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WRTI Reporters on Covering the DNC

It was a week to remember for WRTI's Susan Lewis and Meridee Duddleston! Here they reflect on the miles they walked with delegates, with protesters, with Secret Service, and even with a candidate or two, through the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.

Sunday, the Night Before

Philadelphia comes alive, embracing its role as host city of the Democratic National Convention. WRTI News Anchor/Arts Reporter Meridee Duddleston and Senior Producer Susan Lewis are accompanied by Digital Content Editor Jessica Schultz as they greet delegates outside a party at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, asking what music has meant to them and their hometowns.

People light up, stories abound: band experience, hometown orchestras, music teachers that made a difference. The message that emerges: Music matters across America. The surprise? Delegates from not only every state and territory, but also from Prague, Ukraine, Germany...  

Monday, Day One
Not just delegates, but staffers, local, state, and national officials; advocates, protesters, families, hordes of media people. Police on every corner. Secret Service.

And everyone is friendly.

The sights: Bernie Tees, Hillary Tees mingling in a sea of red, white, blue... kids dancing in Dilworth Plaza fountains… posters about freedom and democracy alongside posters with photos of aborted fetuses and victims of land mines...

The sounds: Music on the corners... sax player down the block... protesters on bullhorns... car horns from snarling traffic, ebbing and flowing...

Old City: Philly Feast welcomes visitors and locals alike to a block party... food trucks, musicians, dancers, pop-up art share the neighborhood with historic sites... Meridee and Susan take respite from the heat at the Betsy Ross House. There she is: busy sewing, but eager to engage.

Susan Lewis and Meridee Duddleston speak with Betsy Ross, portrayed here by actress Carol Spacht.

Heat is heavy, air is thick... was this what the constitutional convention was like in 1787? Records indicate that it was hot then, too, and no AC. We head to the cool interior of the Pennsylvania Convention Center. Caucus meetings in session, delegates in the halls.

Up Broad Street through City Hall Courtyard to home where we can work. Listening to interviews, pulling cuts. Assembling stories for morning newscasts.

Monday Night, Wells Fargo Center
Navigating sports arena section of the city... wide boulevards, blocked-off areas, police and Secret Service looking official yet being very friendly...

Airport-type security at Convention Center and Wells Fargo: hang-tags, parking permits, credentials, law enforcement and Secret Service everywhere. Meridee: never make jokes in these circumstances...  

Inside Wells Fargo Center secure perimeter: row of giant white media tents in parking lot... rows and rows of reporters working on laptops... activity everywhere... broadcasters doing stand-ups... golf carts ferrying... three from MSNBC doing a “walk and talk” interview, cameras and crew front and back...

Inside Wells Fargo: first stop, First Aid Station... Meridee needs a band-aid, two band-aids on this, the very first night… everybody has foot blisters… a line of five (and growing) waiting as health worker wraps a woman’s foot… sprained ankle? What do the rest of us need? Band-aids. Lots.  Susan takes two for good luck...

Hallway around arena: jammed… it’s the mall the last weekend before Christmas, huge university graduation, NBA Finals, Superbowl, World Series or all together... vendors selling political tee shirts and buttons instead of sports… lines for food snake back and forth along one side of hall, other side has rooms for Facebook (how to Facebook Live!), Twitter...

In the Hall, on the floor: political mosh pit... delegates fill seats, alternating between watching and resting... a river of media, guests, dignitaries push past seats, connecting, interviewing, being interviewed... tee shirts to suits....Wisconsin delegates in cheesehead hats...

Tuesday, Day Two
Meridee meets Curator Jodi Throckmorton at Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, tours their DNC-inspired exhibition: Life, Liberty, Happiness? American Arts and Politics... pieces are from their collection except for contemporary portrait of JFK by Elaine de Kooning... show is mixture of humor, serious issues, perspectives of George and Martha Washington...

Susan to Art Museum, interviews Bob Lynch, president and CEO of Americans for the Arts... panel discussion with musicians Ben Folds (he sings before) and Ben Vereen (he sings after), Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (plays piano during), Arthur Bloom (who founded MusiCorps to help wounded vets recover from their injuries). Pennsylvania Girlchoir sings at reception.

Wednesday, Day Three
Meridee at City Hall, “Philly Makes Art” Day... courtyard alive with art projects: mural prep, button-making, drawings based on a quilt, silk-screening... Chief Cultural Officer Kelly Lee involving kids in democratic process...

Susan, Meridee at Convention Center, ask: have visitors had time to experience Philadelphia? Lots of comments, lots of smiles... young protester complains about trash... older couple moving to city lauds clean streets, safety... visitors are pretty unanimous on friendliness of Philadelphians (airport to hotels to street), beauty of streets, public art, parks… they love Museum of Art, Reading Terminal Market... more to Philadelphia than Liberty Bell and cheesesteaks...

Visitors to the DNC give their impressions of Philadelphia.

Wednesday Night, Wells Fargo
Radio-land in the uppermost reaches... can’t get higher than this without being on catwalk with technicians.

Thursday, Day Four
Spent day working on producing sound for news... back in Wells Fargo radio-land, pressed against counter, on narrow step leading to CBS radio space, which is blocked off, keeping non-CBS people out… Susan and Meridee have staked out territory... young man with French accent takes step to Susan’s right, shoves his shoulder against hers...  He: “Can you move over?” She: “No,” gestures toward Meridee, squeezed at left. He: “But I am here for radio, I need this space.” She: “We are here for radio, too.”

Speeches… balloons... crowd roars… deafening...

Back at WRTI on Temple’s campus, back to normal… but one more rally, Clinton/Kaine, first stop on bus tour has been moved to... Temple, right down the street from WRTI

Susan, Jessica head for it… it’s in a gym, intimate compared to Wells Fargo... audience not delegates but seem to be from Philadelphia... small stage… you can see the candidates’ faces... after, they work the rope line… we head back to WRTI...  

But… down a side street and we come right up to a barricade… this is, in effect, the stage door... Secret Service setting up… we can’t get through… at the barricade... could not be closer… time passes... and passes… the sun is hot... what are they doing in there?

Finally they emerge... so close... and then... shaking hands with Hillary and Bill...

They get into the bus and drive off.

Susan writes and produces stories about music and the arts. She’s host and producer of WRTI’s TIME IN online interview series, and contributes weekly intermission interviews for The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert series. She’s also been a regular host of WRTI’s Live from the Performance Studio sessions.