Democratic National Convention to feature female speakers, community activities


Democratic National Convention Committee CEO Steve Kerrigan (R) speaks as COO Theo LeCompte looks on near where workers construct modifications to the Time Warner Cable Arena in preparation for the DNC on Aug. 22 in Charlotte, N.C. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)
August 22, 2012

The Democratic National Convention will feature a long list of female speakers and a slew of activities designed to make it the most inclusive convention in history, organizers announced Wednesday.

Just a few days before Republicans are scheduled to gather in Tampa, Democrats are starting to reveal details of their convention, which begins in Charlotte on Labor Day.

Joining the list of speakers already announced will be Sandra Fluke, the Georgetown University student who became a campaign lightning rod when conservative talk-show host Rush Limbaugh called her a “slut” for supporting a provision in President Obama’s health-care law calling for insurance coverage of contraception.

Women from many other walks of life will also join the roster, including Lilly Ledbetter, the namesake of a federal law requiring that women earn equal pay for equal work; Nancy Keenan, head of NARAL Pro-Choice America; Caroline Kennedy; and actress Eva Longoria.

Democratic organizers also announced plans to open up the final day of the convention, when Obama will speak, to the general public. “Tens of thousands” of tickets will be made available to the public starting this week, when Obama campaign offices across North Carolina will start distributing them to volunteers who have given at least nine hours of their time. Tickets will be made available to the broader public next week.

“From the very beginning, the president wanted us to make sure we were the most accessible and open convention in history,” said Steve Kerrigan, the chief executive of the Democratic convention, who noted that this is the first-ever convention to include an office of “public engagement.”

One goal was clear from party officials: drawing a contrast with Republicans, similar to the one that Obama has sought to draw with GOP opponent Mitt Romney, about their visions for the nation. Just as Obama talks regularly about protecting middle-class programs that he says Romney would slash, the Charlotte convention will feature public events and service projects for the city — while the Republican schedule in Tampa does not feature a single event for the general public, except for a festival being staged independently by Rep. Ron Paul (Tex.).

Republican convention organizers did not respond to requests for comment.

Similarly, Democrats’ slate of female speakers highlights the contrast Obama has tried to draw between his positions and those of his opponent on abortion and other women’s health issues. This week in particular, Democrats have seized on the comments of Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin regarding “legitimate rape” to highlight some Republicans’ (including vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan’s) opposition to abortion even in cases of rape and incest.

“This convention will define the election as a choice between two very different paths for our nation, particularly when it comes to the health and economic security of women and middle-class families,” convention spokeswoman Melanie Roussell said. “The speakers announced today were chosen because they can personally define that choice.”

Another convention goal made apparent Wednesday mirrors what Obama did in 2008 in Denver, where the convention served as a giant organizing tool for the campaign. Among other things, the campaign collected information from more than 20,000 volunteers on the final day of the convention — a crucial army to deploy across Colorado, which was widely credited with helping Obama win that state.

Convention planners have been meeting with North Carolinians for well over a year, reaching out to churches, minority communities and business groups to connect with people across the state and encourage them to pay attention to the convention.

The Democratic convention will kick off on Labor Day with a festival-type schedule of outdoor activities, entertainment and local food designed to engage the public. People will be allowed to attend caucus meetings on various issues; they will be encouraged to participate in community service projects designed to benefit Charlotte; and youth-oriented activities are intended to draw young people to the Democratic Party.

After two days of speeches at the Time Warner Arena (home of the National Basketball Association’s Bobcats), the convention will move to the outdoor Bank of America Stadium (home of the National Football League’s Carolina Panthers) for its final day, which will feature speeches by Obama and Vice President Biden. Kerrigan said “tens of thousands” of the seats will be available to the general public and campaign volunteers.

Democrats will open the arena to the public next Friday for a sneak preview of the stage, which Kerrigan said will be “electric.” They gave reporters a walk-through of the arena Wednesday, but little of the stage was completed beyond the beginnings of electronic screens and TV broadcast suites.

Kerrigan said the convention committee has carried a goal from the beginning of encouraging community service in order to give back to the host city. Committee staff members will exceed the goal of contributing 2,012 hours of service, he said, which included building two playgrounds, assembling care packages for the military, tutoring local children, volunteering at a children’s hospital and sponsoring a “Dress for Success” clothing drive for unemployed people transitioning back into the workforce.

“It is critical to us that we not just show up in a town, plan a convention and leave, but that we actually do something to help the community,” said Kerrigan, who added that he began his career working for, and learned a passion for community service from, the late senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.). “There are going to be physical reminders of us having been here when we leave — and also intangible things, such as the child who is doing better at math or the kid at the children’s hospital who can play on the rooftop playground.”

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