San Jose Councilmember Ash Kalra was in Charlotte, N.C., last week as a delegate at the Democratic National Convention. The following is a recap of his final day at the Convention, President Obama’s speech and some overall themes from the week-long event.—Editor
Waking up Thursday morning, it was hard to believe that we still had the main event of the Democratic National Convention ahead of us. The previous three days had been exhilarating and empowering but also exhausting.
The long days of meeting different community and political leaders from around the country made me feel good about the Democratic Party. The bulk of the members in attendance at the convention were not wealthy contributors or high-level officials but rather ordinary Americans who want to serve and love the energy and political atmosphere that surround a national convention. I met retirees, students, veterans, community activists, and public servants from all walks of life.
Rather than heading to the commotion of the city center where the convention was held, I chose to rest in the hotel before heading to the arena. By the time I was ready to head to the shuttle bus, it was close to 4 pm. I was getting a little concerned about getting decent seats because I had heard that some delegates left for the arena as early as noon to claim prime seats. Of course, just to make the mad rush to the arena that much more difficult, the skies opened up and another downpour began as we rushed through the hot, muggy Carolina air into the bus. When we arrived at the arena, there were long lines where we waited to pass through the row of metal detectors. But, even with the weather and the lines, everyone seemed to be in a great mood coming off the heels of the incredible speech by President Clinton and in anticipation of the speakers ahead, including the star of the convention, President Obama.
Once I got inside the arena, it was clear that it was far more hectic than the previous two days. Clearly, moving the final evening event indoors to a smaller venue caused some havoc. My seat situation was dicey but I luckily found a friend that had been holding a seat for someone who ended up sitting elsewhere. Although it definitely was not like sitting on the floor like I had the previous two days, it was a great seat in the lower bowl with a fantastic view of the main stage and arena.
There was much more of a concert atmosphere leading up to the main speakers in the evening, due to performances by entertainers like James Taylor, Mary J. Blige, and the Foo Fighters, and celebrity speakers like Scarlett Johansson, Eva Longoria, and Kerry Washington. But without a doubt, the most emotional experience of the evening was when former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords led the audience in the Pledge of Allegiance. It was certainly a surprise to the audience, and we all erupted with applause as she stepped onto the stage.
The most entertaining speaker was former Michigan Governor Jennifer Grandholm, with her high-energy speech that hailed President Obama for his bailout of the auto industry. Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer provided one of the funniest moments, and one of the most repeated lines of the night, when he repeatedly punctuated his impression of Governor Romney with the line: “That dog don’t hunt!” I heard that phrase repeatedly later in the evening as the arena crowd emptied into the streets. And Former Republican Governor Charlie Crist evoked the essence of one of President Reagan’s most famous lines when he made clear that he didn’t leave the Republican Party, the Republican Party left him.
As the time for Vice President Joe Biden’s speech approached, thousands of signs that read “Fired Up” and “Ready for Joe!” were distributed amongst the crowd. Throughout the convention a number of different signs were distributed in anticipation of the themes of different speakers. The signs certainly kept the crowd engaged, as did the interspersed entertainment, music, and video montages reflecting on different issues and President Obama’s successes. Two of the most poignant videos were about the killing of Osama Bin Laden and about the sacrifices of our veterans. The latter video played while dozens of veterans filed onto the stage. As you can imagine, any mention of the veterans or our military personnel in general had the crowd erupting in appreciative applause.
As the speeches came to a close, save for one, everyone was glued to the final video that has been customary for modern political conventions. It highlighted President Obama and the years of his presidency. We did not expect the First Lady to introduce her husband, and the crowd was incredibly pumped up by the time the President was finally introduced. Having watched my share of convention speeches on television, I can definitely say that television cannot possibly capture the electricity in the room as the President of the United States arrives on stage to deliver a historic address. With signs reading “Forward” and American flags held up high by the attendees and roaring applause from the crowd that stretched to the highest nosebleed seats, the President smiled, waved, and waited for the long ovation to subside.
The President’s call for Americans to unite and work together to move our country forward had the crowd watching intently and responding excitedly. There were many moments where audience members got teary-eyed and several emotional outbursts of support filled the arena. If President Obama’s goal was to reinvigorate us for the final two months of the campaign, I would say he accomplished that mission.
As I returned to the hotel one last time, I was fortunate enough to meet and speak with Dolores Huerta, who co-founded the National Farmworkers Association with Cesar Chavez. She is a legendary activist who has spent her entire life fighting for the rights and freedoms of the less fortunate and the disenfranchised. So to have the chance to speak with her soon after President Obama’s call to come together as a nation and as a people almost seemed like fate, as a significant part of Huerta’s legacy is her commitment to community activism and her ability to unite people towards a common cause.
While it was an extremely busy week, I’ve had the opportunity to reflect on my amazing time in Charlotte. There is something about being around thousands of people who share certain ideals and beliefs, and a certain vision of our country that is truly invigorating. Despite the long week, I feel recharged and inspired. I look forward to coming back home to San Jose and using the energy and excitement of the convention to fuel me as we tackle the many issues that face us.
I’m sure that there were many people who either attended or watched the convention who came away feeling inspired. Some may be inspired to volunteer, others to campaign, and still others may have even been inspired to consider running for public office. To these people, regardless of your political persuasion, I say “do it.” While public service is rarely easy, nothing is more rewarding than serving the community, and nothing is more important than being a part of the decisions that shape our future. And after attending the Democratic Convention, I believe that, despite the recent difficult times, our future is still very, very bright.