It’s 1am, an older woman is angrily telling younger people to be quiet so she can hear Moby’s acoustic performance for just 100 people, Obama girl is having her picture taken with my buddy, The Daily Show’s John Oliver is standing next to me, and someone tells me Chevy Chase just arrived.
This is the image I have of the 2008 Democratic National Convention in addition to, of course, the whole Obama speech deal. I have good networking to thank for that night and many others just like it in ’04 and ’08.
As the Democratic National Convention kicks off this week in Charlotte, I thought I’d share some of the convention wisdom I’ve built up of the last couple Presidential cycles. I’ve had tons of fun building policy forums, hosting late night open bar events, managing celebrity guests and sneaking friends into the convention hall in my work with the Truman Project, New Leaders Council and NDN. So here’s my best advice for the C&E community to make the most of a rare experience.
First, plan in advance. There are many resources for events like www.demlist.com, the Convention Host Committee site, the DNC’s own caucuses and committee meetings, and other forums. Spend some time in looking your favorite organizations’ sites and sign up for everything you can. At the Truman Project we’ve sent out special offers to everyone on our mailing list and already helped secure credentials for dozens of members who signed up. Other major groups are doing the same.
Second, know that there’s only one currency that matters: credentials. Credentials will be plentiful in the big stadium on Thursday, but scarce on Tuesday and Wednesday. In the past, there’s been a hierarchy of passes: Podium, Floor, Press, Honored Guest, Special Guest, Guest and Hall. Honored and special guest passes have been most useful for getting actual seats.
Most attendees are not delegates, and official DNC allocations will shortchange even the most powerful organizations. So how can you guarantee entrance? In 2008 I helped about 30 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans gain access by doing just a couple things right.
I built a list of everyone I knew attending, and then starred the people who might have access. Each day I texted my friends begging for help. Ask everyone and always, always, always, accept another credential – even if you have one. Why? Well, it might be a better pass, and then you can give away the other. As soon as you’ve got extras, find a way to give them to someone who can use them. (Program note: I can use them!)
Call up the folks on your list of friends attending and offer it to someone without as much luck. This earns you an important debt to be cashed later on.
This brings me to my third point: trade as many favors as possible to gain entrance into the big events. You should always be asking friends and acquaintances where they’re going, if they’ve got extras, and how you can help.
Make a list of the big attractions, like the Thursday night Google party, where all the heavy hitters, future clients, and rain makers will be. Start working on it from the minute you arrive in Charlotte. Be willing to trade, especially for events that cost money. I swapped 2 tickets to the Truman Project’s major national security breakfast for two credentials to Netroots Nation’s blogger center called the PPL. That’s a win-win because we each gain access where we otherwise would have paid.
Now that you’ve mastered the gray market of access at the Democratic National Convention, make sure it pays off. You need to engage in authentic networking. Nobody wants Charlotte to be another boring D.C. cocktail fundraiser, so don’t do that. Say hi to anyone who looks friendly and strike up a conversation.
Instead of the normal “What do you do; who do you work for?” questions, try asking, “Did you go to Denver, too?” or “How awesome was Bill Clinton’s speech last night?”
Opening conversation in that manner will get you where you want to go and be more fun too. Then, introduce your new friend to other friends, especially when they’ve got something in common. Make plans to sit together or hang out together later.
Lastly, remember that everyone at the Democratic National Convention has a special bond of shared ideology. Attendees all want an effective government and a better America, whether or not you agree with their entire plan to get there. This gives you an opportunity for the best kind of networking when you can connect around shared values.
So think for a minute about what you stand for. Why do you care so much? And what’s your story? Be willing to share, and you’ll make lifelong friends.
Michael Moschella is the national political director for the Truman National Security Project, which works to train candidates and political organizers at all levels.