DNC v. WWE - Firsthand Account of the DNC
WWE SmackDown was coming to Cleveland, and a friend of mine and I thought it would be hilarious to get ringside tickets. I’ve never really followed the show but found the whole “sport” intriguing and hysterical. We made sure to get some wrestling t-shirts so that we would fit in and headed downtown.
Expecting to attend a sporting-type event, I was taken aback to find myself on the set of a TV show...a drama. 80%-90% of the 10,000 or so seats in the arena were roped off and blacked out. Only four or five sections on the first level were open, and maybe 1,000 or 1,500 people were in attendance. The producers moved people around for the best optics. They told us when to hold up signs, and when to cheer. They also had a few signs, shirts and hats on hand to give to people in strategic places. The whole experience was curated, managed and as fake as the “sport” itself. Yet, I still had a great time.
The Democratic National Convention was much the same (and I’m sure it’s similar at the RNC). As a delegate, I had a seat on the floor. Congressmen, senators, and VIPs like Jerry Springer (who was a guest of the Ohio Delegation) sat in front of the section, where the cameras could pick them up. In the back, the rest of us self-selected into our teams. Team Bernie and Team Hillary. The producers, called delegate whips, told us when to stand, when to hold up the signs they gave us and when to calm down. It was a managed show or drama, but this year the drama wasn’t entirely written and directed by the Democratic Party.
During the formal convention, a few of the delegations were the source of the adlib madness. California, relegated to the worst seats on the floor, with more than 250 delegates and the most National Nurses United members, was the most vocal. My state, Ohio, was tame, as were most others. But when California, Washington or Oregon were able to get a chant going, most of the Bernie sympathizers joined in.
There were relatively few times during the proceedings when Bernie supporters would chant to the point of disruption. Some of the first few speeches on the first day were interrupted by boos and chanting. For the majority of the Sanders delegates, it was hard to know what to do. We received text messages from Bernie instructing us to stay calm and refrain from protesting. Grassroots organizers were hatching plans and sending texts of their own. The best thing I could think to do was to clap when Bernie was mentioned and to sit as still as possible when a speaker reached the endorsement part of the speech.
To cheer for Clinton would have been viewed by so many as an abandonment of the movement. To cheer for Bernie and not Hillary was seen by the establishment as disrespectful. For the most part, this general sense of peer pressure from the establishment worked and the convention went on without many glitches.
For me, the real value of the trip was found in the extracurricular events. Along with some of the more progressive thinkers in the group, I attended the Democratic Socialists of American (DSA) panel on Wednesday. During the one hour that we stood in that hot, cramped room, I learned more about what needed to happen to change our country than the 15 hours I spent at the convention.
The networking opportunities were also priceless. Almost all of the nation's most progressive leaders were there. Because each state had its own hotel, it was relatively easy to find people I wanted to meet. Every night, most of us stayed up until 4 or 5 am, exchanging war stories and contact information. All told it was a surreal and awesome experience. The fakeness was offset entirely by hours of intellectual conversation; the harassment and dirty looks offset by the relationships built and bonds strengthened.
Much like my WWE Smackdown experience, regardless of what the agenda is, any experience will become what you choose to take from it, what information you choose to receive, and what you choose to do afterward.
Author: Tristan Rader