8 Asians

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!

My first day at the Democratic national Convention was quite a whirlwind, and Day 2 would certainly be no different.

Having parked for free about 25 minute walk to the convention center, I decided to see if I could park somewhere closer. I found a self-serve lot for $15 a day, which turned out to be maybe at 15 or 20 minute walk to the convention center. Walking along the way, I saw that Google had a HUGE “tent”/  on a previously empty lot.

Having gone through the routine the day before,  I made my way to the press office and got my press credential for the day, then went to the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Caucus Meeting. The AAPI Caucus did have a pre-convention meeting the day before the convention officially started, but I had no idea what was discussed here.

At this caucus meeting, many who had spoken at the “meet and greet,” but many who had not. The full list of speakers included:

  • Congresswoman and Chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC) Dr. Judy Chu,
  • Maya Soetoro-Ng, assistant professor of education at the University of Hawaii and the sister of President Barack Obama.
  • Tina Tchen, Chief of Staff to First Lady Michelle Obama and Executive Director of the White House Council on Women and Girls
  • Hilda Solis, Secretary of Labor
  • Nancy DeParle, Assistant to the President and Deputy Chief of Staff
  • Pete Rouse, Counselor to the President and former  “interim” Chief of Staff at the White House.
  • Chris Lu, Cabinet Secretary and Adviser to President Obama
  • Dr. Jill Biden, Second Lady of the United States
  • Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education
  • Ed Lee, Mayor of San Francisco
  • Daniel Inouye, Senator from Hawaii
  • Anne Holton, wife of Tim Kaine, former Governor of Virginia and candidate for Senate for Virginia
  • Mike Honda, Congressman
  • Bel Leong-Hong, Democratic National Committee AAPI Caucus chair

There was press at the event, including a few television cameras in the back, as well as those same reporters from Xinghua, which I had seen the day before.

There also had been a Taiwanese government delegation in attendance, which I thought was interesting. Not exactly sure what they were doing there – lobbying? Or observing how American democracy and the Democrats at work at their convention.

After the caucus meeting, I  attended the daily briefing down the hall, which was scheduled for noon. The daily briefings themselves were not releasing any earth shattering news, but it was interesting to see how the DNC and Obama folks were spinning the speeches from the previous night.

The briefers also addressed the weather issue – that forecasters were calling for something like a 40% chance for thundershowers for Obama’s speech on Thursday in the Bank of America Stadium, so the speech would be held indoors and the 60,000 community registered attendees would not be attending. The briefers categorically denied the Republican statements that the Obama campaign could not fill the stadium, as they had above the 60,000 registered attendees, a standby list of 20,000. The briefers also said to keep informed via the constant emails they were sending out – especially through the evening as they would send out the embargoed full prepared text speeches of speakers or excerpts to all of the press.

Afterwards, I went across from the convention center to a parking lot which was filled with “official” DNC vendors – selling everything from souvenirs, as well as some non-profits as well as corporations, chambers of commerce, being represented etc. Overall, it was kind of underwhelming. A quick five minute walk and I was done.

I made my way from there and quickly got to the next event I wanted to attend, sponsored by the Asian American Justice Center (AAJC), National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and National Council of La Raza (NCLR – the largest national Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization in the United States) Luncheon Reception: Honoring a New Generation of Outstanding Leaders at the beautiful Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts Culture. I made it to the venue around 1:00 pm. My RSVP was confirmed via a the person at the front door via an iPad as well as the fact that I showed my DNC press credential.

Christine Chen was one (amongst three) of those being honored for her work for Asian Pacific Islander American Vote (APIAVote), where she was the founding executive director from 2006-2008 and returned in January 2011 to serve again as its current Executive Director.

I saw James Kyson at this event, as well as Gene Kim and a few other familiar faces from the day before – including Jay Chen, who is running for Congress in the greater Hacienda Heights, California area. Before 2:00 pm but after the awards ceremony, I was able to get Chen aside for a quick video interview for him to tell a little about himself, what got him interested in public service and politics and why he was running for office.

The next event I went to afterwards was with the “Progressive Congress,” a few blocks from the African-American Arts Culture center. I got there before the event was scheduled to start, which was for 3:00 pm. I was interested in attending since Congresswoman Dr. Judy Chu was listed as one of the attendees/speakers. Once I got to the event location, showed by press badge (which let me in easily into the building where the event was being held), and saw the Progressive Congress (progressivecongress.org) discuss their “Megaphone” project to teach progressives how to deliver their message to the media better.

At the event, I did meet a current UNC Charlotte Asian American college student who was working the event with the audio (I guess as a side job). His major was journalism, which I thought was pretty cool since I don’t think I knew anybody Asian Americans studying or wanting to be a journalist in college.

I stayed for the whole event, but was disappointed that Congresswoman Chu (nor other Representatives that were listed) didn’t show up (maybe she never planned to was incorrectly listed as being an attendee).

I still had some time before I wanted to head over to the Time Warner arena, I wanted to drop by the publicly viewable MSNBC media stage, which was at a shopping center near the arena, called The EpiCentre. I did make it there – I made my way to the Time Warner arena again going through the security check and making it to the “unassigned media” press room, settled into an area where there were some available seats. Along the way, I wound up seeing current MSNBC commentator and former Republican National Committee chairman Robert Steele – again, another random “celebrity “sighting!

I wound up placing my laptop, camera and other stuff near and sitting next to some bloggers from Orange County who blogged for the leading Liberal blog for the area called TheLiberalOC.com (Orange County is a fairly conservative area of Southern California near Irvine, CA), as well as a pair from a local television news station in Florida.

The anchorman-type reporter from Florida was really impressed that the Orange County bloggers and myself made it out to Charlotte, North Carolina of our own means and efforts and said that with technology today, anybody could get reach. I’d later anchorman and his cameraman colleague editing the video they had shot on their Macbook Pro using Final Cut Pro.

With Congresswoman Judy Chu speaking early Wednesday evening from around 5:00 pm to 6:00pm, I was eager to get my floor pass which I had missed getting the evening before due to being misinformed. However, there was a growing line as well as the fact that the volunteers for the press pass were waiting for the passes themselves.

The way the media passes worked, you exchanged your daily press pass for the 20-minute floor pass. Each time you got a floor pass, the volunteers would record your name, organization, the time, as well as the serial # of your individual daily media pass serial number, and the serial number of the floor pass. If you violated the 20-minute (i.e. within reason – 25 min, even 30 minutes was sometimes acceptable), the volunteers would keep your pass and may have prevented your pass.

By the time I got my floor pass, Congresswoman Chu was already speaking and by the time I got to the convention floor, she had already exited the stage. I wound up catching former California State Controller Steve Westley. On one of my back-and-forth’s to the convention floor, I saw former Obama press secretary Robert Gibbs – he was chatting it up with a buddy outside the press area – talking about some guy who did an awesome President George W. Bush impression.

What was really amazing while walking around on the convention floor, was at times, when I passed these mini-broadcasting booths, were to see some of the “celebrity” television news reporters, such as CNN’s Wolf Blitzer and Dana Bash, or MSNBC’s Hardball with Chris Matthews regular commentator

Howard Fineman and Chuck Todd. In fact, I got a little tongue tied when I told Fineman Ioved him as a commentator on MSNBC. Fineman seemed to be distracted and/or annoyed since I think he was pre-occupied on getting ready to go on air soon.

After I returned to the media room, I was waiting for Californian Congresswoman and former Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi to speak – early in the 7:00 pm to 8:00 pm timeslot.

The next speaker I wanted to try to get a photo of and video of would be Secretary of Veterans Affairs General Eric Shinseki but I mistimed the schedule. As part of the schedule, the list of speakers were listed between which hours, but not how much time each speaker is given to speak. Shinseki was supposed to speak between 8:00 pm and 9:00 pm. By the time I got to get my floor pass, Shinseki was off stage.

So that was the frustrating part of getting the media credentials – but then again, I was in the same boat as more “legitimate” journalists. In the future, I guess if I want to be able to stay on the floor, I should find out how to become a delegate for California! (or be a big donor … which unfortunately, I don’t think is financially possible anytime soon).

The big speakers of the night for primetime were starting at 10:00 pm (7:00 pm for PST) and I was debating whether or not I should try to get the floor pass to try to get photos and videos of Clinton, but I figured that it would be difficult and crowded. When you’re on the convention floor, there are DNC volunteers, especially near the press photo taking area, that constantly encourage you to keep moving after you’ve taken your photo or video clip if you are not sitting down. So I figured that once primetime was on, it would be even more challenging, if impossible, to get a decent photo, video or view even if I could get on the floor.

So as 10:00 pm approached, I went up again to the nose bleed section for the unassigned media. I first saw Harvard Law professor Elizabeth Warren, running for U.S. Senate in Massachusetts in a hotly contested seat against Senator Scott Brown. I personally thought Warren’s speech was great, but later in the evening, commentators thought the speech was okay, and that she was the underdog to her Republican opponent.

The next speaker was Jim Sinegal, the co-founder and former CEO of Costco and sadly, he was quite the snoozer. He spoke for over 7.5 minutes, but it did seem to last a whole lot longer. After he was done, everyone was expecting former President Bill Clinton to immediately come on, but a 2 minute intro video montage of Clinton was played on the big screen.

But as the video ended and Fleetwood Mac’s and Clinton’s 1992 campaign theme song, “Don’t Stop (Thinking About Tomorrow)” played, the arena went wild with camera flashes going off everywhere. As all the attendees were listening to Clinton go on for almost 50 minutes, the arena was (except for Clinton’s voice and all the applause) was quiet where you could hear pin drop. Clinton captivated the audience and I really felt he could have gone for another 50 minutes.

The audience just simply loved the speech, but I did wonder if the political commentators and others would feel the same. Clinton was the great explainer and when I did listen and read up afterwards, Clinton did deliver one of the greatest political convention speeches ever given (though I would say that Obama’s 2004 speech is probably the best I’ve seen on television and one that paved his path to the Senate and then to President). Being in the audience, you are definitely around like minded folks drinking the Kool Aid, and Clinton that evening was quite the rock star.

As I walked down the stairs to get to the main floor, I looked to my right on the other side of the stair hand rail and had another “celebrity” moment. I thought I had seen Zach Braff (of Scrubs fame) along with his attractive blond girlfriend (with pink highlights). I thought, maybe that is Zach Braff, but it could also be, when I thought about it, Sergey Brin (Co-founder of Google). Walking down some more stairs, I had to look to my right again, and this time confirmed that it was Braff. But this time around, when I looked at Braff, I think he looked at me – in a way, confirming to me that he acknowledged that I recognized him. I was thinking of asking Braff for a photo or something – but we were walking down the stairs with a huge crowd. So I just simply looked to my right again to re-confirm who I had seen and I think Braff had also looked back at me as well.

I eventually got back to the unassigned media press room area, along with my laptop (which was locked to the table – just in case) and gathered along all of my belongings and headed back to my car, which was around a 15-to-20 minute walk. Then there’s was my 20 mile drive back to my hotel – which got me back around 1:00 AM in the morning (after grabbing a quick bite from McDonald’s drive thru).

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