By Marisa Richmond
It seems everyday, I remember something from the previous day which I forgot to mention. Last night, as I arrived on the floor, Babs Casbar, a transgender delegate from New Jersey came by to talk. While we were chatting, I looked up to see Amanda Simpson jumping across the rows to join us. So Tennessee “hosted” an impromptu transgender caucus on the floor. I have had other opportunities to chat with other trans delegates on the floor (Laura Calvo of Oregon, Vanessa Foster of Texas, and, even though she decided not to associate with the rest of us, Marti Abernathy of Indiana). I also lent my floor pass to 2 TN alternates so they could get down on the floor while I walked around the upper reaches of the Pepsi Center. Alternates don’t get seats, so they have to sit up in the third deck unless a delegate trades credentials to allow them to get downstairs. I wanted to allow others to have that experience.
Now, on to Wednesday. Our breakfast speakers today were Congressman John Tanner, the only TN Democratic Congressman I had not previously met, and US Senate candidate Bob Tuke. Tuke faces an uphill battle to unseat Lamar Alexander, but if he can pull it off, he will be a great Senator for TN and the nation.
After breakfast, we did, however, have some fireworks. The Clinton delegates held a “five minute” meeting to discuss the roll call vote today. The meeting was chaired by Sylvia Woods from Knoxville. She started by saying just 6 hours earlier, she decided to do something she never thought she would do, she was going to vote for Obama. Several immediately jumped and started screaming at her calling her act a “betrayal”, demanding she resign as a Clinton Whip, and insisting that our whip had to be elected. Our meeting was open & several reporters were in the room, so I am not revealing any insider information. This primary process has been painful for those of us who are African American women who have had our loyalties and priorities challenged, regardless of who we supported, so it was very difficult to listen to the anger in the room, which one delegate described as “hatred.” Another claimed that Democrats don’t hate anybody. Well….
Anyway, our “5 minute” meeting lasted approximately 30. We were told in the end to vote our conscience, which happens to be the way it is always done. When it was finally over, after many ruffled feathers, hurt feelings, and even a few tears, we went and filled out the paper forms casting our recorded votes. When I got on the elevator to go back to my room, I turned to see PA Gov. Ed Rendell getting on right behind me. I immediately introduced myself and thanked him for his wonderful remarks yesterday. He said, “we have a great affinity for Tennessee!”
Because of the length of the caucus, I never made it to the 2nd African American Caucus as I had hoped. I was especially looking forward to getting close to the special speaker: Michelle Obama. Instead, I just rode on the bus with most of the rest of the TN delegation to our lunch at the Denver Art Museum sponsored by Corrections Corporation of America. The speaker was Governor Bredesen and we were then entertained by a singer named Lance Miller (who had free CD’s on the tables). Lance jokingly noted that the sponsor was a Republican. 🙂 While I was unable to stay long enough to get a free tour of the museum which I had hoped to do, I did have one very funny experience. When I went to wash my hands in the Ladies’ Room, I placed my hands under the motion detector for the faucet, & it started playing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.” With each sink in use, it produced quite a symphony!
Being at the TN luncheon forced me to miss two events: Day of Service and the 2nd LGBT Caucus. The Day of Service allowed many to volunteer in the community. The TN assignment was to help clean a local park. My roommate Sara did sign up for it, but the bus never showed to take them there. At the LGBT Caucus, the Transgender Caucus planned to award the 2nd Jane Fee Award for work on behalf of the transgender community. Jane was the 1st openly transgender delegate at the DNC in 2000 from Minnesota. Before that, the WWII veteran worked to make MN’s non-discrimination law the first in the nation to be fully inclusive back in 1993, a full year before ENDA was first introduced without “gender identity” in it. We had actually planned to give it on Monday, but that meeting ran very long and we were bumped to today. Although several of us could not be present today, we had voted to give it to Rick Stafford a DNC member from, ironically, Minnesota, who was instrumental in helping integrate trans activists into the delegations and committees.
When I left the TN luncheon, I walked around to a special Reception for Clinton delegates to meet Senator Clinton. What happened instead is that they simply threw the doors open to everyone, so it lost its special status for those of us who are here who worked for her & worked to be selected to represent those 18 million cracks in the glass ceiling around the country. After her speech, where she officially “released” us, she walked around a rope shaking hands, signing autographs, and posing for pictures. I tried hard to get to her, but the crowd was just too big. My friend Veronika, asked me to give Hillary a special gift. I will try again tomorrow.
After the reception, I walked around the corner to Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., with Pat Branham, a delegate from Chattanooga. She wanted a drink & a small bite to eat. While we were waiting for our order, we noticed on MSNBC that the Roll Call was about to start. Since we both wanted to be on the floor when that happened, we quickly asked for to-go boxes & ran out of there. We made ourselves look a bit silly eating hush puppies & onion rings on the bus (which may have been against the rules, but we “forgot” to ask….), but nobody complained.
We arrived at the Pepsi Center as DC was voting. I dropped my bag in a seat & ran down by the TN microphone so I would have a good spot when we got on TV. The TNDP Chair, Gray Sasser, had a special guest sitting there: his father, former US Senator, and Ambassador to China, Jim Sasser. I eventually got a photo with the two of them. By now, you know that the TN vote was not cast on TV because, as part of the compromise to move the schedule along, Senator Clinton came in dramatically to cast the vote for NY, and she moved to stop the roll call & nominate Barack Obama by acclimation. We voted overwhelmingly by voice and with that, we made HISTORY. Tonight, the Democratic Party became the first major party to nominate an African American to the President of the United States. Growing up, I often wondered if I would live long enough to see this moment, and there I was shouting at the top of my lungs to make it happen! And though TN did not get to read off our vote, if you are interested, the official vote here was 51 for Obama, 32 for Clinton, and 2 Not Voting.
After the roll call, we settled in for the moving speeches, which, to me, were highlighted by Bill Clinton, John Kerry, Tammy Duckworth, and Joe Biden. As Biden’s speech was about to end, I received a text message from Nashville saying the networks were reporting Barack was backstage about to come out. That only added to the excitement of the moment.
I have done a lot of things I have been proud of, but this night was truly historic and it is such an incredible, indescribable feeling to have been a part of it. We then left the Pepsi Center for the last time.
For those of you who prefer celebrity sightings to politics, Monday, I saw Dan Rather, Tuesday, Ashley Judd walked by TN, and tonight I saw Chevy Chase. Of course, I have seen lots of famous reporters, but they are working, so they don’t really count. 🙂
I ended the evening at a special TN reception hosted by FedEX featuring Memphis BBQ, which they absolutely, positively had shipped in fresh, in, are you ready?, the clubhouse level at Coors Field along the right field line. It was just a beautiful setting, but half of the attendees arrived at Last Call since many of us walked over a mile to avoid the horrendous traffic. Denver is one of the prettiest cities in the country, and people here have been just wonderfully friendly to us, but the traffic as been terrible & the transportation had just been woefully inadequate.
When I got back to the hotel, Sara informed me about the death of Civil Rights Activist Del Martin in San Francisco, just weeks after she was finally able to marry her partner of over 50 years Phyllis Lyon. I am glad she lived long enough to realize her dream. When MA cast its vote today, they mentioned they were the first in the nation with Marriage Equality. I applauded very loudly in front of the entire TN delegation to remind them that the Democratic Party is supposed to be the party that fights FOR everyone’s rights, and not be an obstacle to them.
Tomorrow is the final day when we hear Obama’s speech at Mile High Stadium. I have just learned that Stevie Wonder is the special entertainment. The delegates will actually be on the floor of the field. Focus on the Family is praying for rain.
And one final thing as I finish this, my roommate Sara ran into the room to grab something. She said the TN & CT Hospitality Rooms are combining into one big party. Now I know the thin air must be getting to me. It is so uncharacteristic of me to forget about something as basic as an open bar….
See you tomorrow.