Experiencing a National Political Party Convention
Attending the Democratic Party’s National Convention: “It was an amazing opportunity and experience.”
My name is Sarah Bigler. I’m a member of the Eastern Illinois University graduating class of 2012. I was a political science major and a member of the College Democrats. I founded an RSO on campus, the EIU Society for Free Thought. I also had a weekly editorial in the DEN about current events and politics in the news.
Through some connections I made at EIU, my name was on the primary ballot in the fifteenth district in Illinois, covering Coles County. For some states, delegates at the national conventions are appointed, but in Illinois, delegates must be elected. Delegates vote for the person in their party they want to nominate for president. This year, of course, we would be re-nominating President Barack Obama and Vice President Joseph Biden. When we arrive at the convention, we sign our name to a list affirming our nominee, and then there’s a roll call of the states on the second to last night, where each state says how many delegates they have and majority rules.
I was one of five people from the district elected to the Democratic National Convention (DNC). I remember my category and my name was about two down from President Obama’s. That was a really cool moment. So was seeing the results come in later that night and realizing it was the first time I had ever been elected to public office.
In 2012, the DNC was held in Charlotte, North Carolina. The day activities were dedicated to smaller, more intimate talks and discussions with members of Congress and party leaders called “caucuses.” There were discussions on topics for women, for example, or veterans, or youth, where people would come and want to hear what issues that delegation was concerned about and where they wanted to see the party go. Since I was in the president’s home state, we were seated up front and center for the entire convention. I saw first lady Michelle Obama, President Bill Clinton, Vice President Biden and President Obama speak, and dozens others.
It was an amazing opportunity and experience. I met so many people I’ve been an admirer of since a young age. I hugged California Senator Dianne Feinstein. I talked baseball with Governor Pat Quinn. I shook hands and talked with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (who was perfectly friendly to me, despite his reputation). I even saw Jeff “The Dude” Bridges play guitar on the street outside.
After I graduated last year, I moved to California. I live outside San Francisco now, and I love it. But after the DNC, I knew I couldn’t just watch the election from the sidelines or just donate money. But working in California wasn’t going to make too much of a difference either. There were phone banks set up in my town where people called out to other states to influence undecided voters, but that wasn’t really my style. My boyfriend and I packed up and drove to Reno, Nevada for a weekend to volunteer.
Nevada is a swing state, so we went to register voters. While we were there, I mentioned to one of the coordinators that I had just graduated and that my major had been in political science. She gave me an email address and suggested I send my resume to her. She passed it along, and that week, I was hired as a field organizer for Obama for America.
I moved to Reno for the last six weeks of the campaign. Campaigns are everything you’ve heard: super long days with no time to sleep, endless coffee runs and terrible diets. Everyone’s there for a good reason, but sleeping four hours a night sometimes makes you forget it. Then the perks come in: Senator Harry Reid would drop into the office, or Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, or Vice President Biden would do a campaign stop and shake your hand and thanks you. Then I’d remember that having nothing but candy and coffee for an entire day—or several days—is a small sacrifice.
The day before Election Day, when I was heading out of the office at midnight with a 4 a.m. wakeup time, I swore campaigns weren’t worth it and I’d find another way to help. By election night, watching the results come in, I couldn’t wait to work on the next one. I’m told everyone does this, but even I had to laugh at myself.
Right now, I’m interning at a campaign firm in San Francisco. It’s not the most exciting work in the world, but it’s great experience with local government and it’s with some great people. I was accepted to a Master’s program in London based on my work at EIU. The school is one of the best in the world for the field I’m going into, International Public Policy. Hopefully, I’ll be there in September.
I felt like I was part of history and like I had helped my country. I worked harder than I ever had in my life and it was worth it. Watching not only Nevada go for my candidate, but also the county I was working in, was incredibly gratifying. I’ll probably miss the 2014 midterm elections, but I’ll definitely be around for 2016. I can’t wait.