how much money we actually raised, but we got lots of company.

There was green salad, potato salad, chicken & shrimp gumbo, crawfish ettouffee, crab balls, teriyaki chicken fingers, wings, catfish al fredo, seafood pasta, chicken salad, and more. And a great big cake with the Louisiana Dems logo on it.

 

Here’s a picture of my plate.

 

The band leader, Dante Lewis, played saxophone and liked to come down onto the floor and line dance with the delegates while he played. He also came down and danced/played with a “lady in black.”

 

Patricia Haynes Smith and John Bel Edwards, two Louisiana legislators, got into the action, too, as you can see here.

 

One of the most fun things about the party was the snowball stand set up at the far end of the tent. The concession was run by two fellas — one was the Democratic mayor of a small town in Pennsylvania and the other was his good friend who’d moved down to Charlotte a few years ago. They had lots of flavors; I had birthday cake with creme.

And here are some of my friends who were at the Hurricane Isaac Benefit with me:

John & Mary Kincaid, Monroe, LA

 

 

 

Carol Leblanc, Raceland, LA (left) and Claire Ledet, St. Tammany Parish, LA (right)

 

Suzette Riddle, Abbeville; Michelle Brister, Baton Rouge; and Karen Carter Peterson, LA Democratic Party Chair

 

Well, it’s late and credential call is just a few hours away, so I will close for now. More tomorrow night as the Democratic Convention 2012 goes into full swing with Michelle Obama’s presentation and more. Nighty-night, Y’all!

 

Democratic National Convention in Charlotte: Sally Pinned & the Goings-On at the Opening Reception

I must admit that when I read Louisiana had been grouped with Washington, D.C., New York, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Puerto Rico, and Texas for the opening ceremony at the Discovery Place, I thought we might be getting ganged up on. After all, why have the Louisiana delegation attend a welcoming reception at a science museum — especially one geared for children — knowing out state’s reputation for creationism curriculum in public and voucher schools? Maybe the organizers thought we needed a little science lesson?

Well, they loaded us on the bunch and drove us over to the Discovery Place. While I still have no idea how the convention organizers drew up plans for the welcoming receptions, I can tell you that the did a fantastic job, at least with Discovery Place event for me and my esteemed colleagues from those aforementioned states, district and territory. The reception ranged across two floors of the facility and included two bands and lots of very good, spicy food, which surprised me no end. And two bands. Did I say there were two bands? But not really bands, just a little jazz combo playing at one end of the venue and two guys playing sort of fusion rock/country/folk toward the back. All in all, rather nice. Not too loud, but enough sound to give the evening a night-out sort of ambience.

There was a full bar and science demonstrations for all ages. There was also diversity . . . lots of diversity. Those of you who watched some of the Republican National Convention on TV last week may have been struck — as I was — by the homogeneity of the delegates. That is definitely not the case at the Dems Convention here in Charlotte. We are a sundry bunch, that much is clear. Apparently, we are a sundry bunch who appreciate science, too!

I met several interesting folks, like Ariadne, the little girl engaging with the tortoise (above, left); Heather and Bob, from way out on Long Island; and Lisa and John Henry, from Detroit. Lisa works for AARP and will be visiting New Orleans for that organization’s conference there this fall. We talked about how much New Orleans appreciates the major meetings that have been held down there since Katrina as the city continues to rebuild. We also talked about the wonderful transformation they see happening in their home town as families reclaim the downtown district and re-energize the urban core. Heather and Bob spoke with me about the positive support the garnered from folks at every stop as they drove the whole long way to Charlotte. Heather’s car apparently sports a number of political bumper stickers and neither she nor Bob knew what to expect as they ventured south for the convention. They shouldn’t have worried, though, because people everywhere along the route thanked them for supporting the Democratic ticket.

On the left (above) is the current president of the Louisiana Democratic Party, Karen Carter Petersen, who is also a state legislator. In the middle are Shane and Suzette Riddle from Abbeville (but formerly of Breaux Bridge), who have just moved down there to be closer to Suzette’s parents. Mike Stagg, interim communications director for the Louisiana Dems is with them. Finally, the lovely young Democrats on the right (above) are from Texas. They asked me if I had as hard a time finding Dems in Louisiana as they did in their state, and I just encouraged them to look harder and ask gently. We’re everywhere, you know, or so our numbers tell us. We’ve just got to make ourselves more visible, is the way I see it.