Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Transgender Delegate Blog: Convention Day 4 – The Big Show

“Our government should work for us, not against us. It should help us, not hurt us. It should ensure opportunity not just for those with the most money and influence, but for every American who's willing to work. That's the promise of America….” — Sen. Barack Obama

The air was electric as it was time for the Big Show. While there was a surprise appearance by Barack Obama immediately after Joe Biden’s speech the night before, it was a teaser of what was to come! Everyone was anticipating Sen. Obama’s time on stage.

Again I got a late start, preferring to debrief with my roomie Sally at home base. We exchanged our take on the speeches at the DNC Women’s Caucus and other news hitting the airwaves. As I’d been immersed in politics and the party (both types), I had to rely on Sally for what I’d missed coming from the unbalanced mainstream media. Additionally, she mentioned her next-door neighbor (a black man) who’d mentioned he was worried some crackpot would assassinate Obama.

It’s something that was on the back of my mind as well, most especially when they moved everything to an outdoor venue. While I admired the magnanimity of allowing more in to the hottest ticket in town if not the nation, it worried me from a JFK-type standpoint. It also isn’t just me and Sally’s neighbor: my neighbor across the street, one of my co-workers and another delegate from a different state all worried aloud about the same thing. We live in a country where there are still a few hateful racists, bitter and just waiting to relinquish their frustrations on. Additionally, as we’ve seen over the years, neo-conservatives also take vindictiveness to hyper extremes. It wouldn’t surprise me to see one of them be so Bush blatant.

Nevertheless, I did my best to put those fears (baseless, so far) to rest. It also explained the overabundant coterie of metro area police departments and secret service during the week. The message needed to be clear.

Other than some quick drop-ins on some caucuses downtown, I decided to head to Invesco / Mile High Stadium early. With the new arrangement, our seating was first-come, first-served.

Catching one of the shuttles from downtown, we took a meandering back way into the stadium. We disembarked and immediately noticed the procedural logistics wasn’t well-planned. We walk in toward the stadium, back out to the edge of the parking lot, then back in again, then up a long incline (which began wiping out the elderly and physically challenged in the dry heat). After a circuitous trek through numerous zig-zags, we finally made our way to the security tent line to find the scanners had all gone down simultaneously!

After about ten minutes of waiting in line, they began letting the delegates with the green “floor” badges in one line – without the scan. That didn’t seem completely foolproof to me. Then I looked around and noticed … there was none of the major show of force by law enforcement as in all the previous days. Maybe it was just me, but I was getting a sense of unease from these two coincidences.

After rushing into the stadium, I noticed the floor was already close to half full – and Texas was mostly filled (figures!) Thankfully, my new pal Victor Castillo called to let me know he’d saved me a seat. And Texas had great seats for a change! We were in the front half of the Texas section, right in front to the mid-left of the stage! Additionally, our seats were in the middle of the aisle, but on the last row – easy in, easy out! We lucked out!

A lot of Texas’ political heavy hitters sat on the front row of the back half, right in back of us! Cong. Eddie Bernice Johnson was in back of me, and I attempted to introduce her to a friend, Marisa Richmond of TN, but was never able to find her and make the connections. I even got a chance to briefly catch up with Cong. Lloyd Doggett a couple rows ahead of me!

While I was there early, it was time to wander. A good friend, and transgender community photo-chronicler Mariette Pathy Allen was up in the lower stands not far from me with another old friend, Michelle Miles. Both were seemingly on cloud nine at being in the stadium for the big event!

After getting a quick photo, I rounded up as many others in the transgender delegation that I could find: Marisa, Marti Abernathey, Amanda Simpson, Laura Calvo and Melissa Sklarz. Surprisingly I caught another trans man, Shannon Minter, in the inner ring / special guests seats of the floor – but he wasn’t leaving his seat! When you’ve got that kind of seats, I guess not. Hopefully he remembered to take pictures!

The early speeches and performances were good. Cong. Jan Schakowsky gave a strong speech to the crowd who seemed to ignore it. Hopefully Jan works on the only problem with the speaking – turning her head to address the entire crowd on the sides, as did Speaker Nancy Pelosi (who also gave a much stronger speech than Monday’s entry) and got more of the crowd’s attention.

Afterwards, I located Jan in the Illinois delegation and chatted for a bit with her – she’s such a sweetie!

After wandering a bit more, I ran into Cong. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (FL) and had a quick chat and attempted to get a photo (my impromptu photog apparently didn’t hit the right button)! Later I waved down another old acquaintance, Cong. Jose Serrano (NY) and eventually wandered over for a photo with him as well. He’s always been a nice gentleman. If I could trade my rep, Al Green for Serrano, I’d do it in a New York minute!

One bad part about being on the floor: you had a longer trip to the restroom. Couple that with the fact I hadn’t eaten more than half a power bar, and they wouldn’t allow food or water into the stadium, and it required a trip up to the concession stands. Before I left, my friend Carol Alvarado (formerly Houston’s mayor-Pro Tem and a State Rep candidate) asked me to grab her some popcorn while I was out. My trip off of the floor turned out to be a major headache! As I left, I was missing the last half of a Gov. Bill Richardson speech that was on fire! As it turned out, I was about to miss a lot more!

After my pit stop, I made my way to a stand that had Italian Sausage on a bun. I waited in line for nearly 15 minutes, only to have them tell us they’d sold out! Disgusted, I walked over to grab popcorn for Carol and waited nearly another 30 minutes. Worse still, after only bringing a $10 and leaving my purse in my bag under my seat, I realized I wouldn’t have enough money left to find another Italian Sausage sandwich! So I took the popcorn and walked to the crowd forming at the entrance.

Shock! They refused to let us in. There was a fire code violation of too many people on the floor, and they were not allowing delegates back in! I was sent down one direction to the very end – no entry – then back up to a few other entrances all the way to the opposite end – no entry. Then I was directed to a utility ramp to the floor (which was unmarked, and led my searching in circles before I found it). No entry!

So I ended up with Carol’s now-cold popcorn, wandering the inside hall, then later wandering the walkway in the lower stands until I finally made it back in nearly an hour later and with nothing but a migraine to show for it! Unfortunately I missed a number of folks like Stevie Wonder, Susan Eisenhower and a large portion of Joe Biden’s speech (though I did catch the line: “We need a president who’s more concerned with Barney Smith than with Smith-Barney.”)

Then the moment we’d waited for: Sen. Barack Obama. His speech was riveting. His points on the broken America was a full-circle indictment of the very architects of this nation’s place in the world and troubles at home.

“This country is more generous than one where a man in Indiana has to pack up the equipment he's worked on for twenty years and watch it shipped off to China, then chokes up as he explains how he felt like a failure when he went home to tell his family the news.

“We are more compassionate than a government that lets veterans sleep on our streets and families slide into poverty; that sits on its hands while a major American city drowns before our eyes.”

Obama really put the issue in succinct clarity: “Next week, in Minnesota, the same party that brought you two terms of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney will ask this country for a third. And we are here because we love this country too much to let the next four years look like the last eight…. Unlike John McCain, I will stop giving tax breaks to corporations that ship jobs overseas, and I will start giving them to companies that create good jobs right here in America.”

Repeated messaging was “Ours is the promise,” and “Now is the time.” Then Sen. Obama said something never heard before in any presidential convention speech:

“We may not agree on abortion, but surely we can agree on reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies in this country.” This is the first time any candidate from any party has seriously spoke about anything other than the two polar opposite positions on the subject. It’s doubtful you will ever see anyone who’s owned by the RNC even budging off of intransigence. They’re too rigid.

Then a huge mention: “I know there are differences on same-sex marriage, but surely we can agree that our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters deserve to visit the person they love in the hospital and to live lives free of discrimination.” This was phenomenal that it mentioned. Six years ago, this was not even on anyone’s radar screen, much less pushed as law. Now a major political candidate has mentioned it. On that, kudos to the gay and lesbian community for a laser-quick rise from nothing to prominence on their major issue.

That said, it also troubles me as a trans person. Nothing was mentioned about egalitarian employment. It’s not a big gay issue any more, and trans people are evidently not worthy enough to merit mention.

Never again will I ever sit still and listen to folks like the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) attempt to tell us to “wait our turn” and “that it takes time.” They’ve taken the number one “ick” issue for non-GLBT America and gotten it on a presidential speech in less than six years. For trans folks, the employment fight has gone on for well over a decade and a half. Still zero. Worse, we don’t even rate highly enough to be employed by gay and lesbian firms or organizations, much less what one would presume to be more difficult, straight American companies. Bottom line: they can marry sooner than we can even find jobs to survive.

And they want us to believe we’re equals? They want us to listen to their lead, abide by their timeline and agenda and follow their leadership?!? Bullshit! The next time I hear the HRC line, they damn sure better expect major shoveback!

Times are tight, people are in tough times, and HRC and the like are looking like big, fat, juicy targets to attack! Indeed, after elections, I’m keeping my ears pinned back and looking for the next behemoths to take down! The Godfathers said it best: “Listen to me, understand: a hungry man’s an angry man!” Amen to that!

The speech was overall as historic as the nomination itself. We were indeed participants in setting history, and I can say I was there on the right side of history! Even the heavily-moneyed, power-playing HRC can’t say that! What happened next, I wish I would’ve had warning on.

As I raised my camera to catch a photo of Sen. Obama after the speech was completed, walking to backstage to meet his family a huge boom came right from our left! It scared the shit out of me so badly that I nearly fell backwards off of my chair! I managed to catch what I originally thought was a bomb, but turns out was a “rocket red glare” firework, one of a series. After so many people’s worries for his safety, the LAST thing I needed was a huge blast going off just 30 yards from where I was sitting!

After I settled my nerves down, the fireworks were quite the spectacle, and combined with confetti and streamers, a show like no other. But dammit, don’t shock us like that! Great way to give someone a heart attack, campaign planners! Smooth! Next time, let us know something beforehand, hmm?

Following the convention’s end, it was hanging around and watching the media wrap ups. I even caught up with a friend from San Diego, Craig Roberts, and we both got tabbed by CBS News for a post-convention interview! Afterwards, I even got to meet a personal hero: Francine Busby of San Diego’s North County area. She ran against both Randy “Duke” Cunningham and lobbyist Brian Bilbray in two successive elections, and ran her own campaign, staffed it and did her own phone-banking. She also ran surprisingly competitive races even though the state GOP poured major money into her opponent’s campaign in the most recent election! She’s such a sweetie, and a very supportive legislator!

After yet more mass confusion and poor logistical planning waiting for buses back into downtown, I finally made my way to Texas State Sen. Leticia VanDePutte’s party way above downtown Denver. We partied into the wee hours and danced our butts off! A couple I’d met my first day, a former GOP mom and her 20-year old delegate daughter from Texas A & M (the Bushiest of universities) came over to compliment me on how “fabulous” I looked in my simple little black dress and knee boots! I guess after three days of seeing me in my Not Equal T-Shirts and button-festooned vest, everyone presumed I was a one trick pony. This old gal can clean up well when I have to, though! Even a couple of the guys who’d ignored me all week were now talkative and intrigued by my “new look.”

Finally as the party wrapped up, I got a chance to see and visit with Leticia again. We chatted a bit about the upcoming session, and then turned the conversation to her aunt, Christie Lee Littleton. She encouraged me to try to pull her out of her funk after losing her husband this past year. It’ll give me a reason to visit them both and make a trip to San Antonio – hopefully once gas gets cheaper (if that ever happens!)

It sounds trite, but this convention was truly one for the ages. We set history simply with the nomination itself – but we are not done! Now it’s time to shatter that barrier once and for all, set the country back on the right track for all Americans – and not just the well-connected elite! We must do this. We can’t take the status quo any longer!

“Tonight, I say to the American people, to Democrats and Republicans and Independents across this great land - enough! This moment - this election - is our chance to keep, in the 21st century, the American promise alive.” — Sen. Barack Obama

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