Democrats, Delegates, and Cheesesteaks by Jesse Hufstedler


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Sweat dribbled down my neck as my suitcase fell over and I stopped to check Google maps for the third time in five minutes. How was I supposed to know how to get to the University if the dot couldn’t keep up with me? Picking the forty pound green monstrosity that I called luggage up off the ground, I turned to Badria, a fellow Arkansan whom I had met on the train from the airport, and apologized for the wild goose chase Google maps and Apple seemed to be conspiring to take us on. “No worries” she said, for what would be the first in probably over a hundred attempts to reassure me over the coming two weeks.
​After the standard orientation type meetings that take place at the beginning of all such events, we were released to find our rooms and meet our roommates. Morgan Hall, a brand new modern dorm at Temple University in northern Philadelphia, mirrored Farris Hall at UCA remarkably well save two things: it was ten stories tall and had functioning stove tops in every suite.
​My suitemates and I, two reminiscent of Leonard and Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory and one the near picture of an all-American hunk, laid out our opinions on Brexit, Bernie Sanders’ populism, campaign finance, and a host of other issues all before our suitcases had been unpacked. We broke for dinner, me meeting back up with Badria and her suitemates, my suitemates going and doing their own thing (a schedule which we would repeat for most of the next week).
​As lectures started on Monday the days of the week seemed to blur together. We heard from speakers as notable as the CEO of the DNCC (Democratic National Convention Committee) Leah Daughtry and former Governor of Pennsylvania Ed Rendell. Mornings were reserved for speakers and then, in the afternoon, we broke into small groups for discussion — an academic structure very similar to that present in Honors at UCA. I soon fell into the familiar rhythm of work, play, sleep deprivation, and repeat. It was during this week that I visited such sites as the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, Philadelphia’s famous South Street diner Ishkabibble’s known for its bag-staining cheesesteaks, and the National Constitution Center (where I got to pretend to be a Supreme Court justice and take a selfie with a bronze statue of Benjamin Franklin).
​Then, with my routine and friends firmly established, my world was realigned. The week of the convention arrived and it was like Philadelphia came alive (in a sort of manic I-made-my-coffee-with-Redbull kind of way). The streets of Center and Old cities, neighborhoods in Philadelphia where most of the touristy and cultural attractions are, became clogged with protesters, delegates, spectators, and journalists alike. Apart from the signs carried by protestors (my favorite of which said “You’ve Got to Fight for your Right to Third Party”) it was nearly impossible to distinguish who was who.
​I soon learned the value of the “credentials” which everyone was carrying when I attended my training session for the Access Control team. Access Control was an arm of the DNCC responsible for organization within the Wells Fargo Center itself. My job with Access Control was to stand in the vomitoriums (a word of Roman descent which refers to the hallways which connect the outer concourses of a stadium to the inside of the bowl), and insure that only those with proper credentials were allowed to sit in my area — this is how I got access to the color coded schematic of what credentials were given to who.
As a result, I was to identify people on the street based on the color of their credentials (I got two interviews with delegates on the subway because I knew what credential colors to look for when choosing my seat next to people).
In descending order of clearance (meaning the places in the stadium where certain people were allowed to be) were Delegates (red), Honored Guests (orange), Special Guests (teal), and Green (DNCC volunteers and the press, who had special sections reserved for them). The problem with this system was that more credentials were given out at the Honored and Special Guest levels than there were seats to accommodate them. Therefore, I spent most of my time fighting back what, during the speaking times of well-known individuals, could be referred to as an angry mob trying to get into the bowl to see and hear. Luckily, the bans on people standing in vomitoriums were lifted each night before the keynote speaker too the stage so I was able to hear the speeches of former President Clinton, President Obama, and Secretary Hillary Clinton even if I did miss some of those that I would have enjoyed hearing (I missed Joe Biden saying “mellarky!”).
One night I happened to be stationed in a vomitorium through which the press accessed one of their stands. The aforementioned Badria, whose fieldwork assignment was with CNN, came rushing through the door to the press stairway and said “Jesse! Elizabeth Warren is about to come right through here!” For those that might not know, Elizabeth Warren is a Democratic Senator from Massachusetts well known for her harsh criticism of Wall Street banking practices. As such, she is a progressive heroine and was a featured speaker on the first night of the Convention (not to mention her role as one of my favorite politicians, like, ever). In a momentary lapse of decorum, I let out a muffled squeak which got me yelled at by a couple of camera-men that I had banished from the vomitorium only minutes earlier for clogging the stairways. Badria was the designated person sent by CNN to ensure that Elizabeth Warren was not swarmed by fans on her way up and that I would actually let her up the stairs (big name people did not always have their credentials on them which led to a considerable amount of tension, one of my Access Control friends actually refused to let Leon Panetta, the former Director of the CIA, into a room he was over because he had not bothered to pick up his credential). The minutes ticked by, Badria and I standing breathlessly outside the vomitorium trying to contain our excitement, when she got a text from her boss saying that Warren was not coming. A complete fluke, it happened that one of our friends sent us a text at nearly the exact moment stating “Elizabeth Warren sighted running on the suite level!” Apparently something had come up that trumped an interview with CNN.
The Convention itself was well choreographed machine designed to give the party the opportunity to advertise their nominee, build party unity, and formally nominate their selection for President (though this last role is really a vestige of a time when primaries did not foretell who the nominee would be). A result of this, it seems that there is a certain amount of selective coverage that happens to the detriment of a conveyance of what actually goes on at the Convention. One of these such instances of seemingly selective coverage came to me upon my return home from Philadelphia.
I have discussed with several people the moment when Hillary Clinton formally accepted the Democratic nomination for President. In the hall Sanders supporters, who had been relatively quiet since Monday, suddenly sprang into action. Running around the concourses and breaking past the Access Control staff when possible to get into the bowl, they chanted slogans such as “Never Clinton!” and “Hill No!” This, apparently, did not make it into the coverage of the acceptance speech on any of the major networks. It begs the question whether the networks were giving some deference to the desire of the party to show itself as unified behind Clinton at that all important moment. Those causing a scene were the fringe element, but even still they were individuals that had somehow gained credentials, meaning that they had done something right.
My time at the DNC was not the solitary, gallivanting around Philadelphia time that I envisioned myself having, meeting important members of the press and delegates. It was hot, hard, stressful, and often crowded affair. It was one of the best weeks of my life. I made connections with people of my own age from all across the country with similar beliefs, hopes, and dreams as my own. As a Democrat from Arkansas that is not always easy to do. I am grateful that the opportunity to attend this event was afforded to me at this point in my academic career and not during my freshman, or even sophomore, years. The unwieldy scheduling, late nights, uncertain outcomes, and angry people that I encountered during this journey would not have been well-received by me at any previous time in my life (I struggled with them as it was). It is for this reason that I have garnered a new respect for the Honors College requirement that people receiving TAG/URGE moneys be at least sophomores. The mere life experience and age that I had going into this experience set me apart from some of the younger students that I met who had a much harder time coping with the ever shifting landscape that was our time at the DNC.

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