My road to the recent 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver began in volunteerism and the belief that individuals can make a difference in the political process. My volunteer work, locally and nationally in elected and appointed roles, landed me at the historic event.
My volunteer work, for one thing, helped to register people to vote and to get preferred candidates elected. I also voluntarily helped develop a health task force for a local congressman.
There also were early-morning bus rides to the Illinois Nurses Association Lobby Days in Springfield; plane rides to lobby on Capitol Hill in Washington; and participation in a Nurse in Washington Internship that helped hone my political acumen.Attendees pack INVESCO Field at Mile High for the DNC.
On more than one occasion, people listened and change happened as a result of those volunteer efforts. Some of the changes were small. But the potential for political success was reason enough to keep working on issues that affect nurses and healthcare.
In 2006, the cause became more personal and urgent when U.S. Sen., Barack Obama, D-Ill., announced he was a candidate for the presidency. After many volunteer hours making phone calls, staffing the voter registration booth at farmer’s markets in Chicago, getting the word out, and attending platform meetings to discuss possible strategies, not going to Denver was not an option.
Once I arrived in Denver, traveling around the city was enjoyable, with every encounter of a new face carrying an Obama sign, wearing a button, hat, or T-shirt easily identifying each person’s candidate of choice.
The lines to board the buses at designated hotels were full of the excitement more frequently identified with young people headed to a rock concert. The loud chatter was coming from ordinary people, who, with the proper and required pass, would board the bus to the convention center.
The official delegates to the DNC had separate buses for their transportation. They, too, stood in line to travel. There was, of course, the occasional limo, but just as often elected officials rode the bus with the masses.
Though people were from various states, geographical differences were no match for the common cause of the assembled public. Even the sighting of a celebrity or two, such as Susan Sarandon, Spike Lee, or Gloria Reuben, did not change the focus of this gathering.
The sidewalks and other outdoor spaces at the convention center and other venues were creatively converted by street vendors into displays of every conceivable marketing and promotional item. Business for buttons, T-shirts, and bottled cold water was brisk.
On the day Obama was scheduled to speak, he was preceded by, among others, senior U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., whose speech was perfect in pitch, tone, and delivery, even as his soft-spoken voice was not completely projected to the upper decks of the venue at all times.
Then the newly vetted Democratic nominee for the presidency made his case in uncomplicated words. Even those of us in the upper rows were kept spellbound via the huge monitors in INVESCO Field at Mile High that allowed each of us to feel as though we had reserved seats right next to the stage.
Imagine the end of a sold-out performance of your favorite singer or musical group. Hardly anyone left early and few people were even talking — they were so caught up in the moment. Somehow the understanding that we were all part of a historic, reverent, and almost ecclesiastical gathering was acknowledged, without words, gratefully, even after the four-hour wait to enter the stadium. It really was a not-to-be-missed, once-in-a lifetime experience. The excitement, pride, and promise of a better tomorrow radiated on every face.