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A Local's Perspective: Reflecting on the DNC

"This was my chance to enjoy every second of this process and my enthusiasm was bubbling over," Santa Monica College employee and Westchester resident Lisa Tomlinson Starr says of her first day at the Democratic National Convention.

As an introduction to Santa Monica and Marina del Rey Patch's newest blogger, Lisa Tomlinson Starr, we're publishing this Q&A about her time as a delegate at the 2012 Democratic National Convention and involvement in national politics. She is a Westchester resident and part-time counselor at Santa Monica College. Welcome, Lisa!

Patch: How did you wind up at the DNC?

Tomlinson Starr:  When I was volunteering at the Obama headquarters, I received an email asking if I wanted to apply as a delegate for the national convention. I talked it over with my husband because it would be time away from my family right at the start of the school year, and it was a financial decision. Each delegate is responsible for his/her own expenses. I have been volunteering with the campaign for some time, so being able to go to the convention would be a chance of a lifetime. We both decided that I had to do it. I applied in my congressional district. My application was verified and then I ran against 16 other women in my district for one of four spots. The fourth spot was an alternate position. The alternate goes to the convention and fills in as a delegate on the main floor to assure quorum, when someone is missing.

I showed up at the caucus with my husband and three daughters in tow, star stickers that read “Vote Lisa Starr” and we all handed out Starburst candies to everyone in line. It wasn’t a polished campaign but it was heart-felt. I am so thankful for all my friends that showed up to vote. Some of my daughter’s friends even joined in handing out the candy and stickers, it was a blast.

To my surprise, it worked. We gained support in the line and lots of people that I didn’t know before that day, along with my friends that I did recruit, voted for me. Lisa Starr came in fourth—I was going to North Carolina and the DNC in the alternate position!

Patch: You've called yourself the "Geek Delegate." Why were you so enthusiastic about attending?

Tomlinson Starr: This was in the context of running into a KCRW reporter on the first morning, on my first day in North Carolina at the California Delegation breakfast. I was asked about issues that were important to me and I did briefly answer that I had a great concern about women’s rights, overall equal rights, education, environment and the economy. But then we laughed about the excitement in the air and that’s when I said that I was a “Total Geek Delegate” I was giddy and felt like a kid, taking it all in. I was seeing friends I had made, while helping with the campaign and during the delegation process. Taking photos of the volunteers holding signs, signing t-shirts of people, not certain if they thought I was someone else. I’m a mom and I work part-time, so getting away from carpool is a big deal. I don’t do that for just anything. This was my chance to enjoy every second of this process and my enthusiasm was bubbling over. So, yes I own that statement.

I have been a President Obama supporter from early on.  He inspires hope for me and my family. I loved his message of personally taking responsibility for the state of the union but also telling the American public to roll up it’s collective sleeves and  work together to make change for the better. Change will take all of us, regardless of party association.  

I am really tired of individuals (politicians and private citizens) making blanket statements about what is wrong but don’t appear to be working to make it better. We all do what we can, when we can, but this time, I wanted to do more. I wanted to make a statement of change for myself and my family. If I want things to be better, I’m going to help make it better.

Patch: In your blog postings on fivestarrs.com, you appear enamored by the fanfare of the convention. Was there business to be conducted, too?

Of course there was business to be conducted, but I started the blog for my family and immediate friends. They knew my interest in being at the convention, so preaching to the choir was not the intention of the blog. I wanted to capture my day to day experience, and the excitement of being a part of the political process, instead of hearing about it on the news.

What was a bit unexpected for me was the overwhelming feeling of appreciation for being able to be there. Beyond the obvious fact that it was difficult to leave my family for the week, but the literal fact that I could be a part of a peaceful political process to nominate the leader to our country.  It’s a bit sappy but I know I have taken that for granted in my lifetime. I have been fortunate to have individuals fight the fight, so being a woman didn’t keep me on the outside. I indeed love a process that allows that and I’m glad it came across in my blog. 

Patch: The conventions are criticized for being too much like rock concerts. What's the value in keeping them exciting and fun to watch?

Tomlinson Starr: I’m certain a big factor in the televised side of the convention is about draw, flash and advertisers, but on the ground, it’s about energy and staying power. Isn’t the purpose of all conventions, political or otherwise, to gather your constituents, deliver your message and get them fired up, so that they will return home and share that energy or sell that product with/to others that weren’t there?

As a delegate to your national party’s convention, you are voted to represent your congressional district, by passing a platform and nominating your candidates for positions of the President and Vice President of the United States of America. The hope is that you will attend the meetings and speeches and then go home and get others to vote for your person too. Each delegate has made a financial and personal commitment to that process but that isn’t the hard part at all.

The election is just over a month away. The hard work is the day after the convention when you’re back home and your individual reality hits again. Work, family, school schedules, sports schedules, you find out you have a sick relative, or your kid’s school is facing more budget cuts, that’s when you draw from the amazing “rock concert” experience. For me, now is when I need to remember the energy of amazing people from all over the country gathering to inform and absolutely entertain with their speeches.  Meeting people you admire in the news while listening to James Taylor and dodging the lightening storm, or getting to meet Lilly Ledbetter, and thanking her in person, for taking a stand for equal pay for woman.  

Meeting real people in the caucuses, who have conveyed their stories and facts of the issues. And then they tell you why they support our President. They are back to their day to day and it is a different picture than mine, perhaps they are concerned that their health care for their child is in jeopardy, or that they are in jeopardy themselves of keeping health insurance because of a pre-existing condition. Or they live with the love of their life, but are told they can’t have the same rights as other couples because they are of the same sex.  

All this happened outside the TV cameras, but you add the evening convention sessions and, pow!, it’s electric! To see the various state representatives in a positive light and hear them talk is all that is good in the process. Excitement, hope and support.  Everyday life isn’t that, especially in the news, so to have it for a week, is very special and in my opinion much needed. That is why the conventions need to be high energy, “rock concert-esk”. I’m fired up and I see those people’s faces everyday now. So even when I’m dog tired after work, carpool, homework checking, various practice/games, dinner, baths, books and tuck in time, I’m “Fired up and Ready to go” thanks to the DNC!

Patch: How do you explain to your children the importance of national politics?

Tomlinson Starr: My girls are relatively young, so I try to convey the importance of the fact that their voice matters. We certainly talk national issues, but I have to be honest, I don’t talk national politics at home with them much of the time. I talk to them about starting with what they know and go from there.  Have an impact in your school or community and see what happens. I try to lead by example. If I have had concerns at their school or in our community, I have worked to make the situation better and they have seen the positive results. One day, as they get older, it could lead more into national politics and I know we will have wonderful discussions on our beliefs and dreams for our country. They’re all involved in student council at their schools to that’s a great start.

Patch: How will you continue your involvement with the Democratic party as we approach the November election?

Tomlinson Starr: I will continue to help at the Obama Headquarters. I plan to assist in the effort to get people to register to vote. And I want to stay on point with women’s issues, equal rights, education and the environment in my blog. It started as a personal message to my immediate family and friends, but with a wider audience that have already tuned in, I want to open up the communication lines and try to post weekly updates on how to get involved, register and stay connected with the election, especially for women. November 2012 is our time

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