As a 24-year old moderate/independent with an appreciation of common decency, I have had enough with this election cycle. I was over it a long time ago. Something about making us choose between two people who the majority of the country views unfavorably is depressing. But I came upon the opportunity to go to the RNC Convention in Cleveland this week, and I took it. I was excited to go, see what it’s like firsthand, try to find fellow young people, and see if anyone at the convention is talking about issues Vocatio is focused on, like college cost, the student debt crisis, the education system, and millennial underemployment and unemployment. And it was an excuse to spend a couple days in my native Ohio.
These were my observations.
We rolled into Cleveland in the late morning on Monday, navigating around all the closed and redirected streets to find a parking garage. The session hasn’t started on the inside yet, so there are thousands of people outside around Euclid and 4th, near the lone entrance to the “event zone.”
I’ve never been to a convention before, but this seems disorganized – No one has any idea where we should go to pick up our press credentials, and we get bounced around to several places, and when we get there, they’ve already locked up and disappeared/gone to lunch. Eventually, we are mercifully just handed some credentials by a party official that [Vocatio founder] Patrick knows.
The best part of the wild goose chase was running into the great Dr. Cornel West on the sidewalk, and talking to him f or a few minutes. After hearing our mission, he says, “That’s a very important thing in a person’s life: to find their vocation.”
The police are doing a great job controlling the situation while still seeming friendly and welcoming, but since many are imported from other states, they don’t know Cleveland geography or directions.
The press tent area is crazy. It’s some sort of parking garage with temporary drywall put up, now filled with hundreds of people from every news outlet in the country. There are so many that it’s impossible for all of them to find interviews and unique stories, so many start interviewing each other.
The talk radio setup is especially funny, because there are dozens of them at little desks right next to each other, each trying to sound like they have some original insider take.
CNN and FOX News TV were in the actual arena, and MSNBC had outdoor stages on Fourth Street, but most of the smaller news outlets were in here tripping over each other and trying to latch onto any fresh meat non-media potential guests that got near them.
It was good to see some young-people-targeted media represented. Revolt Media was there, NowThis!, Buzzfeed, Vice. These types of hybrid media seemed to end up with much more realistic and tolerable coverage, because they were responding to real stories rather than creating them to fill 24 hours of airtime. Hopefully when cable dies, the cable news talking head format will die too.
Eric Andre was fun, running around with various parody Trump hats ambushing other people’s interviews. Some were more receptive than others.
I was surprised how into Trump most attendees are, after a primary season in which Trump was often winning with a mere plurality–often made up of people who rarely voted–while “mainstream republicans” seemingly couldn’t stand him and were searching for anyone to throw their support behind. Maybe it was that those people either chose not to show up or were uninvited from the convention, but it seems to me like a lot of people who said they’d never vote for Trump have done the mental gymnastics to now support him, which is a little off-putting. After such a contentious primary, I expected to see more anti-Trump republicans here.
Lizard People, Street Preachers, Protesters
Fourth Street was the center of excitement. It’s right next to the only entrance to the “event zone”—so all delegates, guests, media , etc had to go by here. It also has an impressive row of restaurants and bars, which stayed consistently crowded, so it became the perfect place for souvenir sellers, pamphlet distributors, street reporters, preachers with microphones and other various attention-seekers.
It became a sort of convention main street—the only place where convention-goers and non-convention-goers interacted. This is where I spent much of my time for Monday and Tuesday. It was interesting seeing the different types of people. I was able to identify several distinct species:
The Die-Hards: some are delegates and some were just guests, and presumably some were just there to be close to the action. They were more into Trump than any human should be into another human.
Party-types, who would have been at every convention no matter what. The men all have khakis and blue blazers, with brown or blond hair. They spend a lot of time talking about the other conventions they’ve been to.
There were the media, who were trying to make a story out of anything and seemed to be reporting on nothingness minutiae most of the time. The frequent ratio was about 1 harmless protester to every 10 cops to every 10 reporters with mics yapping about how “things were heating up but no arrests have been made yet.”
Street preachers. I saw one or two that were mostly friendly and encouraging, but there was a lot of “You’re all bad people going to hell” being screamed into a megaphone.
And there were the protesters. Some were protesting war, others police brutality, others global warming, others the dangers of MRIs. There was a guy in a polar bear suit, a guy wearing a giant paper mache head that made him unable to correctly speak into his megaphone and rendered his protest futile, a guy painted in silver standing on a crate. Some held picket signs that clearly weren’t picketing anything, like a Conservative but Down to Fuck (the other side said “I’m on Tinder”), and an undecided voice of the lizard people who had “Lizard People for Trump” on one side of his sign and “Lizard People for Hillary” on the other. One guy was protesting Socialism, which seemed like an odd thing to protest at the RNC.
I never made it over to Public Square, where some larger and more serious protests and demonstrations were happening, but I heard they were civil and well-done.
There were also the opportunists and entrepreneurs. I like these guys. Most that I talked to were not really into either candidate and were fed up with the whole process, so they decided to use it as an opportunity to profit off others’ enthusiasm.
The merchant sellers had any piece of Trump or anti-Hillary merchandise or memorabilia you could imagine. Some played the part and wore the shirts and pins and hats and said the slogans, while others didn’t bother to feign interest. There were offerings for all comers:
People anticipated craziness with protesters
As we had lunch at Panini’s Bar & Grill, a larger group of protesters had apparently made it onto Euclid (This was not a designated “protest area,” so loose checkpoints and a couple narrow corridors typically kept larger groups out. The larger protests were over at Public Square, and unfortunately, I never made it over).
At the first mention of “marchers,” patrons and employees rush to the window to see who it is. In this case it appears to be several groups protesting completely different things (from a distance it seemed to be pro-lifers and BLM) who had banded together to be formidable enough to get in a semi-restricted area.
No jokes or cultural references
I think “Where’s the beef” might have been the most recent cultural reference I heard from speakers or pundits. The closest things they had to mainstream celebrities speaking were golfer Natalie Gulbis, Duck Dynasty’s Willie Robertson, and the CEO of UFC. Most of the speeches were serious, vague, and kinda scary.
The convention would be so much cooler if we didn’t know the outcome. If each state’s primary was somehow kept secret until the convention happened, and then the reading of their delegate tallies made for a real-time unfolding of results, then it would be worth watching. Imagine all those republican candidates standing up there waiting to find out who had won.
As it is, it seems a little pointless to have everyone show up and go through all these formalities and stuffy old Here-Hereing, when the outcome is locked in beforehand.
There was a minute Monday when supposedly 11 states had conspired to try to move to unbind the delegates and do a rollcall vote, which, if recognized, could have led to the drafting of someone other than Trump. When word of this starting spreading outside the arena, it was fun to see in the media building everyone spring into action like cartoon firemen and run toward the arena with their cameras and microphones. The chairman simply refused to recognize their motion and declared that the nays had it (or however that works).
Lots and lots of old white people – It wasn’t quite as bad as I might have imagined (after reports from a couple weeks ago that only 18 of the 2500 delegates were black, I heard a more accurate-sounding number of around 80 this week) but the delegates were still overwhelmingly old and white. And there wasn’t much (if any) deliberate effort in the programming and speeches to reach out to young people or minorities. There were some who held signs for the cameras pretending to be Latino supporters of Trump, but their cover was blown by the fact that they looked like generic old white people and their signs weren’t in correct Spanish. Michael Che did a fun segment last night about a Pokemon Go-like search for minorities.
Almost no youth presence – As far as young people, I saw a share of college-republicans types. There were also plenty of interns and whatnot in the media tent. But there were almost no youth-focused events, only a couple speakers under 40, and very little messaging specifically relevant to young people. Most of the young people around were using the convention as an opportunity of some kind, either for money, attention, or goodwill, as I mentioned above.
I never realized how much else goes on outside the arena. I ran into a number of delegates who barely went inside the arena the whole time. One even gave us his arena pass Tuesday afternoon because he didn’t plan to go back in that night. Delegates and attendees caught up with old friends, attended social events, concerts, and dinners hosted by various groups and organizations. Aside from the prime-time speeches, the arena itself was probably the least interesting place to be.
There was an old-school hip hop party
Hitting up the RNC old-school hip-hop party at Mabel’s Barbeque. The food was excellent, the DJ (Cavs official DJ Stef Floss) was great and I met some cool people. The party showed some promise early, like a party that might get lit a couple hours later, so I left to come back. When I came back in the 1am hour though, I was sorely disappointed.
And a lot of country
Rock/country artist Kip Moore played at an afterparty hosted by the Republican Governors association Tuesday night. As a Kip fan, this was what I most looked forward to when I first saw the schedule. He was excellent. A bunch of old people in suits mingled around the periphery but a solid group of us formed in the middle that actually knew his songs.
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He called out this girl for having her phone out the whole time, summoned her to the stage, took it away from her, said “we’re gonna have like a real life human moment,” and then serenaded her face-to-face.
Overall, the convention was interesting. Despite my exhaustion and despair in regard to the 2016 election, I was still proud to be this close to part of our political process, and I recognize how important the convention is to a lot of these people. We came hoping to see if there was anything happening with young people, or any conversation being had around the issues of education, college debt, underemployment, and fulfilling careers. We didn’t find much. But I did meet some impressive, interesting young people, came away with some swag, and took a fun picture in a mini oval office.
Vocatio is a career discovery and exploration platform and media network, designed to help young people discover their talents, find careers in which they best fit, and connect with employers looking for high-match candidates. Join our mailing list here to join the Vocatio movement.
Matt Gwin is Vocatio’s Editor and Community Manager. He is originally a rural Ohioan and is a 2014 graduate of Princeton University. He previously worked with the North Lawndale Employment Network, helping formerly-incarcerated individuals on Chicago’s west side learn job skills and secure employment.