Editor’s Note: This is a three part series chronicling John’s visit to the Democratic National Convention. Check back throughout the week for the rest of his adventures!
As I had blogged earlier and on different events, I had the great fortune of attending the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina this past September, and had postings which included:
This being a very long post (the longest I will probably ever write), I will summarize my overall thoughts on the whole experience – which you can read after the break or watch the YouTube video, or read in a series of three posts over the next few days.
As a news and political junkie on-and-off since high school and definitely since moving to California in 1999, I think any registered and really engaged Republican or Democrat – attending your respective convention is a must attend event at least once in your lifetime. Seeing upfront how a convention is run, the meetings, activities and convention speeches, the security, “celebrities,” and especially how the press amplifies the messages from the convention is really fascinating, fun, invigorating and energizing (and tiring by the end of the day!) – especially to be around like-minded people with similar political views.
Being in the convention during the major speeches of Michelle Obama, former President Bill Clinton and President Obama is a sight to be seen – the energy level of like minded-people cheering (some would say drinking the Kool Aid) is truly amazing. Upon my return, I watched the limited television coverage (especially these days) off of my DVR, and one just scratches the surface of the number of speakers as well as all the other events and activities going on during the convention – including some fun things like the MSNBC hospitality and temporary broadcasting stage at the Charlotte shopping mall known as the EpiCentre, the receptions and the caucus meetings, and of course the parties (of which, I unfortunately wasn’t able to attend any since I wasn’t too aware of any due to my last minute decision to attend as well as being dead tired by the midnight and having to make it to my hotel 20 miles north of Charlotte).
As for covering the Asian American angle for 8Asians.com, it was really great to meet and see some people I had heard or read about, such as Gene Kim, the Executive Director of CAPAC (Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus), elected or appointed Asian Americans in public office such as Cabinet Secretary and adviser to Obama Chris Lu, and a who’s who in the AAPI political community, as well as befriend a random stranger while waiting in line for a meet and greet.
As a blogger who wasn’t on a deadline and doing this more for fun than anything else, I did also had a much greater appreciation for all the reporters, especially those who have been on the campaign trail, working the long hours to get their stories. One would see television cameras EVERYWHERE, interviewing people for whatever perspective they were looking to report on. I’d also see local reporters – print, radio, television, as well as the international press, out of bureaus from Washington, D.C. or New York City. In some ways, I felt a little guilty that I was indulging and encroaching in on their territory of “reporting” the convention – as this literally was a vacation, using my vacation days from work, to attend and blog about the convention.
I’m not sure if I will attend the next DNC in 2016, but I am certainly glad to have gone at least gone this year and see the growing involvement of Asian Americans in the democratic process.
For those who want the all the details of my adventure – read on!
Day (Night) 0
Over four years ago in 2008, I was interested in attending the Democratic National Convention (DNC) in Denver. However, when I looked into getting media credentials as a blogger for 8Asians.com, not only had the deadline passed in early Spring, but I had not met the minimum 100 blog posts required for the DNC (at the time, I hadn’t looked into the Republican National Convention (RNC)). I had first started blogging in January 2007, so not a big surprise that I couldn’t reach over 100 political-related blog posts by Spring 2008.
However, this time around, I have had over a few hundred political blog posts and had gotten media credentials for both the DNC and RNC. With limited time off and money, as well as being a registered Democrat, I decided at the last minute to attend the DNC in Charlotte, North Carolina for 8Asians as well as for my own personal interest on my own dime at the last minute. I used my United frequent flyer miles (37.5k and $85 for taxes and fees), a free extra bed at a hotel thanks to a friend (though the Days Inn I was staying at was about 20 miles north of Charlotte), and $300 for a car rental from Enterprise for three days, I made it to Charlotte taking the red-eyed on a Monday evening to arrive Tuesday morning around 9:40 AM to arrive on Day 1 of the convention, Tuesday, September 4th, 2012. Prior to my departure, I printed myself a bunch of 8Asians business cards, which I’m glad I had, to give away to many others I met.
When I first arrived to pick up my car from Enterprise, I was chatting with the customer service representative. She had mentioned that on a normal week, there would be about 250 cars returning on a Friday; this coming Friday, there would be over 700 – so I should be sure to return the car early to avoid any waiting lines to check out (she also had mentioned that Enterprise had already rented about 100 cars to the Democratic National Committee before the convention started.) My flight on Friday would be leaving around 8:00 AM, so I wasn’t too worried about being in a long line.
As I approached the city Charlotte from the airport, the exit that Google Navigation/Maps told me take was already blocked off. This would be the one of many experiences of going through a LOT of intensive security. As I made my way to the next exit, traffic started to be piling up and security slow directing traffic as to when and where I could go.
Not knowing Charlotte at all, I wound up finally making it to downtown and not knowing where to park as I saw signs for $30, $25, and $20 a day for parking. Throughout the city, there were many signs for street parking that said “resident permit parking” only. I finally drove over the highway overpass and wound up parking not too far from the YMCA on the side of the street for free (which looked to me legal – no signs). From there, it took about 20 to 25 minutes for me to walk to the Charlotte Convention Center. I was somewhat worried where I parked, since I knew there was a chance of rain all during the convention as that was what was forecasted.
What I would later see is that, especially around the Time Warner Arena – where all the speakers would be speaking, that about 2 blocks in every direction were blocked off and there was security everywhere (I would later catch up on The Daily Show to see this funny news story on the ridiculousness of the security).
As I walked towards the convention center, the streets got more crowded, and I started to see some anti-abortion protesters carrying signs and yelling through a megaphone. For the most part, most people ignored them and they stayed on the corner of the street from the convention center. I probably got to the convention center around 11:00 or 11:30 AM.
As approached the entranced, I asked a volunteer that I had media credentials, and the volunteer pointed me to the far most tent. When I dropped by the tent, I mentioned that I was a blogger for 8Asians.com, and the volunteer mentioned that he had recalled 8Asians being on the list, since we started off with a number, we were at the beginning of the list.
After going through the security line with a metal detector and X-ray machine, I made my way to the media relations room to get my media credentials. While waiting in line, I was chatting with a woman waiting for her male friend to get his credentials. I wound up chatting with the President and CEO of Jam Sports & Entertainment, who was based out of the D.C. area, but probably would be relocating back to Los Angeles in the future. Her friend worked for BlackPoliticsToday.com.
When I got my media credential badge, the date only said Tuesday. I was told that I would have to come back every day to get my daily press badge. I’m guessing that the DNC wanted to prevent people from passing along a 3-day badge eligible pass to friends and others if they had only planned on staying each day. So I would have to drop by everyday to sign for and pick up my badge – kind of a pain, but I wasn’t complaining too much since I was happy to get media credentials in the first place (and to be honest, I have no idea how I would have been able to attend otherwise – not sure how one attends by becoming a Californian delegate nor have I donated that much money to get a donor credential – or better known as a “finance committee” credential).
I was informed that there would be a daily briefing for bloggers at noon, though today’s briefing had been delayed to 12:30 pm. I had some time and walked around, and discovered near the stairs the Microsoft-sponsored “Specialty Media Lounge,” where I could grab a free boxed lunch, drinks, and more importantly, a power outlet to charge my laptop, cell phone, camera or camcorder.
When I sat down after grabbing a lunch and drink, someone asked me if I was “John.” To my surprise, a food blogger I had met a few months ago in San Francisco at a friend-of-a-friend’s book reading Grace (and a few of her colleagues) was in Charlotte for the DNC to blog for BlogHer.com – she was a News & Politics blogger for the site. Unlike her, she was paid for her work for blogging and tweeting. However, Grace also did have a deadline and I did not (but I wasn’t being paid either.)
After lunch, I made my way to the daily briefing – signing in, and grabbing a daily meeting and speaker schedule at the convention. The schedules showed the different state delegations and their meeting locations in the morning (7:00 am to 9:00 am daily), as well as other meetings going on at the convention center throughout the day.
There were maybe 30 or 40 people in attendance (but far more bloggers and other “unassigned” media that I would later find out. Greg Greene, Democratic National Committee (DNC) Blogger Outreach, Erica Sackin, Obama for America (OFA) Blogger Outreach and Melissa Ryan, OFA Blogger Outreach welcomed us all to the DNC and went over logistics, including how to get floor passes.
The briefing was a “pen and pad” briefing only – i.e. you weren’t supposed to take photos or have any recordings of the briefing, but everything was “on the record.” It was interesting to hear some of their talking points and for them to highlight what the DNC and Obama wanted to convey. As the night progressed, the DNC and Obama folks sent out excerpts or full texts of the speeches that were “embargoed” from being published until after the speech was made. As part of being the “press,” this was interesting to see the barrage of emails to keep the media up-to-date with all that was going on when the speeches starting at around 5:00 pm.
Afterwards, I had some time before the next event (I had found out through a friend who works for the Equal Justice Society) a list of Asian American-related events going on during the convention put together by Gene Kim, Executive Director of CAPAC (Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus) and walked around the basement of the convention center – where the mainstream media had their working space. I was pretty impressed with the enormity of the space and all the media outlets there – TV, print, radio, web, etc. and it really dawned on me how all these reporters from across the country and world (as well as “citizen journalists” as myself) were here to cover this convention, as well the RNC, and how much more reach to the average person we had today (imagine the days prior to TV, radio and the web and just had print media).
I made my way to my first event, to the Asian American & Pacific Islander (AAPI) Delegates Meet and Greet, sponsored by the local Asian Herald Library & local Asian American Chamber of Commerce at Emzy Sushi Bar and Asian Kitchen – about a ten minute easy walk from the convention center. Along the way, a Washington D.C.-based news crew of three from China’s Xinhua News Agency was also looking for the restaurant location (I later got the business card of the news reporter) and would see them a few times more in the “unassigned” media room in the Time Warner Arena (a makeshift news room environment in the practice basketball court of the arena).
I really didn’t know what to expect, but I had RSVP’d to the event and signed in, writing my name, organization, etc. information (and got to know a little later, one of the volunteers named Julia who worked for the Virginia House of Delegates). What I wasn’t too sure to expect but was happy to see was free food and drinks – including sushi and tempura.
As I had put down my backpack with all of my equipment, I met some white union folks from the United Auto Workers’ (UAW) Northeast regional office (Connecticut office). They were here along with the Assistant Regional Director, an Asian American named “Eddy” (whom I would eventually meet and see a few times again during the convention). Apparently, the UAW was actively involved in working with Asian Americans – mostly Chinese immigrants – working at casinos, especially at Foxwoods in Connecticut (where they helped represent over a hundred Chinese workers there).
I also happen to see, but didn’t get a chance to chat with, actor James Kyson Lee (of Heroes fame – or apparently how he likes to be known now as James Kyson). I had met him once before at a conference, but he didn’t seem to remember me (which didn’t bother me since I’m sure he meets a lot of people). I saw Kyson maybe one or two other times at the convention.
As the event started, I realized this was a who’s who of Asian American leaders. A volunteer, Daniel, who also happened to be a friend of Julia, welcomed everyone. Daniel turned out to be the emcee and introduced all of the speakers, publicly elected officials as well as some who are running for office.
Dr. Chun, founder of The Chun Group (who founded the Asian Herald newspaper and the local Asian Library). He had settled in Charlotte over 40 years ago when there were only 200 Asians or so (and 4,800 in North Carolina) – Charlotte’s Asian population has now grown to 55,000 Asians in the area and over 250,000 Asians in North Carolina. Considering that Obama defeated McCain in 2008 by only 14,000 votes (out of 4.3 MILLION votes casted in North Carolina for the presidential race) – every vote counts! (Not like we didn’t know that in Florida in the 2000 presidential election!)
Afterwards, the next speaker was Mark Keam, the first Asian-born immigrant ever to be elected into the Virginia legislature and a delegate at the convention. As you might know, Virginia is a battleground state with a number sizeable Asian American voter base that could help swing Virginia – like they did in 2008 – with more Asian American voters in 2012 (Asian Americans make 5.5% of the Virginia (Obama won Virginia by about 230,000 votes out of a total of 3.7 million votes casted).
Cabinet Secretary and advisor to President Obama Chris Lu spoke, in an unofficial and personal capacity, next to say hello and said that 30-years ago when he was in high school, there were not many Asian Americans interested and involved in politics. He highlighted that Obama has appointed more Asian Americans (including himself) to cabinet positions and federal judge appointments than any other president in history.
Next, Steve Rao, the first Asian American elected to public office in Wake County as Morrisville Town City Council At-Large (and maybe in all of North Carolina, if I heard correctly).
Next, Congresswoman Judy Chu, the first Chinese American woman to be elected into Congress and head of CAPAC spoke and welcomed everyone. She discussed that this was an amazing time for Asian Americans – with a record number of Asian American delegates – somewhere over 300, as well as a record number of Asian Americans running for Congress and the Senate – (25 in total with 21 out of the 25 being Democrats).
The final speaker was the “Asian American godfather of politics” was Norman Mineta, former Transportation Secretary under President George W. Bush (the bi-partisan appointee made by Bush) and former Mayor of San Jose, California.
After the speakers spoke, I also saw a lot of familiar faces – including Mayor of San Francisco Ed Lee, my friend Otto Lee (who is running for Congress), Jay Chen (who is running for Congress who I would later interview), Evan Low – former Mayor of Campbell and city council member, Ash Kara (City Council of San Jose, California), Congressman Mike Honda, and some other familiar faces and also met Gene Kim of CAPAC (Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus) – who put together the list of Asian American and Pacific Islander list of related events. At a later time at the convention, I’d be introduced to Mike Fong, East Area Director and Senior Liaison to Asian Pacific Islander Community to Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa – but I had seen him at this meet and greet event.
After some time, I did get a chance to interview Chris Lu – we did a quick seven video interview, which I’ve already posted to 8Asians.com. As I charged my camcorder and waited for the rain and shower storm to pass over, I did eventually get to also see California State Controller, John Chiang, who is running for California State Treasurer in 2014. He had spoken at the 2008 Democratic National Convention, but was not speaking this year. As the rain stopped, Julia and Daniel were going to head over to The Blake Hotel to attend the Korean Americans for Obama (KAFO) Happy Hour, and I caught a ride with them with one of Julia’s friend – who had a car (the hotel was not that far – but given the flash rain storms, better to be safe than sorry).
At the Korean Americans for Obama Happy Hour, I met the organizers (which I have unfortunately forgot their names – but did briefly see one of them in a Daily Show segment on the “Party of Inclusion” when they highlighted the DNC’s diversity (which of course, included Asians). I saw Gene Kim of CAPAC and had a good time chatting with him and learned more about Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus. He was one of a few staffers and his office was located with or near Congresswoman Judy Chu’s office, since she headed up the caucus.ead of CAPAC. Each member of CAPAC assigns a portion of their overall budget to support CAPAC. Their
From their website, CAPAC “… is comprised of Members of Congress of Asian and Pacific Islander descent and members who have a strong dedication to promoting the well-being of the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community. Currently chaired by Congresswoman Judy Chu, CAPAC has been addressing the needs of the AAPI community in all areas of American life since it was founded in 1994. CAPAC is non-partisan and bi-cameral.”
Kim and I had dinner together (along with others) at The Blake Hotel bar. Later, I found out from Kim that he attended UC Berkeley for undergrad and when he friended me on Facebook, we had one mutual “friend” that I knew from Taiwanese American Professionals – San Francisco (TAP-SF). While we were having dinner, some of the Happy Hour attendees spotted actress Alexis Bledel, of Gilmore Girls fame; I helped take some photos, but honestly, I would not have known who she was unless someone had mentioned who she was. Throughout the convention, I would be seeing known politicians or former politicians, TV news personalities as well other “famous” people.
After dinner, Daniel, Julia and I (as well as others in a different car) headed over to the Time Warner Arena. It was raining, but not as hard as before. Julia had called a car using the mobile app & service Uber (as part of a promotion, I think all DNC attendees got a $20 credit for all newly registered Uber users).
Because of the 2-block-or-more radius of blocked off streets due to security, we had a hard time getting to the entrance. We walked around-and-around until we found a security check-point (X-ray and metal detector). It was raining harder, and I had pulled out my umbrella. At the checkpoint, I had to leave my umbrella on the side of the checkpoint due to security (my friend on Facebook had warned me no umbrellas allowed – though the next two days, I had kept my umbrella in my backpack with no issues). We still had about two blocks of walking to the Arena. When we entered the arena, Daniel & I went our separate ways as we had different credentials. I made my way to the “unassigned” media room.
As I had entered the practice basketball ball court, I saw to my left, a whole row of tables filled with radio microphones (I had also seen some on the entrance area floor as well as later on the second floor). After the radio media section, there were many rows of tables to accommodate the media, with wired Ethernet cables and power outlets. It was great that I could leave my backpack, laptop and other equipment on the table. I think by the time I got to the press area, it was already past 9:00 PM.
I had dropped by the information/volunteer booth to ask about a floor pass. I was misinformed by a volunteer that floor passes were no longer being distributed and that the passes for unassigned media had stopped at 3:00 PM. I was disappointed, because I would have been interested in trying to see Tammy Duckworth , a wounded Asian American Iraq war veteran who was running for Congress. I would later find out the next day that the location to get those 20-minute floor passes were in one corner of the gymnasium.
As I sat around to catch up on email and charge my computer, I briefly saw at one point that evening or another evening, reporters from Taiwan’s TVBS (as her laptop had the news channel sticker on the back), as well as those news reporters from Xinhua.
I made my way up to the second floor where the unassigned media seats were. Not the most perfectly situated seats. If stage forward facing the audience is 12:00, I was probably sitting at around 4:30 or 5:00. In other words, I was viewing the speakers from behind the podium. Fortunately, I could see the big stadium “television” hanging from the ceiling and made it in time to see First Lady Michelle Obama speak.
Personally, I thought that the First Lady did a fine job, but what would one expect about a loving wife talking about her husband who is running for re-election. Her delivery was pretty heart warming and seemed sincere. I’m sure Ann Romney’s was as well (the only speech from the RNC that I had watched so far was Condoleezza Rice’s, which MSNBC’s Chris Matthews I had heard said was terrific, which I agreed with). The speech finished around 11:00 PM and I think I got out of the convention center, walked back to my car and to my hotel about 20 miles north, it was close to 1:00 AM! What a day!