Aperture magazine at the Democratic National Convention, Night 4
August 28, 2008. Democratic National Convention. Invesco Field, Mile High Stadium, Denver, Colorado. Photo by Allen Spore.
David Levi Strauss, Aperture magazine contributing editor, noted writer, and current Chair of MFA Art Criticism and Writing Department, School of Visual Arts, shares his unique perspective via daily dispatches from the 2008 Democratic and Republican National Conventions.
Signed, Sealed, Delivered
As we approached Mile High Stadium on the press bus at 3 p.m., we looked out to see tens of thousands of people walking in columns, filling the roads, elevated highways, and bridges, streaming toward the arena. We were told that some of these people started walking five hours ago, to get here on time. Inside, the TV networks were already set up on platforms erected around the stage. Security was relatively light, and our Brooklyn Rail credentials got us all the way inside, onto the field, where we stayed for the entire spectacle.
Over the next six hours the scene inside the stadium gradually changed, but it was clear from the beginning that this gathering was very different from those at the Pepsi Center the previous three nights. Down on the field, politicians and celebrities mixed freely with the press. Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, and John Lewis all held court, surrounded by a gaggle of cameras and microphones. Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff were busy interviewing and being interviewed. At one point, it seemed that everybody was interviewing everyone else, except Charlie Rose, who strolled around smiling, taking it all in.
As the stands began to fill up, the most enthusiastic celebrators came down closest to the field and began dancing, waving signs and banners, and chanting. Some groups developed elaborate routines that caught the attention of the photographers and TV people on the field, and the tables turned: the stands became the stage. The mood was buoyant and expectant. Everyone was having a good time.
Up to now, this convention has consisted of roughly 5000 delegates and 20,000 media people. Today, these groups are outnumbered two-to-one by more than 50,000 regular citizens, who are more diverse in age, color, and class, reflecting the demographic shift in the electorate that might just make an Obama presidency possible.
At about 5:30, will.i.am took the stage to do a version of his “Yes We Can” sampling YouTube hit, and the crowd came together. Looking at them, I realized that this was no conventional political party crowd. These were new people, coming into something they had no doubt was their own. They weren’t asking for anything. They were claiming, and were here to celebrate, what was theirs.
I don’t think the Democratic Party, per se, gets this. They are proceeding as if this is just another campaign, and that’s fine with the Obama people. They need the Democrats. But this time, to win, they’re going to need something else.
When the film about Obama’s life began, this capacity crowd of 84,000 fell absolutely silent. Not a sound. And when their candidate appeared on stage, they erupted, causing the stadium to shudder under our feet.
This was not the best speech Obama has given. It wasn’t even the best speech given at this convention. There was little in the speech that he hadn’t said before in the campaign. I think “No Drama Obama” (as his staff calls him) actually took something off of his delivery, in order to keep things real and play against the spectacular setting. After all, this speech was not primarily for the people in the stadium. It was for the record 38 million people at home who tuned in to see it.
But this in no way lessened the effect on the crowd at Mile High Stadium. When Obama spoke of the debacle of the last eight years of American politics and said “We’re better than this,” people knew he meant them. They don’t love him because they think he’s better than them. The love him because he makes them want to be better themselves. And they know that it’s no use blaming Bush/Cheney and Co. for what’s happened to our country. They were just doing what they do. But we need to recognize and mourn what we did and didn’t do to stop them, and we need to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Obama says “Enough!”
Al Gore is right about one thing. The real power in this country is afraid of an Obama presidency, and will do their best to prevent it. The only way to overcome that is through sheer political will, extremely effective communication, and the force of numbers.
Filed Thursday, August 28, 2008, after the final night of the convention at Mile High Stadium.