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    What It’s Like to Attend the DNC: Raw Emotions, Exhilaration and Unforgettable Moments

    Zoe Dunning

    Zoe Dunning

    In my last column, I wrote about my plans to travel to Philadelphia for the Democratic National Convention as a Hillary Clinton delegate. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I don’t believe I have felt that many emotions in one week–exhilaration, sorrow, anger, joy, curiosity, pride, impatience, exhaustion and love.

    At the end of it all, I was definitely drained. I liken attending a political party’s national convention to attending an 8-hour Super Bowl game, four days in a row. You survive on adrenaline–shouting, cheering, crying, singing, and the occasional row with fellow spectators over seats, views, and which team is better.

    Overall, the speakers and the program were amazing. I found myself crying numerous times, primarily during speeches by family members who lost loved ones to violence. The infamous line from Muslim-American Kizhr Kahn, the father of combat casualty CAPT Humayun Khan: “Donald Trump … Let me ask you: Have you even read the U.S. Constitution? I will gladly lend you my copy.” Or the mother of a Pulse nightclub shooting victim. Or the wife of a slain police officer. Or the daughter of the Principal at Sandy Hook Elementary.

    There were many other rousing speeches, but Dr. William Barber, the President of the North Carolina NAACP, brought the house down with his fiery call to action: “And now it’s our turn to be the moral defibrillators and to shock this nation with the power of love, justice and mercy.”

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    Overall the contrast between the dark and fearful Republican National Convention and the Democratic Convention messages of inclusion, diversity, love and togetherness was as stark as can be, and made me proud to be a Democrat.

    That is not to say the convention was without controversy and contention, as those viewing on television saw. When I first arrived at the Wells Fargo Center, I discovered the CA contingent was on the furthermost reaches to the left side of the stage (as you faced it). In fact, our seats were technically behind the stage. I then discovered New York and Virginia, Secretary Clinton and Governor Kaine’s home states, were front and center on the floor. Other swing states had prime seating. I wondered to myself, how could the largest state with the most delegates, the one that donates more to Democratic candidates than any other state, get slighted with the worst seats? The rumor was that the CA delegation was off to the side because of the large contingent of vocal Bernie demonstrators, and the DNC wanted it all off camera.

    The Bernie Sanders supporters came to Philadelphia pretty hurt and angry about the primary results and the recent DNC email revelations. Visible and vocal, many Bernie delegates (mostly from CA) were intent on leveraging an international television audience to get across their advocacy on issues important to them. They chanted and carried numerous signs asking for the end of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), no more war, and the banning of fracking (all issues I can agree with). In addition, there were attacks on Hillary Clinton herself–they hissed and booed whenever her name was mentioned, they shouted “Goldman Sachs” and modified the signage handed out so it would read “LIAR” rather than HILLARY, or instead of Love Trumps Hate, “Only Bernie Beats Trump.”

    This caused a bit of a chanting war in the CA seats. Whenever the Bernie supporters behind me stood up to hold their signs and jeer and chant, we Hillary supporters would stand up, hold up the convention-provided signs, and start shouting “Hillary” over them until they quieted down.

    During one of these incidents on the final day of the convention, when the Bernie delegates were shouting, “No More War,” and we Hillary people were shouting “Hillary” over them, I overheard the young woman behind me recording it on her phone, narrating her experience. She was very distraught that we could not all agree as Democrats to no more wars, and that they were being blocked and shouted down. As I listened she became more and more inconsolable, heaving sobs while she shouted her sadness and anger into her phone.

    I turned around to find a young woman, maybe in her early 20’s, wearing a POW/MIA cap. I reached out and offered my arms, as awkwardly as you can over a stadium seat, and she fell forward and melted into my arms. She sobbed on my shoulder for a good ten minutes, as I stroked her back and reassured her there are many Hillary supporters that want peace, particularly veterans like myself who are the ones put in harm’s way. I asked her a little about herself and learned she has a brother in the service. She lives in the Bay Area and I offered to connect her with veteran peace organizations if she wanted. I told her she could make a difference, that I myself had taken on the Pentagon with like-minded activists to defeat Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and won!

    That seemed to encourage her and she calmed down. She thanked me numerous times and returned for a few more hugs. I gave her my card and asked her to get in touch after we got back.

    I have many emotions when I think of this incident. For one, I think about why we Hillary supporters shut down people saying no more war. By that point, we were so emotionally raw and frankly annoyed with all of the interruptions and demonstrations that we felt we were protecting the speakers from disrespect. Secondly, I’m proud that I turned around and reached out to her. I had Michelle Obama’s statement (“When they go low, go high”) in my mind, and the prior day’s Broadway performance of “What the World Needs Now Is Love Sweet Love” ringing in my years. Corny but true.

    I don’t kid myself that a single interaction is going to heal the rift between the Bernie and Hillary supporters, but I would like to think I touched that one woman’s heart and gave her hope. I encourage everyone reading this to think about how they might make a difference in bridging the divide that exists between people now, whether it is over political issues or work or personal situations. Peace be with you.

    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 and as an elected Delegate for the Democratic National Convention. She is a San Francisco Library Commissioner and is the former First Vice Chair of the San Francisco Democratic Party.