Once Upon A Time in Charlotte: The Democratic National Convention Recap

Welcome to the Democratic National Convention, where delegates come from as far away as the Forest of Feelings to the city of Care-A-Lot to sit around a heart-shaped table and discuss how best to serve the small children and woodland creatures of the Kingdom of Caring. The event, as always, peaks with an address from Tenderheart Bear and his VP, Grumpy Bear.

Mostly, this is an opportunity for you to finally put faces to all the names that regularly show up in your email inbox. I finally found out who Nancy Keenan is, other than someone who emails me to ask for money on a regular basis. The DNC gets a little bit of an (unfair?) advantage over the RNC in that they went second, so everything they say automatically seems like a smart and funny rebuttal, and also the RNC doesn’t get another turn to respond. Except for when debates happen, but that’s a whole other thing. Anyways!

I also want to take this moment to say that, when putting together this recap and also the last one, just saying, it was way easier to find the DNC schedule than the RNC’s. Do you know how you find the schedule of events for speakers at the DNC? You look at their website, demconvention.com, and click on the tab that says “schedule.” Do you know how you find the RNC schedule? You look around the RNC website for like 25 minutes before giving up and going to C-SPAN. Even if we weren’t concerned with policy (which we very much are), it seems fair to give the advantage to the party that knows what a website is supposed to do.

Ostensibly the DNC started on Monday, but everyone knows that Mondays are for whining and lasagna. And also caucuses; mostly there appear to have been a variety of caucus sessions, from the Ethnic Council to the Veterans & Military Families Council to a Jewish Community Training. Way to be, caucuses! Caucusi? I hope there were free sandwiches.

Tuesday, September 4

On Tuesday, shit started to get really real. I mean, Amber Riley sang the national anthem. This was the first of many moments in which I found myself thinking “wow, it’s like the DNC is a TV show designed precisely around my demographic!” and then promptly realized that that’s basically exactly what it is. But anyways! Amber Riley is very good at singing, can’t wait for the day when I can make a bag of vegan microwave popcorn and watch her and Adele have a sing-off and then hug at the end and then skip off holding hands to do each other’s nails, etc.

Starsweep to the next demographically appropriate moment, when Mary Kay Henry, International President of SEIU, gives some remarks. We’ve already talked about Henry some because the Advocate has called her “the most powerful lesbian in the USA.” In addition, I’d like to point out that SEIU is also very important, and the fact that a union representative  is opening the DNC instead of their convention being protested by people yelling “Union busting/is disgusting” seems, I don’t know, telling. By the way, how’s tricks, Scott Walker?

Also, Kal Penn spoke! I realized while planning this recap that I have literally no idea how much queer women care about Kal Penn. Possibly not at all? Obvs straight bros like him because White Castle and weed, and I feel like according to my dashboard on Tumblr straight women are also really into him because he’s handsome and smart. I keep forgetting that he has a legitimate White House position and also that he was on House. Either way, his speech was well-received, I guess. I feel like I’ve seen this portion of it around the queer corners of the internet a lot:

I’ve worked on a lot of fun movies, but my favorite job was having a boss who gave the order to take out bin Laden—and who’s cool with all of us getting gay-married.

Based on how jazzed everyone seems to be about this I am maybe the only person in the entire world who feels weird about our equality as human beings being held up next to the specter of death and US militaristic might with the implication that they are equally desirable things, so maybe we’ll just let that go and move on with our regularly scheduled programming.

Many moons later (by the way, we’ve skipped over the likes of Harry Reid, Nancy Keenan, Tammy Duckworth, and Rahm Emanuel, because that’s too many words for me to read and then write more words about. The DNC is way more overwhelming than the RNC in this respect because there are WAY more people speaking here whom I actually want to hear talk.), Lilly Ledbetter speaks! If there were Team Ledbetter t-shirts I would wear one. Just kidding, that almost definitely actually exists. In case you’ve forgotten what Ledbetter’s story was, get excited, because it’s super inspiring: after 20 entire years of dedicated work as a manager at a plant, someone tipped Ledbetter off that she was getting paid less than her male counterparts. When she fought back against her employer’s practices, she was told that the law said if she didn’t bring it up within the first 6 months of the problem, her complaint was invalid. How convenient, then, that this company, like many others, forbids employees from discussing their salaries with one another!

and then i told him i’d show him where he could put his 23 cents an hour

BUT THEN President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which doesn’t maybe sound like much because like yes, of course he did, there is no reason to perpetuate a system that says it’s legally okay to literally pay someone just for having “Mr.” in front of their name, that was like making a legislative free throw. BUT THEN you find out that Senate Republicans actually wanted to block the bill, and Romney won’t even openly support it? The moral of the story is that it’s just not very hard to be doing better on a human and ethical level than the Republican party right now. If you’re even at the point where, if you saw an elderly woman holding the hand of a baby and the leash of a three-legged dog drop a $20 bill on the sidewalk, you would give it back to her instead of keeping it for yourself, congratulations! You are head and shoulders above the GOP.

Speaking of being a generally decent person, Lilly Ledbetter is succeeded on stage by Deval Patrick, governor of Massachusetts. I know no one else cares about the governor of Massachusetts, and that’s fine, but I’m from there and have many Deval Patrick feelings, so bear with me. I’m less interested in talking about his politics (although I also feel generally positive about those) than I am about his awesome gay daughter.

Katherine Patrick publicly came out as a lesbian (and QWOC! And Smithie!) at 18, with the family deciding that they wanted her to be able to talk about her identity the way she wanted and put everything out in the open before an opponent of Patrick’s could try to use it to hurt his political career, and twist Katherine’s identity in a way she didn’t want. When Katherine came out to her parents, Patrick “wrapped [her] in a bear hug and said, ‘Well, we love you no matter what.’” This was Patrick’s statement on his daughter at the time:

“As private of an issue as it is, we’ve sort of had to come to terms with the fact that we are a public family and there you give a part of yourself away… And we also … wanted people to know that it’s not only something that we accept, but it’s something that we’re very proud of. It’s a great aspect of our lives and there’s nothing about it that is shameful or that we would want to hide.”

Patrick had opposed an anti-marriage equality amendment even before his daughter’s coming out, and regularly marches in Boston’s Pride Parade with her. He has interviewed that he has offered to watch The L Word with her. I recognize that these are all things that take place out of the legislature, and our votes should probably be based on more than their relationships with their families. But really, try to picture this person speaking at the RNC. Can you? I can’t. Do you know who the last governor of Massachusetts was? It was Mitt Romney. Do you think Romney is enough of a family man to put his own political career at risk and march next to his daughter in a pride parade? Yeah, me neither.

Now that I’ve sort of maybe brought myself very slightly to tears thinking about how much I love the governor of my home state, let’s starsweep over to the star of Tuesday’s show, First Lady of the US Michelle Obama.

Laura has already covered this and said some very smart and excellent things, so certainly read that first. In some ways, this isn’t an extraordinary FLOTUS speech; while Michelle Obama is a fantastic orator and a brilliant woman, the point of any speech by the First Lady is usually to glorify her husband, and ultimately there may be limits to how excited a queer radical feminist is able to get about a talented, accomplished lady getting up in front of thousands of people to glorify her husband and motherhood. But! That said! The points she’s making are very smart, and it’s totally possible that for many Americans, hearing them couched in the rhetoric of mother-wife-domesticity is the only way they’ll be palatable. Ann Romney talked about the challenges she and her husband overcame, without being able to recognize that for like 90% of America, those aren’t “challenges” at all, and because of their privilege, the Romneys were overcoming tiny baby challenges instead of huge insurmountable ones. The fact that many people in positions of privilege don’t recognize the difference between those two things is a large part, I think, of why they hold onto the idea of meritocracy, and that anyone, regardless of where they start out, can “make it” if they “give it all they’ve got.” The Obamas’ story is told differently:

Barack’s grandmother started out as a secretary at a community bank…and she moved quickly up the ranks…but like so many women, she hit a glass ceiling. And for years, men no more qualified than she was – men she had actually trained – were promoted up the ladder ahead of her, earning more and more money while Barack’s family continued to scrape by. But day after day, she kept on waking up at dawn to catch the bus… arriving at work before anyone else… giving her best without complaint or regret.

Sometimes, you do give it all you’ve got, and you still don’t get ahead because there are social forces that are out of your control. That’s what the Romneys and the GOP don’t understand. I wish Michelle Obama had highlighted this point, instead of a few minutes later talking about “that fundamental American promise that, even if you don’t start out with much, if you work hard and do what you’re supposed to do, then you should be able to build a decent life for yourself and an even better life for your kids and grandkids.” But overall, Michelle’s message bears out something really important: that people need help sometimes, and that’s okay, and that it would be nice for the government to be an institution that provides that help rather than leaving people out in the cold. She talked about people being able to get medicine they need, not going broke just because you’re sick, and about how Obama wouldn’t have been able to go to college either without financial aid. It’s a simple concept, but worth remembering: when we elect people into office who have never needed for anything, they aren’t going to have a very good sense of how to provide for and support other people, or that other people even need support.

Wednesday, September 5

On Wednesday, the Lord created nametags for delegates and laminated press passes, and also Nancy Pelosi and Barney Frank spoke. I read Nancy Pelosi’s speech and couldn’t summon a single feeling about it and we’re going to talk more about Barney Frank w/r/t the LGBT Caucus on Thursday, SO.

Moving right along, Sandra Fluke spoke! If you thought you fangirled out over Sandra Fluke during the contraception hearing fiasco, get ready to feel all flushed and goofy again. Here is what Sandra Fluke think we’d see in a Romney-Ryan America:

In that America, your new president could be a man who stands by when a public figure tries to silence a private citizen with hateful slurs. Who won’t stand up to the slurs, or to any of the extreme, bigoted voices in his own party. It would be an America in which you have a new vice president who co-sponsored a bill that would allow pregnant women to die preventable deaths in our emergency rooms. An America in which states humiliate women by forcing us to endure invasive ultrasounds we don’t want and our doctors say we don’t need. An America in which access to birth control is controlled by people who will never use it; in which politicians redefine rape so survivors are victimized all over again; in which someone decides which domestic violence victims deserve help, and which don’t.

And then she makes the best point of all, saying that we could, instead, live in an “…America in which our president, when he hears a young woman has been verbally attacked, thinks of his daughters—not his delegates or donors—and stands with all women. And strangers come together, reach out and lift her up. And then, instead of trying to silence her, you invite me here—and give me a microphone—to amplify our voice.”

To me, this is one of the most striking differences between the two conventions — scrolling through the list of names and noting all the people who are queer, who are of color, who are women, and realizing that this is a space in which they’re not just talked about, but they speak as well. Of course, those speakers from those communities can’t represent everyone in those communities, and the people who have access to spaces like the DNC are often on the privileged end of the spectrum within their communities. Also though, Sandra Fluke is a boss.

Speaking of bosses, let’s take a brief timeout to look at Elizabeth Warren’s speech. Warren is running against Republican Senator Scott Brown in my home state of Massachusetts, and sidenote, I hate Scott Brown even more than I hate people who don’t tip (also, Scott Brown probably doesn’t tip). Elizabeth Warren was a supporter of Occupy and involved in the government initiative to create an agency that keeps track of Wall Street and banking and lending practices (which, incredibly, did not exist before!). Accordingly, much of Warren’s speech focused on money — tax cuts for the rich, helping out small business owners, consumer protection, and accountability. Probably the best-received portion of her speech was this:

The Republican vision is clear: “I’ve got mine, the rest of you are on your own.” Republicans say they don’t believe in government. Sure they do. They believe in government to help themselves and their powerful friends. After all, Mitt Romney’s the guy who said corporations are people.

No, Governor Romney, corporations are not people. People have hearts, they have kids, they get jobs, they get sick, they cry, they dance. They live, they love, and they die. And that matters. That matters because we don’t run this country for corporations, we run it for people. And that’s why we need Barack Obama.

Warren is often criticized as being hard to relate to and coming off as cold or unlikable, despite being visionary and very smart. Which brings us to Bill Clinton! True facts: I actually saw Bill Clinton speak at my university when I was a college student, and found him fairly compelling when talking about microlending. But this speech, man oh man. If it had been a speech about buying a Cornballer™, we would all be in the hospital with third-degree burns right now.

In all seriousness, though, this is a speech that should be studied and passed down to future generations. Even if you didn’t agree with the things it was saying, it’s an incredible balance of winning and hard-hitting, disarming and empowering. Clinton’s style of address has been described as “folksy” by some in a sort of backhanded compliment/actual slight, but to me it seems more accurate to say that 1. um, he’s from Arkansas? This is a legitimate way to talk? and 2. there’s something to be said for explaining policy in a way that a layman can understand. That approach can sometimes be patronizing or condescending, but I don’t think at any point that Clinton stooped to a sort of “don’t worry, we’ll keep the factory open!” pandering that was clearly meant for a working-class audience members who “won’t understand” political intricacies. An example of what I’m talking about when I say he’s talking about actual policy in regular language is this:

So if he’s elected, and if he does what he promised to do, Medicare will now go broke in 2016. Think about that. That means, after all, we won’t have to wait until their voucher program kicks in 2023 to see the end of Medicare as we know it. They’re going to do it to us sooner than we thought. Now, folks, this is serious, because it gets worse. And you won’t be laughing when I finish telling you this. They also want to block-grant Medicaid, and cut it by a third over the coming 10 years. Of course, that’s going to really hurt a lot of poor kids. But that’s not all. Lot of folks don’t know it, but nearly two-thirds of Medicaid is spent on nursing home care for Medicare seniors who are eligible for Medicaid. It’s going to end Medicare as we know it. And a lot of that money is also spent to help people with disabilities, including a lot of middle-class families whose kids have Down’s syndrome or autism or other severe conditions. And honestly, let’s think about it, if that happens, I don’t know what those families are going to do.

BAM. That is all true, and it’s all completely accessible. Most amazingly, it’s all based in fact and in policy. How many speeches do you see at events like this, for either party, that talk about concrete policy outcomes and their effects? Honestly, even at the DNC, you’re much more likely to hear about the American Dream in vague reference than about how many seniors exactly rely upon Medicaid. Clinton actually did a really amazing thing here. And it’s even more amazing when you realize how much of it was ad-libbed. Clinton’s proving that you can be funny and fun and joke around with the audience and still respect them enough to give them the information they need about who they’re voting for. You know what this speech is? It’s like what Paul Ryan’s speech could have been, IF ANY OF IT WERE TRUE. Because that’s the other thing Clinton got to do with this speech — debunk just a few of the ridiculous, blatant lies that Ryan put forward in his speech. It doesn’t get much more satisfying than that.

man, this guy

Thursday, September 6

One neat thing that happened on Thursday was the LGBT Caucus meeting, which Sarah Hansen has already covered, and which is well worth reading about. The most important thing that happened today was Joe Biden and Obama speaking, but I’d like to pause briefly before we even get to that to bring up several points:

+ James Taylor played??? I love James Taylor so much!

+ Um, MARY J BLIGE????

+ Also Scarlett Johansson and Kerry Washington were in attendance and spoke. Let’s take a moment.

be still

my heart

Eva Longoria also spoke, which is crazy and awesome, and so did Jennifer Granholm, former Governor of Michigan. Among other things, Granholm turned out to be an incredibly gif-worthy human being, and there is now an entire Buzzfeed post that’s just gifs of her speech. Something to aspire to, really.

And now MOVING RIGHT ALONG we can talk about the President and his Vice President.

I’m going to skip all the stuff about how much Joe Biden loves his wife because, like, okay, we get it. He also loves Barack Obama a lot! Which is nice.

We listened to Senators, Congressmen, outside advisers, even some of our own adviser, we listen to them to say some of the following things. They said, well we shouldn’t step up. The risks — the risks were too high. The outcome was too uncertain. And the president, he patiently sat there and he listened. But he didn’t see it the way they did. He understood something they didn’t get, and one of the reasons I love him. He understood that this wasn’t just about cars, it was about the people that built and made those cars.

Awww! It’s also a nice retort to Romney’s silly thing about being a car guy. There’s also a dig about how he doesn’t understand how, if Mitt loves Detroit so much, he could have let it go bankrupt, which, okay. There’s also a great deal of speculation about whether Romney would have been able to make the same call that Obama did as far as ordering Osama bin Laden killed, which, again, I wish there was less emphasis on because equating that with genuine policy decisions and legislative intelligence seems, well, wrong. But anyways! Overall I felt sort of meh about Biden’s speech, possibly because I had already seen so many of them by that time, or maybe just because it talked about less specific things than Clinton’s. This part is good though:

“…one thing truly perplexed me a their convention, the thing that perplexed me most was this idea they kept talking about, about the culture of dependency. They seem to think you create a culture of dependency when you provide a bright, young, qualified kid from a working-class family, a loan to get to college.  Or, when you provide a job training program in a new industry for a dad who lost his job because it was outsourced.  Folks — folks, that’s not how we look at it.  That’s not how America’s ever looked at it.  What he doesn’t understand is that all these men and women are looking for is a chance, just a chance to acquire the skills to be able to provide for their families so they can once again hold their heads high and lead independent lives with dignity. That’s all they are looking for. Look.”

Hi yes okay thank you! Although I can sort of understand why, if you have never needed anything from another human in your entire life because you were born so rich, you might not understand how helping other people works, I think it’s maybe also not that hard to understand that helping people isn’t bad for them, or for the country, and refusing people help because it’s “what’s best for them” is some crazy witholding abusive shit.

And now! With no real segue whatsoever, onto the main event!

In some ways, nothing in Obama’s speech is going to be new or shocking if you’ve been paying attention for four years. In a nutshell, the Republican position is that Obama has screwed everything up and we need to do things radically differently if we’re going to be okay. The Democratic position is that things were already really screwed up when he took office, and they’re actually less screwed up now, and we’re just going to keep doing what we’ve been doing because it’s working, albeit not instantaneously. If you were to sum up Obama’s speech in one sentence, it would be “we’re going to keep working, and not let the Republicans take anything away from us.” But there’s also a theme, which we’ve seen a few times now, of refuting the Republican philosophical tenet that hard work will cure all ills:

As Americans, we believe we are endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights, rights that no man or government can take away. We insist on personal responsibility, and we celebrate individual initiative. We’re not entitled to success. We have to earn it. We honor the strivers, the dreamers, the risk-takers, the entrepreneurs who have always been the driving force behind our free enterprise system, the greatest engine of growth and prosperity that the world’s ever known. But we also believe in something called citizenship citizenship, a word at the very heart of our founding, a word at the very essence of our democracy, the idea that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another and to future generations.

And:

We, the people recognize that we have responsibilities as well as rights; that our destinies are bound together; that a freedom which asks only, what’s in it for me, a freedom without a commitment to others, a freedom without love or charity or duty or patriotism, is unworthy of our founding ideals, and those who died in their defense. As citizens, we understand that America is not about what can be done for us. It’s about what can be done by us, together through the hard and frustrating but necessary work of self-government. That’s what we believe.

These, to me, are genuinely comforting words, much more so than anything about the American Dream, or even about the repeal of DADT. This sounds much more like a nation which is reflective of the communities I actually live in, and the way most of us want to live. The truth is that not all of us — maybe none of us — can make it on our own in the world. And if you buy into the GOP’s brand of conservatism, that means you’re stuck in a weird Catch-22 where not being able to do everything on your own means that you’re not deserving of help. But acknowledging that we have obligations to each other? And that, as Michelle Obama said, if you’ve “walked through that doorway of opportunity… you do not slam it shut behind you, you reach back, and you give other folks the same chances that helped you succeed.”

Obviously the Democratic party isn’t a perfect one, and there are still plenty of things to find issue with. But overall, this message is such a sigh of relief to hear, and sounds so much more like a real human’s ideas as opposed to those of a walking Swiss bank account. I’d be lying if I said my eyes didn’t water a little bit (although Linda Ronstadt’s “Desperado” was also playing on the radio, so that might have been it too). A speech that ends with “We don’t turn back. We leave no one behind. We pull each other up?” Yeah, I’ll take that.

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Rachel is Autostraddle's Senior Editor and the editor who presides over books as well as news and politics coverage. Originally from Boston, MA, Rachel currently lives in Michigan. Her favorite Ciara video is probably "Ride," but if you're only going to watch one, she recommends "Like A Boy."

Rachel has written 737 articles for us.

26 Comments

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      I just roll my eyes at that stuff at this point, if they don’t do it Republicans will pitch a hissy fit and it’ll just be one big derail (similar to their whining about why doesn’t the platform say god in it and the idiocy in the last election about flag lapel pins).

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    Jennifer Granholm’s speech was hilarious to watch, so much fist pumping and pointing.

    Sandra Fluke basically could’ve just said ‘remember Handmaid’s Tale, that’s what they’re trying to do.’ It really felt that like was the undercurrent to her speech.

    I didn’t know that about Deval Patrick and his daughter, that just makes me like him even more.

    I loved Clinton’s speech. People like it when you talk policy and we can understand it too, there’s no need to talk down to the public.

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    “the only person in the entire world who feels weird about our equality as human beings being held up next to the specter of death and US militaristic might with the implication that they are equally desirable things”

    BEAUTIFUL POINT, WELL SAID, AWESOME, ETC.

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    thanks Rachel for another fine article on the political scene… I also really appreciate your letting the complicated feelings stay complicated. And I share in your MA pride! Dittometoo!

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    Nothing about the keynote speaker Julian Castro?? I’m a little hurt partially because he’s the mayor of my hometown San Antonio, but also because he gave an incredible speech!

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    I could barely read the rest of the article I was so preoccupied with the thught that Rachel might hate me – I don’t tip all the time, but only cause I’m from England and we don’t have such a ‘tipping culture’ as you do…

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      Don’t feel too bad, it’s the same here in The Netherlands. I always tipped when in Miami but here they just…don’t…do it! Made me so uncomfortable at first. I tip whenever I’m in the US though.

      Regarding the DNC, I too was made thoroughly happy by Clinton’s speech. I have always admired his ability to sound as though he was just speaking off the top of his head (which majority of the time he is), since it shows a level of respect for his audience that the Repubs don’t ever achieve. It’s funny when they try to emulate him though. Like the rest of the known world, I’ll be bracing myself come November. My dad said he thinks Clinton won it for the Dems, but stranger things have happened (i.e., two-term GW Bush). So as Obama himself says, we’ve come a long way but so much more work to do.

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    To be fair to the RNC’s website issues, a lot of websites have that problem of making it friggin’ impossible to find any of the shit that people ACTUALLY COME THERE FOR, like a lot of restaurants and pretty much every university ever. I think there was a comic on that from xkcd or The Oatmeal…

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    Um, I just have to say that that CareBears analogy in the beginning cracked me up. My 3-year-old is really into CareBears right now, so.

    I totally teared up at both Michelle and the President’s speeches. Just the theme of we’re all in this together and we need to help each other is very moving and inspiring. It’s like the saying “It takes a village to raise a child.” It also takes a community to build a community, and a nation to build a nation. That’s the kind of leadership we need to fix what is wrong with this country.

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