What is especially impressive about the degree of caliber that the Presidential Academic Seminar lectures is that the guest speaker list is amazing for the sheer amount of experience and knowledge that they have or will pass down to us. The Washington Center is a bi-partisanship organization so the speeches are not overly political – rather they focus on providing in-depth information from the speaker’s own specialized area of expertise – be it history of the conventions, journalism on the candidates, faith and democracy, or even a plan to renovate the election process.
Today I’ll talk about Wally Podzarik.
First of all, who is he? Imagine this – over the span of many Democratic National Conventions throughout the decades, there is one figure that appears in each of them with a distinctive purpose and that is the media. The official Democratic National Convention blog describes him in 2008: For the ninth Convention running, it will be Wally Podrazik – with bullhorn in hand – leading the media though this first glimpse inside the home of the Democratic National Convention. (1)
I cannot cover his whole speech because there’s way too many points that I’d love to ruminate further on! But here’s some interesting bits that I thought was worth sharing:
He talked to us about the history of elections and the changing mediums of the press throughout the times. The last time DNC was hosted in Denver, it was exactly a hundred years ago – 1908! That time, it wasn’t even the custom for presidential nominees to show up at the conventions. So the party nominee at that time, William Jennings Bryant, accepted the nomination via a new technology: the phone. On a side note, my deaf history side of the mind couldn’t help but wonder how different things would have been if Alexander Graham Bell had never invented the phone. If Bell didn’t have such a fierce desire to help the deaf people hear, perhaps the phone would not have been invented – and perhaps the presidential nominees would appear at their party’s national conventions earlier… or later? It’s interesting to ponder upon this.
1968. It was honestly a terrible year for DNC, public relations-wise. However, the media were excited to be in the convention center to cover the proceedings. Then all the chaos happened outside the center and the media had to go outside to document it. If you were the media in 1968, you’d have thought that all the excitement to catch would be inside – but no, it happened outside with the protests. Here’s an authentic 1968 news video clip of the police riot at 1968 DNC, I couldn’t resist. You can even notice how old and clunky the equipment was back then. Today, people have designated free zones to protest and technology’s gotten a lot more portable (cell phone cameras, anybody?).
It’s hard to imagine that in the olden times, DNC actually bragged about having 3,500 lights and they even had special red lights for fire exits! Today the DNC is at Pepsi Center, which is absolutely massive. In fact, in spite of its sheer size – it still isn’t big enough. 15,000 people will be at DNC 2008. Two tons of steel was added to the Pepsi Center. The floor has the biggest seating area ever in the history of DNC. The indoor area of Pepsi Center has been massively changed to accommodate stage, seating, and media. The use of media has changed in the Information Age. Podzarik spoke of the constant “Presence of the Press” through new technology such as satellite, cable, RSS feed, and yes – blogs, too! The implied message was that the media is everywhere today and I felt empowered to listen to that because I considered myself as part of the modern facet of the media as a blogger for the deaf community.
In short, Wally Podzarik's had a long career within media and politics. He’s written books. He knows the processes of campaigns and conventions thoroughly. And by golly, he’s a good public speaker too! I was so riveted to his speech and so honored at the end of it to have been lucky enough to hear it that I just had to meet him afterwards. I went around to the back door where I hoped to catch him as he left the Ranger building. I was quite charmed to find out that he was so nice to me and even asked to take a picture with me.
That experience perfectly signified the golden opportunity of Presidential Academic Seminars – you get the chance to actually hear straight from experts who have been in the field for so long and you can meet with them. I’m humbled to just be here in Denver 2008, but the best part of it is meeting people and learning.