As the Democratic National Convention winds down in Philadelphia, and with it a two-week, two-convention tour of duty that some journalists have likened to the Bataan Death March of presidential politics, it’s easy, certainly for those of us unfamiliar with this sort of political reporting, to get lost in the numbing repetition of posturing, protest, and political rhetoric, all amid blistering heat.
Even as everything fades into one long weird fever dream, certain stereotypes do linger—repeat characters you would call surreal if they weren’t right there in front of you. And maybe weirdest of all, these players are interchangeable between the two conventions. Below I’ve compiled a list of the more prevalent type at the DNC, but ignoring the swag and slogans, they may as well have been the same characters working the fringes at the RNC in Cleveland.
Burnt Out Bernie Bros
Imagine a Phish concert that never ends. Or, conjure a roving Berning Man festival comprised of hairy misanthropes armed with mommy and daddy’s Amex. These are the core Bernie Bros gathered in Philadelphia to burn sage, chant slogans, and generally refuse to pledge allegiance to anyone named Clinton, because if they do then the man wins, man. Never mind that the alternative to Clinton is a Republican reality star happily poised to hurl common sense and civil rights out the window (albeit from a car that’s about to smash spectacularly into a solid brick wall of actual reality). These dudes are ready to Bern it to the ground out of spite that their foray into the democratic process didn’t end the way they wanted it to, even though sometimes that’s how democracy works. These bastions of self-righteousness are easily distinguished by their festival-like attire: bears, ironic T-shirts, and college baseball caps.
Weekender Activists / Anarchists
Throughout the outside protests—and, in some instances, even inside the DNC grounds—there’s a sub class of protesters railing against the status quo and for almost any and every cause imaginable, from social justice to the environment to legalizing drugs to abortion to that spaghetti monster cult. They mostly look like aging hippies—tie dies, sandals, braided hair, tired chanting—or some iteration of the modern hipster—the Guy Fawkes mask, the grubby, all-black garb complete with knee pads and a bike helmet. But don’t be afraid of these folks. They’re mostly the same kind souls who man your massage therapy offices, head shops, yoga studios, and artisanal pickle parlors. But this week they’re tapping into their hard core roots for some street cred and the chance to reminisce about the good ol’ Occupy days. If you want to play a fun game with them, get out your camera or phone and pretend to be recording. They love the idea of having their dissidence captured for posterity, since the revolution will definitely be televised. And Instagrammed, Tweeted, YouTubed, Snapchatted, Facebooked, Periscoped, and whatever else the kids are sexting with these days. Doesn’t matter, so long as you tag them and they can dredge it up at their next organic cabernet tasting or Mr. Robot viewing party.
These are the overly-motivated, too-optimistic House of Cards fans who obsessively run for every open office in your small town, be it county commissioner, dog catcher, or town water board administrator. Entrepreneurial, they usually own their own businesses and have done well to have the free time to engage in civil service. These folks are directly involved in their regional or local party chapters; they’re the party secretaries or treasurers or assistant vice presidents, and they dress the part of a politician, usually with too-shiny suits that never fit quite right. Unless they’re from a big city, in which case they’ll be wearing whatever suit GQ deems most acceptable, albeit still from Men’s Wearhouse.
While the process through which your state's delegates are selected is an arcane and secretive one (it actually isn't), these are most often just regular people happy to be a part of the political process. You can tell where they’re from via the matching pieces of swag depicting regional stereotypes, such as cheese heads from Wisconsin or gators from Florida. Patriotic on both a regional and national level, they’ve come to Philadelphia to do their part in ushering in the new generation of hope and change, or, in some instances, to proudly cast their lot with a certain ill-fated, wild-haired senator from Vermont. Delegates make up the vast majority of attendees at the DNC, with one exception...
If anyone outnumbers both the delegates and the security forces for sheer volume, it’s the media. Print, web, radio, TV... If there’s a medium that can host a hot take, it’s well represented with a full platoon as part of the invading army of reporters and camera folks scouring not just the DNC arena, but the whole City of Brotherly Love, seeking out the tiniest hint of a story to send forth into the ether. Much like last week’s RNC, the media folks are garbed according to their rank in the journalistic pecking order, from frumpy bloggers with their bizarrely intricate iPad camera mounts all the way up to lobster-roll-scarfing, well-tailored, and man-makeup-slathered cable news anchors.
The True Believers
These are the beautiful optimists who’ve parlayed good service or financial force into a set of DNC credentials, all to fulfill the dream of watching democracy at work. They are often well dressed, but you might not notice, having been blinded by their overly-patriotic color schemes and the abundance of campaign flair accoutrements that cover their torsos like colorful Kevlar vests. They watch wide-eyed as it all happens around them, marveling in their innocence at what they perceive as a pure process. Alas, this wide-eyed optimism often plays as rube-like ignorance, and so these fine folks find themselves beset by feeding frenzies of media types, hoping to exploit that aw-shucks attitude.
Every possible branch of law enforcement is here in force. Even the Coast Guard is motoring around. Moreso than in Cleveland, since not just the Democratic candidate is here, but also the president, vice president, and who knows how many other celebrities. Never mind that the Wells Fargo Arena has been made into an island empire surrounded by miles of cattle fence and heat-blasted tarmac wasteland, there are literally thousands of police, federal agents, secret service, and Lord knows who else throwing hairy eyeballs at every hand that moves toward a backpack or pocket. The local cops are shedding water weight in standard uniforms with heavy flak jackets or as sweaty, harried seeming detectives in frumpy suits and dripping brows. The Secret Service is divided between clean cut, generic-but-genial suit wearing operatives and more militaristic troops in khakis and tactical vests laden with various crowd control gear. And the FBI … Well, you know they’re there, but they’re the ones who look just like everyone else, right? Only more muscular, and packing heat. Chances are, if you see a guy with a sidearm meandering about at the DNC, it’s not an open carry situation. The more observant attendee will also spot the occasional rooftop sniper, peeking furtively over the edges of the arena with dark ball caps and golf shirts.
The Pols and the Celebs
Of course, the candidates are recognizable, but what about their friends, family, and semi-famous colleagues? They’ll be easy to spot even without the gaggle of media gawkers stalking them like wolves on an injured elk calf, as they’re the ones dressed in the shiniest materials and bearing the handiwork of a professional makeup artist just in case someone turns the hot lights of a television broadcast their way. Remember, this ain’t the RNC, so we’re talking not just arcane, lost-to-the-depths-of-nostalgia names like Scott Baio, but also mainstream, actual celebrities like Shailene Woodley, Bradley Cooper, and Sigourney Weaver. Chances are, if they’re glowing ethereally, they’re luminaries of some kind here to lend their shine to the cause.
The Local Employee
Scattered throughout the arena and other DNC locations are a small army of locals, working away at whatever service job they normally have. Only for these couple weeks they’re serving an entitled cadre of self-important do-gooders instead of the usual partying summer tourist crowd. You’d think that with the labyrinthine array of closed streets and totalitarian police vibes, business would be slamming, but unfortunately the vast majority of normal patrons didn’t get the option for Secret Service security clearance and thus aren't allowed to frequent their local watering holes. They can be easily identified by the uniquely charming combination of hostile friendliness and general contempt that is prevalent among Philadelphians. And I’m told by some of these hard-working folks that—surprise!—the media and delegates aren’t the best tippers. Guess that means that just because you work tirelessly for the working class doesn't mean you’re generous to the working class.