lessons from America

I was there – Obama @ Invesco stadium

I was there.

I was there to witness history being made.
I was there to celebrate Obama’s nomination with 70,000 Democrats (and a lot of media).
I was there to stand up for change.

I was lucky enough at the last minute to get a pass inside Invesco Field at Mile High, to give the stadium its full name.  Due to the hassles in getting in, I had missed some of the early entertainment and warm-up acts. In fact I heard but not saw the first few speeches whilst in another queue: for hot dogs – one of the ‘healthier’ food options available from the stadium’s catering outlets. Bill Richardson impressed more for his speaking in both English and Spanish than for his content. 

There I found myself inside, only two hours before Obama was due to go stage and officially accept the Democratic party’s nomination as presidential candidate – America’s first black nominee. This was about to the moment I’d been hoping and waiting for. And, even with the hassles of getting in, it was just amazing to actually be there. 

If Denver is the Mile High City, then my seat felt it was located 1.5 miles high. Up in the ‘nose-bleed section’ as someone put it, maybe ten rows from the very top of this 75,0000 capacity stadium. Certainly a wow factor when I first emerged: all those rows of seats, all those people, all that noise. Incredible.

This view directly down to the stage / podium doesn’t do justice to the steep banks of seating all around the stadium or the sheer numbers of people here. But you can see the platforms that each of the TV networks had set up to use as their studios, housing their teams of commentators and analysts covering proceedings live (and probably often talking over the speeches!)

I took my seat just in time to see Stevie Wonder … and one of the big crescendos of excitement within the stadium. “Signed, sealed and delivered” was Barack’s signature tune during the primaries, played immediately after he finished his speeches. Very moving seeing it performed live, and a cue for lots of dancing and flag-waving.

Al Gore took to the podium to thunderous applause. He seemed genuinely touched and pleased with his reception. Like Kerry the night before, here was a Democrat presidential candidate who is more popular and better at delivering speeches at this Convention than in the one in which he was nominated.

As the sun set behind the stadium …

Veep candidate Joe Biden stepped out. He is loving this Convention; and people here are loving him back. Quite a short speech by Biden, more putting in an appearance and pushing home a few well crafted attacks on Bush-McCain then anything more substantial. But he’d done the heavy-lifting on Wednesday.


Interestingly, there seemed to be many more African-Americans in the audience than I’d seen at events and in crowds in the preceding days.

August 30, 2008 Posted by | Denver Diary | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Denver Diary – Thu 28 Aug

Protests, marches, queues, crowds and speeches sums up my day.  Sunburn and aching feet too, but they are hazards of the job. More soon, just some sleep needed first.

Update: here’s my story from this historic day, as promised. 

I had somewhere to be this morning: a locally-organised Obama march. As I wasn’t expecting to get into Invesco stadium for the Obama rally later in the day, I wanted to at least meet some non-Convention Obama supporters and also participate myself in a show of solidarity. The added bonus was that the march route would take me to the gates of the stadium – so I’d get a chance to see the venue and maybe some of the early build-up the evening’s rally.

The starting point for the march was Lincoln Park – another base for ‘Recreate 68’ activities. Arrived just as another march was coming to its destination at the park and turning into a rally with music and speeches. As far as I could tell, the main protest was about the treatment of immigrants, but there were some other elements too. Never worked out what the ‘constitution group’ was all about though, but it was a pretty impressive piece of protest artwork.


In one corner of the park, conspicuously separate from the other activities going on, were a group of Obama supporters gathering for the march. Some people, including these two women from the Denver area, had made their own, personal and meaningful placards. The organisers had also made handmade signs for those of us who arrived empty-handed.


And so, a group of maybe 50 of us set off, led by the‘Obama-car’ – the ultimate in fan-modding! Being an officially-sanctioned march along the designated parade route, the main highway (Colfax) was closed in one direction for us, and so we had a traffic-free and rather pleasant walk towards the stadium. En route there was plenty of cheering and placard-waving as the oncoming traffic generally responded positively and honked their horns or waved at us. I chatted to a couple of the marchers: locals who were supporting Obama for foreign policy, pro-science and ’change’ reasons. Not everyone was true believers: at least one had been a Hillary supporter and against Obama before he was for him.


The march took us round the outer perimeter of Invesco stadium and to the ‘protest pen’ – a sea of chainlink fences set out in a parking lot. Once there, a few words of thanks were given and the organiser ended with a pro-Obama rap which he had first seen on Youtube. It was a much lower key, smaller event than I had been hoping for; but it was rather moving to see these ‘ordinary folks’ (as opposed to the politicos / hardcore activists) so fired up and self-mobilising.


Since I was now in spitting distance of Invesco (a not advisable activity given the amount of police), I wanted to hang around there, awaiting news of whether my ticket quest had been successful. So to kill time I had a look at all the merchandise stalls – some crazy stuff being sold, most of which I avoided buying.


Finally at 2pm the call came in to say my new mate from Indiana had come up trumps with a pass for me. Still scope for problems though. My guy didn’t arrive to the vicinity of the stadium til after 5pm and then headed to a completely separate entrance from me This was after I’d done my fair share of queuing and hanging around in the hot sun. In the end the ticket was left with a volunteer called Abi, who was checking passes. I had to first jog a mile or so to find her checkpoint and then ask around to work out who she was. Such a relief to finally locate her – and my pass.

In the meantime the crowds and the queues kept on growing. I hadn’t experienced anything like that mass of people trying to get into one place since my 8 hour madness waiting in line to file past the Queen Mum’s coffin! The Brits did it better on that occasion. For here the DNC seemed to have under-estimated the logistical challenges, especially the hot weather and miles of queues. It took several hours for free water to start to be provided, and little provision seemed to be in place for those with mobility issues or who didn’t have the stamina to queue.

August 29, 2008 Posted by | Denver Diary | , , , , | Leave a comment

Denver Diary – Wed 27 Aug

For my liveblogging of the evening’s Convention proceedings / speeches and reaction from the Big Tent, see here

Updated text with photos:

Another lazy morning (I blame the altitude!) before heading off to the area around the capitol building to see if there were any protestors about.


I was in luck, big time.  I arrive just as the ‘Green-Black’ environmental protest march gets properly going.  Since it was part of the ‘recreate-68’ set of activities, this was no fluffy march, but a bit more serious and radical.  But good-natured and peaceful all the same, even if many of the participants wore bandanas around their faces and were dressed in (as the event’s name suggests) green and black. 


I felt a wave of nostalgia as I joined in step with the protestors; and my journalistic, photo-snapping approach had to compete with joining in the chants and cheers/jeers and being one of the gang.  I snapped out of this when, along the crowded 16th Street Mall, Hunter spotted me and called out my name.  He and his work colleagues were on their way to lunch and had stopped off to see the ‘show’.  He also guessed that he might find me in the midst of it. I’m glad some things don’t change.


Along the 16th Street Mall (Downtown’s semi-pedestrianised area), there were plenty of placard-waving individuals and campaigns giving out literature.  Peace-activists, conspiracy-theorists, religious fundamentalists all competing for our attention.  And so was this rather bizarre campaign against “bird porn”.  Look up their website.  I can’t tell if it’s a joke or not.


I struggled in my Obama merchandise shopping as the official Obama store will only allow US citizens to buy stuff – you have to sign a form, as the money is treated as a campaign donation.  I did eventually find a woman who was kind enough to do the transaction on my behalf, but its a bit frustrating. There are lots of people in London wanting to proclaim their support for Obama and give visual reminders to the Americans in the city of the way we encourage them to vote.


I also came across a fantastic Google stall, showing off how it is harnessing its googlemaps technology to provide a website where people can find out their nearest polling station and get an interactive map which shows no just its location but other useful electoral and civic data on it.

Big Tent time and a panel session on attitudes to foreign policy with Geoff Garin (who took over the polling side of Hillary’s campaign towards the end) and Solana from OpenDemocracy and other international blogs.

Even the Big Tent wasn’t immune to being a protest site, with this group of mums staging a demo outside – not only to influence people inside the Tent but also in the hope of attracting the attention of the media who were covering proceedings and conducting interviews with bloggers throughout the day.


I returned to the main area of the Tent just in time for the end of the roll call and to see history made, with Nancy Pelosi officially declaring Obama as the party’s nominee.  Emotional scenes on screen and in the tent.

Afterwards, in the lull before the evening’s big speeches, I caught up with Athenae (here being interview by a fellow blogger).

One person who came over and chatted to me was a marketeer from the micro-brewery which is producing ‘Participation Lager’ – a special beer and voter registration / turnout campaign aimed at twenty-somethings in the run-up to the election. He promised to send me a real sample (rather than this empty bottle), so who knows I may even be able to update with a taste test too.

 Senator Jon Tester of Montana – a darling of the netroots – made a visit to the Tent and was duly mobbed and feted and interview by a crowd of bloggers.

For my liveblogging of the evening’s Convention proceedings / speeches (including Obama’s ‘surprise’ appearance at the end alongside his running mate Joe Biden) and reaction from the Big Tent, see here  

Making an appearance in the Tent at the end of the evening was the online editor of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.  He was very interested in UK politics, so I sadly didn’t get much of an opportunity to quiz him about his job and how he sees the next months and years panning out. 

I missed the chance to get to the Denver Drinking Liberally social, as the taxis left without me.  So instead I walked round the corner and to MSNBC’s ‘studio’  where they were broadcasting live, conducting their post-speech analysis.  Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews were on the second floor of the ingenious structure and Rachel Maddow, Pat Buchanan et al were on the first floor, separated from the noisy, placard-waving crowd by a matter of metres.  No glass, walls or any other partitions.  A great atmosphere.  And to top it all off at the end Chris Matthews comes down and goes around the crowd asking questions and signing autographs.  I will cherish my Big Tent pass even more now, as on the reverse now is Chris’s signature.


One of the spectators, trying to get his handiwork featured, was this artist who created Obama planters and other objects.

I finished off the night (and into the morning) at my usual hang-out of Tyler’s champagne bar.  Just hanging out chatting to various locals and delegates, and soaking up the atmosphere.

August 28, 2008 Posted by | Denver Diary | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Denver Diary – Tuesday 26 Aug

A slow start to the day, feeling the effects of the night before and all my blogging.  At lunchtime I made my way to downtown Denver, to the Sheraton Hotel, for the Emily’s List reception. 

On the way I took this photo of the Denver skyline – a reminder if ever I needed one of the differences with the UK:

Emily’s List is the organisation that not just pushes for more women in politics and elected office but raises money for pro-choice female Democratic candidates.  “Early money is like yeast – it makes the dough rise” is their famous slogan and where their name comes from.  Their event is one of the biggest and most high profile at Convention.  $50 was the price of basic entry which I had to stump up (via a sponsor).  All these occasions are treated as fundraisers as well as having political and social purposes.

You can read what I thought of the event and the main speeches here 

Hillary was the one people had been waiting for:


You can see how far back us plebs who only donated $50 for the privilege of getting in were located. The VIPs who donated lots more money get to go in a reserved area closer to the stage.

Michelle Obama was my favourite – I’ve really warmed to her:


Hillary’s supporters were out in force in the room:


But there were plenty of people there happy to proclaim their Obama support, including this woman with the wonderful t-shirt ‘grandparents for Obama’.

And so to outside and the myriad protests which were going in the full public glare. First, the ‘nut jobs’: 


Then the fluffy ones:


But competing for my – and everyone else’s – attention (and winning) were the amazing array of merchandising stalls, official and unofficial, along 16th Street Mall.  I found some upmarket Obama and McCain dolls for sale … and got shouted out by the storeowner for taking a picture of them.


The walk through downtown took a long longer than it should have done, but I finally made it to the Bus Project’s ‘Trick or Vote’ reception.  It’s an awesome idea: door-to-door youth voter registration and turnout push on Halloween, just days before the election.  Americans take Halloween so much more seriously than us in terms of the dressing up. And that was proved at this reception, where along with the usual scary monsters, we had Roger and Jessica Rabbit helping out:


Leaving with my goodie bag (contents were everything you’d expect from the party’s theme), I walked the one block to the Big Tent; where I ended up spending most of the evening.

Over dinner, I happened to be sitting opposite Nate, which was a great piece of luck as I’d so far failed to track him down.  Nate is the founder of the fivethirtyeight blog – the one which I have drawn inspiration from for this blog.  After doing my bit of idol worship, we then chatted about UK politics, electoral reform and polling.  Unsurprisingly, Nate is not a huge fan of the national popular vote (the reform of the electoral college gaining some ground), as it would mean the redundancy or wholesale change of a large chunk of the innovative analysis he does.  I wasn’t the only fan who interuppted Nate’s attempts to blog the Convention’s proceedings:


When the main podium speeches started, and so did my liveblogging. You can read my efforts to tell the tale of the evening here .

Returning from the Pepsi Center after the speeches had finished, the West Virginia state blogger gave us his take on Hillary’s speech and on Applachian feeling towards Obama – almost all of the delegation had swung behind him and were preparing to cast their votes for him at the nomination roll call.  The blogger also spotted something which hadn’t been picked up upon as far as I was aware: the placards they were given in the hall had Hillary’s website on it and when you clicked on it you went straight through to her donation page.  Could this have been a very clever strategy of the Obama campaign to help the efforts to retire Hillary’s campaign debt?


After some late night comedy in the Big Tent, courtesy of some of the stars from Saturday Night Live, and similar outfits, I hit the pavements and headed home.  On the way I passed delegates clutching their placards and banners – nightly souvenirs.  Fittingly, some people were holding both the Obama and Hillary ones: a sign of unity that encapsulated the evening’s proceedings and the real mood; even if the traditional media were still desparately trying to push the splits story when it wasn’t there.

August 27, 2008 Posted by | Denver Diary | , , , , | Leave a comment

Denver Diary – Mon 25 Aug

“This November again the torch will be passed to a new generation of Americans.”  Wow. Deep intake of breath time.  There could only be one man alive who could so meaningfully invoke JFK’s famous image, and that man is Senator Edward Kennedy. Here in Denver tonight we have witnessed something special in terms of Democratic history, dynasty and symbolism.

But first back to the beginning of the day. I walked down 16th Street Mall and here are some of the sights and merchandise I passed, including that infamous Obama action doll.




And so to the Big Tent. 


Here are some views of the hive of activity, networking and blogging that is the ground floor:


People I chatted to today included the official Maine State blogger and a precinct captain from Pasedena, California.


I also attended several sessions upstairs at the Digg Stage.  A veritable who’s who of progressive politics and community-building, including Markos, Arianna Huffington, John Podesta et al.  Surprisngly, these events weren’t as well attended as I expected and that they merited.


Away from the hall, I did a radio interview with a New York progressive radio station WBAI 99.5FM.  They have a news show called ‘Building Bridges’ and they asked me to give a UK perspective on the Convention so far and on my impressions of the US progressive movement.  I was on with two other bloggers / non-profit campaigners and the entire thing lasted 20 mins.

Then it was back to the Tent for dinner and following the coverage of the opening night of the Convention. Teddy Kennedy’s speech was so emotional.  The crowd in the Big Tent was applauding and shouting.  The crowd in the Convention Hall (on screen sadly) went just wild.  Senator Edward Kennedy’s live appearance and speech was powerful stuff, full of poignancy and meaning.  He even promised he’ll be on the Senate floor come January. 

Michelle Obama tugged at different heartstrings. Sitting in front of me in the Big Tent three Chicago natives whooped it up at her entrance.  There were big cheers when Michelle mentioned (and praised) Hillary – the “18 million cracks on the glass ceiling”.  Someone pipped up “that’ll be the only story tonight … she mentioned Hillary”.  Cue lots of laughs.  It got qute buzzy; the speech went down very well, aided probably by the free beers at the Big Tent. And with a crescendo of phrases that echoed her husband’s soaring rhetoric and campaign messages she ended her speech … and the screams and applause continued for a quite a while.


The humanising of Barack, projecting him as an ordinary guy for those people who still see him as elitist and out-of-touch, then went into absolute overdrive. Immediately after Michelle’s speech you had a live video link up with Barack.  Michelle and the kids on stage, Barack on the screen.  Sasha and Malia talking to their dad, we all went “ahh, that is so sweet” and laughed and cooed and cheered. It seemed so natural, so happy families, so cheesy, apple-pie ‘American’.  It was a winner here in the Tent.  It seems to be a winner on the blogs. And I reckon it is likely a vote winner more widely; a step towards that goal of the Obama’s becoming the First family. 

Back to my evening. I finally made it out of the Tent and back to my host’s watering hole, the champagne bar where Tyler works.  The alcohol flowed into our glasses and beautiful people flowed through the door.  But politics wasn’t entirely absent …



August 26, 2008 Posted by | Denver Diary | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Big Tent ahoy

I’ve finally arrived at the Big Tent.  Its an absolute hive of activity here.  People, computers, screens, cameras, mobile phones everywhere. Just trying to get my bearings and find my feet. Also got to do prep for a radio interview I’m doing later.  5.30pm Mountain Time. With progressive program ‘Building Bridges’ over at radio station WBAI 99.5FM in New York. 

On my way here, walking down the 16th street mall, the merchandise stalls were already out in force.  Obama dolls was the best thing on offer, but at $15 I skipped that for now.  Badges, t-shirts, posters, freebies, discounts at fast food joints were all being pushed.

August 25, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Denver Diary – Sun 24 Aug

Up in the Rocky mountains for me today.  Breckenridge, Loveland and a few scenic stops en route.  Went with Hunter, my Denver flatmate / host, and his girlfriend Jordi.  Altitude sickness didn’t hit me too bad and it was a lovely day.


In the evening I made my way to the Young Democrats party, in a club just south of the capitol building.  Lively event certainly.  I met a fellow Big Tent-er, and some local journalists.  One was covering the Colorado delegation and said that they were not looking forward to the protests starting tomorrow.  One of their number was going to meet with the protestors and the journo was going to go along too, with seeming trepidation.

I ended up hanging out with a couple of locals. I say locals, but they were East Coast girls who had moved to the Denver area within the past year. Not political at all, but just really excited by the range of people coming into town and the oomph and diversity of the Democrat crowd.  Inevitably, they were starting to be caught up in the Obama infectiousness and so I wouldn’t be surprised if they voted Democrat come the Fall. 

Just as I left the club, a team of artists were plastering a nearby wall with the iconic Obama ‘hope’ posters.  Cue a queue for photo opportunities, which I duly got sucked into.


August 25, 2008 Posted by | Denver Diary | , , , , , | Leave a comment

An African perspective

Back home in England, two sets of good friends got married today. I chose to be in Denver and with the Democrats at this time, but it still makes me a little sad to be missing these happy occasions and time spent with friends.  So mazel tov and I’m thinking of you Danny, and Arry & Keith. 

But something does connect these friends, Denver and Obama: Africa.  Africans. And the audacity of hope.  Arry I first met whilst living in Tanzania; Keith when campaigning on drop the debt and other international social justice issues; and Danny on the British Council’s Interaction leadership programme, which has at its heart the philosophy of ubuntu and the celebration of what’s good from and we can learn from the continent.

Danny and I spent a week in Zambia, attending a conference with 200 community leaders from across Africa.  That was back last October, and already the positive support for Obama amongst the delegates there was papable.  They were proud of Obama – his Kenyan roots, his dark skin – and they were excited by his message.  And the ‘audacity of hope’ that Obama wrote about was very much part of their lives and resonated hugely with them. 

 That overwhemingly positive reaction continues to this day.  Even the Senegalese taxi driver who i just got a lift from this evening enthused about Obama and the opportunities that his presidency might open up – in foreign relations, in community relations, and in the self-worth (and maybe even real-worth) of Africans.

August 25, 2008 Posted by | global perspective, the world wants obama | , , , , | Leave a comment

Denver Diary – Sat 23 August

My first root beer float.  That’s a good abiding memory to have of a day.  Photo will come, but need to download it from my phone.  The other great part of that brunch dining experience was the free shots of whisky (and ginger ale chasers) from the diner / bar where we ate.  My hosts are regulars there, so they get good treatment. 

And then, after an afternoon of relaxing, it was time to head to my first – and one of the only – big sponsored offical Convention events I am able to go to.  This one was the Media Welcome Party / celebrate the host city party. My flatemate’s father is a journo and had a spare pass to it, which I eagerly accepted.  The event took place in Elitch Gardens, a theme park adjacent to Downtown Denver.  Opened up to delegates / the media for the evening, with free food and alcohol, free goes on some of the rides and games, street theatre and entertainment, plus a concert too. Awesome.  The Obama influence / effect was perhaps responsible for the inclusion of an acrobatic dance troupe from Kenya.


Official proceedings in the arena kicked off with the National Anthem.

Then time for speeches from the dignataries.  A veritable who’s who of Colorado’s finest politicians – Senator Ken Salazar, Governor Bob Ritter and Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper – and a good reminder of the recent Democrat success in this State.


And then on to the part that many of the locals had been waiting for: a live concert by the very talented, wonderfully political and progressive and recently signed (and hopefully breaking into the big time) Denver band ‘The Flobots’.  Top show by them. Hip-hop with political lyrics, and the bonus of a violinist to soften the musical edge and give the tunes a different flavour.  The Flobots have a new fan in me … and in many of the non-Coloradan residents at the show who had never heard them before.


Towards the end of the concert there was an impromptu audience chant of yes we can

The evening’s programme ended with a firework display, though the drinking and eating and funfair rides continued for a while longer.

August 24, 2008 Posted by | Denver Diary, Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Biden not bed

And so I stayed up for several hours awaiting the official annoucement – and media reaction – to Obama’s picking of a Vice Presidential candidate.  Eventhough it looked like it might be Biden for the past few days, I still wanted to wait up to hear the news.  So that’s what I did.  Though interestingly CNN kept on repeating that it had the info from Democratic sources speaking on anonymity, even quite a while after the Obama campaign had confirmation and updated Obama-Biden images on its site. 

So what do I think of Obam’s decision.  in truthm,  I am a bit disappointed that he picked Biden. Not because there is anything wrong with him (and that Neil Kinnock quote was a one time failure to acknowledge his source, not exactly a major misdemeanour).  In fact the more I read about Biden the more impressed I am with him as a person and as a politician.  [That has increased many-fold after his performance and words at Springfield, Illinois this afternoon at his first official appearance with Obama).
But I guess I was hoping for someone that was more outside Washington or a bit more of a risk; someone who resonated more with Obama’s new politics.  But that idealistic scenario may not have been a runner.
I agree that someone who had been a governor or had direct financial management experience may have been a good idea given the current economic crunch.  (NB that’s not on Hillary’s resume either).  But there are signs that the US economy is stablising.  And the root causes of many of the economic problems are geo-political ones – oil, conflict, power struggles – so Biden is going to be well suited to dealing with those.

My worry is that Obama seems to be being hurt by being portrayed by the Republicans being aloof, cocky, overly intelligent etc.  That old ‘who would you most want to have a beer / bbq with?’ test.  I’m not convinced Biden helps him there, but again the more I see of him the better I feel. 

August 24, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment