Saturday, August 30, 2008

The 3rd night

By Wednesday I had gotten into a bit of a routine with the credentials. We started with our usual pick up at the DNCC main distribution center and were pleasantly surprised with a few more than we had originally expected. The rest of the day we worked our usual contacts and made the typical pick ups. Wednesday was a little different in terms of programming though because our panels were going to be held in conjunction with the Rocky Mountain Roundtable, the Council on Foreign Relations, and the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver. We had moved for the day into the theater across the hall that seated over 2000 people…and we were sold out!

The first panel of the day was a discussion on enhancing the U.S. role around the world. Panelists included Tim Wirth, former Colorado Senator, Geoff Garin, Tom Brokaw, Madeleine Albright, Richard Haass (president of the Council on Foreign Relations), Richard Holbrooke (former US Permanent Representative to the United Nations), Jessica Mathews (President of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace), and Vin Weber (former Minnesota Confressman, chairman of the National Endowment for Democracy).

The second panel was on combating global poverty. Panelists included March Nathanson, Gayle Smith (Center for American Progress), Madeleine Albright, Ben Affleck, Nanc Birdsall (President Center for Global Development), John Danilovich (former Ambassador and CEO of the Millennium Challenge Corporation), Tom Daschle (former US Senator), Hernando de Soto, Oby Ezekwesili (vice president fo the World Bank Africa Region), Donald Payne (New Jersey Congressman), Tim Wirth, and James Wolfensohn (former World Bank president).

I was running around during the first session so was not able to see any of the panel. Right before the second panel I was escorted down to the green room to meet with our chairwoman’s chief of staff to finalize our schedule for the next two days. While down there, Ben Affleck and his wife, a very pregnant Jennifer Garner, walked in with their crew. He sat down with the rest of the second panel to begin discussing the structure of their presentation. It was a pretty incredible group to listen to and I was certainly excited to be down there. Once I had finished my scheduling though I ran back up stairs to meet my boss and continue with the credential gathering.

By the end of the night we had once again manged to collect enough credentials to send every person into the convention. Once we had driven through security, my boss let me go early so I could get into the hall. I had a floor pass again so I made my way to the Rhode Island delegation and said hi to my friends. I also saw Senator Whitehouse and his chief of staff. It was great to catch up with them after so long. I then made my way down to the Indiana delegation and planted myself about 20 feet from the podium to stand and watch the rest of the night. After speaking, Senator Evan Bayh came up next to me with his wife and I watched a good portion of the speeches with him and Congressman Andre Carson. From there I watched Bill Clinton, Joe Biden, and the surprise appearance from Obama. It was a great night but my legs and knee were so sore it was almost a little too much. The things you do for access at the convention.

Afterwards I headed to the Daimler party with a few of my colleagues and my good friend Gabe Amo from Wheaton and decided not to even try for the Kanye concert. We had a great time dancing and joking around and it was just what we needed. The weirdest thing about the convention is how you begin to expect free food and drinks wherever you go. When I get back to DC I'm going to have some issues with there not being at least 2 ritzy receptions per day. After our 3rd ritzy event of this particular day, I crashed in one of my friend’s rooms intending on driving one of our vans back to the DU dorms in the AM to change and get ready...

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

I'm a dealer of illicit material

As I have fallen behind on the blogging I’ll try to fit two days into one here. On Monday we started the real wheeling and dealing. One of my boss’ responsibilities at the convention is to get as many credentials as possible so that we can get our foreign dignitaries into the convention as often as possible. This is always a difficult task, but during a convention year with this much hype and so little space in the convention hall it is daunting.

The way it works is that every morning the Democratic National Convention Committee (DNCC) issues all of the credentials for the day. There are multiple levels of credentials going from Arena access that just gets you into the perimeter, to Hall Guest that lets you in the highest section up in the nosebleed seats, to Hall Special Guest that lets you into a slightly better seating section, to Hall Honored Guest, to Floor which lets you walk around where all the delegates and big politicos are, to backstage, which lets you mull around where the speakers get set up, all they way to podium which allows you access to the actual stage. Each better credential lets you also use the seats of the credential a step down. Floor and podium passes are highly prized possessions, any credentials at all are highly prized possessions, which brings me to how gathering credentials feels a little bit like being a drug dealer…

So as I said, every morning the DNCC goes to its safe in a bank (not kidding) and gets out its credentials for the day. They then give an allotment to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC), Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), the National host committee, the Denver host committee, and a few other select DNC finance groups. Those groups then have their own process for determining who they provide credentials to. The biggest allotment for groups and individuals though is distributed directly by the DNCC. Every morning at 8:30 when the random office building on a random side street with a small white sign on the door opens up, people line up around the block to be allowed into the building. Once in you go to a teller to request your designated allotment. You’re never quite sure what you’ll get but it’s usually not as many as you hope. After waiting for them to record the serial numbers they bring you back to a small room to count them. For a large group this can take some time. Because the DNCC allotment is never enough the next step is to find out who of your friends and contacts are receiving credentials and are willing to part with some of them. This involves driving around town, calling contacts who direct you to call randomly placed people on the street or in hotels to go pick up their donations of two or three credentials to you. This is where the drug dealing comes in…

On Monday we received instructions to call a woman regarding a packet that could be available for us. When I called her she instructed me to go to a specific hotel, look for the bar on the left, and find a woman in the corner in a dark suite with long dark hair. I was then to ask for Amanda and be handed over a package. So I went, and it went down just that sketchily. So for the past two days I have literally run around town with my boss, in her DNCC-provided car and driver tracking down credentials, meeting people on street corners and passing packets filled with precious materials discreetly into bags. Yea, it’s sketchy! The one nice thing is that the convention decided it wanted to be green so they purchased a whole fleet of hybrid Tahoe’s to tote around politicos, DNC officials, VIPs, and somehow our VP and President.

In between these shady deals I have continued to schedule for our chairwoman and as a result have had some interesting run-ins. Today President Clinton came by to speak briefly. He and Secretary Albright walked in to the room together and I was too busy scheduling to even notice. Of course my camera broke right at the moment they were standing in the corner talking about some issue of foreign affairs! I managed to get our meetings scheduled and while running around successfully coordinated 4 meetings with ILF participants from 4 different countries at an off site location.

I also attended today an event we had planned for executive women. NDI brought together women government ministers, business executives, and other influential individuals to discuss in small groups how the US could better support women’s rights and status around the world. Madeleine Albright, Ashley Judd, Mary Robinson (former Pres of Ireland), Charity Ngilu, and many others added their insight. It was very interesting to sit at one of the tables and participate in the discussion with members of parliament and major international power brokers.

In the evenings I accompany my boss to our hospitality suite which is located in the hard perimeter of the convention hall. Because of this we have some serious logistical issues to consider. All of the buses for our participants are pre swept and manned at all times by diplomatic security agents. This allows us to pass through security without being searched or having to get off the bus. I usually enter in one of the cars so we go through the whole bomb sniffing dog, magnetometer routine. Our hospitality suite is about 300 feet from the convention center so the walk is easy. Inside we have flat screen tvs with the convention on, food, drinks, desserts, chairs, tables, and computers. People rotate in and out of the hall with our hard earned credentials and when not in the hall, just hang out and drink. At the end of the night they load on their buses and head back to their hotels. On occasion there are special side events or after parties which start around 9:30. If we’re not too tired and our feet aren’t to sore we head out. Otherwise we head back to the dorms to get a few hours of sleep and be ready to start the search all over again.

It truly is a pretty insane process but very interesting to observe. Tomorrow we’ll go for it all over again and hope for the best! So far I have gone into the hall both nights but only for the main closing speeches. Michele Obama on Monday was amazing. So eloquent, honest, straight forward and smart! Hillary tonight did an incredible job and said exactly what needed to be said to encourage party unity. Though I did see Hillary’s speech, I was a little upset because I managed to get floor passes but as I approached the Rhode Island delegation to sit with some of my contacts from the campaign the fire marshall decalred capacity and barred anyone else from entering. Luckily my boss had handed me a pass to a sky box that a donor had given me. I walked up to the small crowded room and contorted myself to see the big screens through many heads. It was still cool to feel the energy of the hall though. Let’s hope tomorrow I make it inside earlier to actually get a seat!

That’s it for the longest post ever

Monday, August 25, 2008

A day of exasperation

I have often wondered what hell might be like, and I can tell you, I think it involves hundreds of copies of hardback books, hotels spread out across the city, donor requests, high security, no food, and a sore leg. But let me go back a little. My day started at 6:30am, getting picked up by two my colleagues to drive to a former NDIer's house to pick up hundreds of Madeleine K. Albright's new book to provide to our participants at check in. We loaded all the boxes of books into our minivan, and took off for the airport hotels followed by a few downtown hotels.

We then ran back to our headquarters to pick up information packets, credentials, and welcome totes for our major donors and board members. Piper and I then took to the Denver streets (neither of us knowing the city at all) and proceeded to hit up 10 hotels attempting to leave this material for our honored guests. Only complication was that every hotel in Denver was so overrun with convention security issues and massive check-in's that they either refused to accept the packets or didn't know what to do with them. After literally 5 hours of this running back and forth, being turned away by swat teams, and trying not to loose it we were burnt. Finally at the 2nd to last hotel we were told that one of our high profile board members' room had been canceled and he was supposed to check in that day. I couldn't access my e-mail to get contact info, couldn't call anyone to fix it because it had been a block of rooms from the Wisconsin delegation, and couldn't get the hotel to explain what happened. While Piper fought with the hotel inside, I sat in the van trying to figure out what to do. I hadn't eaten all day, which makes me a very very cranky person. Realizing I had a protein bar in my bag I got it out relieved that I had something. Right at that moment, an old couple walked up to my open window and said "we're homeless, starving, and have AIDS." I stammered with the protein bar held up in my hand and said..."um, I don't have cash but I have this bar." And of course they took it. So now I felt like a schmuck and had nothing to keep me from going batty. When piper returned we drove on to the last hotel and then dropped me off to get changed for that evening's event.

When I got to the hotel I jumped into action to try to figure out how we would manage to fix the board member's room. Every hotel in the city was sold out and the chaos made it even more difficult to getting anything done. After about 5 frantic e-mails, 4 frantic phone calls, and 3 hours, I got in touch with my key contact at the hotel and convinced them to provide a new room at the same rate. Crisis averted! Now to get ready for the events!

As I got out of the shower I got a phone call saying that Secretary Albright was arriving to speak at the opening panel and I needed to meet them at the door to show them to the green room. Still in my towel and no where close to the conference center I had to call around and arrange for someone else to escort them through and try my best to get there in time to work with her chief of staff to schedule a few side meetings. Of course when I went to dry my hair, half way through the drier broke. 35 minutes later the front desk finally brought me a new one. With my phone ringing every 2 minutes with questions about hotels, donors, and board members, requests to pick up kinko's orders, and my need to get to the conference center in 5 minutes I was about as stressed as one can be. As soon as I was done getting ready, I ran to our van (that I'm not supposed to drive being so young and all), hopped in, and tried to find my way back to our meeting space. I managed to find parking, ran inside and got there just in time for Secretary Albright and Howard Dean to walk by me into our holding area.

After the panel we gathered everyone for the opening reception in the ball room. While i had been running around, a few hundred foreign dignitaries had descended on Denver. As horrible as the day was, meeting Secretary Albright, helping to escort Dean, seeing Nancy Pelosi come and speak, and mingling with our guests made it ok.

After our reception I headed out with my boss and a few of her colleagues to a party hosted by a prominent law firm. There we ran into Harold Ford who knew one of the women we were with. We chatted with him for a while and then wandered around the Denver Art Museum admiring quite an original party. Towards the end of the night I saw Rob Riggle of the Daily Show standing across the room. Egged on by my boss I walked over to chat and joked around with him for a bit (very nice guy!). Finally after about 1.5 hours we were all too tired to make much more of a night of it. Luckily my boss gets a driver and car for the week so we were all escorted back to our hotels/dorms to get our much needed sleep and pray for a less stressful day.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The fireworks, the fireworks!

Saturday was a little more relaxed than before. Still tons of work to do, but at a manageable pace. Though I thought fighting with hotels had been settled I was being too optimistic. I spent about 4 hours of my day negotiating between the DNC, one of our VIP’s staffers, and the hotel in question to cover up some dealings I had made to get us two additional rooms we weren’t supposed to have. In the end it all worked out but I had a few additional heart attacks before it was all settled. I spent the rest of the day preparing my boss’s schedule, coordinating with our chairwoman on her schedule and trying to collect briefing materials for bilateral meetings between our chairwoman and key dignitaries.

The day before we had all been watching the VP nod closely. CNN and MSNBC were ridiculous, staking out potential nominee's houses and we mostly whined about how crappy cable media is. By the end of the day we decided to start a little wager and all made our bets on a white board as to whom the man or woman would be. The next day when the official announcement was made we all huddled around the TV in our office to hear the words of our next President and Vice President of the United States. I have to say that it is the first time I have felt so relieved and happy about the potential of our country in a long time. I'm really happy with a straight talker like Biden and think we have two people who really care about the American spirit, ingenuity and dedication. Two real people who are in it for the right reasons. I was truly inspired and even more excited for the convention to begin!

By the end of the night I still had a million and one things to do but decided I needed to celebrate the VP announcement and decided to accept the offer of a credential to the media party instead. The media party is always held on the Saturday before the convention to kick off the week. It is usually pretty legendary fun. This one did not disappoint. The party was held at this theme park in the middle of Denver, complete with free drinks, funnel cakes, ice cream, food, bands, roller coasters, climbing walls, ferris wheels and fireworks. Basically imagine your childhood fair with alcohol and adults…good times. We made our way around the park and decided to get in line for the ferris wheel. We were a large enough group to need two “cages” and loaded in like excited school children. As soon as they had rotated us to the top one of the most spectacular fireworks show I have ever seen was set off on either side of us. It lasted close to 10 minutes and we saw it all from the wheel. I was joined by some of my fabulous colleagues and we could not have had a better time. The weather was fabulous, the view was incredible and it was a perfect way to start off the week. When we had our rotating fill we walked around a bit more. My friends Piper, Ian, and I decided to try the climbing wall (piper and I in skirts) and the rest of the crew headed for the roller coaster. At the end of the night we made our way back to the dorms/hotels and readied ourselves for what promised to be an insane first program day. It did not disappoint…

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Hotels, mountains, and dorm rooms

My last evening in the office proved as hectic and stressful as one might expect. I unfortunately was unable to wrap up the few important things that needed to be done before I stepped on the plane, so I went home a little preoccupied. I spent the first hour home trying to coordinate phone calls to interview potential roommates (as if there wasn’t already enough going on) and didn’t get packing until around 10ish. I gave up around 12ish and went to bed, setting my alarm for 4:15 to finish throwing too many clothes into my giant suitcase.

When I landed in Denver I headed straight downtown with my colleague to meet up with our bosses and get some e-mails off to our partners. The day was pretty hectic and insane, with lots of phone calls to what are now “good friends” at hotels, trying to straighten out logistical nightmares and putting complex puzzles of accommodation and meeting requirements together. High maintenance people + crowded oversold convention= crazy. The whole group of NDI staff also took a walk through of our program’s space at the Denver Performing Art’s Center. It’s pretty amazing. They have provided us with a beautiful office including a deck overlooking downtown Denver and the mountains, two large theater spaces for our panels, and an incredible ballroom for our opening reception. The whole room is flanked by windows looking out across the city. We then took a tour of our hospitality suite which is located within the hard security perimeter of the convention hall and walking distance from where the whole thing will go down. Very impressive space.

After such a marathon day of walking, traveling, and cutting deals I was feeling pretty dead. Finally around 7:00pm I got everything I asked for from the hotel I had been battling with for the past week whose only prior word uttered was "no", and indulged in a little lap of victory (I literally ran through the office declaring victory…small things in life). Those of us staying at the Denver University dorms (that’s what I said) loaded into vans, hunted down some snacks, and headed to our concrete walled, bunk bed filled, college desked dorm rooms…tomorrow I will try to remember how to iron on a chair.

So after I finish up a few e-mails, give a different hotel a call back (that just called me at 11:45pm) and post this bad boy, I’m going to make my little bunk bed and pass out…tomorrow begins the real work and hopefully more victory laps!

By the way: you can start seeing pictures I post throughout the week at

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Let the games begin

So it is now official. My ticket is purchased and the dates are solidified. I have two more weekends left in DC between now and October 14. I am extremely excited for my travel but am definitely overwhelmed with how much I have to do in my short time left. So here's the schedule:
  • August 8 to Indianapolis for my wonderful mother's 60th birthday
  • August 21-29 to Denver for the Democratic National Convention
  • September 8-October 1 to Uganda for work
  • October 2-11 to Tunisia to visit Margaret and Tanner
  • October 11-13 London to visit Gen
  • October 14 back in DC
Quite a bit coming up. I am really trying to fit in as much training and rehabbing as I can to make sure all of my recent gains aren't lost. I have finally started biking a limited amount again and am hoping to get back to running soon (better have a darn good tri season next year!) Once in Uganda I will most likely not have access to a pool and will certainly not be able to bike. I also will have close to 6 weeks without my usual twice a week physical therapy sessions. Considering it all, it makes me slightly apprehensive but all I can do is hope my body bears with me.

The trip seems to be shaping up nicely though. In Uganda I'm really looking forward to working with my country director Heather again and see our team in action. We have quite a busy September full of community organization trainings and party caucus meetings. I will also be there during Rosh Hashana and am going to try to head east to celebrate with the Abayudaya jews. For Yom Kippur I should be in Tunisia and will try to head south for services with the historic Jewish community down in Djerba. All in all it should be quite an adventure.

In Denver I'll be helping out with our International Leaders Forum at the convention. In other words trying to give a few hundred foreign dignitaries a sense of our electoral system... frightening. But it should be a good time and I definitely appreciate the chance to head to the convention again. I suppose that's it for now. I'll try to update as it all goes down.