Written by
Peggy Sands Orchowski

the hispanic outlook in higher education magazine 2016 issue

I’ve had time now to consider lessons I learned after attending the back-to-back Republican and Democratic conventions in Cleveland and Philadelphia this summer. The differences were clear how the republicans and the democrats organized their agendas and their conventions. Is that a clue how they might govern if elected? 

Each convention offered immediate enduring impressions. 

In Republican Cleveland, the biggest impression was the overwhelming presence of thousands of multi-generational law enforcement officers from city and county police agencies across the country. They were armed but friendly. Demonstrations were peaceful. Many pedestrians with delegate credentials around their necks, took selfies with smiling protesters and cops. The GOP message: public safety and law and order. 

“Small government” operations also was a lesson in Cleveland. There were no official RNC [Republican National Committee] activities until the late afternoon. Credentialed conventionees could easily attend thinktank and media events in town and then access the convention arena by foot, taxi or streams of official busses. After detailed security clearance by black uniformed Secret Service agents, once inside the “Q” convention arena there was little

evidence of controls by the RNC or Trump staffs. 
Anyone could visit “Radio Row” and perhaps be interviewed by the some 100 radio talk show hosts ensconced there 18 hours a day after gavel-in at 4 p.m.; the convention program seemed often to be spontaneously organized with sudden appearances of barely announced guests, largely unknown to the national media. 

The loud floor protests by the “Never Trump” delegates of course flummoxed Trump delegates. But when asked, a Virginia delegate told me “this is what democracy looks like.” 

Outside and inside the convention hall, my overall impression was minimal party control and lots of law enforcement presence. Is this how the Trump administration would govern?

It was quite the opposite at the Democratic convention in Philadelphia. Uniformed police presence was relatively non-existent. But inside the convention arena, there were hundreds of eager friendly DNC volunteers from across the country. Unfortunately, few if any of them could give accurate information about the fairly horrendous convention logistics.

Getting to the convention at the Wells Fargo gigantic sports arena eight miles from downtown was difficult. Delegates and media could only enter its perimeter via official busses. The arena was surrounded by eight foot fencing a good mile away with only one secured access point for press and delegates. Once cleared, attendees including handicapped delegates then had to walk almost a mile of empty pavement to get to the arena. The few golf carts were reserved for DNC [Democratic National Committee] VIPs and guests of national TV media CNN and MSNBC. Twice I was caught in heavy rain downpours, struggling to walk alongside delegates in wheelchairs – all of us soaking wet!

Protestors had no physical – visible or audio even – contact to delegates around the arena. Two teachers from New Jersey told me that they walked eight miles with their students in 99 degree muggy heat from Philadelphia Hall to the arena on Monday. They were upset to be stopped by the fences a mile away in sheets of rain. 

Unlike the RNC, however, the DNC organized multiple workshops focused on issues of blacks, Latinos, gays, women and other DNC ID target groups. At the massive conference center, however, there was no place for caucus attendees to sit, eat or rest. There was, however, an almost empty second floor area of fine tables, chairs and sofas, but it was reserved exclusively for DNC VIPs. Gatekeeper volunteers shooed everyone else away.

The democrats’ Radio Row was also very controlled. While dozens of talk radio hosts were allowed to set up directly next to the entrance of the convention center for maximum visibility, who they were allowed to interview was tightly vetted and controlled by designated DNC “bookers.” Their priority: only DNC “surrogates.” Two bookers told me that radio show hosts who did not abide by the DNC guest vetting would be kicked off Radio Row.

The democrats’ highly professional convention evening program featured Democratic and Hollywood stars, unlike the GOP’s. It was clearly polished, controlled, orchestrated and staged from the top. But it also evolved. On the last day, American flags appeared on stage; a memorial to fallen police officers and a speech by a Muslim parent of a fallen U.S. soldier were suddenly included. The firing and immediate disappearance of long-time party leader Debbie Wasserman-Schultz was not fully explained. 

My impression of the Democratic convention then was one of a politically strategic TV-oriented tightly controlled event by top DNC operatives with visible privileges. The majority of delegates were minorities: 25 percent black; 62 percent female. Operations were carried out by a mass of enthusiastic, college-educated, ideological, ethnically diverse but mainly female, uniformed, volunteer, unpaid gate-keepers and minders. There was almost no sign of law enforcement officials anywhere.

It may be how the democrats will govern. •