San Jose Councilmember Ash Kalra has been in Charlotte, N.C., all week as a delegate at the Democratic National Convention. The following is a recap of his first three days at the Convention. President Obama will deliver his DNC speech tonight, and Kalra has agreed to write an additional column for San Jose Inside on Friday.—Editor
My journey to Charlotte began at Mineta San Jose International Airport on Sunday morning. During my tenure on the City Council I have found it difficult to leave the city for extended periods of time. In fact, this week in Charlotte will be my longest time away from San Jose during my entire time in office. Thankfully, there was no council meeting this week due to the short week following Labor Day. And since residents are rightfully concerned about how taxpayer dollars are spent, you should know that I’m personally paying for this trip—I am not using any city funds or special interest contributions.
Once I arrived in Charlotte, the intense humidity that greeted me was a quick reminder that I wasn’t in San Jose anymore. Aside from the muggy weather, Charlotte is a fantastic town, and “Southern hospitality” is certainly not a myth. You could sense how momentous this occasion was to Charlotte residents. Local news reports have referred to this convention as the biggest event in Charlotte’s history, and it’s easy to believe.
The Convention didn’t officially start until Tuesday, but several meetings and receptions occurred on Monday at the convention center. There was definitely a buzz as political celebrities and media personalities were out and about. Not only do you see well-known elected officials and public figures like Rev. Jesse Jackson, but you also see teachers, doctors and union activists. The highlight of my day was the amazing opportunity I had to walk onto the Convention stage and stand at the podium. It was the only time I would see the arena so empty, and the enormity of what was to occur on that stage in the next few days started to sink in.
My plan to walk to the arena from the hotel for the evening speeches was foiled by a torrential downpour that had us running for cover. Storms like this have been very frequent, so it’s no surprise that the President’s speech was moved indoors. Once my friend and I finally made it into the arena, we were fortunate to find two great seats on the Convention floor between the North Carolina and Nevada delegations, just 20 rows from the stage.
Tuesday’s speakers were incredibly powerful. Former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland impressed me, and Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick’s speech was quite stirring. Lily Ledbetter brought many of us to tears as she described her fight for gender pay equity. San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro electrified the crowd as he touched on a recurring theme throughout the convention: Gov. Romney is out of touch with middle-class Americans. Mayor Castro’s story certainly touched a nerve with me as it reminded me of all of the sacrifices my parents and grandparents made so that my brother and I could have a chance to achieve our dreams.
And then First Lady Michelle Obama hit the stage and blew everyone away. At times during her speech, the roar from the crowd was so intense that it felt like we were at a rock concert or just witnessed a walk-off home run at a ballgame. As she finished, the arena was electric and it was clear to us that the first night of the convention was a rousing success.
My Wednesday began with a California Delegation breakfast that featured Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Attorney General Kamala Harris, Senator Diane Feinstein, and Congressman Mike Honda. Following the breakfast, I headed to the convention center to attend the AAPI Caucus meeting, where Congressman Honda and San Jose’s very own former Mayor, Congressman, and Cabinet Secretary Norm Mineta were in attendance. I was also thrilled to meet Dr. Jill Biden. One of the more touching moments of my trip occurred when she gave Congressional candidate Otto Lee a big hug after he told her that he served in Iraq with her son, Beau Biden.
That evening we headed towards the arena to watch President Clinton’s speech, and to our amazement, we found two seats available in the exact same spot as the evening before. Since we were seated by the aisle, my friend and I had a couple of seconds on some of the television networks, including CNN. Out of all the speakers who took the stage before President Clinton, I was most impressed with Sandra Fluke and Elizabeth Warren. The crowd enthusiastically cheered them both on and hung on to their every word. I later had a chance to meet Sandra and I am proud that she hails from my alma mater, Georgetown Law School. However, the most impressive person I met all night was a 91-year-old African-American delegate from San Fernando Valley, Stephen E. Sherman, who is also a veteran of World War II. I was so honored to meet him I had to take a picture with him.
The star of the night was obviously President Clinton. Other than President Obama, Clinton is one of the few people that still hold political “rock star” status amongst Democrats. President Clinton is a masterful political orator, particularly when it comes to explaining policy in a folksy manner or dissecting the arguments that have been made against President Obama. One of the reasons I came to the convention was to be a part of American history, and leaving the arena Wednesday night, I felt that I was. I look forward to witnessing another historic moment with President Obama’s speech tonight.