I just returned an hour ago to type up the results of seven short interviews with DNC volunteers, the heart and soul of the convention experience.
I also lost the entirety of my original introduction but fortunately saved my interview text summaries. Yay.
So, go below the break for the good stuff. I will see you on the other side.
Gail and Jim
Gail and Jim were guarding one of the side streets about 50 feet back from the police perimeter. Their mission was to stop people from riding bikes or bringing coolers into the festival area - the police had most of their focus on automobile traffic issues as many persisted in wanted to turn down Third Street.
They were my first interviewees.
Gail has red hair and sports a dark blue golf visor. She wears a large "Obama 2012" button. Her reason for volunteering (and we hear this a lot): It's a once in a lifetime opportunity to be part of the political process in a meaningful way. She relates what the volunteers were told in orientation: be fired up and ready to serve.
Jim is lean and dark skinned with an icing of grey hair. He described himself as an independent. For him, volunteering was about civic pride and civic duty. He felt the experience was very upbeat because Charlotte as a city had much to be proud of. I asked him if he had any answers about concerns that hosting the DNC in a non-union state had rankled many outside. He answered that for him it was not the politics so much as the service that motivated him.
Martin is forty-something and very upbeat as he helps direct visitors' questions. He also helped me score some much-needed note-taking paper from the nearby Marriott Courtyard hotel. He felt the DNC was starting out very successfully and the outlook for the president's re-election was quite positive. I agreed, commenting that convention experience was much more inclusive than what seemed to be the case with last week's GOP event. The Dems were putting on a street fair. Maybe I'm all wrong here and the Pubs did the same in Tampa. Or, just maybe, they hosted events on Caymans-registered yachts.
Martin then directed me to...
Tony and Phil
For Tony (late thirties) it was about showing that Charlotte was a world class city - that maybe people had doubts about its ability to host the DNC but after this week there would be no doubts whatsoever. Tony reminds me that not too long ago, some local Republicans wanted to host a competing event (a la Right Online) at the same time as the DNC. It was to be called Rock The Red. The organizers, per my sources, wanted to invite such right wing luminaries as Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck. Alas...interest in that project faded.
Phil (salt-and-pepper haired and VERY tall) is a Texas native who moved to Charlotte a good while ago. He recalls the RNC convention being hosted in his native Dallas but not much more than that fact. He is another one who is pleased to be part of a once in a lifetime experience. He signed up, in his words, because he is a Democrat and felt (again the phrase) fired up and ready to serve.
Tony and Phil then directed me to...
Irene (middle aged Asian, from Lake Wylie in suburban Charlotte's South Carolina regions) is a pure independent who is motivated by facts and principles. She beams as she declares she has made her choice for Obama, tugging on the sleeve of her DNC volunteer shirt for emphasis. Interestingly she was the most fired up of the bunch. She loved to help and talk with people and that was her primary responsibility at the intersected of Third and Tryon.
Irene then directed me to....
Alisa is African-American, mid-thirties, hair free flowing and pulled back. Alisa started with the once-in-a-lifetime experience touchstone, saw it as a celebration of Charlotte's community and civic spirit bringing value to the DNC experience. That was a fine summation of what had felt like the standard talking points - succinct, diplomatic (even to non-Democrats, even Republicans) and effective.
Then Alisa added a very insightful reference. Referencing the final speech of Michael Douglas's character "The American President", Alisa points out that our competition on the right wants to play on people's discomfort with change, to take them back to an earlier time when things were safe and familiar. The thing is, things were never safe and familiar back then. They were just the same and had that been good enough, they never would have changed. But things do change. There must be change - because what WAS was NOT good enough, or even good, for many people. And this journey of progress never stops.
So the right, she says, wants to tell us a story of life in the 1940s. That story is a fairy tale - it was then and it is even more so now, and it is impossible to achieve.
But some people like fairytales.
Alisa wishes for a simple comparison, clear stories from both candidates and their parties. She thinks the Dem convention can help deliver that story. She thinks the story from the other side as of last week is more than "the chair". It was, again, something from the last century, if that far in the future.
So there you have it from the DNC Volunteers themselves. They are here, fired up and ready to serve. To help the convention experience be positive for everyone. They are ambassadors to the city, the country and the world. All of them were very pleasant and sharing. None shared political views unless prompted, sometimes heavily so. They let their gentle demeanor and effective service be all the diplomacy required.
It was an honor to speak to these volunteers. If you are here in Charlotte for the convention, whoever you are - media, delegate, sponsor or just visiting, strike up a chat. You won't have a bad experience with anyone, if my experience is any indication.