CHARLOTTE, N.C. Why go to all this trouble? Why spend money and time and wrestle with a city you don’t know just to attend a convention you don’t get to see?
Some of the thousands of visitors to the Democratic National Convention have professional reasons to be here. They’re delegates, politicians, journalists or activists.
There are many more who aren’t any of those things. They’re just people who love – seriously love – the world of politics. Guys like Jason and Kerry.
Jason Cohen, 33, is a Pennsylvania campaign volunteer who works an Obama phone bank several hours a week. Kerry Trainor, 31, teaches AP government at Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan. Neither has credentials for the Time Warner Arena. Both paid their own way here. And both spent weeks before the trip going through the list of DNC events, clicking on every invitation they could find.
On Tuesday night, Cohen was at Ri Ra, the Irish pub on North Tryon Street, waiting for the start of Pints & Politics, a trivia game hosted by Washington Post blogger Chris Cillizza of The Fix.
Cohen says he came to Charlotte for a simple reason: “To be around like minds. To give yourself a pep rally to get you through the next two months (of the campaign).” Working the phone bank, he hears from all kinds – mean, nice and in between. He hears people say such crazy things, he now keeps a journal on it.
“They’ll tell you right up front what they think,” he says.
What he’s loving at the convention is meeting people who think like he does, who are interested in the same causes.
Just as he was explaining this, a loud man from Illinois – an actual delegate who snuck away from the arena to drink a quick beer – fell into a conversation with Cohen. Within minutes, they were in a loud but friendly discussion of political analysis. A man from Wisconsin overheard them and joined in.
Soon, Cohen was leading a beer toast “to the great state of Illinois and the great state of Wisconsin.”
Cohen grinned: “This, to me, is fun.”
An hour later and five blocks up the street, Kerry Trainer was saying sort of the same thing. At the stately former church that houses the McColl Center for the Arts, the scene was much quieter. The magazines National Review and The Atlantic have been using the center to hold daily events, from breakfast briefings to a nightly convention watch party.
It was quiet and dark on Tuesday – the better to concentrate on the big screens showing the convention action. Small groups wandered in, grabbed plates of food and drinks and settled in for an evening of serious convention-watching.
Trainor was sitting alone, just watching. He’d spent the day doing things like volunteering at DNC event check-in desks and hanging around wherever he could. Once, he shook hands with L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa simply because he was walking by and Trainor was the only one who recognized him.
“It’s like a learning experience,” he says. His girlfriend works for a politician, so she’s at the arena. But he doesn’t have credentials, just an intense interest in everything.
“Ultimately, what I want to get out of the experience is the mechanics, how it works.” He’s watching everything – protests, police, press. He got permission from his principal to come and put together a presentation for his students.
“I’m doing it for my kids,” he says. “Teenagers feel such a disconnect. They’re mocking the process, they don’t believe they can get involved.
“I want to show them they can.”