By Marisa Richmond
I have finally returned home from the 2008 Democratic National Convention. There was much speculation in the media, and among many private citizens, over what would happen at this year’s convention. I think it is safe to say that we far exceeded everyone’s expectations for success. I do need to tell you little more about my final day at the DNC before I turn to more general reflections.
The Tennessee breakfast began with former House Majority Leader Kim McMillan of Clarksville, who is running for Governor, saying “Thank you for all you do.” She actually held a reception a day earlier, but virtually all of the delegates missed it since it fell at the same time as the roll call vote for President. I promise I will attend her next free event. She was followed by Senate Democratic Leader Jim Kyle of Memphis who reminded us to “think globally, act locally.” We then had a lineup that included State Rep. Randy Rinks of Savannah, Congressman Steve Cohen, Jerry Martin, newly named State Director of the Obama for President campaign, Justin Wilkins of Chattanooga, and then in an impromptu move as “filler,” former US Senator Jim Sasser, who happened to be sitting at my table. Finally, our keynote speaker, Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut arrived. Noting it was the anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington, he said “We’re not going to fail now.” Then Jerry Lee, President of the AFL-CIO of Tennessee was joined by several union members, some of whom were among the most passionate Clinton delegates. They preached unity, putting the divisions of the primary season behind us. This was brought home by Clinton Superdelegate Vicky Harwell of Pulaski.
As an interesting sidenote, our hotelmates, Pennsylvania, had a pretty big name of their own at their breakfast: Joe Biden. I did not learn the next Vice President had been just down the hall from us until that evening. I do not feel cheated, however, because after breakfast, I had a wonderful conversation with Senator Dodd. He pulled photos of his two daughters out of his pocket to show me as if he was sharing with an old friend he had not seen in awhile. When I noted his oldest daughter had long, basketball player legs and he needed to send her down to Pat Summitt, he straightened up and said, “Oh, no, no, no. Geno Auriemma gets her!” We then began to discuss the great rivalry between the two schools and he shared a story about bringing former Senator Birch Bayh to a UT-UConn game in Hartford so that people could learn about the battle for Title IX. When he said people need to realize that equality doesn’t just happen, people have to fight for it, that was the opening I was looking for. I then told him I was one of 9 transgender delegates at the DNC and we appreciated his vote for the fully inclusive Hate Crimes bill and we will need him on the fully inclusive ENDA, he looked me right in the eye and smiled and said, “Not at all.”
After breakfast, I made my way downtown to attend the Women’s Caucus. As I entered the room, two protesters were being dragged out. For all of the pre convention talk about protesters and PUMA’s, it was fairly quiet with very few incidents. Anyway, the lineup of speakers I heard was very impressive and motivational. I heard Senator Barbara Boxer of California (who described this race as “Hero vs. Zero” on women’s issues), Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schulz of Florida (“There is no choice for women”), Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut. Then came the big name of the day: Michelle Obama. I never saw a room fill up so quickly before. Michelle said that women get things done. There is no force for change more powerful than women connecting with women. When Barack wins, “instead of talking about ‘family values,’ we will have policies that value families.”
With the unenviable task of following Michelle Obama was Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota. She said that when the other side starts throwing slime, “I’m gonna say people who live in 7 houses shouldn’t be throwing stones.” I also heard Congresswomen Kirsten Gillibrand and Louise Slaughter, both of New York.
I then walked two blocks away to the Tennessee luncheon. Walking down the street with me was Bruce Shine of Kingsport. Last week, he was named one of three finalists for the vacant seat on the Tennessee Supreme Court. As we walked, he told me that he had been attending conventions since 1952, when he was a teenaged page working for Estes Kefauver.
The lunch was conducted as a Town Hall Forum featuring Governor Bredesen and Congressman Cooper. The very first question appeared to catch the Governor by surprise. It was about Denver’s excellent light rail system and why Tennessee cannot seem to get on board with commuter rail like the rest of the country with high gas prices and worsening traffic in the big urban areas like Nashville. I hope that the example of Denver, a metropolitan area on slightly larger than Nashville, will help spur our elected officials in Washington and Nashville to action. Other questions mainly revolved around health care and the election. This particular luncheon was sponsored by Motorola, so at the end, I introduced myself to the Motorola rep, Deb Cortright, and told her how important their corporate non-discrimination policy, which has both sexual orientation and gender identity, was since it shows they value the contributions of all LGBT people. She thanked me and said they are proud of their inclusiveness. After a short break to buy some souvenirs, I caught the bus to Mile High Stadium for that incredible final night which I discussed yesterday. It has been 24 hours and I am still stuck on the word awesome. I am so glad I pursued being a delegate and had the honor and privilege of being part of it.
One thing I neglected to mention is that I was able to get three tickets to give to friends. One of my tickets went to a 21 year old college student from Lebanon, Romel McMurry. I meet him earlier this year during the delegate selection process. Even though he was not selected, he showed real enthusiasm and travelled to Denver anyway. I attended my first convention when I was 21 and I always appreciated the support I received from others. Now that I am turning gray, I feel it is important that we encourage youth to become inspired by politics since they are the future of the country. Also, my friend Debbie, who lives locally, was able to get her own ticket and she was way up on the 5th deck. We text messaged each other so I could find her. As I hit send on one message, I looked over the see Governor Deval Patrick of Massachusetts standing less than two feet away. I introduced myself as a transgender delegate and thanked him for working with us through Diego Sanchez. He was incredibly nice and gracious. I may have also been on C-SPAN last night. They had a camera pan the TN delegation during the festivities, but I have not heard from anyone if they saw me. I do, however, have the link to the YouTube clip of my appearance on CNN during the Monday night session at the Pepsi Center:
After Obama’s rousing speech, as I was leaving the Stadium to get to the buses, a person from WPLN in Nashville (90.3 FM) stopped me for a brief interview. I was also interviewed by The Tennessean and Commercial Appeal just before I flew to Denver.
In an earlier post, I did target the transportation system for some criticism. I now wish to retract that criticism. The “problems” on Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday were fairly minor and insignificant. Thursday, on the other hand, it completely broke down. The confusion and chaos in the parking lot as delegates were trying to find buses as we wandered aimlessly with no assistance and no direction was inexcusable. Even the drivers and police officers who were there to protect us called the final night a “nightmare” and were very apologetic. They were very embarrassed at how badly the shift to Mile High Stadium was handled after the bus departures were handled so smoothly from Pepsi Center the first three nights. When I finally made it back to the hotel, the food at the reception was gone and even the Blue Cross Blue Shield reps, who I wanted to talk to about discriminating against transgender people, had already left. We did, however, have one final act. We had taken the Tennessee signs that you may have seen on TV from both Pepsi Center and Mile High Stadium. The Pepsi Center sign was split up into its three separate sides. We all signed all three sides. One will go into the TNDP Headquarters in Nashville and the other two will be auctioned. The sign from the final night was kept intact. We had to sign it one time each, and then, on October 7, we hope to get Barack Obama to sign it when he is in Nashville for the 2nd Presidential debate. That means that my signature and Obama’s will be on the same item through eternity. How cool is that?!
So now, a few final thoughts. When we arrived in Denver, many wondered if the Democratic Party will be able to heal. I believe the answer is a resounding YES. We are a united party ready to go to work. The future of this country is at stake. We have a vision, and the best candidate for both President AND Vice President. Sarah Palin? Are you kidding me? What little has come out about her in the hours since she was introduced as McCain’s running mate should have every Republican running scared. Our VP nominee is actually qualified to be President. As a Clinton delegate, I can tell you we will be out there, if we have not already done so, working to elect Obama and Biden.
When I arrived at the convention, I was given a bag of special 2008 Transgender Delegate buttons that had been made for all of us by Monica Helms of Georgia, and member of the 2004 Transgender Caucus.
One was for me to wear, and the others to give to people I think have done special work on behalf of transgender equality. I still have one I intend to give to one delegate, but the ones I distributed went Congressmen Jim Cooper and Steve Cohen for their support of the fully inclusive Hate Crimes bill and co-sponsoriship of the fully inclusive ENDA which will be back in 2009. Cohen was also the original sponsor of the Birth Certificate bill when he was a State Senator. One went to Cohen’s assistant, Marilyn Dillihay, who has become a good friend. I gave others to Gray Sasser, Chairman of the TNDP, for his commitment to diversity, and David Upton of Memphis, who coordinated putting the slate of Clinton delegates together and made sure that I was one of them, and Memphis Councilwoman Janis Fullilove, for taking the lead in investigating the beating of Duanna Johnson and other transwoman. Janis actually wore her Transgender delegate button in Mile High Stadium for Obama’s speech. I also gave one to my roommate, Sara Kruszka, the other LGBT delegate from Tennessee. She told me that she was so inspired by the LGBT and Women’s Caucuses, she is now thinking of running for office.
This does lead me to one criticism of the Party itself. While the platform, which was passed by voice vote early in the Monday session before I even got to the Pepsi Center, has gender identity in the language, I was very frustrated that we were never mentioned one single time from the podium. In 2004, transgender was mentioned three times. In 2008, that number was zero. We are not invisible in the Democratic Party. We should not be treated as pariahs when we are out there working hard and raising money for pro-equality candidates. I was also disappointed with many of my fellow Tennessee delegates when Senator Obama talked last night about recognizing same-sex couples. Half of us stood and cheered, but half just sat there in stony silence. The Democratic Party cannot expect voters to overcome homophobia or transphobia if its own leaders cannot do the same.
Overall, I had an incredible time in Denver and I have enjoyed this opportunity to share with you, even though I had to stay up until 2 am each day to get my thoughts down. If it inspires you to get more involved, and maybe even run for delegate yourself in 2012, then I have accomplished one of my major goals. As I was on the van to the airport this morning, one person said the Delegate Floor pass from last night is now going for $4000 on E-Bay. That one piece of paper could pay for my trip.
I would like to thank Val Reynolds of Avalon Farmblog for providing me this space. Even though Val and I never did see each other in Denver, I know from her own posts that she had a great time too. Our two perspectives should give a pretty good view of all that happens at a convention.
I want to thank the other blog sites that provided direct links to Avalon Farmblog, or simply copied my posts, so that their readers would see a side of the convention that TV just does not show.
I want to thank my parents for inspiring me to believe that one person can make a difference and teaching me to stand up for what I believe.
I want to thank the Tennessee Democratic Party, and the leadership of the Clinton campaign in Tennessee, which actually selected me to be a delegate.
And I want to thank all of you for reading and thinking that what we do in this election is important.
Now, let’s go win! But first, I really need to catch up on some sleep. 🙂