The DNC and the politics of accessibility

The Democratic National Convention took place from July 25-28 in Philadelphia PA, and while everyone was focused on the protests over the nomination process, there were some conflicts over decisions made by the DNC and the local host committee. One particularly contentious local issue that got little national attention was the DNC’s and Philadelphia mayor’s deal with the Uber ride-sharing service. Local taxi and Uber Black drivers have been protesting for more than a year that competing ride services should be required to adhere to the same rules and requirements to which they are subjected.

According to the protesters, the DNC deal with Uber belied the Party’s stated commitments to workers and members of vulnerable populations.  Philadelphia taxi union president Ronald Blount told Fusion : “They’re supposed to represent us working people, people who are less fortunate, people with disabilities, but it’s like they’re just rolling over for a shrimp cocktail and a ham sandwich.”

As a disabled journalist, I found myself directly affected by this dispute as I navigated the Convention. While I found demonstrable efforts to make the Convention accessible for those inside the Wells Fargo Arena and Philadelphia Convention Center – the primary locations where Convention activities took place – the preferential treatment accorded Uber put me in a position that could have turned out very badly.

“The Most Accessible Convention Ever”

Rev. Leah Daughtry, CEO of the 2016 Democratic National Convention Committee, speaks at an interfaith service that was part of the pre-Convention activities on Sunday, July 24, 2016 at the Philadelphia Civic Center.
Rev. Leah Daughtry, CEO of the 2016 Democratic National Convention Committee, speaks at an interfaith service that was part of the pre-Convention activities on Sunday, July 24, 2016 at the Philadelphia Civic Center.

Covering a major political party convention takes planning – even more so when you are doing it solo and you have a disability that impairs your mobility. So, I paid close attention to the press release that landed in my email inbox July 20th, outlining the steps that the Democratic National Committee was taking to assure that this would be, in the words of the press release headline, “the most accessible convention ever.” The release listed the measures taken by the DNCC, in conjunction with the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors’ Bureau to assure accessibility. It was an extensive list. that included everything from structural modifications to the convention venues, to masks for chemical sensitivity, reachers, tactile maps, etc. As for transportation:

  • Transportation: Daily transportation will be provided to the Wells Fargo Center and Pennsylvania Convention Center from all state delegation hotels. Each state delegation will receive ADA accommodations to ensure a safe and seamless shuttle service to and from convention-related proceedings, including Golf Cart transfers from the security entrance to the building entrance at the Wells Fargo Center.

I live in the area, so I take taxis when I am traveling alone at night. I don’t use Uber or Lyft because I can’t count on them to be helpful or patient with me. Their reputation for accessibility is not good.  I had the number of a couple of drivers and companies that I was accustomed to calling.   I told one of them that I would probably be calling him. “I might not be able to get to you,” he said.  I was sure he was mistaken – the literature I’d been given, and the DNCC website clearly stated that it would be possible to get to and from the Wells Fargo Center, the principle Convention site, by taxi.

The daily media routine at the DNC

Jerry Springer exits the room where media pick up credentials.

A photo posted by Kim Pearson (@journogeek) on

The DNC actually took place at two separate locations, about five miles apart. The televised evening events were at the Wells Fargo Center in South Philadelphia, while morning and early afternoon press briefings, caucuses, committee meetings and community events were at the cavernous Pennsylvania Convention Center.

Reporters picking up credentials for the Democratic National Convention had to line up outside of this small room at the Convention Center. Not all credentials were created equal. To get to into the Wells Fargo Center as a journalist, you have to have a Secret Service -approved photo badge. The people lined up on the right of the photo are waiting to pick up their credentials. In addition to the Secret Service badge, you have to get a pass giving you access to the Wells Fargo center. Some people get badges that automatically confer access to the Convention floor and press gallery and tent throughout the Convention. Some get daily access. My badge entitled me to daily access to a public, overflow area behind the stage. As I went to through the line each day, I heard journalists from domestic and international outlets on the phone with their bosses, trying to upgrade their access.

The credentials staff got to know me. I was allowed to sit until it was my turn in line. By day three, I could be in and out of that room inside of 10 minutes.

By the way, if you wanted to know what Jerry Springer was doing at the Convention Center,  check out this interview with the Young Turks.

Drivers protest Uber: “This is an example of what’s wrong in politics.”

After Monday night speeches at the Wells Fargo Center,  Pennsylvania  delegates were shuttled back into Center City’s Doubletree hotel for a party hosted by Uber. There, they were met by protesting taxi and limousine drivers from the Fair Ride Philly Coalition.
According to the Fair Ride Philly announcement of the protest:

One of the main concerns of picketers is the recent deactivation of 17 Uber Black Limousine drivers that the coalition believes were retaliated against for their organizing for fair wages. Moreover, the deactivation is a microcosm of the broader problems of a company that inserts itself into the city’s transportation system with absolutely no regulation. Rida Ahmad a limousine driver for Uber explained his dire situation, “Uber has wrongfully retaliated against me and put me in $70K debt.” He continued, “I can’t appeal or do anything because there are no proper regulations. I blame PA Democrats because they gave temporary permission for Uber’s ride-sharing service to operate without any rules or laws.”

Connecting the plight of Limo drivers to the plight of cab drivers, Ron Blount, the President of the Taxi Workers Alliance said, “This is an example of what is wrong in politics.” He continued, “Uber is attempting to buy and bribe the political process so the multi-billion dollar company can get away with refusing to pay the minimum wage, stop workers from unionizing and refuse to offer service to the disabled.”

According to the Philadelphia Business Journal story, Uber maintains that the 17 deactivated drivers were dismissed because they were falsifying their locations in order to collect higher fares. The drivers deny the charges.

At 9 am the next morning, members of the Fair Ride coalition pleaded their case again with the Philadelphia Parking Authority. Replay the Facebook live video of that session.

Meanwhile, I opted not to go to the Wells Fargo Center Monday night, because there were heavy lightning storms. Instead, I hung out at a Convention Center watch party and caught a cab ride home with one of my regular drivers when the storms ended.

At the Wells Fargo Center

Entering the Wells Fargo Center
Entering the Wells Fargo Center on the Second day of the Democratic National Convention

On Tuesday, the day that Secretary Hillary Clinton became the official Democratic Party nominee, I made it to the Wells Fargo Center. As soon as I came through the security tent at the Wells Fargo Center, a staff member greeted me and offered to hail  a golf cart to take me to the door of the Convention. Not everyone was so lucky.  According to this story from Philadelphia’s NBC affiiliate, one Idaho man had to rely on his fellow delegates to help him over a curb at the Wells Fargo Center. The curb cut was blocked by a security fence erected to keep protesters at bay.

Entering the Wells Fargo Center is like coming upon a media bazaar. There’s a carnival of broadcast outlets, but instead of barkers, there are interns and production assistants button-holing people for interviews. I’ve got some more walking to do to find my assigned spot.

I’m almost in the top tier, on the right side and behind the stage. To see the speakers, I have to look at monitors on the side of the stage backdrop. I can see the bank of major print and online reporters on the floor working at tables with power outlets. I had almost been allowed by one volunteer,  but then another volunteer looked at my badge, consulted a color-coded chart and sent me up here, which is regular stadium seating.  I’m texting with delegates to line up interviews, but I have to persuade them to leave the floor. I can see the roll call, hear the excitement. I can also see some of the rows of seats empty out right after Sen. Bernie Sanders calls for Clinton’s nomination by acclamation. I get a text from a newspaper reporter friend about the protest in the media tent, but I’ve been told I don’t have access to it. I don’t even know where it is.

So, I’m alternating between the crow’s nest and the main floor, catching people in the hallways and elevators.  When I get back, the seats are gone, and a Convention staffer is trying to hand me a Hillary poster to wave after the roll call. I hold up my  press badge and say, “I can’t. I’m a journalist.” Everyone else, even the people who have been tapping away on the laptops on their knees the whole time, has a sign.

Any way,  below are some of the images I gathered while running  back and forth between the crow’s nest, hallways and elevators.  And here’s an interview I did in the hallway with a Bernie Sanders delegate, right after the roll-call vote.

Taxi? What taxi?

At the end of the night, I asked the Wells Fargo staff for directions to the taxi stand. “Uber is right across the street, past the security tent.,” they say. “Not Uber, the taxi stand. They look at each other, confused. So does the man who meets me when I get out of the golf cart at the end of the security perimeter. So do the people at the lot, where there is a very big Uber sign. Okay, if there’s no taxi, how about a shuttle, I ask?  I get directed to a tent where mercifully, someone tells me that the only shuttle available there are to take employees to a distant parking lot. Nobody seems to know about any lot for taxis.

A police officer tells me to take the subway – the subway I didn’t want to take because the stop where I would have to get off doesn’t have an elevator,  and getting home from there involves walking several blocks. But it’s nearly midnight, and no one can come get me. Maybe, one Wells Fargo staffer offers, I can get a taxi from the Holiday Inn at Packer Avenue, a mile away.

I take my chances with the subway, which people are running for as if it’s the last train that will ever be come to any subway station ever.  The operator sees me and holds the door for until I board. A nice couple from Jersey who is volunteering at the Convention offers me a seat. They are taking the train back to City Hall and picking up their car from a lot there.

I make it up the steps down the four long blocks to home. The streets and tunnels are empty except for the people who have had to make their beds there for the night. The step counter on my phone registers 22,549 steps. Thank God for Epsom Salts.

The next day, I read that the taxi and Lyft drivers are complaining about being Uber staff denied them the ability to pick up and drop off customers at the arena. According to the story on the dispute:

Most car services were allowed to drop off passengers at the Wells Fargo Center at Lot V, while Ubers were assigned to Lot T, DNC spokesman Lee Whack said, adding that all legal car services had access.

“Any and every legal transportation service has access to the parking lots of Wells Fargo Center to pick up and discharge passengers,” he said.

I’m here to tell you that none of the people I talked to Tuesday night knew anything about a lot V. No signs pointed to a lot V. I took a very big chance that night, and I was fortunate. Needless to say that my family and friends were livid when they found out what happened. I did get a lecture that I should have just downloaded the Uber app, but that wasn’t a solution at 11:30 at night in a dark parking lot among strangers.

Putting on  a Convention is a complex endeavor, and I’m not mad at anybody. But complex undertakings often lead to unintended consequences, and this is just one example.

I watched the rest of the Convention on television.


Broadcast media area

A photo posted by Kim Pearson (@journogeek) on


The view from the general press gallery.

A photo posted by Kim Pearson (@journogeek) on

Rep. Rosa Delauro

A photo posted by Kim Pearson (@journogeek) on

DC Mayor Muriel Bowser

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DNC 2016: The Women Caucus

At a political convention, caucuses are intended as cheerleading sessions to rally the faithful, and the Women’s Caucus sessions at the DNC were no exception. This was one of several special interest groups meetings run by the DNC during its morning and noon-time sessions, and the attendees on Tuesday morning were getting hyped as party luminaries such as newly appointed DNC Chair Donna Brazile and House minority leader Nancy Pelosi enthused about the historic nature of Secretary Hillary Clinton’s candidacy.

Here’s Brazile leading the crowd in a call-and-response tribute to women’s rights advocates from Abigail Adams to the modern era:

Donna Brazile shouted out feminist heroes from Abigail Adams to Barbara Jordan, and of course, Hillary Clinton.

A video posted by Kim Pearson (@journogeek) on

Brazile recalled that Adams, the wife of Founding Father John Adams, had written to her husband asking him and his Continental Congress comrades to “remember the ladies” as they plotted a course toward independence. Here is the full quote:

“I long to hear that you have declared an independency. And, by the way, in the new code of laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make, I desire you would remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands. Remember, all men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.”


Brazile, a political veteran who speaks in cadences reminiscent of the Rev. Jesse Jackson at the height of his powers, spoke indirectly to the controversy surrounding the Wikileaks disclosure that some DNC staffers talked about ways of undermining the presidential campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt).  She had apologized to the Sanders campaign two days before.


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DNC 2016 Diary: Progressives ponder paths to political influence


“[P]rogressive people of color and progressive whites comprise the mathematical majority of eligible voters in America: a New American Majority. Our newfound power elected and re-elected a Black president, but there is so much more that is possible, and so much more that is necessary. Texas, for example, seen as the reddest of red states, has 4 million eligible,non-voting, people of color. Nationally, 26 million eligible people of color did not vote in 2012. And nearly 8 million more eligible people of color have been added to that number over the past 4 years.”

That’s part of a manifesto by Steve Phillips, co-founder of Democracy in Color, an advocacy group hoping to get progressive activists integrally involved in the electoral process. Phillips’ argument echoes the one made by civil rights organizer Bayard Rustin 50 years ago, in his essay, “From Protest to Politics:”

“The future of the Negro struggle depends on whether the contradictions of this society can be resolved by a coalition of progressive forces which becomes the effective political majority in the United States. I speak of the coalition which staged the March on Washington, passed the Civil Rights Act, and laid the basis for the Johnson landslide—Negroes, trade unionists, liberals, and religious groups.”

To help mobilize activists,  Democracy in Color sponsored two sessions at the Democratic Convention. Video of both sessions follow.

“Women of Color, Uniting the Party, Leading the Country.”

And later in the day, Inclusv, a firm specializing in helping political campaigns and organizations find candidates of color, co-sponsored a panel that included Bernard Coleman III, Chief Diversity and Human Resources Officer at Hillary for America.

Whatever the outcome of the current election cycle, these organizers are dedicated to ensuring that there is a cadre of politically savvy progressives in a position to wield power in the long term.

DNC 2016 Diary – Waiting on the world to change


On Tuesday evening, just after the Democratic National Convention made Hillary Clinton their official nominee for President, Maria Hutchinson stood impassively next to the complimentary charging station in the hallway of the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In front of her, delegates, celebrities, political figures, journalists, staff, guests and volunteers were rushing, racing, jockeying to get to one thing or another – food, restrooms, elevators, seats inside the arena, or perhaps the protests outside – across an expanse of asphalt, concrete and steel, past the security tent, in the cordoned-off “free speech” zone.

New York casts its #DNC2016 ballots.

A video posted by Kim Pearson (@journogeek) on

Hutchinson, a Bernie Sanders delegate from Hudson, Wisconsin had come a long way to stand in the hallway, waiting for her phone to charge.

I met Maria because I was charging my devices too, with the intent of gathering more material and story ideas. I asked her what she thought of the convention so far. The question elicited a rueful sigh. She said that she and her family had volunteered and donated money to the Sanders campaign – more money than she had, really. Sanders had won Wisconsin’s April 5th primary handily, beating Clinton by 13 percentage points. But now, Clinton had officially the nominee. I don’t think I’ll be staying, she said, adding that she had learned long ago that you shouldn’t stick around if you are being abused.

Did she feel that she and other Sanders supporters had been abused? Alluding to the controversy over Wikileaks’ disclosure of emails among staff members of the Democratic National Committee, Hutchinson said, “I think it’s been proven that the upper echelon of the Democratic Party was conspiring against the Sanders campaign. The leadership was forced to resign and then was immediately hired by the Democratic nominee.”

Hutchinson was talking, of course about Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fl), who had been forced to resign her post as DNC chair as a result of the furor over the email revelations.  In accepting her resignation, Hillary Clinton announced that she would become an honorary chair of her campaign. Some Clinton partisans argued that the appointment meant nothing. On the DailyKos site, Mark Sumner argued that the appointment was a fig leaf, a “courtesy,”

“Being an honorary chair does not mean that Debbie Wasserman Schultz is “in charge of” Hillary Clinton’s campaign. It doesn’t mean anything. That is, unless you think President Obama’s 2012 campaign was run by actress Eva Longoria; or former Republican Senator Lincoln Chafee; or high school guidance counselor Loretta Harper—all of whom were among 24 people who served as honorary co-chairs of Obama’s 2012 campaign.”

But to Hutchinson and many Sanders supporters, Clinton’s “courtesy” looked more like a gesture of approval for what they have seen as a string of irregularities, abuses and needless complexities throughout the nominating process. Hutchinson said,  “I think that if Wasserman Schultz is guilty [of conspiring against Sanders], so is Hillary.”

What about Sanders’ plea for party unity, or the assertion by his former staff member Symone Sanders that whatever the problems with the primary process, Hillary Clinton legitimately won the primary? We were speaking just after Sanders’ rollcall motion to nominate Clinton by acclamation and a walkout by hundreds of hundreds of Sanders partisans.

Hutchinson said Sanders was doing what he had to do, politically, and his gesture toward Clinton just showed that, “he’s a classy guy.” She still respected Senator Sanders, but she didn’t feel compelled to follow his lead, adding, “I’m worried about the fact that [Hillary] is not transparent.” She was bothered by Clinton’s history of misstatements, such as her debunked claim that she had been under sniper fire during a trip to Bosnia as First Lady. There was nothing Clinton could do to redeem herself in Hutchinson’s eyes. “She can’t undo what’s been done.”

Hutchinson allowed that she was worried about the prospect of a Donald Trump presidency, “but I’m not responsible for that.” She had volunteered, donated, and raised money to support the candidate who she thought was best for the country. That’s a point of contention in her family, she added. Her relatives believe that Democrats have to get behind the party’s nominee to stop Trump. Polls by Pew Research conducted this past spring indicate that most Sanders supporters will support Clinton in the fall, but it’s anyone’s guess what that means for the general election.

So what now? Hutchinson wasn’t sure. The Green Party’s platform seemed to reflect Sanders’ ideals – she planned to look into them. She added, “I do believe that Bernie’s call for people to become involved [in politics] at all levels will be heeded.”

After I closed my notebook and thanked her, Hutchinson said that she hadn’t spoken out before because she was concerned about losing her credentials. She said she had been told that by Wisconsin Democratic party officials that she should be prepared to support the party’s candidate. That’s consistent with the advice on a website for Wisconsin delegates, That site, admonished Sanders delegates that statements against the party’s nominee, or in support of a Sanders run outside of the Democratic party could be considered grounds for stripping credentials.

Hutchinson said she had stayed quiet so that she would be assured of being able to give her constituents a voice in the nominating process, but that was done now.

The clatter in the hall had become a dull roar. I had to get going. She stayed there at the charging station, waiting.

DNC 2016 Diary: Setting the stage

I’m in Philadelphia, my home, and the site of the 2016 Democratic National Convention, and I wanted to make this a post about some of the things that you might not know about Philly, or about the Convention if you aren’t here. But the events of the last few days can’t be ignored, so let’s start with what you probably already know.

For presumptive Democratic Party presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, the 2016 Democratic National Convention opening in Philadelphia today, was supposed to be a celebration and a show of unity. After decades in the public eye and in public office, the former First Lady, United States Senator and Secretary of State is about to crash the penultimate glass ceiling as she becomes the first major-party woman candidate for President.

Clinton had survived a fractious primary season battle with Sen. Bernie Sanders, weathering controversy over the way she handled her emails as Secretary of State, and a Republican Convention where she was characterized as a criminal and even an admirer of the Devil. She had finally secured Sen. Sanders’ endorsement and pledge to support the campaign. Her choice of Sen. Tim Kaine as her running mate had garnered praise. Senator Sanders has endorsed her and pledged his support to help keep GOP nominee Donald Trump out of office.

Then Wikileaks dropped 20,000 emails purportedly from the Democratic National Committee’s servers. It was the second breach – an earlier leak disclosed opposition research on Trump. The emails lent credence to what Sanders and his supporters have been saying for months – that the DNC, led by long-time Clinton ally Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fl) – had its thumb on the scales in favor of Clinton throughout the primaries.  It also raised questions about cybersecurity and whether Russian president Vladimir Putin or his allies are trying to meddle in the election. Conspiracy theorists note that Trump has expressed admiration for Putin, and allegedly has business connections to close to the Russian strongman.

Whatever the truth, the revelations have rocked the DNC, and the party moved quickly Sunday to contain the damage. Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH) is replacing Schultz as the Convention chair. Schultz is out as DNC chair when the Convention ends, to be replaced by vice chair Donna Brazile, another long-time Clinton ally.

Political observers will be watching Sanders’ speech tonight to the DNC see whether he will signal his supporters to put the latest controversy behind them and stick with Clinton. Getting his supporters on Clinton’s side was already going to be a challenge. Even before the latest revelations, the city disclosed that they expected as many as 50,000 demonstrators per day, with many Bernie-or-Busters among them. Indeed, they were out in force over the weekend, with two marches and rallies on Sunday that drew more than 1,000 people in near 100-degree heat: one for clean energy, and one for Sanders. Here are some pictures that I took from the first march.


Protest march 7/24/16

A photo posted by Kim Pearson (@journogeek) on Jul 25, 2016 at 6:12am PDT


#DNC2016 protestor Sunday, 7/24/2016

A photo posted by Kim Pearson (@journogeek) on Jul 25, 2016 at 6:09am PDT

There’s also this panoramic shot

A couple of final obervations:

1. One thing that visitors to downtown Philly won’t see this week in the numbers we residents are accustomed to, are homeless people: the city is spending extra money to provide beds and shelter from the heat.

2. While the main event is occurring at the Wells Fargo Center in South Philadelphia, Convention activities are spread around the city. Here’s one handy guide.

3. To help Convention goers get around town more easily, the City is letting Uber drivers operate legally this week. This has incensed taxi drivers, who have been insisting that Uber doesn’t have to pay the same fees or submit to the same regulations as taxi companies. Taxi drivers plan to protest at 11 pm at the site of Uber’s corporate DNC reception tonight.

4. Interactions between the convention-goers, police and protestors have been polite, even cordial at times, as far as I have observed. Mayor Jim Kenney and Police Commissioner Richarrd Ross had stressed their desire to keep things peaceful, rejecting the more authoritarian stance taken by the city during the Republican Convention here in 2000. As this report from The Atlantic notes, the city, police and protest organizations were in contact before the Convention, and protestors have stressed discipline and cooperation. That said, the protestors have lawyers ready to respond to any hint of police excesses, and the police and firefighters have an emergency operations center at the ready.

The police presence is definitely heavy downtown, although nothing like last year’s visit from Pope Francis. At the march yesterday, protestors were polite and friendly. I saw a police officer taking a photo for a group of DNC staffers at the Convention Center. I saw another group of officers helping a lost child find his father.  The city has  set up watering stations and misting stations to help marchers survive the heat, and medics are on hand at the designated protest areas.

So, for all of the drama that is expected in the streets, at this point, any unexpected fireworks are likely to take place inside the Wells Fargo Center, as disgruntled Sanders supporters vent their anger at what they see as a rigged process. Some are even hoping for a contested convention.  And this is what happened when Rep. Wasserman Schultz spoke to Florida delegates at a breakfast this morning:


 It’s going to be a busy day. Stay tuned.




Kim Pearson

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