Amongst the throngs of nearly 100,000 visitors, 4,233 delegates and 15,000 media outlets participating at this year’s Democratic National Campaign Convention was a group of 18 HBS students who selflessly volunteered to help shape history.
Organized by the HBS Democrats Club, this year’s DNC trek was a complete success. The HBS delegation flew to Denver with little more than the desire to become involved in the political process and a rolodex of contacts consisting of an astounding one name. However, those in attendance quickly found themselves enthralled in the midst of the historic week and working with a DNC staff overjoyed to employ the help of such talented students.
The highlight for many (aside from Obama’s 84,000 person Invesco Field speech) was a private lunch in Denver’s most exquisite Italian restaurant with Gerry Waldron, Staff Director for the House of Representatives Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. Over tendrils of pasta, fine china, and fresh calabrese, Gerry navigated us through his seamless career between government, the private sector and civil society more broadly. He also provided the group with deep insight into the benefits and drawbacks of nuclear, ethanol, wind, biomass and algae based energy generation.
For others, the networking prospects were the highlight. The group shook hands with DNC Chairman Howard Dean, sang along to a live performance by the GooGoo Dolls, snapped photos with actors Chevy Chase and Danny Glover, listened to Madeline Albright discuss her foreign policy views, and of course, saw all the candidates, including Obama himself, up close. The roster of interactions read like a who’s-who’s in American politics. In fact, when Jordan Bazinsky (OA), the trek organizer, compiled a schedule of events for the week, it ran 16 pages in length with speakers, receptions, and invitations running from 7 AM through 2 AM every day.
Some of the best networking interactions occurred each morning, at the State Delegation breakfasts. A select few, like C.J. Wise (OF) and Adam Chepenik (OI) attended the New York State breakfasts, and were fortunate enough to hear Senator Hillary Clinton talk about party unity, Senator Charles Schumer speak about the challenges for the next U.S. Congress, and even interact with New Jersey Governor John Corzine as he spent the morning bolstering NY-NJ relations. Others, like Summer Nemeth (OC), participated in breakfasts with political celebrities at the Massachusetts State Delegation breakfasts. She watched Joe Kennedy fire up the crowd, Al Franken, SNL character and Minnesota Senatorial candidate, explain the reason he must win his Senate race, and sat at the same table with Michael Dukakis, Former Presidential Candidate and HBS Democrats Club keynote speaker last year.
The State Delegation breakfasts were followed by a number of optional events throughout the day, ranging from panel discussions hosted by Madeline Albright with Ben Affleck and ten foreign Heads of State to a Harvard Kennedy School IOP briefing on the importance of the youth vote this election cycle. Others, like trek participants Andrew Sloan (OB) and Maura Sullivan (OI), assumed a more active role in the campaign by conducting press interviews on veterans issues with PBS and several other media outlets. Their efforts even prompted an onstage introduction at the Pepsi Center Wednesday evening.
Regardless of the day’s activities, the trek participants met up each evening to join the audience and watch the democratic process unfold inside the Pepsi Center. Amidst the cheers of 20,000 fellow Democrats, students on the trek paid rapt attention to the speakers and shed tears as they listened to inspirational stories from politicians the likes of Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton and Joe Biden. The speeches touched on everything from the meaning of family to the need for health care reform and the importance of electing Barak Obama as the next President of the United States.
The sensation for change, while undergirding most activities throughout the week, finally erupted Thursday night in the most moving oration since Martin Luther King famously recited his “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial 45 years ago. Although more than 38 million people across 10 television networks watched Obama’s speech from afar, the HBS trek participants joined 83,982 other people inside Invesco Field and stood shoulder-to-shoulder as Barack Obama reminded each of us about the potential for our country, the need for civic engagement, and the reasons he is prepared to serve as our next commander-in-chief. For the HBS DNC trek participants, no other message could have resonated more clearly.