A display on stage shows President Obama during preparations for the Democratic… (Streeter Lecka / Getty Images )
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Conventions may seem like drawn-out and expensive political parties with little relevance to the American people. But Democrats said Monday they were trying to change that, making their convention in Charlotte, which begins Tuesday, one of the most accessible and inclusive ever. That includes an outdoor party open to the public beginning today, and a speech by the president in a stadium that seats 70,000. If only the weather holds up.
The big event of the convention is the president’s speech Thursday evening in Bank of America Stadium, which will be able to fit 65,000 people. Tickets were given to volunteers who promised a certain amount of time to the campaign. Lines to pick up those tickets were a half-mile long at some places, the campaign said.
Yet forecasts call for scattered thunderstorms Thursday, which could make for a very unpleasant time, since umbrellas aren’t allowed for security reasons.
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Convention CEO Steve Kerrigan said the event would go forward “rain or shine,” but that the committee was monitoring the forecast daily and had a contingency plan, if need be.
“We want to make sure everyone’s safe,” he said at a morning news conference.
Moving the speech inside to a smaller venue would mean the DNC would have to turn away thousands of voters who donated time and money, and in some cases, traveled from neighboring states to attend.
“It will be there rain or shine, obviously if there’s very severe weather, we’d be prepared for that as well,” Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt said.
As they did during the 2008 convention, Democrats are hoping to use the Charlotte gathering to recruit volunteers and to influence voters in North Carolina and in neighboring Virginia, LaBolt said.
“In Denver we registered 25,000 volunteers,” he said. “We’ll do more than that here.”
The convention will bring 5,556 delegates and 407 alternates to Charlotte, 27% of whom are African American and 50% of whom are women, said DNC secretary Alice Germond. The oldest delegate, Elzena Johnson, was born in 1914 and the youngest was born in 1994, she said.
“You’ll see people from every walk of life,” she said.
Indeed, there are specific convention events for nearly every group one could think of, including Native Americans, Pacific Islanders, people with disabilities, and a vague “Ethnic Council,” presumably for people who don’t fit into any other group. The convention will also feature Americans who were helped by the president's policies, including a GM worker who was laid off and then reemployed thanks to the bailout of the auto industry.
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“We’re making sure that this convention is the first of its kind,” Kerrigan said. “We tried to find as many ways as possible to engage more Americans in this historic event. This convention is the most open and accessible convention in history.”
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa tried to emphasize the convention’s diversity by giving a quick welcoming speech to the press in Spanish, after his English version. The Spanish speech also talked about how the convention was the most open in history, and promised to affirm Democratic values at the event.