Guns, God and good old-fash­ioned pol­i­tics

My day at the Ge­or­gia GOP con­ven­tion

GA Voice - - We Went There -

By PA­TRICK SAUN­DERS

Back in the first week of April, I read that the Ge­or­gia GOP con­ven­tion was tak­ing place in Athens the fol­low­ing month. So I found the press con­tact, emailed him for cre­den­tials and waited to hear back, not sure I would get in. Ge­or­gia Voice hasn’t held back from re­port­ing on the var­i­ous ques­tion­able deeds and ac­tions the party has taken against the LGBT com­mu­nity, but it’s not like we’ve laid off on the other side ei­ther.

Be­fore long, lo and be­hold, I re­ceived con­fir­ma­tion that I could at­tend.

I was ex­cited to take part, be­cause Ge­or­gia’s Repub­li­can Party is a party at a cross­roads. Mar­riage equal­ity is not an “if ” but a “when,” as soon as within a few weeks if the ex­perts are right on their U.S. Supreme Court pre­dic­tions. Trans­gen­der is­sues have blasted for­ward into the main­stream, thanks, lately, to celebri­ties like Cait­lyn Jen­ner and Lav­erne Cox, but those are tracks laid down by count­less trans ac­tivists be­fore them, many of whom aren’t here to talk about it.

Ev­ery­one’s seen the polls about the at­ti­tudes of younger gen­er­a­tions to­ward LGBT is­sues, and they just don’t mesh with those of older gen­er­a­tions, es­pe­cially older Repub­li­cans.

So what does Ge­or­gia’s Repub­li­can Party look like in 2015 as it gath­ers for its sig­na­ture event?

Down the rab­bit hole

As I en­tered the Clas­sic Cen­ter, I found my way to the me­dia ta­ble and got my cre­den­tials, then de­scended a long es­ca­la­tor and ar­rived on the ground floor. More and more peo­ple jammed in around me as I came to a long hall­way packed with ta­bles on both sides, and that’s when I knew I had of­fi­cially gone down the rab­bit hole.

Hey, there’s the Ben Car­son ta­ble! Sure, he’s com­pared ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity to pe­dophilia and bes­tial­ity, but look at that smile.

And then there’s a ta­ble of but­tons! Who doesn’t like a but­ton? Un­less of course you saw th­ese par­tic­u­lar but­tons and you’re LGBT, a Demo­crat, pro-choice or a wel­fare re­cip­i­ent. And I won­dered what the women in at­ten­dance thought about the “KFC Hil­lary Spe­cial: 2 Fat Thighs, 2 Small Breasts ... Left Wing” but­ton.

Sup­press­ing the urge to buy the pink “Proud Repub­li­can Woman” but­ton, I moved on.

Speak­ing of women, there was a ta­ble for Maggie’s List, an or­ga­ni­za­tion whose goal is to elect fis­cally con­ser­va­tive women to Congress. An “Em­pow­er­ing Women to Em­power Our Na­tion” sign was proudly dis­played. And seated at the ta­ble was: no one. I’ll leave the sig­nif­i­cance of this fact to oth­ers to de­cide.

I ran into a friendly face at one ta­ble, a gay Repub­li­can I will not name, who laughed as he ex­claimed, “What the hell are YOU do­ing here?” Gay Repub­li­cans are light­ning rods within the LGBT com­mu­nity, just as they are light­ning rods within the Repub­li­can Party. But I know many gay peo­ple whose al­le­giance to the Demo­cratic Party hinges mostly on the mar­riage equal­ity is­sue. What will hap­pen once that bar­rier is bro­ken? Will we see a wave of gay peo­ple gin­gerly step­ping across party lines? And what will the fringe el­e­ment of the GOP make of them?

The Faith & Free­dom Coali­tion had a ta­ble manned by some­one I later learned to be Robert Potts, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of the Ge­or­gia chap­ter, which led to this en­ter­tain­ing ex­change: Me: “Hey, how are you to­day?” An ex­tremely chip­per Potts: “I’m great! Opin­ions abounded on a num­ber of top­ics at the Ge­or­gia Repub­li­can Con­ven­tion held May 15–16 in Athens. (Photo by Pa­trick Saun­ders) Who are you with?” Me: “Ge­or­gia Voice.” Potts, smile drop­ping: “Oh.” Fol­low­ing un­com­fort­able small talk, I moved on to guns. Big freak­ing guns. A ta­ble full of them. They were there cour­tesy of a lo­cal gun shop, and to be hon­est, I didn’t get as up in arms (heh) about this as many peo­ple on Face­book do. At least the gun own­ers know their au­di­ence.

Com­ing face-to-face with an old re­al­ity

En­ter­ing the con­ven­tion hall it­self, it be­came clear to me how bor­ing po­lit­i­cal con­ven­tions are. You should never ex­pect many fire­works, save for the oc­ca­sional catchy line or pol­icy change that typ­i­cally ac­counts for about five per­cent of one’s over­all time there. It’s less “hurry up and wait” and more “shift un­com­fort­ably in your seat ev­ery 10 min­utes so your ass doesn’t go numb and then wait some more.”

This ap­plies to any con­ven­tion or com­mit­tee hear­ing, no mat­ter the po­lit­i­cal party. This is bi­par­ti­san ass-shift­ing! But ev­ery now and then you do get a glimpse of the demo­cratic process at work and learn to ap­pre­ci­ate it.

Pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Sen. Marco Ru­bio’s speech got the crowd hum­ming, and those who ven­tured into the lobby af­ter­ward were greeted by none other than Sen. Ted Cruz, who was mov­ing through the lobby and shak­ing hands.

It’s an in­ter­est­ing ex­pe­ri­ence com­ing faceto-face with the peo­ple whose opin­ions and vot­ing records go so far against your val­ues and wishes to live your life the way you want to live it, with­out any fa­vors or short­cuts, just your de­sire to be on equal foot­ing with ev­ery­one else who is blessed with the ca­pac­ity to love.

But I re­main on the side­lines, wad­ing into what­ever sit­u­a­tion I can get my­self into to ob­serve and re­port and let oth­ers de­cide what to make of it.

June 12, 2015

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