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A Guide To Watching The Democratic Convention

Yup, there’s another one

The Republican National Convention might be over, but now it’s the Democrats’ turn. Here’s a handy field guide to help you see past the endless images of old people dancing that C-SPAN just can’t seem to look away from, and figure out what might actually happen.

Speakers You Might Actually Want to Watch

President Obama: I mean, come on. It’ll be one of his last major addresses, and it’ll set the tone for not just Hillary Clinton’s campaign, but his own legacy. Obama burst onto the national scene 12 years ago with an address at the same convention — count on this one to bookend it. That speech spoke to a yearning for a unified America (“not ‘red states’ or ‘blue states’”); this unprecedentedly contentious season will test his ability to find even rhetorical common ground.

Joe Biden: There are some of us who will miss Joe just as much as Barack.

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Elizabeth Warren: We often call the Republicans’ catchphrase sops to their base “red meat,” and Warren delivers whatever the Democratic version of that is. A fine portobello steak? Salmon? Anyway, she will rail against Donald Trump’s most obviously repellent qualities with penetrating wit. Expect a delirious crowd response.

Michelle Obama: Preview Melania’s next speech now!

Bernie Sanders: He’s gotten a lot of flack for what some believe to be insufficient displays of enthusiasm for Clinton, and he’s got supporters who are threatening to upend the election by either staying home or voting for anyone but Hillary. This is Bernie’s chance to finally give a full-throated endorsement and make a compelling argument to his base that Clinton is the best candidate to carry them toward their goals. Highest degree of difficulty out of all of the speeches, except maybe Clinton’s own.

Bill Clinton: His transition away from the center of the spotlight has demanded a different sort of eloquence. We might get a preview of what his plans for a “First Gentleman” agenda might be.

“The Mothers of the Movement”: Gwen Carr, mother of Eric Garner; Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin; Maria Hamilton, mother of Dontre Hamilton; Lucia McBath, mother of Jordan Davis; Lezley McSpadden, mother of Michael Brown; Cleopatra Pendleton-Cowley, mother of Hadiya Pendleton; Geneva Reed-Veal, mother of Sandra Bland — these women, who have all lost children to police-related incidents, will provide the emotional core to the strongest argument Clinton has against Trump: We cannot allow our country to sink further into systemic violence; we cannot allow racial resentment to be the engine that drives our politics (or our policies).


Oh boy. The Dem’s roster rolls deep. You’ve got your actors: Chloë Grace Moretz, Lena Dunham, America Ferrera, Debra Messing, Star Jones, Eva Longoria, and Tony Goldwyn. Then the singers: Katy Perry, Alicia Keys, and Demi Lovato. Don’t forget the sports stars, either: Former NBA players Jason Collins and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar will also address the delegates. And that’s just the scheduled list for the main stage! The DNC traditionally draws the entertainment world’s liberal activists as spectators and attendees at related events, too. Set to perform or speak or just mingle outside the arena are such folks as Lady Gaga, Judd Apatow, Snoop Dogg, Aloe Blacc, Shailene Woodley, Elizabeth Banks, Lee Daniels, Angela Bassett, and Rosario Dawson. And those are just the ones we know about.

Who’s Protesting?

The protests at the RNC were far tamer than anyone expected, perhaps sanded down by the apocalyptic picture painted in the weeks before the event of what awaited demonstrators in Cleveland. There were hardly more than 20 arrests during four days of the event. It’s not clear if the protests in Philadelphia will bring more of the same, or whether the emotions surrounding the Democratic nomination — and the fact that Philadelphia is a much larger city close to other large cities — might make things a bit more energetic.

The most prominent protesters will be the Bernie Sanders crowd. Movements for Bernie and Black Men for Bernie are both expected to attend. There will be Bernie Peacekeepers. There will be a Bernie-or-Bust rally, and a group called Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign is planning to eat beans en masse for a fart-in. “It's not like you're releasing tear gas or something,” one of the organizers told NBC News of the plan to flood the convention floor with fumes. “It's just part of a natural process.”

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Like those who fought to unbind the delegates at the RNC, these voters aren’t pleased with how the primary process turned out, and they want their voices heard. This past week has provided plenty of fuel — the non-legume variety — to power the protests: Clinton didn’t pick the VP they wanted (Elizabeth Warren), and the DNC email leaks gave more proof, not that it wasn’t already obvious, that the party liked Hillary best. The rules committee did hand them a win on superdelegates, and DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz is set to resign after the convention, but things could still get feisty.

Besides the Bernie crowd, expect the usual suspects gracing the protest set. There will be anti-fracking demonstrators, a Green Party rally, a march for 20-something environmentalists, criminal justice–focused protesters, and antiwar and gun control groups. Code Pink, the group that managed to make noise right in the middle of Trump’s nomination speech on Thursday, is also planning an appearance.

And Philadelphia is crossing its fingers that nothing goes awry. Back in 2000, when the city hosted the Republican convention, nearly 400 people were arrested. The weirdness of the reaction to the protests that year can be summed up by this sentence in a New York Times article about how most of the charges against demonstrators were dismissed: “But undercover state police officers who had infiltrated the protesters’ ranks at a factory where giant street puppets were being made could not identify any of 31 defendants as people they had seen break the law.”

Hopefully that doesn't happen again! That said, six pro-Bernie protesters were arrested in Philly just last week.

Kinds of Delegates You Will See, and How to Identify Them

Bernie-or-Busters: A grim set of the jaw, squinty eyes, and frequent references to “the system.” Probably white. Often travel in packs. Will wave copies of leaked emails in your face if given a chance.

Old-School Hillary Loyalists: Vintage, 2008-era logo buttons; sparkly reading glasses; frequent selfies with other delegates to commemorate the moment. Voices already shot from celebratory shouts.

Texans: Their fetish for matching costumes knows no party bounds.

Obama Nostalgists: Wistful gazes, Will.i.am on their headphones, extra Kleenex always on their person if you need it.

What Are We Going to Hear About Over and Over Again?

Progressive who likes to gets things done (n.)

This has become one of Hillary Clinton’s favorite rhetorical garnishes, sprinkled heavily through all of her speeches as a defense against those who complain she isn’t sufficiently liberal while also underlining the pragmatism that copyedits her every campaigning impulse. When she introduced her new running mate, she said that Kaine, too, was a Progressive Who Likes To Get Things Done. It seems likely that every single speaker at the convention will be introduced in this fashion. By the end of the week, the Dems may very well decide to debut a 21st-century answer to the GOP moniker: The Progressives Who Like to Get Things Done Party.

Anything involving cheesesteak

The convention is in Philadelphia, and the city does have a history of policing visiting politicians’ eating habits. Back in 2004, John Kerry ate a cheesesteak with swiss cheese; he then lost the presidential election. When Scott Walker went to go eat cheesesteak in Philly last year, he ordered one — after walking past a sign that read, “Scott Walker lives inside my butt” — with American cheese (Cheez Whiz or provolone are usually considered the only correct choices); he will not be our next president. It seems likely that at least one person is going to go up on stage and mention cheesesteak as a shout-out to the swing state. Outside the convention, Pat’s King of Steaks is holding its own nomination process with Hillary and Bernie cheesesteaks. According to the event’s Facebook page, The Hillary, usually known as “The Heart Attack,” is a “Cheese Steak wit American, Provolone & Whiz,” while The Bernie is a “Pepper Steak wit Onion, Mushroom & Whiz” so you can “feel the Bern.”

“Fight Song”

“Fight Song” by Rachel Platten is the unofficial anthem of Clinton’s campaign. Hillary plays it at nearly every event. She played it after winning the Iowa caucus, and she played it after her first appearance with Kaine on the ticket. It will probably play a lot this week, unless the Democrats also splashed out for a sweet house band that only plays ’70s and ’80s covers. We may also have to watch Clinton dance to it, although we might be inured to that after watching all the delegates in the hall dance on C-SPAN in the days leading up to her speech.

Failed attempts to connect with young people

Oh god, we hope this isn’t true, but the forecast isn’t promising after this tweet from a former Democratic governor dropped last week.

This does not bode well! Hopefully Clinton doesn’t reprise her Pokémon Go joke, but with all those young people protesting outside, they might get desperate.

I Spy: Democratic Convention Edition

I spy a pop star wearing something weird, white, and blue, and a shirt that says “I'm with her,”

A hat covered in buttons, and maybe that guy shot by Aaron Burr.

I spy dozens of old people doing whatever they think is the newest dance trend — in 1996 it was the Macarena, which may once again ascend.

I spy a tattoo of black glasses and a spark of hair and a stuffed donkey held by a grownup,

Tweet commentary from Trump, and maybe fewer people yelling lock her up.