Editor's note: Chattanooga resident Pat Branham, a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in Denver, was sending blogs and photos to the Times Free Press, highlighting her experiences at the event.
Name: Pat Branham
A.D. Nursing, Chattanooga State
B. S. in Business Administration, UT Knoxville
MEd in Community Counseling, UT Chattanooga
Unum Corp. - Director, Clinical/Vocational Services, Appeals.
By Pat Branham
Pat Branham, of Chattanooga, was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention last month in Denver.
Since returning from the Democratic National Convention I have sifted through memories of the serious, the funny, the suspenseful and the inspiring. It is hard to believe that a woman from East Tennessee, with parents who did not finish high school, was privileged to attend perhaps the most historic of all our conventions. Memorabilia are still spell-binding to this woman who rode a school bus to high school on a gravel road not far from a wildlife management area.
In a typical day, delegates began with a 7:30 a.m. breakfast while nationally elected officials recharged our energy. At 9 a.m. we were given credentials inscribed with “08 DNC” that we slipped into plastic sleeves held loosely around our necks by a cord. These provided entrance to the convention and to delegate-only events. The most anticipated nonconvention meeting for me was Hillary Clinton’s Wednesday afternoon meeting for her delegates prior to the historic roll-call vote that night.
There are of course many intangible memories. I rode on the shuttle bus several times with my former nursing professor, state Rep. JoAnne Favors. What a treat to ride with a woman of such depth and wisdom who laughs heartily and frequently. I rode the bus Tuesday night with Rep. Jim Cooper. He was approachable, a great listener and a sensible man who cares deeply for this country. I rode the wrong bus one night. I met scores of delegates from different states, some Hillary delegates and some not. At Hillary’s Wednesday afternoon meeting, I met a Choctaw Indian from Rock Island, Ill. We struck up a friendship as we talked about our common interests of dance and politics. He gave me a “Dancing for Change” button with the picture of a Native American in full costume. He invited me to the Wednesday and Thursday night Illinois delegation’s parties, which I regretfully declined.
Monday, we heard Michelle Obama’s story of her humble roots. She was raised by a hard-working father with multiple sclerosis who had to get up an hour early each day to dress painstakingly for work as his disease progressed. She told of Barack‘s pursuit of her and how they fell in love. She is quite intelligent and a reformer in her own right with a law degree. Like Barack, she has a passion for the disenfranchised. What a complimentary couple she and Barack make. And those children….so spontaneous and obviously the center of their parents‘ world.
After Hillary released her tearful delegates Wednesday to sounds of “no,” I ran into her longtime supporter and news commentator Lanny Davis, smiling broadly in his pin-stripped suit. I was one of a million Hillary backers who signed Lanny’s petition asking that Barack make Hillary his running mate. We spoke at length of our common love and devotion to this ground-breaking woman and her courage. He listened and smiled, telling me, “You Southern girls can get anything you want with that accent.”
Perhaps it’s imagined, but it seemed to me that the longest and loudest standing ovation was before Hillary spoke. This strong, caring and intelligent woman came so close to being our nominee, to actually breaking through the glass ceiling; and almost half of convention delegates were her supporters. All that energy we had devoted to Hillary for months was held back in favor of the winner. Our wishes for Hillary were crushed long before that night. It was not our time yet. This was a bittersweet moment. Our pent-up frustrations, dashed wishes and energy were given full release on that night, Hillary night. Tuesday night was our opportunity to honor her tremendous race and all that she had accomplished and represented. We knew that because of her, there would never be a question again about whether a woman could be nominated for the presidency. She had fought a good fight. She had finished her race, and she came within one baton of winning.
As I type, I’m looking now to my left at the confirmation of my attendance at Hillary’s reception where she spoke her final words to her delegates. Two addresses are scribbled on the bottom of the invitation for events that were held at lunch on Wednesday, events I had to choose between just prior to Hillary‘s remarks, knowing I would have to leave either of them early. One was the governor’s luncheon at the Denver Art Museum. The other was for a professional luncheon at the Limelight Supper Club in the Heart of downtown. I chose the Limelight Supper Club. This was a luncheon without speeches. I had an opportunity to mix with a small group of professionals, some of whom were delegates. I met at least eight delegates, most of whom were Hillary advocates of a roll-call vote. We left our luncheon early so we could walk across the street to the Korbel Ballroom for Hillary’s 1:15 p.m. reception. Korbel was crowded with thousands of people waiting to hear what our favored candidate had to say. The public was invited, but we hadn’t expected a crowd so large that it would overflow. We stood shoulder-to-shoulder for about 45 minutes waiting for the doors of Korbel to open and waiting to hear Hillary’s last words to us. I stood in front of my Choctaw friend, Virgil, and near some Texas and Tennessee delegates. We wove forward gradually through the crowd of less assertive people until we were within 10 feet of the rope holding back the crowd. When Hillary released her delegates, about 200 of us waited after the crowd dispersed, trying to get a final glimpse of her. She lingered, just as she had done on her visit to Nashville in February, autographing books she had written, credentials and signs. Some young women appearing no more than 16 years old yelled repeatedly, “Hillary, Hillary, come over here.“ They knew that Hillary opened a door for them. And, yes, they too can dream of becoming president. Her words were unwavering, “Elect Barack Obama.”
The final speeches, including Joe Biden’s, ended at around 10:30 p.m. on Wednesday. I returned to my hotel room, declining all post-convention parties. I arrived around 11:15 p.m., exhausted and wanting to blog again but too drained to muster the energy. I had fallen asleep on the keyboard the night before, jolted awake by my roommate saying, “Are you still up?” I was looking at a page full of “sssssss….”, and it was around 3 a.m. After Wednesday’s events, I knew one thing absolutely. I would be wearing an Obama button beside my Dancing for Change button the following morning.
On Thursday, the stadium began filling before 3 p.m. and continued to fill as we laughed and exchanged stories across state delegations. I knew on that day of soft breezes and luminous sun that I was one of a privileged few — those whose votes had determined our nominee. I knew that we on the field were Democratic leaders in our communities and held the key in many ways to whether this election would be won or lost for our presidential candidate by the way we would mobilize voters on our return.
Virgil walked from the Illinois section to the Tennessee delegation to chat for about 20 minutes. We talked politics and swapped stories of our personal experiences, some political and some personal. We decided to meet outside the field after the speeches were done so we could wait on our buses together, knowing we had only a short time to reminisce before we departed for our separate states — probably never to see each other again. I was wearing my memento from this new friend, a Dancing for Change button with a Native American in full costume pinned next to “American‘s New 1st Family,” with the beautiful Obama family superimposed in front of the White House. It seemed so fitting, both those buttons on my favorite basic black jacket. The Obama button created a tie with this friend and so many others that I met, my political “family“ for a week. As I listened Thursday night, I knew that the final speech by Obama and what it represents were bigger than I was or am — and bigger than Hillary. Too much was at stake for me to harbor lingering regrets or to hold back on my enthusiasm for Obama and his optimistic policy proposals. I kept an open mind; I was energized; and I was not disappointed.
I sat for hours before I heard the inspiring and historic rhetoric of this racially mixed man. And I knew that Obama blazed a trail for people of color just like Hillary blazed a trail for women. I knew that my own beloved and racially mixed 4-year-old grandson could dream of becoming president. I was uplifted by Obama’s words of hope that we can overcome our major problems and can work for the best opportunities for every citizen. We can stop telling folks with no boots to “pull yourself up by your bootstraps.” We can stop telling veterans with no arms to pull their own selves up — that they are “on their own.“ We can give them the message of my Christ and other religious leaders that we are united in our determination to move this country forward, and we believe no one should be left behind.
I found a seat in the middle of my fellow Tennessee delegates. My roommate, Judy Lee, was in the upper tiers as a guest. Three rows from me was my friend Vicky Harwell, president of the Tennessee Federation of Democratic Women. We were both smiling and chatting and pumped up. We had both worked until we were weary for Hillary, but we were also both waiting with enthusiasm to hear our party’s nominee. What would he say to us, to our country, and to the world? But, like so many unexpected events had happened to Hillary during the campaign, an unexpected event happened to Vicky. She suddenly whisked by me, grabbing my upper arm, with tears welling up and said, “My husband has passed out in the stadium and has been taken by ambulance to the hospital. They think it is his heart.” Vicky is a woman of strong faith who teaches Sunday school. She asked that we pray for her husband, and we did. In the end, his tests were OK, but Vicky missed the acceptance speech on that magical night.
Delegates, friends, and strangers were stirred emotionally on that night. The weather was perfect. A breeze covered the crowd. The sun dipped, and the lights came on in the stadium. We heard Stevie Wonder, Sheryl Crow and others as we waited for our nominee‘s acceptance speech. We finally heard Obama make an inspiring call that we have a moral responsibility to make this world a better place. We heard from this Harvard attorney who began his executive experience directing a community service agency. He told us we have a duty to lift up the fallen, to be our brother’s keeper, and to give to the least of these. He told us his heroes were not the celebrities, but the Barney Smith’s, the ordinary citizens in need of supportive government and tax breaks. There was hope and optimism in Obama’s words.
Virgil and I met after the speeches and confetti to bid farewell before departing on our different buses, knowing we would probably never meet again. Our arrangement was a bit humorous since we were sitting in different parts of the field of thousands and had to find each other while the crowd was in a crush after the speeches. Virgil told me to call him and give him my location when I was outside the gate. I called him and kept saying, “I’m right outside the security gate. There are Port-A-Potties on one side and a portable transformer on the other. I‘m looking out at the buses with the stadium to my back.” Then he called standing in a place like I described, but we couldn’t find each other. We discovered that there were many such gates with different numbers meeting the same description. Virgil was at one gate, and I was at another. I heard at least four other people giving exactly the same directions on their cells to friends they were supposed to meet. At last, we found each other long enough to say goodbye. We’ve called a couple of times since. Now I also share Facebook pictures of the ‘08 DNC with several other Hillary delegates, including 19-year-old Cody Goodman, who enhanced jokes with me at the DNC and who attends Union University.
When I returned to the hotel, a young Tennessee Obama delegate, Elizabeth Crews, asked me what I thought of Obama’s speech. I replied that at that moment I could only think of the song, “I’m a believer, not a trace or doubt in my mind.” On that night, I was transformed from a Hillary supporter to a full-fledged Obama supporter, filled with wonder at what is possible for our country.