To be a tourist in your own town. I am a Denverite, yet this week I have felt out-of-place. From having armed police walking our streets at all times of the day and night, to getting lost for thirty minutes because streets are randomly blocked off, it is a strange place I am in.
That is, until I finally entered the Pepsi Center compound to watch the Convention live last night. Once inside the tall black metal fence, past the two security checkpoints, past the line of hundreds all filtering into the same place, I was someplace familiar. I knew that if I walked inside the Pepsi Center, there would still be the stairs, the escalators, the cheap (in quality, not price) food stands along the outside. It's a building that I know from concerts and Avalanche games. I have seen it change from the Stanley Cup headquarters to an alternative rock venue practically overnight. It's a building in constant flux, and I'm comfortable with that. So when I walked into the grand entrance, I wasn't surprised to see that nothing was "the same" as before. The gear shop was full of reporters (although the Altitude Apparel sign still hung above the space) and there was a complete lack of Avalanche or Nugget paraphernalia around. I took it in stride as we made our way to the press area.
Walking around the outer ring of the Pepsi Center was a completely different experience. Instead of a sea of maroon, navy, and white (the Avalanche's colors) donned by large white men wearing foam pucks on their heads, there were people of every creed, color, and size dressed from Sunday best to Saturday afternoon casual. The atmosphere was jovial and relaxed. All of the tension from standing in a seemingly never-ending line in 94 degree heat had evaporated under the Center's A/C. As we walked, I purposefully took notice of the food stands. I had heard rumors that the Democratic Party was "forcing" vendors to only sell healthy, organic, and/or local foods at the Convention sites. The "hot dog toppings" sign and awesome smelling nacho we were in the elevator with would beg to differ. In my mind, the only difference between this event and any other at the Pepsi Center was that I didn't have to worry about a drunken friend getting into a brawl.
Once we made it up to the press area and commandeered some (temporary for me) seating, I took in the immensity of the room. While I usually sat in the nosebleed section at games and concerts, I had never been up to the press boxes before and was amazed at what, and how much of it, I saw. The stage was a massive beast, partially blocked from view by the even more massive lighting structure hanging above the floor. From my vantage point I could see three quarters of the delegations in their hats and costumes and Obama t-shirts. An organic mosaic of color the likes of which I had never seen before swam before my eyes. Television cameras have not and can not do a Convention justice. It's more than just the size and the number of people; its also the buzz, the attitude, the feeling of belonging to something greater than oneself. Yes, it's a cheesy sentiment, and yes, I wholeheartedly believe it.
One after another, I listened to speeches by people I admire and some that I don't even know. The theme of progress and change was thick in the air. With each speaker the mood in the room would change, sometimes the crowd would be silent, other times loud and barely paying attention. There was Kathleen Sebelius, who even my ultra-conservative Kansas cousins like. Frederico Pena, a man whose name is synonymous with change in Denver. Lily Ledbetter, who fought for fair pay with the big boys and won. I listened knowing that I was one of only thousands who actually knew what it was like to be there. To share a room with so many amazing people, famous and infamous, known and unknown. The words were one thing, the emotions were another.
The only disappointment of the night was Mark Warner, who delivered a flat, canned speech that had tones of announcing that we were finally sending a man to the moon, and seemed to only appeal to the congressional assistant sitting next to me who said, "someday you'll be at his convention." Maybe, but as my mother said, "being an attractive white male is no longer enough to make you the president." Some may argue that neither does being a great speaker, but it helps. A great speaker isn't always the person who puts their thoughts into the most eloquent words. It's the person who speaks with heart, passion, and above all else, honesty. The Governor of Virginia was the only speaker of the night who lacked not one, but all of those prerequisites.
After Governor Brian Schweitzer of Montana spoke to enthusiastic reception from the delegates and guests, the mood changed. Anticipation filled the air. As with all great theatrical productions, the lights dimmed. Even the pundits in their lofty booths, grew quiet. A young woman's voice came across the loudspeaker as a video began. The voice spoke of her grandmother being sent away by parents who couldn't handle her and her sister. A grandmother who raised the voice's mother to believe that anything was possible, which the mother then passed down to her daughter. I will admit that I hadn't caught on quite yet. The speaking roster still had several names on it before the Big Event, so I thought this might be another of the Obama campaign's "stories." And, in a way, it was. It was Obama's competitor's story, and the story of a woman who is equally feared, hated, and loved. The story of a woman whose name is recognized the world wide and has been able to step out of the shadow of a great man and become a great woman. My favorite part of Hillary Clinton's story was when Bill Clinton spoke about her and, as all of the other speakers had been labeled, he was simply labeled "Hillary's husband."
I have heard former President Bill Clinton speak on numerous occasions and have always been enraptured by him. I was delighted to find myself no less drawn to his counterpart. The audience, Clinton and Obama supporters alike, sat in a hushed, electric silence while she spoke. And when they, when we, applauded, the dome of the Pepsi Center seemed to shiver. Great speaking is neither learned nor inherent. It is something that simply happens. When you are so driven to get your message out, so excited about what you have to say, even the world's worst speaker can captivate their audience. A great speech comes from that deep place inside that boils over whenever your are overwhelmed by what you see, hear, and feel. When it overflows to the point that you can no longer contain it within yourself. A great speech comes from the same place that a great kiss comes from: the cauldron of passion.
I came for Hillary, but I stayed for the atmosphere.
This division that has been the highlight of the DNC, I didn't feel it. I saw Obama delegates and I saw Clinton delegates, but I saw them in the same way that I saw men and woman, black and white, young and not-as-young. There was a difference, but it is a difference that strengthens the party, not divides it. In her speech, Clinton emphasized partnership and that it is through working together that we accomplish our most amazing feats. We will see what happens during roll call, but I believe the apprehensions about that event are unfounded. What I saw in the Pepsi Center last night was the ideal of what Barack Obama spoke about in 2004 - ignoring the lines of states, of beliefs, of skin colors, and of political colors and recognizing that we are united.
It is impossible to glean the true experience of a political convention by watching it on television, listening to it on the radio, or reading about it on a news site. It is an event that must be experienced to be completely appreciated. I love that we live in a country where we can be so intimately involved in the political process, but it would be impossible for the entire nation to physically sit-in on a convention. So choices are made. The 4233 delegates who worked hard to become representatives of their states and their beliefs could be considered the lucky ones. But I think those of us who call ourselves press are the lucky ones. Not only do we get to be there, to stand at the highest-most point of the Pepsi Center and see, hear, and experience first-hand such an amazing, unique event. We also get the privilege of passing our thoughts and experiences on to others. To be storytellers. What an amazing gift.
All photos and text © Devon Adams 2008