Day One of the Democratic Convention: Ted Kennedy, Michelle Obama, Protestors, and What It Means to be a Democracy

09/25/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Madeleine M. Kunin First Female Governor of Vermont; Marsh Scholar, University of Vermont

There are two stages at the Democratic Convention in Denver, one that is played out in streets and the other inside the Pepsi center. Both dramas portray, as no political science textbook could, what it means to live in a democracy.

Outside the convention center I walked past a dozen young people waving blue and white John McCain signs. Every few minutes they would break into a vigorous chant: "Drill here, drill now!"

Near by another group held signs that said, "Save the environment, tax meat!"

A lone man, well dressed, wearing a hat, held up a hand-made sign on a street corner. It simply said, "Stop Torture."

The entrance to the University club, where a group of feminist pro-choice organisations held a rally, was partially blocked by an impassioned group of Right to Life protestors. Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) later referred to them from the podium, noting that she was asked if she needed an escort to get by them. She retorted , "I don't need an escort, let them look out for me."

No protest permits required What would the Chinese think?

Buttons, hats, t-shirts , trinkets of all kinds turned the walk to the convention into a political bazar. I wore a red one that said in big white letters, "Hillary supports Obama and so do I!" The button that touched me the most had a family portrait of Barack and Michelle Obama and their children, with the words "The First Family."

The drama inside the Pepsi Center was created by a glimpse into the past, provided by Senator Ted Kennedy and another into the future, through the words of Michelle Obama. A tribute to Kennedy was on the agenda, but no one was certain that he would actually make an appearance until Caroline Kennedy introduced " Uncle Ted."

He came on stage fighting, not only for his life, but also for his long held beliefs. "Nothing is gong to keep me away," he shouted," from the fight to change this country." His voice was strong, but as I listened closely, I could hear an occasional crack. He said "this was the cause of my life," and concluded "Hope has risen again; the dream lives on." It was a bitter sweet moment, as we cheered wildly, trying to drown out the sound of our fear.

The blue and white slender signs, that spelled "Michelle" stapled to long sticks, were given out minutes before her appearance. When she stepped on stage, they pumped into the air. She gave a stunning speech, talking of her childhood, her education, and most movingly, of her children and her love for her husband. I watched the faces of the African American women and men who sat near me and tried to feel how they felt. It seemed as if each one sat up a little taller. She was there not as an ornament to her husband, but as a strong African American woman who could say with passion, "I love this country."

I walked out into the night, saying to myself, "I love this country."