Surviving the Silly Season

1 / 5
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.
2 / 5
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?
3 / 5
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.
4 / 5
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.
5 / 5
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.

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.

Out on the streets between credential pick-up locations I see Republican convention delegates, many in business attire, and some in T-shirts that say things like “With Trump From Day One.” People are friendly enough, but as in past Republican National Conventions, there is definitely little to no diversity. These are White folks, mostly White folks. Here and there I see a Black or Latino/a, or Asian Republican delegate, but barely. The real diversity is in the media that has come by the thousands to take in this moment for Donald Trump, and the protesters all around this convention.

3 p.m.: I am at the media entrance for the convention, finally. I’m bummed that the credential line I was on made me miss the livestream today, but I am definitely there tomorrow. No matter, I am being  both entertained and bothered by the Jesus people, as I call them, who are out in the middle of the street yelling at folks for being homosexuals, for committing adultery, for having sex, for having abortions, and anything else they deem worthy of hell. Keeping it hundred, I am a Christian, but not this kind of Christian, and I love people, all people, no matter who they are. These Jesus people were especially stuck on queer people, as if that is the biggest sin in the world. I stood under a tent in the sweltering heat listening, and watching Republican delegates go in and out, not saying a word about their street-corner prophets. At some point something like a rap battle went down, with different Jesus people on mics shouting over each other, as if the louder you got the more you were closer to God, to the truth.

6:47 p.m.: I’m sitting with the media team when Don King, boxing promotion legend (or hustler, depending on who you ask,) sits down for an interview near us. A huge crowd follows King as he struts, even in his old age, and with an American flag denim jacket that is glistening. His gray hair is still wild and standing straight up on his head, he is still animated, and still speaks really loud. Don King is saying why he is giving his undying support to Donald Trump, echoes the Donald’s “Make America Great Again” theme, and throws out references to Muhammad Ali. This interview is the same kind of circus I remember of King when he was promoting massive fights for people like Mike Tyson.

8 p.m.: 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. There are a few people of color scattered here and there, but the vast majority of Black folks I see are the ones who work at Quicken Loans Arena. Most can barely hide how much they do not want to be there, honestly, and a few even say that to me. I try to lighten the mood and say more than a few times, “Your Cleveland Cavaliers are basketball champions!” That usually elicits a smile.

Nighttime at a political convention is the heart of the gathering. That’s when all kinds of media is full force, and featured speakers take the stage. Again, the lack of diversity is striking, amongst both the speakers and the thousands of attendees. It’s notable that the two Black speakers highlighted both dissed President Obama and Black Lives Matter, hard. Also notable that the running theme throughout evening was what a liar and criminal Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton is. And there was one long stretch where speakers blamed Hillary afresh for the Benghazi attack.

I knew going in that many Republicans are not happy about Donald Trump winning the nomination, even though he selected ultra-conservative Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as his vice-presidential running mate. There was an effort to block Trump’s nomination, but it was pushed back. Word on the floor is that quite a few Republican leaders, behind closed doors, are not comfortable with The Donald at all. In fact, as I was heading to the Arena, I passed a hotel where Ohio Gov. John Kasich held a meeting with the Illinois Republican delegation. Kasich still refuses to endorse Trump after losing to him in the primaries—he won’t even attend the RNC held in his own backyard.

The biggest part of the night was Donald Trump’s wife Melania’s speech. The Trumps broke the party’s tradition of speaking the final night of the convention when Donald introduced his wife on day one. To the tune of “We Are The Champions,” a silhouette of The Donald appeared on the stage that had read MAKE AMERICA SAFE AGAIN all evening, and the crowd went wild. He basked in the applause, and then brought out Melania. Her speech was, uh, interesting because it reminded me a lot of Michelle Obama’s at the Democratic National Convention back in 2008. Sure enough, a fact-check found that two passages were directly lifted from Michelle’s remarks.

I had to leave after Melania’s speech, although there were more speakers after her. The first day dragged on and seemed more disorganized than any other Republican convention I had ever attended.

Tuesday, July 19

I ran 3.5 miles through the streets of downtown Cleveland, past law enforcement officers with guns, Republican delegates, folks selling T-shirts that said things like TRUMP 2016 and HILLARY FOR PRISON, homeless people, media folks and protesters at every turn, and local Cleveland folks trying to make it through all of this on their lunch breaks. There’s an energy of uneasy tension throughout the city, and I’m not sure if it’s the massive police presence, protesters on all sides, or the fact that Cleveland residents have had their city taken over.

It is especially hectic in two places. One of them is Public Square, where folks gather to sell things, rally, yell over each other, and make their points about one issue or another. Then there is Euclid, a main strip where an anti-police brutality march was held Tuesday night. Police sectioned off the marchers, as officers rode bicycles or horses, or walked on foot, herding the march where they had been told to go. Euclid and East 4th Street, in the heart of downtown Cleveland, is the heart of the action. Locals call this block “an alley” because it is very narrow and loaded with restaurants, a House of Blues, a comedy spot, homeless people, and street musicians. MSNBC put not one but two mobile studios on this block, eating up much of the walking area as a result. The block is packed and hot, with folks on either side of the aisle butting heads, cursing each other, or holding posters.

I run into one young man from Minnesota who is pissed that the voices of delegates representing his views were not heard. He is a Ted Cruz supporter, still, and does not want Donald Trump to be president. While he’s talking, we get word about two developments: One is that the Trump campaign refuses to acknowledge that Melania Trump lifted parts of her speech from First Lady Michelle Obama. And second, that Alaska’s delegates erupted in anger when their votes were ignored. (The state’s rules dictate that delegates’ votes be allocated proportionally to primary results, meaning 12 for Cruz, 11 for Trump, and five for Rubio. But according to Alaska Dispatch News, party officials announced that all of the state’s delegate votes went to Trump.) Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives Paul Ryan is there to restore order on the floor, and Donald Trump officially becomes the Republican nominee for president. His son, Donald, Jr., is playing a decisive role as a New York State delegate.

I decided to grab a cab to go into the heart of the Land’s ghetto, the eastside of Cleveland, East Cleveland, and Cleveland Heights communities. It is night and day compared to Downtown Cleveland and the nonstop money being spent at the RNC. There are many abandoned buildings, broken glass everywhere, children on one street corner selling bottles of water to passing cars, and barely any open businesses, except for a soul food or Chinese restaurant here and there.

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. The poverty is terrible in these areas, the same kind of poverty I came from in my hometown of Jersey City, New Jersey. I keep thinking about the Trump slogan MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN knowing that the statement begs a very simple question: For whom?

Wednesday, July 20

Sexism is mad real in America. My single mother talked about it often, in her own way, when I was growing up. What is a basic definition of sexism? When men and boys have privilege and power, which can manifest as a desire to control and dictate what women or girls do. I thought about this a lot, along with a lifetime of conversations I’ve had with women of all backgrounds about what they have to deal with as women. There’s been a ceaseless hammering of Hillary Clinton’s reputation during the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, but things seemed revved up to a new level today. No longer content with saying things about Hillary like “Lock her up,” grown men sell and buy T-shirts that read things like “Hillary sucks, but not like Monica,” “Trump that bitch,” and “Trump or tramp,” and it’s a deeply disturbing sight.

Next to these vendors were two women with signs protesting the treatment of women worldwide. One even went up to two men selling this sexist merchandise and said, “I know you are trying to make some fast money from this Republican convention in your city, but you are disrespecting all women, including your mothers, by doing this, and saying these things aloud.” She and her friend then pulled $400 from their pockets and bought all of the tees, asking the men to promise they wouldn’t sell anymore. The women said they’d burn the shirts later. They looked exasperated, and I could only imagine. They’ve been out here daily, hearing men say disrespectful things about women—even while with women—all in the name of politics and money.

Adding to this tension was the arrest of several protesters, including one who burned the American flag, and people hyped about Ted Cruz endorsing Donald Trump for president. As I watched Cruz speak and listened to his words very closely, I noticed that he only mentioned Trump by name once, to congratulate him. Otherwise, the entire speech was about Cruz’s view of America, positioning himself as the real leader of the Republican Party. Near the end of Cruz’s speech, convention goers, led by Trump’s home state delegation, started booing him. It got ugly fast. In all the time I’ve been covering conventions, I’ve never seen someone get up there to not endorse their party’s nominee.

The reaction was swift and instant. People predicted the speech was Cruz’s political suicide, while some suggested he was setting himself up for a 2020 run, with the feeling being that Trump will lose to Hillary come November, or be so terrible that he won’t be re-elected. Either way, it is clearer now more than ever that Thursday night, Trump must absolutely give the greatest speech of his life to shift the circus-like atmosphere of the Republican National Convention and his bid for presidency.

Thursday, July 21

It’s the last day of the Republican National Convention and anticipation is at a fever pitch for the acceptance speech of Donald Trump, especially in light of the plagiarism controversy surrounding his wife Melania’s speech and Ted Cruz going straight gangsta with a non-endorsement speech that got him booed off the stage.

Outside, it feels like the more than 5,000 law enforcement officers have multiplied, since many are now serving as human barriers as we the media, Republican delegates, elected officials, and special guests roll in and out of the main entrance. If you don’t have Secret Service-approved credentials plus a special pass, you were simply not getting in.

Inside the Q, as the Quicken Loans Arena is called, it’s very clear that this night would be the most packed of the entire convention. I imagined the Q felt like this as LeBron James and his Cleveland Cavalier teammates made their way to their first-ever NBA Championship just weeks ago. But this championship is for Donald Trump, a candidate folks laughed at just one year ago, when he and 16 other Republicans started the long journey toward this night.

Trump is a businessman, has never held a political office of any kind, is not polished, and is raw—mad raw, as we’ve learned this presidential season. But he tapped into voters’ feelings of alienation—specifically working and middle class voters—and shocked the world by winning the Republican nomination.

I am purposely working my way around the whole arena, taking in the buzz. As on previous nights there was a Black speaker—yet another preacher—who trashed Black Lives Matter, while in the same breath calling for Black unity. I cringed, pained to hear this stuff when I am Black and also an activist. Other speakers came and went, and Trump’s daughter Ivanka appeared to introduce him. Her role was dual, as she also made it a point to highlight women’s issues—a key tactic, given her father’s bad reputation with women and how badly this convention dissed Hillary Clinton, the first woman in America to win a major political party’s nomination.

I noticed something unusual as soon as Trump began: He was reading a tight script from the gigantic teleprompter. Normally, he just freestyles like a rapper, saying whatever comes to mind. Right from the jump, Trump painted a doomsday picture of America as this dark place full of crime, corruption, and violence, with foreigners coming to get us. Not once did he mention Black people being killed by police, but he did mention “law and order” several times and police being under attack. I found this really odd given all the talk about inclusivity and Black unity—Trump only alluded to Black America as a threat to the country from within. People were hanging on his every word, and any mention of Clinton led to loud chants of, “Lock her up!”

I kept waiting for Trump to say something real and substantive, given that he was following protocol and reading from a teleprompter. But there was no vision, no real policies put forth, no calls for bringing people together; just meanness, yelling, and arrogance. 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.

When Trump’s speech was over, I made my way outside and saw quite a few folks wearing buttons that said TED CRUZ or RONALD REAGAN. Considering Trump is the Republican politician of the moment, those buttons said a lot without saying anything at all.

Democratic National Convention

Monday, July 25

I started the day by picking up my credentials at the Pennsylvania Convention Center and immediately ran into a Bernie Sanders protester. Because of the Wikileaks email scandal, tension was thick; accusations of corruption, absence of democracy, and unfairness were everywhere. If Democrats hoped to avoid the circus of last week’s Republican National Convention, there was no such luck.

When I finally arrive at the main entrance, there’s a sizable crowd of Sanders supporters, gated off, but loud and proud. They do not care that Bernie is supporting Hillary Clinton. They do not care that there is absolutely no way Bernie will be president at this point. They are here for the political revolution he has talked about for months. They are angry—very angry—about the email scandal that proved a “rigged” system. The same kinds of “Jesus people” who were at the Republican National Convention are yelling about homosexuals and women, competing with the Bernie-or-bust protesters trying to shut them down. Like the RNC, police presence is mad real around this protest and the city in general, but it doesn’t feel like a police state the way it did in Cleveland. Perhaps that’s because most of the protesters are young white people. I speak with two from North Carolina and I tell them not to let the suit fool them; I’m an activist, too. We have a good exchange about Bernie and I ask 1) Where are the people of color at the DNC? and 2) What is the plan beyond protesting—what are they going to build, create, and organize to keep the movement going? They had no answers for either question, and admitted as much. I can say this as a long-time activist: that is the problem. When we know what we’re against but not what we’re for, we’re fueled by raw emotions—and that will only get us so far.

Inside the DNC is just as wild. 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. DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s resignation is not enough. They want justice, and they want Bernie Sanders to be their president.

It’s a surreal scene, and many delegates—especially older ones—don’t understand why this is happening. Perhaps a dozen speakers are given a similar treatment, until First Lady Michelle Obama takes the stage. Every time a Sanders supporter tried to shout something as she spoke, delegates shut them down. There was a unified respect for FLOTUS. Her speech was brilliant, honest, and fully in support of Hillary Clinton.

When Sanders finally arrived to deliver his speech, there was thunderous applause, a standing ovation that went on for several minutes, and it was a struggle for him to even start his address. People can say whatever they want about Bernie, but it’s clear that his candidacy was the most electric of the 2016 season. He speaks for the average American of all backgrounds. He fought the good fight, and he told folks that it’s time to get behind Clinton. He fell in line and encouraged others to do the same, but not without addressing problems and challenges we still face, and why we cannot continue to allow a small handful of people to represent all of us.

I stood on my feet for most of Bernie’s speech, as I did for Michelle Obama, realizing that somewhere on this first night, the seeds have been sown for the transformation America so desperately needs right now.

Tuesday, July 26

The Bernie-or-bust Army is not going anywhere any time soon. Despite the senator’s calls to support Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, there are protesters a stone’s throw from the Pennsylvania Convention Center. They’ve shown up in huge numbers, with stages and booming sound systems, Bernie tees, hats, buttons, and posters. Speaker after speaker made it clear that this about more than Sanders; it’s about America’s “rigged” two-party system.

It’s mostly a crowd of young people, and speakers blasted the 1 percent. It’s the same scene an hour later when I arrive for the actual convention events. It’s a big day because of the official delegate count and roll call. Just like yesterday, Bernie Bros are out in full force. One young woman, a mother originally from Texas, made it clear that she’s #StillSanders: “This is about the people, about fighting for what is right. The email leaks make it plain this was never a fair contest. We want justice.”

I ask her what that justice would look like and she answers, “People of all backgrounds coming together, people who have been left out, understanding our power together.”

As the delegate count is set to begin, there’s high energy on the floor. Sanders and his wife, Jane, are with the Vermont delegation. There are Bernie-or-bust delegates waving signs and even more boisterous than the day before. When the Vermont delegation finally votes, Sanders grabs the mic and asks that Clinton be declared the nominee. Clinton supporters go wild, but Bernie-or-bust delegates leave to stage another opposing protest in the media tent.

Later that night, even former President Bill Clinton couldn’t convince Bernie-or-bust folks to stand with Hillary. The evidence is all over social media: the Democratic Party is divided. Clinton is the first woman to receive the nomination of a major American political party, but it feels slightly tarnished.

Even the mothers who lost their children to racialized police violence are divided. 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. Many Sanders supporters I’ve spoken to this week are adamant that they will vote for a third-party candidate or not vote at all come November, even though Sanders has vocally opposed this idea.

In some way, this is what democracy is supposed to look like: voices of all people are heard. But, again, Bernie-or-bust folks say they are protesting precisely because they feel unheard, and they don’t care that Sanders or liberal darling Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren are now with Hillary. They keep saying this is bigger than Bernie, that this is about the future of America.

Wednesday, July 27

I have heard Barack Obama speak many times. I was there, right up front, in July 2004 when he was first introduced to a national audience at the Democratic National Convention. Four years later, while I was in the middle of my own run for Congress in my adopted community of Brooklyn, New York, I defied my campaign team and flew to Denver, Colorado, for all of 24 hours to hear Barack accept the Democratic nomination to be president of the United States. And in 2012 I was in Charlotte for that year’s DNC and heard President Obama speak again. And there have been many other times through these dozen years. But tonight in Philadelphia he gave an electrifying speech that served multiple purposes: as a challenge to “We the People” in America, as a full endorsement of Hillary Clinton and her qualifications, and as his good-bye after nearly eight long years in office.

There was just something about today. I was wondering when the Democrats were truly going to respond to Donald Trump and the Republicans and their blistering attacks on Hillary Clinton I witnessed last week in Cleveland. Maybe as a form of poetic justice, the Donald kinda started the day doing it to himself, when he suggested that Russians should hack Hillary Clinton’s email. I have been involved in politics for many years, but cannot recall any time that a major presidential candidate suggested, in an open way, that kind of assault on a rival. Social media had a field day with that one, and also with Trump referring to Democratic vice-presidential candidate Tim Kaine as Tom Keane, the former governor of Jersey, my home state, many years back.

But it was the atmosphere at Wells Fargo Arena today that told us something different was going to happen. Oh yes, the Bernie supporters are still pissed and still protesting. Oh yes, some folks are holding their noses while they support Hillary Clinton. And, oh yes, the #DemConvention is the hottest ticket in Philly, and given the line-up tonight—former New York City Mayor and billionaire Mike Bloomberg, current Vice President Joe Biden, Tim Kaine, and President Barack Obama—little wonder that the arena folks had to shut the convention floor down, and even the VIP suites upstairs.

I have to admit I am not a huge fan of Mike Bloomberg. I think, yes, he is a brilliant businessman, but during his 12 years as mayor there was his notorious policy of “stop and frisk” by New York police that disproportionately affected Black and Latino males. There was also heavy surveillance of the Muslim/Arab American community, in spite of the fact many of these folks have lived in New York City long before September 11th. And there was the fact that he effectively had the New York City charter changed so he could run for a third term, then changed again, back to term limits, once he was done with the office.

Those things notwithstanding Bloomberg took on Trump as only a fellow billionaire could. We laughed as he referred to Donald Trump as “a con man,” and suggested, with brutal honesty, that Mr. Trump was not even a successful entrepreneur. Bloomberg’s appearance was significant because he was first elected Mayor of #NYC as a Republican, then later became an Independent, and has always been viewed as a maverick politician who marched to the beat of his own drum.

Biden and Kaine gave equally passionate speeches both extolling the virtues of Hillary Clinton, and also blasting Trump at every turn. Kaine even cracked the crowd up by doing an imitation of one of Trump’s favorite phrases, “Believe me.”

But it was Barack Obama who we were all waiting for. Not a perfect president, not a perfect presidency, not even close. There have been great highs (recovering economy, Obamacare victory) and devastating lows (wars that never end, all the racial violence in our America, more mass shootings than we can count). President Obama made reference to all of these things, and more. Like pretty much every other speaker before him, the President acknowledged Bernie Sanders, uttering the now-famous words, “Feel the Bern.” Obama also said, when folks started to boo at the mention of Donald Trump’s name, “Don’t boo, vote.” And that phrase has taken off across social media.

It was an emotionally gripping speech, one of the best I’ve ever heard him give, and it hit me that he only has about six months left in office, then it is over. The younger man in his late 40s with all-black hair will be departing as a mid-50s man with gray hair. Obama joked about how he has aged, talked about what he has learned, showed great humility, and did what he has always been best at in public: He talked about what we had in common, as people in America, as human beings, with just that incredible ability, verbally at least, to bind folks together. People screamed like they were at a church revival; people shouted “Four more years!” And people cried openly, continuously, for the first president of these United States to merge hip-hop and social media and branding into a rainbow coalition that put him in the White House eight long years ago.

And when he was done Hillary Clinton emerged from behind the stage and they hugged, the first Black president in America passing the baton, literally, figuratively, to she who may very well be the first woman president in American history.

Thursday, July 28

When I was growing up I barely learned anything about women in American or world history. Betsy Ross sewed a flag, Florence Nightingale was a nurse, Helen Keller was blind and deaf but still managed to be educated (although we were never really told what she did), and Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a segregated bus in Alabama. And that was it.

Little wonder the world is so sexist toward women and girls, little wonder the violence against women and girls is at epidemic proportions globally. And little wonder that we men and boys often do not value women and girls as our equals, which they are and have always been. Ignorance is not only mad blissful, but downright oppression and discrimination if you are a woman or girl.

I thought of all of this on the final night of the Democratic National Convention in Philly, the night Hillary Rodham Clinton would be the first American woman ever to accept the nomination of a major political party to be President of the United States. People arrived early because they knew from Barack Obama’s presence the night before that once more history was being made. The first Black president … the first woman ever this close to the presidency …

Indeed there was an electric buzz, on the convention floor, on the main level for entry, on the higher areas where the suites and club lounges were. Last day of this emotionally charged gathering, filled with party loyalists and Bernie or Bust protesters all week. And first day of the real battle, now, between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

Security has been heightened even more because the floor was so packed for Obama, and because folks, the night he spoke, were hustling hard to get into the suites and club lounges, switching and swapping credentials, the whole nine.

It was obvious to me Secret Service, police, arena staff, and volunteers had all been told Hillary’s night had to be different.

On this night I knew I had to be on the floor, because of the history being made. I also knew that meant I would be standing for a good four to five hours since media gets no seats. But I did not care. I remember back in 2008 when Hillary Clinton conceded her loss to Barack Obama in the Democratic primaries, and said she had 18 million votes, which meant 18 million cracks in the ceiling.

Chelsea Clinton takes the stage. I feel like I grew up with her, because I did. She was a little girl when her dad became Prez in the 1990s and now she is a grown woman, a wife, a mother, moving as a leader in her own way. I realize in all these years I had barely ever heard Chelsea’s voice, probably because it took some time for her to find her way out from the huge shadow of her famous parents.

When Chelsea was done Hillary took the stage to a thunderous applause and standing ovation. I had finally settled into one area to watch and listen, near the Nebraska delegation. Right next to me were a young mother and her young daughter, standing, smiling. I wondered what they felt as they digested this historic moment. I wonder if they felt as Black Americans felt, and many still do, about Barack Obama.

Hillary appeared very emotional—overwhelmed, even—in this moment. It has been a long time coming, for women, for her. Women have had the right to vote for less than 100 years in America. And Hillary’s loss to Barack in 2008 was hard to swallow for many women, especially how she was treated with the emphasis on her hair, her clothes, her body, her so-called attitude. So I can imagine she was drinking in this moment, for herself, for her mother, for her daughter, for her grandkids, for women and girls she knew, and for those not yet born.

The speech was long, and weaved personal stories around policy stuff. Several times Bernie supporters tried to yell slogans and each time the packed arena shouted them down with cries of HILLARY! They were not going to allow anyone, they were saying, to stop this moment from happening.

On another day, I will talk more about Hillary Clinton, about this election year, and the ugly contest between her and Donald Trump to come. But as Clinton finished her speech and the balloons and confetti rained on us, I thought of women like my mother. A single mom, she raised me with little money, a grade school education, and the magic that women possess in their souls. Like Hillary, my mother is a leader, and she is resilient: nothing keeps her down for long. And, yes, the nomination of Hillary Clinton is a small victory for women like my mother, too, this I know.


Kevin Powell is a writer, public speaker, and activist. He is the author of 12 books, including his critically acclaimed autobiography The Education of Kevin Powell: A Boy’s Journey into Manhood (Atria Books/Simon & Schuster). Read his longform essay on the election, “The Birth of a Nation: Hillary & Donald & Ted & Bernie & the Pimping of Their Butterflies.”

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