Convention is culmination of yearlong commitment
Touring musician Jason Brown is nearing the end of a monthslong political journey, and he knows these last few lengths will be the most challenging and rewarding.
Brown, 32, is a longtime Democrat and supporter of Bernie Sanders’ presidential bid. He devoted himself to the campaign “and the People’s Movement it represents” more than a year ago, taking time off from his music and livelihood in hopes of making a difference.
“This campaign and movement speaks to my heart and my values like none before,” Brown said.
“In my short life, we’ve never had a candidate that goes down the line on progressive issues without compromise; someone like Bernie Sanders that is simply authentic and speaks our language.”
At the 1st District Democratic Convention on April 30, Brown was elected as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention that is being held in Philadelphia the last week in July.
Following debate at the State Convention last month, he became the vice chairman of the Iowa National Delegation. The decision to split into preference groups for the purpose of electing vice-chairs of the national delegation, at least in recent party history, is unprecedented. Tradition has been for the chair of the Iowa Democratic Party to lead the national delegates.
“It’s an unprecedented move for an unprecedented time, and largely symbolic,” Brown said. “It is just really nice to know that our delegation will be able to speak with more than one voice, because we know one voice couldn’t speak on behalf of the full delegation.”
Despite not having a distinct list of duties, Brown knows Sanders supporters will be looking to him for leadership, just as Clinton supporters will be following the lead of their chosen vice-chair, Paul Gandy of Fairfield.
Yet before any of that can happen, Brown has to get himself to Philadelphia. And that will require quite a bit of money.
“I’m really trying to do this as efficiently as it can be done, but it still is very expensive,” he said.
The state party estimates that each delegate will need to have around $6,000 to fund their trip to the national convention. In addition to convention fees, delegates will pay for their own hotel rooms, transportation, meals and optional sightseeing or entertainment.
Brown has worked with other delegates to form a car pool caravan. With everyone pitching in, the group knows they can save some money on travel.
Hotel accommodations for each state delegation are assigned by the national party and while it isn’t mandatory for each state delegation to be housed in the same hotel block, there are logistic conveniences to that arrangement. Rooms for the Iowa delegation are roughly $600 per night, or about $3,000 for the duration of the convention. Although many delegates anticipate sharing rooms, lodging costs remain one of the largest hurdles.
“Reaching that recommended $6,000 per delegate would be lovely,” Brown said, but admitted it may not be realistic. If he raises more than he needs, Brown says he’ll share with the wealth with other Iowans making the trip.
Like other national delegates, Brown has established an online fundraising campaign. He originally set his goal at $5,000, but later reduced it to $3,000. To date, he has gathered just over $1,000 of his goal, mostly through several small donations.
He has networked with elected officials and political candidates to raise awareness about his cause, and has also used his unique skills as a musician to perform and promote. When we spoke, he hoped members of his musician’s union or the union itself might chip in too.
“My effort is to raise money for all of our delegates, regardless of preference group,” he said. “We are really looking for the support of our local party — not just financially, but symbolically. We’d like to know that the Linn County Democrats want to make the investment in their youth talent, that they care and they want us to be there.”
Linn County has a total of six national delegates. Two are elected officials — Rob Hogg and Brent Oleson — and two others are recent high school graduates. Brown is a musician and the final delegate is an engineer.
During their regular meeting in June, members of the Linn County Democratic Central Committee voted to contribute to the fundraising campaign of the delegates who are not elected officials.
It’s one more step, and important validation from the local party, said Brown, who added that he’s still focused on educating the public about how expensive the trip will be.
“Pretty consistently, once people understand the cost, they are appalled and upset with the party, because the cost means that only a certain type of person can afford to participate at this national level. That’s not very democratic and it’s concerning,” he said.
“Upper income people should participate and be a part of the process, but the national convention shouldn’t be done in a way that is prohibitive or that automatically excludes those of lesser means. We need to find a way that all people — all income brackets — can participate fully in democracy.”
For Brown, even if getting to Philadelphia requires personal debt, he says he’ll be there. He also has no hesitation discussing the role he’ll play once he arrives.
“This nomination has not yet been decided,” he said. “We have a convention process and we intend to go to the convention and do our duty to support the nominee we believe in.”
For Brown, the only nominee he is ready to consider is Sanders.
“Even though a certain narrative is being repeated, a lot of us are not willing to accept that narrative as long as there is an open contest. Senator Sanders has not conceded; therefore, neither are we,” he said. “We are going to go to the convention and we are going to do everything we can for our candidate. It’s premature to make assumptions at this point.”
In the coming days, I’ll introduce more national delegates from Eastern Iowa, and will continue to follow the entire group throughout the convention.
This column by Lynda Waddington originally published in The Gazette on July 10, 2016. Photo credit: Lynda Waddington/The Gazette