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    Philadelphia Bound

    Zoe Dunning

    Zoe Dunning

    Funny hats. Large signs. Colorful buttons. Names of far-away states in vertical lettering on giant poles. Red, white and blue balloons and streamers. These are my memories as a child watching the party conventions on television. I always wondered, “Who are these people? Where do they come from? Why are they there? What do they do there?” This year, I get to discover the answers to these questions—next week I will be one of those strange people on the floor of a far-away sports arena, cheering politicians and celebrities as they address the crowd and the television cameras.

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    The 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia promises to be historic. On July 28, Secretary Hillary Clinton will become the first woman in United States history to become a major party’s nominee for President. I will be attending as one of her pledged District Delegates, representing the Congressional Dis-trict of Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi’s (a history maker in her own right as the first wo-man Speaker of the House).

    The process for selecting the delegates for a party convention is long and bureaucratic and complex. The national party, the DNC, determines how many delegates each state brings to the convention, based on the number of registered Democrats in that state. For California, there are 546 delegates who must be evenly split between women and men. There are pledged and un-pledged delegates; the unpledged are often referred to as “Super Delegates” because they can decide for themselves which candidate they support, right up to the last minute. The pledged delegates must declare their allegiance before they are selected and must stick to their candidate at the convention.

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    Every state’s delegation is selected according to the state party’s “Delegate Selection Plan.” In California there are three flavors of candidates: PLEO (pledged and unpledged), District and At-Large.

    The Party Leaders and Elected Officials (or PLEOs) consist of members of the DNC living in California, Democratic congressional members, some big city mayors and statewide elected officials. Local PLEO delegates include Dianne Feinstein, Nancy Pelosi, Christine Pelosi and John Burton.

    The second category is the District Delegates. These delegates are allocated by congressional District based on Democratic Party registration. Locally, Leader Pelosi’s district (CD12) gets nine of the 317 District Delegates. Those nine pledged delegates are then split based on how each presidential candidate performed in that district. Since Secretary Clinton won 54% of the vote to Senator Sanders’ 46% in CD12, the nine spots are split five for Hillary, four for Bernie. Any registered Democrat can run for election as a District Delegate in a California Democratic Party election that was held on May 1 across the state. I ran, along with 59 other women, to be a Hillary delegate in Nancy Pelosi’s district. I came in third place among the women, and was lucky enough to therefore become one of the five Hillary delegates to make the cut. I am joined by some amazing local party volunteers and leaders, including Alec Bash and Susan Pfeifer.

    The third and final category is the At Large Delegates. These are selected by the campaigns to fill out their total delegation, and are often used to help reach state party goals for representation and inclusion. So if the district delegate elections resulted in an underrepresentation of Latinos, or veterans, or people with disabilities, the campaigns can help achieve those goals using their At Large selections. Although any Democrat can submit their application to be an At Large delegate, they are often given to major fundraisers or party insiders. These names were then approved at a delegate convening in Long Beach on June 19. It was pretty chaotic, as it was the first statewide gathering of delegates, before Senator Sanders conceded and endorsed Secretary Clinton. The Bernie supporters were out in force and, although outnumbered, tried heartily to vote down the nomination of Governor Jerry Brown as the Chair of the California Delegation (supposedly in response to his endorsement of Hillary). Some shouting and hissing and chanting ensued, but it resolved relatively quickly. In the end, the At Large delegates were approved and the selection process was complete.

    Once the state’s delegation was selected and confirmed, we as delegates start getting the information about what to expect in Phila-delphia. The first realization is that being a delegate is a pricey proposition. None of the expenses are paid for—it is all at the delegate’s personal expense. The biggest shock was the price of the hotel selected for the California delegation. The Philadelphia Downtown Marriott is priced at over $600 a night, for a minimum of four nights. The airfare was also well over $600 round trip. Add to that registration fees, transportation, and food, and a delegate can expect thousands of dollars of out of pocket expenses. Many are setting up Go Fund Me pages and campaigns to help offset the cost. It is a significant barrier to allowing average citizens the opportunity to participate as a delegate, and the price gouging by the host city’s lodging providers should really be addressed in future conventions.

    In the weeks leading to the convention, there has been a very deliberate effort to unite the party. The Hillary campaign has been very proactive asking its delegates to reach out and extend a welcome hand to the Sanders supporters. There was a very nice delegate social recently in San Francisco for Bay Area delegates, both Hillary and Bernie, designed to mend fences and encourage unity going into the convention.

    There are expected to be 40,000–50,000 people descending upon Philadelphia for the DNC—6,000 delegates, thousands of elected officials, and nearly 20,000 members of the media. In addition, Philadelphia Airport workers have voted to strike during the convention in a demand for the right to unionize and other issues. To cap it all off, the weather is expected to reach the high 90s, with occasional thunderstorms predicted. This will be a crazy week for sure!

    There will be an LGBT visibility night on the Tuesday of the convention. LGBT delegates have been asked to wear something to show our pride and make ourselves visible for the cameras. I have a fabulous outfit picked out and can’t wait to wear it. Maybe you’ll see me! We have come a long way since San Francisco’s very own Jim Foster brought a “Gay Liberation Plank” to the 1972 Democratic Convention’s national platform committee, a motion that was ultimately rejected by the party.

    The themes and major speakers for this year have been published. Monday night’s theme is United Together, featuring First Lady Michelle Obama, Senator Bernie Sanders and DREAMer Astrid Silva. Tuesday night’s theme is A Lifetime of Fighting for Children and Families, featuring President Bill Clinton and Mothers of the Movement (e.g. mother of Trayvon Martin and other mothers). Wednesday night’s theme is Working Together, with President Obama and Vice President Biden speaking. It all culminates in Thursday’s nomination of Hillary, with her daughter Chelsea doing the introduction, with the theme Stronger Together. I’m also super excited about a free concert for delegates at Camden Rising, featuring Lady Gaga, Lenny Kravitz and DJ Jazzy Jeff.

    Each day there are caucuses and meetings at the Philadelphia Convention Center (e.g. Veterans and Military Families), and each evening is the main program at the Wells Fargo Center. Security will be very tight and we are being warned to be patient. There will also be dozens of other receptions and social events every night, so I am prepared to return to San Francisco exhausted.

    The two party system has many flaws—a lack of choice for voters, big money interests, a bureaucratic infrastructure that rewards incumbents and insiders. But, for now, it is the mechanism for choosing our nation’s leaders. This year, a major party has nominated a woman for President, a woman who is perhaps the most experienced nominee in United States history. I can’t wait to get to Philadelphia and experience the history and spectacle that will be the Democratic Convention—in a funny hat covered with colorful buttons. Perhaps your children will watch and wonder how I got there.

    Zoe Dunning is a retired Navy Commander and was a lead activist in the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. She served as Co-Chair of the Board of Directors for the Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club. She currently serves as the First Vice Chair of the San Francisco Democratic Party and as a San Francisco Library Commissioner.