Sarah Zambon (pictured above; to the right) is serving as an 11th District delegate this week at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte. The Henderson County attorney guest blogged about her experience as a delegate this week for Xpress. This post will be updated with her dispatches as they come in. All photos courtesy of Sarah Zambon.
Sept. 8: Wrap-up and reflection
So the convention is over. It was an exhilarating and exhausting experience, both physically and emotionally. And as this my last blog post on this convention, I’m going to try to answer all the questions people keep asking me through this whole experience.
Let’s back it up — most often I am asked what a delegate does, how I became a delegate and why I wanted to do it in the first place. Delegates are representatives from each state’s Democratic party chosen to go to the National Convention that occurs every four years. Delegates represent their hometowns and states at the convention to vote for the party’s nominee for president and vice president and vote on the party platform. The party platform is largely an aspirational document expressing the party’s values and goals. Most of the time people don’t pay attention to party platforms, but they can have some interesting things in them that show the direction of the party. For example, this year the Republican platform contained anti-choice language and the Democratic platform included marriage equality provisions.
Question 2: How did I become a delegate? I became one through an election at my congressional district level. Potential delegates submitted applications in the spring, and then delegates were chosen in the congressional districts or statewide. To become a delegate, I ran a mini-campaign including a mailer, hand-outs and a prepared speech. At my congressional district meeting, I also sang the national anthem prior to the event. The people who vote for the delegates are representatives from each county party. My district sent seven delegates to the Convention: four women and three men, including four Young Democrats such as myself. This year there was an unprecedented number of Young Democrats from North Carolina attending the Convention.
Question 3: But why would you want to be a delegate? I get asked this a lot and I have practical and philosophical reasons. Practically, with the convention being in Charlotte, it was easy for me to get to and not super expensive. As a public-interest attorney with a mortgage and student loans, it’s harder for me to travel across the country for a week. And this was an experience that would not present itself again, having the Democratic National Convention in my home state.
But more than the practical advantages, there were the philosophical reasons. I believe in this president and I support the decisions he has made the last four years on healthcare, women’s rights, foreign policy and the economy. Over and over this week I heard different groups say “The President has had my back and now I have his” and that’s absolutely true. President Obama has stood up and fought for issues that have a direct impact on my life such as contraception insurance coverage and student loan reform. He fought for these issues without consideration for the political impact they would have on his presidency, he acted because it was the right thing to do for this country.
People continue to ask whether their lives are better than they were four years ago. First of all, for me, my life is better — the Affordable Care Act provides me with well-women care, healthcare equality, and prevents my gender from being classified as a preexisting condition. Second, the question on its face presents an incomplete picture. Prior to President Obama, this country was hemorrhaging jobs and on its way to the next Great Depression. The first thing he did after being elected, before he even officially took office, was to come up with a plan on how to stop the bleeding. This president saved America’s automotive industry so while some of those workers still had jobs four years ago, without the president’s actions, their lives and their community and ultimately this country would be much worse off.
In contrast, but almost equally important, if the religious right and the tea party continue to dominate the Republican Party and Romney wins in this election and Republicans across the board, my quality of life will be drastically changed. Since 2010, over 1100 bills have been proposed at the state level to restrict choice. Under Republican control, my gender will be used against me and politicians not doctors will make my health choices. I will not have anyone ensuring that student loan interests rates don’t skyrocket, millions who are now covered under the Affordable Care Act will again be uninsured and America will be run like a heartless corporation. Government is supposed to serve the public and use its resources to benefit all of us, not just the wealthy. My friends who are gay will never be able get married and will continue to be discriminated against in employment, housing and healthcare. If you want to see what a Republican-run government looks like, you don’t have to look any further than the North Carolina state legislature where, since taking power in 2010, Republicans have forced women to get unnecessary ultrasounds before getting abortions, created a constitutional amendment discriminating against the LGBT community even though same-sex marriage was already illegal under the law, and where the Republican budget decimated environmental protections and public education. These are not the values I hold and this is not what I want our communities or country to look like. I find it so incredibly frustrating that anyone who is not extremely wealthy thinks their lives will be better under a Romney administration. Under Romney there will only be more class divisions with a widening wealth gap; under President Obama there is the promise of the rise of the middle class.
On the last night of the convention, President Obama spoke to the country. People have asked me if I think his speech was better than President Clinton’s and I don’t think that is a fair comparison. Clinton is one of the best speakers of our time and he, as a former president, can say things that President Obama cannot. But while Clinton is a great speaker, Obama is a better president and policymaker. He is a visionary who doesn’t back down or compromise the integrity of a program for political gain. Clinton signed “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” and Obama reversed it. Clinton tried to do healthcare reform but didn’t fight for it so it was a huge failure. Obama fought and passed the Affordable Care Act. President Obama is a once-in-a-generation leader like FDR. But FDR was president for three terms, from 1933-1945. I believe President Obama will make unprecedented gains for this country, making all of us better off in a second term in office.
I liked Obama in 2008 and he was clearly better than the alternative but I like 2012 Obama so much better than in 2008. In 2008 the language of “hope” and “change” seemed a little amorphous to me, hard to hold on to and harder still to back up in office. But over the last four years President Obama has accomplished more than I thought was possible especially in the face of an intractable Republican Party who opposed him at every turn not because it was the best for the country but just because they could.
So what happens now, now that the convention is over? Well, it’s two months until the election and we have a lot of work to do. There are still too many unregistered voters or those who have moved since 2008. There are still too many undecided voters and too many apathetic voters who suggest not voting is a viable option for moving this country forward. There are too many voters who are uneducated about the issues and how this election impacts their daily lives. There are a lot of people we have to reach out to and at least have these conversations about the direction our country should head. And it’s not just electing President Obama, we have to elect Democrats up and down the ballot to make our country better, starting with President Obama but including Hayden Rogers, Patsy Keever, Jane Whilden for state legislature, all our Democrat Commissioner candidates and Drew Reisinger for Register of Deeds. And we all need to be fired up and ready to go.
So I’m going to go take a nap and then get back to work getting Democrats elected this November.
Bill Clinton has a special place in my heart from my days of interning in the White House. I used to walk around, pet Buddy the dog, and see the President’s speeches on the White House lawn when I was free. So I have seen President Clinton speak several times. And he is always an amazing speaker but after a while the bar gets higher and higher. So even with very high expectations for last night, President Clinton nailed it. He was incredible. My fellow delegates were inspired, encouraged, and some even moved to tears. He laid out the differences between President Obama and Mitt Romney, he answered the Republican attacks in a clear and cogent way, and he fired up the Democratic base.
But we can’t forget the other amazing speakers last night. What mainly struck me last night was that over the last two days how many strong, smart, capable women I have seen speak. We have no lack of female political potential in the Democratic Party, it’s just a matter of using it. Using it so that more that 17% of Congress is female, use it so that our branches of government look more like America. Sandra Fluke gave an amazing speech about women’s reproductive rights and Elizabeth Warren spoke about empowering the middle class. The constant theme among the women I saw yesterday was that all issues are important to women, not just “women’s issues” and that women have an important voice in our election, our government and our communities.
Sept. 5: First day of the convention
Yesterday was the first day of the 2012 Democratic Convention, and it was amazing! Michelle Obama’s speech was incredible. She spoke so genuinely about issues that affect real people. When she spoke about having student-loan payments exceeding their mortgage payment, that’s the reality I face every month. When she said, “Success isn’t about how much money you make. It’s about the difference you make in people’s lives,” that is the reason I went to law school in the first place. And when the first lady said, “Barack knows the American Dream because he’s lived it, and he wants everyone in this country to have the same opportunity, no matter who we are, or where we’re from, or what we look like, or who we love,” that is the reason I support Barack Obama and I became a delegate for this convention.
A lot of people spend time trying to get tickets to VIP events or meet well-known people, and I’m not above that — if I could meet the reporters from the Daily Show I totally would. But mainly what I like to do while I am here is talk to normal people and hear their stories.
One day I spoke to a woman dressed as Queen Charlotte; her son went to UNCA. One of the delegates from N.C. told me about her trip to the L.A. Democratic Convention and she met Michael Douglas.
The Democratic Party is so diverse, having members represented from all races, ethnic groups, incomes, and educational levels — it represents America. And the speeches brought out connections between people that otherwise wouldn’t be possible. A man on the shuttle spoke after Michelle Obama’s speech about how he didn’t graduate from high school until he was 25 because he had to work to help his family. Others just praised Mrs. Obama for being such a role model for our nation.
One of the main reasons I am here and why this election is important to me is because the Republican-led attack on women’s rights. So while I am at the convention, I’m trying to go to as many related events as possible and talk to as many people as possible about the very real threat to women in this country.
First I went to the Women’s Caucus, where [Democratic National Committee Chair and Florida Rep.] Debbie Wasserman Schultz spoke about women’s healthcare. Sandra Fluke spoke about the importance of activism and [Sec. of Health and Human Services] Kathy Sebelius spoke about President Obama’s accomplishments for women. The room was full of women (and some men) who were fired up about this election because they know how important it is for women.
After following the labyrinth of police barricades, I attended the Planned Parenthood Rally, where a woman spoke about how without Planned Parenthood she would not have had healthcare to treat her breast cancer and she would have died. [Newark, N.J., Mayor] Cory Booker spoke about how important Planned Parenthood was for women’s health. And last night at the convention Nancy Keenan of NARAL reminded us: “Don’t assume women remember what President Obama has done for women.” I heard the comment over and over: “My grandmother said they already fought this fight, why are we fighting for choice again?”
There is a general call to action for women to vote and volunteer this election and bring with them their friends, sisters, mothers, and grandmothers. And this is an urgent need. If Republicans come into power we will lose health-care equality for women and it will be OK to treat being a female as a preexisting condition.
If Republicans take power at all levels of government, the right to choose will be severely restricted or eliminated altogether. This is what the Republicans are running on. And since the Republican surge in 2010, state legislatures have proposed over 1100 anti-choice bills.
In North Carolina, the dubiously named “Women’s Right to Know Act” requires women to view an ultrasound before they can get abortion services. In their current role, Republicans are already trying to turn back time in the area of women’s rights.
Republicans opposed the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, a law that protects victims of domestic violence. Republicans opposed the Fair Paycheck Act, which sought to rectify the problem that, on average, women make 77 cents to the dollar men make. In contrast, President Obama’s first enacted law was the Lilly Ledbetter Act, which makes it easier to litigate gender discrimination cases. President Obama fought for contraception insurance coverage in the face of extreme criticism. As they said at the Planned Parenthood Rally yesterday, President Obama has had our back, and now we’ve got his.
Sept. 3: Convention-palooza
A few years ago I went to Lollapalooza in Chicago and I was a little overwhelmed. There were six stages with lots of great bands, lots of organizations and plenty of fascinating people — what’s a girl from Western North Carolina to do? How do you choose? After three days of concert-going, I learned some important lessons: 1) prioritize; 2) chill out — it’s not the end of the world if I miss something; and 3) don’t burn out.
These are the lessons I carry with me to Charlotte North Carolina this week for the Democratic National Convention. There are hundreds of events over the course of the week, with lots of options for participants — from musical acts to policy lectures to art exhibits and films. Every day, there are lots of social events delegates are invited to, and this is all on top of caucuses and the actual convention. A lot of people I know are going to try to do Everything, but for me my priorities are clear 1) incredible speakers like Jimmy Carter, Elizabeth Warren, and Bill Clinton; 2) musical acts; 3) events focused on progressive women’s issues like EMILY’s List, Planned Parenthood, and NARAL.
Yesterday started the convention with Welcome Parties for all the state delegations. States were grouped together and held events all over Charlotte. North Carolina’s event was at the Nascar Hall of Fame and was shared with South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and Georgia. The event featured food from each state, including barbecue, shrimp and grits, and bread pudding. The most inspired thing at the event was a macaroni-and-cheese bar, which is probably the most amazing thing I have seen since the waffle bar in college. Several distinguished speakers rallied the delegates, including Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx, Representative Mel Watt and Rep. Jim Clyburn from South Carolina.
Today was our delegate breakfast where we pick up our daily credentials and then later is Carolinafest, which is a street fair that is open to the public. Janelle Monae, Jeff Bridges and James Taylor are all scheduled to perform. But before I head over there, I have to go around town to pick up tickets for events throughout the rest of the week. There are also caucuses and social events throughout the day sponsored by various groups.
It is kind of an amazing thing, though, being surrounded by active Democrats who love Obama. The Delegates have a lot of spirit, otherwise we wouldn’t be here. To be with so many people who share a vision for this country and what we could be if we got beyond our differences is truly inspiring. All these people in their own way trying to make the United States a little better.
Want more information about the DNC, especially the role young women play in this election? Have a question or comment? Follow me on Twitter @Sarabellah.
Xpress is aggregating tweets below from Zambon and others at the DNC using the hashtag, #avldnc