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The Texas Blue
Advancing Progressive Ideas

(Voluntarily) Moving Texas Forward

The 2008 TDP State Convention was not what I expected. The possibility existed for a massive Jets vs. Sharks standoff, a large rumble between Obama supporters and Clinton supporters that could go on for days in contentious protracted parliamentary procedure.

I halfway expected this kind of battle despite knowing what my own eyes have seen throughout the primary process here in Texas, that even though people are passionate about which candidate they would prefer to have as the next leader of the free world, Democrats generally pack it in and get along with other Democrats when the rubber meets the road.

Sure, there were some challenges to the state delegation. There were some county caucuses that ran late and had problems. The gigantic influx of new people was never going to be a totally smooth transition. However, if there were significantly weak points in the infrastructure of the Texas Democratic Party, this is where it all would have buckled. Instead, the infrastructure survived and was reinforced by all the new blood. The infrastructure and the staff of the TDP ably managed a presidential debate and a primary and caucus in short order, so although I expected there might be some struggles between the two presidential preference camps during the state convention, I expected the organization to be completely equipped to handle a huge legion of delegates. I knew we were in for something extraordinary when I asked the volunteers working the convention center about crowd size, and I was told that 15,000 chairs were out and they were almost positive that wouldn't be enough.

My initial thoughts on how the convention would go were no doubt the result of too much cable news. In some cases, the media coverage of the 2008 Democratic primary process in Texas would have you believe that the infrastructural success was secondary to anecdotal, incidental frustration. Further, the coverage of the primary at large did many Clinton supporters the disservice of characterizing them as generally intractable zealots who, when faced with the prospect of an Obama candidacy, would burn the earth and either stay home or vote for John McCain. By and large this is not true. The convention showed the capacity of grassroots Democrats to move into the 2008 election cycle as a united front.

The national media coverage of the presidential primary was myopically focused on the potential divisiveness between the two opposing camps that they imagined had emerged from within the Democratic Party, leaving little room for anyone to posit that maybe - just maybe - the Democratic Party could survive a primary process which brought to it millions of new voters and astronomical fundraising totals while the Republican Party struggled to get off the ropes, losing three special elections for House seats in Republican districts along the way. The prevailing reportage has circulated doubt that the Democratic Party could survive the rigors of its own ascendancy, and I've never been quite sure why.

This is not to say that Austin was all campfires and sing-alongs. I saw the occasional shirt that promised a feisty battle, saying "ONLY Hillary Gets My Vote." A ruckus was raised to get Clinton's speech piped to the floor. The occasional temper flared on both sides for various reasons. For the most part, however, people engaged in the weekend's process and no major confrontations occurred.

Politics is notorious for requiring on-the-job training. The learning curve for any job or grassroots gig in politics has two distinct characteristics. It is A) almost vertical, and B) very short. You won't have a mastery of Making the Big Money Ask or Robert's Rules of Order immediately, but it does mean that the bare basics of almost everything - even convention politics - can be understood by most eager participants after a single iteration.

So when TDP Chairman Boyd Richie asked the first-time delegates to stand and be recognized, that most of the crowd stood up and got rowdy should have been a plain indicator that the convention's official business would take a while. Also adding to the time factor was the high level of interest in further commitment: most of the delegates to the state convention were people new to the process, and many of them wanted to be delegates to the Democratic National Convention. The selection of national delegates is always a hotly contested, drawn-out process, so when you expand the population the only reasonable expectation is that everything will take more time.

Many of the long Senate District meetings had to reconvene after the speeches by senatorial candidate Rick Noriega, Chelsea Clinton, and Virginia Governor Tim Kaine. One would think that this much parliamentary procedure would have turned many new people off to convention politics forever, and perhaps even driven them away from the Cities of Man entirely. This was not the case. Perhaps they'd been seasoned by their caucus experience, and perhaps their own personal cost-benefit analyses placed a high premium on participation. Most of them returned for the second sessions and some, like in Senate District 14, even stuck around until 4:00 AM to finish electing national delegates.

The most telling moment of the convention came during Clinton's concession speech. Throughout the convention, competing chants of "O-ba-ma" and "Hil-la-ry" would occasionally flare up but there wasn't really a nasty spirit behind them. People were excited about the candidate they'd chosen and were voicing it, rather than trying to minimize those that supported someone else. Soon after Clinton officially conceded and implored her supporters to work hard for Obama, a few chants rose up, but they were immediately replaced by a louder chant: "United We Stand." The entire hall got to its feet and it was arguably the loudest thing they did the entire convention. I thought it might be a fluke, but it lasted several minutes, with smiles and a few tears and clapping along.

As a delegate, I was overwhelmed to see it. As a progressive journalist, it confirmed something: as the Texas Democratic Party prepares for November, being a collective part of history and sharing Democratic ideals may be all the glue its members - new and old alike - need to stick together.

(Originally published by Harvey Kronberg's Quorum Report. Reproduced with permission.)

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