Democratic Convention: Day One

While serving as a Democratic delegate in Charlotte, I’ll do my best to share a few observations about the experience for those who are interested back home. The main event doesn’t get underway until tomorrow, so today is mainly about exploring and waiting.

I am writing from within the Time-Warner Arena, which is fully decked out for the convention. Video screens everywhere, mainly in muted blues, sort of a tasteful interior version of Times Square. It’s smaller and more intimate than I had expected. On Thursday, when the President speaks, we’ll move to the much larger Bank of America stadium.

For now, the arena is occupied with staffers and members of the media, busy making preparations, testing the audio systems, adjusting the monitors, etc. The seats in the stands are mostly empty, giving everything a calm before the storm quality — and also affording me a chance to take this photo alongside the New York sign. That may be the closest I get to the sign all week!

Our state’s delegation, by the way, has been situated in the farthest reaches of the arena, wedged between Alabama and Arkansas, but I expect we’ll be able to see everything just fine.

I began the morning with other New Yorkers at an official breakfast at a Doubletree Hotel about six miles from the convention center. Shuttle buses provide continuous transportation back and forth, but I decided to walk instead, figuring it would give me a chance to explore Charlotte a bit. It’s pretty hot and humid, so I am a little wilted now, but I don’t regret the choice. It’s interesting to see how the pieces of the city fit together, and you can appreciate the texture of neighborhoods more fully on foot than through a bus window. Some highlights: an impressive greenway created by the county government alongside a restored stream, some very stately boulevards (think Pinebrook, except lined with $2 million homes), and then a transition to the downtown area (which is called “uptown”).

The downtown itself is crawling with security and largely walled off from the public. My delegate credentials allowed me access, but the area still has a slightly eerie, hollowed-out quality. Not surprising, and probably necessary, but it still feels strange that a ritual of democracy is held in an atmosphere of authoritarian lockdown.

In thinking about the Convention in recent days — and now being here — I am continuously struck by the tension between the insubstantiality of the event itself and the importance of the larger process it serves. We all recognize that conventions have lost their historical purpose. And I don’t kid myself: as a delegate, my function is to serve as a prop in a television production. But the stakes in the election are so enormous and the contrast between the values and programs of the Presidential candidates so large, that I do believe there is value in an event that communicates a governing vision in a fashion that is sustained and attention-grabbing. In that sense, I am proud to be here and to play my (very little) part.

That’s it for now. I’ll try to check in again later in the week.