Part of the fun of being at a convention is speaking to the delegates and seeing them in action, whether cheering in caucus meetings or listening to speakers or proudly waving their signs on the convention floor. I had never been to a national political convention, and the sense of excitement and patriotism displayed by the delegates was moving. Yes, the country’s got problems, North Carolina was on the line, but the Democrats gathered in Charlotte were energized, positive and engaged. “Fire it up!” I heard everywhere I went. “Ready to go!”
In Charlotte, I was also struck by the diversity of faces, ages, and backgrounds and people from different walks of life. There were gay couples, African-American professionals, union workers, twenty-somethings in T-shirts and jeans. There were thirty-something Latinos in business suits and grandmothers in wheelchairs and a celebrity or two like Ashley Judd, who was representing her home state of Tennessee.
In all there were more than 5000 delegates, spanning a distance and history of more than 80 years. The oldest delegate was Elzena Johnson of Terry, Mississippi, who’ll be 98 on September 25. The youngest was 17-year old Sam Gray, from Marion, Iowa. (He’ll be 18 by November 6, so no worries about voter fraud!). Why had driven them to come here? What did they hope to achieve at the convention? What issues did they care most about? Who were they most excited to hear speak?
I asked these questions of a number of delegates in hallways and ballrooms, at the woman’s caucus and in security lines outside the Time Warner Center. Here’s a snapshot of who they were and they said, in their own words:
Ryan Antonio Wullschleer talking to the media at the DNC
Ryan Antonio Wullschleer, Visalia, California, 20 years old, Community College student:
Q: Why are you supporting the President?
A: About a year and a half ago I was completely blind. I had a genetic disease. With Obamacare I was able to stay on my parents’ insurance and get the best health care in San Francisco. Today, I’m able to walk around. It’s not perfect, I can’t drive. But without Obamacare, I'd be in a bunch of debt right now and I might not be able to see. Young people are thinking about college and how we’re going to pay for it. Obama, with his lower student loans, I really like that.
Q: What speaker are you most looking forward to?
A: Michelle Obama. She’s such a lovely woman, her personality. Just seeing her and being in the same room with her is going to be an awesome opportunity.
Q: What else are you excited about?
A: I’m looking forward to the opportunity to fist bump Obama (He laughs.) I don’t know. It’s just the whole experience of being here. I love hearing President Obama on TV, so I just can’t imagine it in real life. It’s just going to be exciting for me. Bill Clinton’s great, too. I’m curious to see what they say in rebuttal to the Republicans last week.
Q: Why did you want to be a delegate?
A: I felt there’s so much the Democrats and Obama bring to the table. The Republicans have been pushing so hard against him right now. I don’t see as much enthusiasm as I did in ‘08. I wanted to come here. I’m from a pretty conservative town. It makes me want to do something. I register people to vote every weekend. I had a 90-year-old flip me off, ‘F--- you, socialist!’ That doesn’t make me want to go to my room and cry about it, it makes me want to push even harder.
Young Americans are fed up with what’s going on now. We are the ones getting affected. But we are not the ones making all these decisions. It’s too polarizing. Youth need to have a voice.
Diane Wallace, Manhattan Beach, California, former K-12 administrator and teacher, 53 years old:
Q: How did you become a delegate?
A: When I retired in 2008, I decided I would become more active in politics. I’m president of the Beach Cities Democratic Club. I’m also very involved in two campaigns.
Q: Why are you attending the convention?
A: This is my first time. I have a group of delegates I’m going with from my congressional district. We were all elected on a Sunday together in April. Now we’re going to the convention together. I consider it to be an opportunity to learn more about what’s going on around the country regarding the issues I’m trying to focus on right now.
Q: What issues are you most concerned about?
A: The environment is a serious issue for me. I’m a member of the Sierra Club. I‘m very concerned about what fracking is doing to groundwater all over the country, so I’m hoping to get to some forums that address the environment. Because of my career I’m very concerned about education. I want all children in all communities to go to high quality public schools.
Q: What issues do you think are most important to women?
A: Oh, my goodness! I cannot believe we are discussing women’s health decisions like they were 50 years ago. And I can’t believe that they’re [the GOP] trying to curtail and basically eliminate all this progress that was made on women’s health issues.
I have relatives on my dad’s side. They have been longstanding Republicans and contributors. I saw my one cousin the other day. She’s a nurse, and she said, ‘I’m not voting for the Republican ticket ever again. I can’t abide what they’re doing for medical issues. They’re just lying.’
But the Republican Party used to be a legitimate party. Even though I’m a Democrat, I always respected the people in the party.
I have watched every convention since conventions started being televised. My parents and I were very involved in discussing politics. I looked at the women at the Republican convention, and thought, What are they thinking?
Q: What other issues brought you to the convention?
A: I believe that if the president had been working with a Congress that would have passed his legislation on jobs, our unemployment rate would be significantly lower. That’s one of the things that’s a priority for me, even though I’m a Democrat.
I’m tired of Republicans and Democrats fighting with each other, and not being able to have some common ground of understanding so we can go forward. It’s wrong to hold back progress for a political ideology. I think he’s [Obama] definitely better on the economy [than Mitt Romney]. Mitt Romney says he wants to drill off of all the coasts, when we just had another hurricane that came into New Orleans. Yet there’s still oil there, and bp is doing all these commercials showing what a great place it is.
Lisa Thomson-Bennett, Community Relations, Attorney General’s Office, Chicago, Illinois, 49 years old:
A: What issues are you most concerned about?
Q: I honestly am very concerned about the Republican agenda. I am very concerned about my health care, and my right to choose as a woman being left in the hands of Ryan and Romney. I want to protect that, and make sure we rally around President Obama and keep him in place.
Q: How do you think the president has improved the lives of women?
A: The number of women that President Obama has put over major parts of our democracy is incredible. He supports the Lilly Ledbetter Law. So many positive things have progressed and help women firmly establish themselves now and in the future. The thought of having a Republican president, particularly the two that are running, a lot of their ideas are quite archaic. Paul Ryan worked on that legislation about rape and then tried to step away from it. It’s very concerning to me that someone with those ideals would be chosen as a running mate. His distortion of what has happened during Obama’s first four yeas of his presidency. They placed everything squarely on the shoulders of President Obama.
We fought long and hard to get here and that’s threatened now. My goal is to take this message back to engage my community and my friends and colleagues and get them to understand what’s at stake. I work on foreclosure assistance and loan modification assistance. We operate a homeowner help line, so it’s personal. My family is from North Carolina. My grandparents were sharecroppers. My grandmother wanted to own the land she was working. She persisted and eventually a prominent landowner purchased the land and sold it to her at cost. I know I'm getting emotional. It means a lot to me to be here. It's a privilege to be here.
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