Surviving the Silly Season

A diary of the circuses that were the Republican and Democratic national conventions.

  • I am finally on the floor of the Republican National Convention. I’ve been to many of these, including the ones in 2000 and 2004. In 16 years, the diversity—or lack thereof—of the Republican contingent has barely changed at all. This party does not reflect America, not even close.
    Photo by Devin Lightner
  • I do notice that even in the ’hood people are selling Trump and Republican tees, hats, and other items. People gotta do what they gotta do to make a dollar, I understand. But I am still sad because I know these are the people many politicians talk about but often forget once elections come and go. ... I keep thinking about the Trump slogan MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN knowing that the statement begs a very simple question: For whom?
    Photo by Devin Lightner
  • When Donald Trump said “I alone” can fix America, I rubbed my head, because I know—as someone who has been an activist and organizer for a very long time and twice ran for Congress in Brooklyn—that no one leader or politician can ever do anything on their own. It simply does not work like that. And it never will.
    Photo by Devin Lightner
  • From the moment the convention starts, Sanders supporters—most of them actual delegates—shout down speaker after speaker. Any mention of Hillary Clinton leads to jeers and boos and any mention of Sanders leads to loud chants and applause. I understand why these folks are upset: They feel democracy has been hijacked and their voices are not being heard.
    Photo by Devin Lightner
  • The mother of Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old boy shot by Cleveland police, refused to participate in “The Mothers in the Movement” event at the convention. She feels no political leader has taken a strong enough stand against police violence and racial profiling.
    Photo by Devin Lightner

AUTHOR’S NOTE: 2016 is a presidential election cycle like no other. I am simply exhausted from digesting and experiencing so much of it personally. With the Republican and Democratic national conventions this summer I have now attended seven in my lifetime (three Republican and four Democratic). I do not know if I could ever attend another one again. Here are some of my immediate reflections while in the middle of it all. I will also finish a much longer meditation now that I have had some time and space to process and recover from the grinds that were Cleveland and Philadelphia. So much to say, so much more to say, as we barrel toward November and this presidential Election Day.

Republican National Convention

Sunday, July 17

4:25 p.m.: Just landed in Akron/Canton, Ohio, airport. Headed toward baggage claim and ran into many people with red, white, and blue signs that read “We The People Welcome You.” Part of the Republican National Convention, clearly, for Akron/Canton and Cleveland. Weird energy in the air. I have attended five or six political conventions previously, and this is my third Republican one, but the energy is far different than anything I remember, probably because Donald Trump is the party’s nominee. At least that is what it feels like. I remember in the past this wild enthusiasm for Ronald Reagan, and even George W. Bush. I’ve never seen the Republican faithful so split on a candidate, even though he dominated the primaries and won the nomination.

On ride to downtown Cleveland where I am staying, the driver and I talk about the city of Cleveland, how incredible it was for LeBron and the Cavs to win the NBA championship, and why it is bizarre for Republicans to host their convention in the Land, a city that is overwhelmingly Democratic. But Ohio is a very red state, a very Republican state.

6 p.m.: I arrive at an apartment I am renting in an area called the Flats. Dope spot, and I can see Republican activities everywhere. My friend Kelley gave up her spot to me because, she said, she wants to avoid the area at all costs while the Republicans are in town. We joke about Black Republicans and what they could possibly have in common with the average Republican, eat a meal and talk LeBron and why we both feel it was a bad move for Kevin Durant to go to Golden State. Then I am on my own. I want to go outside in the night air to check out the folks milling about as I hear an RNC concert in the distance. But I am mad sleepy and doze off.

Monday, July 18

10 a.m.: I meet the video team to get our credentials. Little did I know it would be the beginning of lines for me for a good part of the day. Because of the high level of security at this convention, the Republican National Convention is not taking any chances with fraud. There is one stop for approved Secret Service credentials, and a second stop to get our official convention passes. No media is allowed in without both passes.

At the apartment I noticed the United States Coast Guard in the water and helicopters in the sky. There are state troopers from Ohio and neighboring states everywhere, as well as more Secret Service folks than you can count, some in suits, some in military fatigues, all with guns. This is not a game, yo.

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