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Being a Delegate at the Democratic Convention


Several years ago, when 33-year-old Angie Morelli was serving as a U.S. Marine in Afghanistan, she would have never guessed that she would be a delegate at the Democratic National Convention (DNC) in Philadelphia this week.

“I grew up in a Republican household,” she told VOA in an interview on her first day at the DNC. “I am a U.S. Marine. I got out and own a small business. I’m also Jewish, and these are all the demographics you see with a Republican.”

Nevertheless, she is at the epicenter of the biggest Democratic party political event this election cycle, and she isn’t a bystander. She is a participant. The reason comes down to one man.

“When I found out that Bernie Sanders was running for President, I changed my voter registration from Republican to Democrat, and donated the first $100 I have ever donated towards a candidate.”

That was almost a year ago, and she’s been marching forward as an ardent supporter ever since.

Hurdles

But on this day of firsts for Morelli, a lot was in her way.

First, the weather.

“It’s supposed to be the hottest day of the summer in Philadelphia,” she explained. “We’re from Nevada, and we’re not used to this humidity.”

Then, the living arrangements.

“Just having to try to finagle a bathroom schedule with the four other people I am staying with at this hotel.”

She's staying at a hotel located in the center of Philadelphia, in a room that cost about $600 a night. Her day started on the 28th floor at what she thought was a breakfast meeting.

“It was supposed to be a delegation breakfast, and that did not happen,” she said, smiling. “It was a meeting, but we did not get any food.”

Lack of food, hot weather, challenging living arrangements -- she could cope with those after serving in a combat zone with the U.S. military.

But then there was the meeting itself. VOA was not allowed in, but Morelli said emotions were high between the Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders supporters within the Nevada delegation.

“I thought for a very long time it was going to be a somewhat calmer convention, especially after Bernie came out and he endorsed Hillary,” Morelli said. “But I think that all kind of went away whenever we saw the Wikileaks come out.”

Delegates listen to speakers on the first night of the DNC (Photo: A. Shaker/VOA)

Delegates listen to speakers on the first night of the DNC (Photo: A. Shaker/VOA)

Shifting emotions

Emails attributed to members of the Democratic National Committee that made their way on a searchable Wikileaks site have fueled claims by Bernie Sanders supporters, Morelli among them, that the primary campaign was rigged against Sanders.

But Morelli was encouraged by the prospect of a proposed future meeting with Democratic party leaders in Nevada to discuss some of her concerns. Chief among them: voter disenfranchisement as a result of the Wikileaks revelations.

As Morelli walked out of the meeting, the one absent of food, she received her credential to get into the DNC. She gleefully pried the envelope open to reveal her delegate pass.

This may have been the high point for Morelli on day one of the DNC.

It was right before the hotel elevator malfunctioned, forcing her and a handful of other delegates to briskly walk down the seemingly endless flights of stairs.

She got to the ground floor just in time to catch a shuttle bus that would deliver her to a meeting with Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.

There, Morelli’s disappointment mounted as Sanders' efforts at party unity, urging delegates to vote for Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine, were drowned out by the boos of the majority in the room.

Morelli said she didn't boo, but “you can’t just go from 'rah, rah, Bernie' to 'rah, rah Hillary.'”

“When I make my decision as to who I’m going to vote for, I don’t look to see if it’s a capitol 'D' or capitol 'R',” Morelli said, referring to Democrats or Republicans. “I look at who the person is and who the person stands for, and whether or not I actually believe that they are going to fulfill the things they are promising they are going to do. And we need to start making a decision based on those lines, rather than just voting 'R' all the way down or 'D' all the way down.”

Delegates, including New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, hold Hillary Clinton signs after her nomination at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, July 26, 2016.

Delegates, including New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, hold Hillary Clinton signs after her nomination at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, July 26, 2016.

Getting to the convention

Morelli left the Sanders event further deflated, yet glad to be a first time delegate about to attend her first national party convention. But first, she had to get there.

Which meant she needed to end her interview with VOA, grab her things and scramble to find a shuttle bus that could transport her the eight kilometers between her hotel and the convention site -- on time. It proved to be a difficult goal.

By the time she arrived outside the hotel at the shuttle stop, it appeared as if most of the buses had stopped running. After a 20-minute wait, a bus arrived, and everyone quickly boarded -- and then waited. And waited.

Traffic had ground to a standstill as the clock ticked down to the start of the convention. The bus wasn’t moving.

“This is kind of ridiculous. I’m sure that all of these people are very upset,” Morelli said, deciding, after nearly 30 minutes on the bus, to abandon it.

“The orange line will take us all the way to the Wells Fargo Center,” the convention center, another delegate on the bus explained.

Morelli decided to take the risk and find the train. Which meant getting to the right platform, and finding the right train, heading in the right direction.

“I’m so mad,” she said, though still trying to smile.

It should have been a ten-minute journey. It ultimately lasted two hours. By the time Morelli finally arrived and reunited with the Nevada delegation, the convention was already well underway.

Sticking with Bernie

“As soon as I got through the gates, there was an entire protest,” Morelli said, suggesting that might explain the heavy traffic that started the chain reaction delaying her arrival.

“Honestly, if I wasn’t a delegate, I would have been one of those people out there,” she said of protesting in support of Bernie Sanders.

She shrugged off the inconvenience. “I think we missed, like, two votes, but they weren’t close.”

Angie Morelli said her dizzying first day of the Democratic National Convention was simply par for the course as a Bernie Sanders supporter.

“The entire process of being involved in politics, since I decided to get involved with Bernie, has been a complete disaster," she said. "So this is all the more reason I think I should be here. I still got here 45 minutes before the shuttle.”

But she was still soaking in the moment on the floor of the convention at Wells Fargo Arena.

“It’s been pretty hectic and overwhelming, and it’s kind of strange to actually be here.”

But here she was, still supporting Bernie Sanders despite the obstacles in the way -- and the reality that his chances of becoming the next president of the United States might have ended.

Even so, Morelli said she’s still not sold on supporting Hillary Clinton, and she isn’t sure she ever will.

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    Kane Farabaugh

    Kane Farabaugh is the Midwest Correspondent for Voice of America, where since 2008 he has established Voice of America's presence in the heartland of America.

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