x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Democrats make convention fun

With the caucus meetings over, the delegates spilled out into downtown Charlotte for an unexpected treat. Nearly the entire centre of the city has been shut down and the streets have become an open-air fair. Our columnist James Zogby reports live from North Carolina.

The Democratic Convention opened in Charlotte, North Carolina yesterday.

The day began with caucus meetings. The convention centre was buzzing with activity as the party's almost 5,000 delegates and committee members made their way to their respective caucus meetings. This morning there were sessions for Asian Americans, African Americans, ethnics, Hispanics, native Americans, women, youth, the disabled and military veterans and their families. These caucuses address the particular needs of these constituencies and discuss the strategies needed to organize them and get them out to vote.

I chaired the ethnic caucus meeting. This grouping represents delegates and members from 19 European and Mediterranean countries. For most of the last century, our communities were the immigrants and their descendants that formed the backbone of the Democratic Party. The party lost some ground with these groups in recent decades and is now working to recapture their support.

Democratic Party Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz addressed the caucus to make the case directly. Strategy and goals were discussed. Party and campaign officials made statements.

Winning "ethnics" is especially important in what are known as the "battleground states" - states that are the key to success in national elections and where the outcome of the voting is not a foregone conclusion. Hence, ethnic voters will receive attention between now and November.

With the caucus meetings over, the delegates spilled out into downtown Charlotte for an unexpected treat. Nearly the entire center of the city has been shut down and the streets have become an open-air fair, which the organisers have called "CarolinaFest".

The day began with a parade featuring local high school marching bands. There were booths selling political memorabilia, ethnic food, local crafts and more. There were musicians and street performers and even impromptu "soap boxes" where speakers addressed issues of concern. Museums were open and many were free of charge. And special exhibits on American history were constructed and open to the public. There were a host of family activities, including a "kids convention" that taught lessons in "the democratic process and civic engagement". It was a marvelous sight, one that I had never seen in any city that had hosted a major party convention.

Too often national political conventions some to town, take it over for a week and shunt aside local residents. They bear the brunt of the inconvenience of heavy traffic and closed streets but have no opportunity to participate in the festivities.

This was clearly different. Visiting delegates and tens of thousands of local residents shared in "CarolinaFest". And thousands will be admitted to Charlotte's massive sports stadium, where President Obama will deliver his acceptance speech.

I have noted that national conventions aren't what they used to be. There is little tension or drama. In the case of the convention here, this is even more the case. Barack Obama will be renominated, as will his running mate, Joe Biden. There will be work, to be sure, but that will take place in side meetings and caucuses.

Taking that into account, the organisers of the Charlotte convention have taken an unconventional approach, making the event more inclusive and finding ways to make it more fun.

James Zogby is president of the Arab American Institute (www.aaiusa.org and Twiiter at @aaiusa)