Wednesday night at the DNC

While I’m a fan of politics (and my wife and I are active supporters of causes and candidates we believe in), I’ve never been particularly "political" and generally don’t find myself at political speeches, rallies, etc.  But last night when I had the chance to head over to the Democratic National Convention being held here in Denver, I figured that it was something worth seeing in person. I wasn’t disappointed – it really was an amazing scene.

I managed a tour of the press area courtesy of VC Adventure reader Elliot S., who was there working for NBC (broadcasting live over their temporary DS3 set up specifically for the convention). It was pretty unbelievable to imagine what needed to happen to bring together the number of broadcast agencies in one place (ranging from NBC and CNN to Al Jazera).  The picture below shows some of the cabling that was put in place over the last few months to run all of this.

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To say that security was tight is an understatement. The entire area around the Pepsi Center was completely cordoned off – you needed a credential to get within about a half a mile of the facility. There were literally thousands of cops (at least the ones you could see) – many in full riot gear, some with sniper rifles. I also noticed that they were taking pictures regularly with digital cameras (especially at the protestors who were just outside of the gated entry points to the grounds).  The pictures below don’t do justice to the enormity of the police and secret service presence, but give you an idea of what it was like (both of these pictures were taking inside the gated area).

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I know there was a lot of consternation on the part of some of the groups who were demonstrating at the convention that they wouldn’t get enough access to the delegates, but from what I saw most delegates arrived from downtown by foot (there were a few tour busses, but not many) and had to pass through the protest areas (which were filled with people expressing their views on various subjects) before entering into the secured area.

Inside the arena was electric. The Pepsi Center holds something like 18,000 people at an average hockey or basketball game.  There were significantly more delegates than I had expected – their seating took up the entire floor and the first level of arena seating.  I had a floor pass and wandered around to find the combination of a good vantage point and a spot where I could stand without getting kicked out by DNC staffers.  It took me about 5 minutes to realize that I had managed to situate myself right next to the CNN floor platform and about 5 feet from Wolf Blitzer, Anderson Cooper, James Carville, etc. (see photo below).  From here I had a great view of the stage and could also turn around to get full view of the crowded auditorium.  I realized the power of the crowd as the flags came out for President Clinton’s speech. The crowd was screaming; the flags were waiving – it was pretty amazing. Despite the crowds, I was really taken by the intimacy of the event (at least from where I was standing).  Clinton in particular had the ability to really make you feel like he was talking directly to you. 

I won’t wax political on you, since there are a ton of sites you can visit to see coverage of the speeches themselves, but I relay the following reactions:

  • Bill Clinton is an amazing speaker.  His speech on the floor on Wed reminded me of why he was such a popular leader – he has an amazing ability to make every person in an arena of 18,000 feel like he’s talking just to them.  All I can say is WOW.
  • If John Kerry had shown the fire that he showed in his speech from the floor last night he would have run away with the 2004 election – hopefully a reminder to the Obama camp not to play it too soft.
  • I expected more from Joe Biden. I understand that this was his "introduction to Joe Biden" speech, but I wanted to see him hit McCain harder and show a little more offensive fire (hopefully we’ll see more of that in weeks to come).
  • One of the very best speeches came from Tammy Duckworth, an army helicopter pilot who lost both of her legs in Iraq. She now runs the Illinois VA system.  Forceful; direct; spoken from an experience that few of us can even think to imagine.
  • Of course the highlight of the evening was the appearance of Obama himself – the man inspires confidence.
  • The convention was extremely well coordinated. Signs were passed out in perfect timing and in great numbers; media seemed to always be in the right place; even with the long lines, entry into the event was pretty reasonable and efficient. 

I was pretty wowed by the entire experience – certainly once in a lifetime for me. Hopefully this post gave you a little taste for what it was like.  A few more pictures from the floor follow.

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