From the vantage point of Twitter and cable news, the 2016 Republican National Convention looked like a disaster. Ted Cruz was booed offstage Wednesday night after exhorting party members, “Vote your conscience,” and withholding his endorsement for Trump. Melania Trump’s speech contained sections that closely mirrored Michelle Obama’s 2008 speech to the Democratic National Convention. Delegates walked off of the floor after a rules vote failed to take a written tally of the delegates’ yeas and nays. In the background, protests swelled and retreated like an ocean tide.
But actually covering the RNC as a reporter, standing outside the Quicken Loans Arena in downtown Cleveland, very little seemed to be going on besides normal convention activities. Delegates, journalists and attendees shuffled in and out of the secure perimeter. Police from several states were on site– even the California Highway Patrol– ready to surround the small groups of protesters with bikes and horses. The mood was oddly subdued.
Before our reporting team left Youth Radio’s headquarters in Oakland, we were trained on how to handle certain catastrophic scenarios: if tear gas is thrown, if someone is arrested, if a gun goes off, et cetera. We were told to always keep an eye out for an escape route in the event of an emergency. So I expected the unexpected. Instead, I was just surprised by how reasonable things have been.
The people I spoke to have nuanced and complex perspectives on the election and their party: Colton Buckley comes to mind, a gay Republican delegate who demanded more inclusive leadership from the GOP.
Honestly, I didn’t expect to enjoy Cleveland. None of us did. In the days leading up to the convention there was no shortage of speculation about what the week would be like. Both the city and the Republican Party were hoping to get good publicity out of this in order to boost their reputation. And while I can’t speak for the GOP, Cleveland certainly exceeded my expectations. I like it–even the pleasantly humid evenings. A few people on my team spoke dreamily of moving here. If one of the goals of the convention was to attract some positive attention to Cleveland, then it worked.