Adventures of an Accidental Delegate
The yellow-vests have been overwhelmed by sheer numbers, and the convention floor has devolved to a state of nature in which only brute force prevails. Transverse movement has slowed to the point that it's only by referring to external landmarks that you can tell, for instance, that the guy in the Uncle Sam hat has progressed eight feet in the last 20 minutes. From my vantage point, a few rows back from the floor, it's like watching a slow-motion feed of the LaBrea, Calif., tar pits, observing once mighty creatures—Secret Service agents, EMTs, cameramen, Chuck Schumer—struggling with increasingly feeble gestures, then succumbing, brought down by the sheer weight of inertia.
Among them swims the Periscope Guy—some man who has brought a green periscope covered in Hillary, Obama, and Gore (?) stickers and endlessly circles the floor, like a single heroic spoon trying to stir a hot tub full of oatmeal. What is the object of his forlorn quest?
Every 30 seconds, someone hands you another laminated placard, themed to the current speaker—"STRONG AMERICA," "RENEWING AMERICA'S PROMISE," "COMMON GOALS"—and the floor and stairs become dangerously slippery with obsolete placards. During Hillary's speech, they handed us long sticks with "UNITY" printed on one side and either "HILLARY" or "BARACK" on the other. However, embarrassingly, they only hand these signs to the left side of the auditorium, which has no symbolic significance whatsoever!
There's an elaborate caste system of credentials in the convention center. Lowest caste are the "Arena" passes, which are orange and permit you to wander around the lobby, hallways, and food court but not to get into the actual auditorium. Even these passes are fun, however, since politicians and pundits are constantly going for corn dogs, and you might get to ride up the escalator behind Anderson Cooper and marvel at the achievements of modern tailoring.
Middle caste is "Hall"—a purple credential—which itself comprises several subcastes, including the majority of press, delegate alternates, DNC Standing Committee members, and connected members of the public. Hall can include the mezzanine, where the alternates and committee members sit; the various press boxes; and general seating, which is first-come, first-served and goes all the way up to the nosebleeds.
Highest caste is "Floor," which includes TV press, DNC Finance Committee members (big fundraisers), celebrities, and delegates. The Finance Committee and celebrities get special sparkly stickers on their badges, but their passes do not include seats. And since one is not allowed just to stand around on the floor or in the aisles, they could easily spend five hours struggling in the tar pits, with the occasional avenging yellow-vest nipping at their heels. It's hard to tell who looks more bewildered, the Finance Committee members ("But I'm too rich to be herded!") or the fire marshals, who spend the entire evening in a rising state of panic, trying to figure out whether they would be merely trampled or actually dismembered if they tried to clear the floor five minutes before Hillary's speech.
Credentials of any kind are especially hard to come by this year since the venue is smaller than at past conventions. The New York delegation, for example, has 281 delegates and only about five guest credentials, for which there is a daily lottery. If you don't have a credential, the best thing to do is to suck up to a one of the DNC Credentials Committee members, who apparently have extra. (A rank-and-file delegate is not going to be able to get you one, so please stop e-mailing me!)
The second-best thing to do is the following, which apparently worked for a friend yesterday:
You will need:
- 1 lower-level credential of any kind—i.e., Hall or Arena (to get you into the Pepsi Center in the first place)
- 1 delegate or other friend with a Floor credential (with 4,000-some delegates, if you can't manage to befriend one of them, you have no business being at a political convention in the first place)
- 2 lanyards with plastic credential sleeves (these are readily found by scavenging discarded swag bags)
- 1 security guard
- 1 Floor credential from yesterday
Here's the key fact: Unlike at previous conventions, where the credentials were reprinted in different colors every day, these sweet, trusting Coloradans have kept the same color scheme for each day, in which the Floor credential is always green and only the little glitter strip on the side changes color. Here's a photo of yesterday's floor credential and today's floor credential side by side. Would you be able to tell the difference in a dark room filled with 40,000 people?
Here's what to do:
Step 1: Have your friend the delegate duck into the restroom and remove his/her lanyard, containing his/her Floor credential.
Step 2: When your friend steps out, hide behind a condiment station and switch your lanyard, containing your lesser credential, with his/her lanyard containing the Floor credential. Put on the Floor credential lanyard. Tell your friend to wait at Arby's for a few minutes.
Step 3: Locate a security guard staffing one of the Floor entrances and flash your credential conspicuously. Enter the Floor and spend a little time there. On the way out, ask the guard a stupid, memorable question (i.e., "Which of the concession stands has the best corn dogs?"). Try to engage the guard in conversation.
Step 4: Leave the Floor and give your friend back his/her Floor credential. Replace the lesser credential in your lanyard with yesterday's Floor credential. Try and arrange your wardrobe so that the lapel or something is covering the left side of the credential.
Step 5: Go back to the same Floor entrance and walk through, passing the same guard, nodding airily in a way that conveys the message, "Although I am a huge political player, I always try and take the time to recognize the little people."
Step 6: You are in! Enjoy your time in the tar pits!
Monica Youn is an attorney in the Democracy Program of the Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law.