Running as a Delegate: The Path to Convention

By Caroline Fan

The first thing to know about running as a delegate from a state for the DNC convention is that in many densely populated cities and suburbs, it is a full on campaign. You are a candidate, and have to appear at labor clubs, Democratic clubs, and other institutions to ask for votes, and perhaps even campaign contributions (to pay for slate lit.) The good news is, if you make it to delegate, there are financial aid considerations to help you afford to attend convention. There are also certain goals for diversity and inclusion, and state parties aim to have a proportionate number of delegates of color, LGBTQ, and veteran delegates – though this does not always happen.

In Missouri, delegates have combined primary-caucuses where you have to go through four levels from the ward to the township to congressional to state. In areas with fewer people, it’s possible to slide quickly from ward and township into Congressional. In other areas, you have to bring at least 20 people who are committed to voting for you. Then you have to build alliances and slates, much like a normal campaign. Some people create and distribute literature (always with the union bug!)

In addition to informal campaigning, there is also mandatory public speaking at each level. This can be terrifying. Last time around, I had to give a speech in an auditorium to half of the room (the other half of the room was full of people campaigning for their primary candidate.) This time around, it should be more interesting and cacophonous, assuming there are more than 2 candidates left running. 

Watching the state Democratic convention was raucous, it was democracy in action. Delegates and organizers running around, and procedures and rules and nominations. It was meeting Democrats from other parts of the state, exchanging stories, and learning from each other. 

If you make it out of the state convention as a delegate, you get to attend the national convention. There are the big, breakout speeches (Barack Obama in ’04, Khizr Khan in ’16), caucuses by interest group (labor, LGBTQ, AAPI, Af Am, Latinx, Rural, and more), events, talks, trainings, forums, parties, and meeting the most Democrats you’ve ever seen in one place at any given time. 

Hearing Khizr Khan give the most spirited, heart-breaking, and patriotic defense of America from the floor was one of a kind. Watching the Asian American Congress members who had served speak from the stage was not something I’d seen in any other convention. I can still remember the balloons and confetti, the joy and the heartbreak. It was a perfect, frantic, colorful four days where I barely ate and did 28,000 steps in Philly in a day. The vendors selling pins and shirts and hats – all the merch your collector’s heart could ever dream of.


Also, I remember Joe Montano, who passed away on the very first day of the 2016 convention. I had been looking forward to congratulating him, since his boss Sen. Tim Kaine was the VP nominee. Joe had always been quick with a smile, had an irresistible twinkle in his eye, and a kind heart. In the end, it was his heart. He would work at Home Depot in between campaigns for health insurance. I remember finding out the Tuesday morning. Saw someone wracked with sobs who I could not imagine ever crying. Our kuya. 

The heartbreak. 

We gathered in a pop up restaurant in Reading Market to share remembrances of 8 track Joe (that was his twitter handle.) It was the last day. With tear-stained faces, we honored him. With bright hope in our hearts, we paid homage. Some of us couldn’t get off from working or volunteering during convention to spend time in each others’ company. To embrace and to remember. To cry and to forget. All the memories burbled together like a stream, an offering, smoke. Our words spiraled. 

Senator Kaine said a remembrance for him at the Virginia state party meeting. 

I had a dream before going out to Nevada that year. I dreamt Joe was watching over us like a guardian angel. It was not the type of dream I had before, or ever since. 

On election night, I felt the shock and pain. I wondered what the dream had meant. I still do. 

This time, we have the chance to make things right. To gather together in unity. To prepare, and to celebrate. 

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