With shopping week underway on campus, a group of Harvard College Democrats elected to forgo introductory government lectures for a firsthand lesson in national politics.
Instead of settling into the fall semester, the Harvard affiliates—including students, faculty, and staffers at the Institute of Politics—will be on hand in Charlotte, N.C., Thursday night to watch one of their own, President Barack Obama, Harvard Law School Class of 1991, accept his party’s nomination for president on the final night of the Democratic National Convention.
Almost a dozen students who have been following the DNC’s work in Charlotte are attending their party’s quadrennial gathering, even though the late date of this year’s convention coincides with the first days of Harvard’s fall semester.
Harvard’s presence at the convention reaches from the podium to the crowd, with University alumni and affiliates serving as delegates, advisers, interns, and sign-swinging supporters. From Michelle Obama, Law School Class of 1988, and Deval Patrick ’78, who spoke Tuesday, to Harvard Law School professor Elizabeth Warren on Wednesday, to President Obama on Thursday, the political stage—draped in Democratic blue—has no shortage of crimson highlights.
On Wednesday, convention officials announced that the threat of rainstorms would push Thursday’s speeches, including Obama’s, indoors to the smaller arena that has hosted the rest of the week’s events. That could leave thousands of ticket holders for the planned outdoor events high and dry.
The change has left those without an official role at the convention, like Imeime A. Umana ’14 and Victoria E. Wenger ’14, uncertain if they will make the trip on Thursday.
Other students who are already on the ground are hard at work making the convention run smoothly. James Biblarz ’14 has been in Charlotte as an intern for the convention host committee for the last 14 weeks. During the internship, he wrote memos, distributed credentials to visitors, and planned parties.
Biblarz originally thought he might spend the summer working at Obama’s campaign headquarters in Chicago, but he said he ultimately decided the chance to work at his party’s convention in a traditionally Republican state was too rare an opportunity to miss. Although occasionally saddled with some mundane work, Biblarz said his time in Charlotte has been a “fantastic experience” working alongside staffers from Massachusetts and the greater Boston area.
As in Tampa last week for the Republican National Convention, the Harvard IOP temporarily relocated to Charlotte this week, hosting a series of events for Harvardians and outsiders. IOP Director C. M. “Trey” Grayson ’94 said that he and eight other staffers held a cocktail reception for Harvard students, alumni, and former IOP fellows on Monday at the Omni Hotel in Charlotte as well as a panel discussion on politics and the media.
Grayson said that the conventions help the IOP stay in touch with Harvard politicos and recruit new fellows. “Summer’s kind of winding down [and] this is a way to gear up for the semester, so it’s definitely an inflection point for us,” he said.Several Harvard staffers and professors will be at the convention in various high-profile capacities. Annie Tomasini, the director of intergovernmental relations for Harvard Public Affairs and Communications, is spending the week in Charlotte volunteering for her former boss Vice President Joe Biden. Kennedy School lecturer Elaine C. Kamarck is a member of the Democratic National Committee. And David Gergen, a Kennedy School professor, will provide on-air analysis for CNN.
Wenger worked for the Obama campaign in Chicago this summer and seriously considered taking a leave of absence to work for the campaign this fall. Although she decided to return to school, she said she was eager to remain involved in the close-knit organization of Obama organizers, students, and volunteers, many of whom will descend on Charlotte this week.
Umana, who organized Harvard’s Summer in Washington program this summer, sees the convention as a way of bringing together political networks that have been established over the years through the IOP. She said she hopes to carry that energy back to Harvard to combat political apathy among students during the semester of the election.
—Staff writer Nicholas P. Fandos can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
—Staff writer Laura K. Reston can be reached at email@example.com.