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See photos from the 2012 Democratic convention
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See photos from the 2012 Republican convention

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Doing Things Differently at the 2012 Democratic and Republican Conventions

by Jo Freeman


Unconventional Women political buttonBoth parties showcased women in greater numbers than their actual representation in party councils. Roughly 36 percent of the speakers at the Republican Convention were women, excluding entertainers. This was more than the 30 percent of the speakers at the Democratic convention who were women. By comparison, at that time women held only ten percent of the Republicans seats in both houses of Congress. They were 22 percent of the Democratic House members and 38 percent of Democratic Senators. Although few state legislators are honored with a spot in the convention limelight, they do provide the base from which those elected to higher office often come, and thus are a source of future convention speakers. There were a lot more Republican state legislators than Democrats in 2012, but the Democrats elected more women. Women were 30% of all Democrats serving in the state Senate and 32% of those in the lower house. They were 14.7% and 18% of the Republicans in those bodies. Some of these women will become governors and attorneys generals, who along with senators, are often asked to speak at the conventions. In 2012, only one of the two Democratic women governors spoke, and one of the five female attorneys general. Three of the four Republican women governors had time at the rostrum, and one of the two attorneys general.

lots of protesters for gay rights
New Mexico Governor Susanna Martinez
marshalls hold hands in a circle with their backs to fundamentalists
California Attorney General Kamala Harris
Minority Leader (and former Speaker) Nancy Pelosi stands in  front of the House women.

The Democratic women of the House came on stage the first night of the convention and the Democratic women of the Senate on the second. Minority Leader (and former Speaker) Nancy Pelosi stands in front of the House women.

No explicitly feminist organization held public activities at either convention, but some organizations of women and organizations whose focus is on women's issues sponsored events.

A Woman stands at a podium and gestures toward a screen

The National Foundation of Women Legislators met in Tampa to promote a Women's Health Initiative. It is a bipartisan group whose leadership alternates between the major parties.
The meeting was run by Florida State Representative Gayle Harrell (R),
who currently chairs the NFWL Board of Directors.

many people wearing pink shirts stand on or in front of a stage with the mottos Yes We Plan and We Are Voting Obama

Planned Parenthood held rallies at both conventions but it openly supported Obama. Its President, Cecile Richards, spoke at the Democratic convention on Wednesday.

Nancy Keenan at the podium

NARAL (National Abortion Rights Action League) President Nancy Keenan also addressed the Democratic convention.

Celebration of pro-life womenThe Republican Party platform is strongly pro-life, but no head of a pro-life organization spoke to the convention. Instead, pro-lifers held a luncheon at the Republican Convention.


Conventions are magnets, drawing to them political junkies of all types and the people who report their stories to the larger public. In addition to politicians, party workers, and media, anyone promoting a cause or a position or a product sees convention week as fertile ground. Issue groups, commercial businesses, lobbying groups, membership organizations – anyone who can afford to rent some space and provide an attraction – comes to search for support, educate potential decision makers, shape public opinion, or market their wares. Some entities go to both conventions; some only to one. Party styles are a bit different. Democrats go to caucuses and rallies. Republicans go to luncheons and receptions. Both go to policy panels and parties.

political buttons of some democratic caucus groups

Only the Democrats have official caucuses.

Google's rented space made of boldly colored shipping containers

At the Republican convention Google rented space inside the security zone, which meant only those with convention passes could use its facilities. At the Democratic Convention Google set up shop outside the security zone, in a temporary building constructed from shipping containers.

Google hosts a panel of discussants

From this structure Google hosted numerous events, such as this panel
on LGBT rights put on by the Human Rights Campaign.

Citizens United Productions screened four films at the Republican Convention, "Occupy Unmasked" sought to tie the Occupy movement of the previous year to President Obama, implying that his re-election would lead to more disruption and social disintegration. In its promo, CUP said the film would reveal "the sinister, organized, and highly orchestrated nature of its leaders and their number one goal: Not just to change government, but to destroy it."

Officers and participants stand on a stage

Officers of Citizens United and participants in the film "Occupy Unmasked"
speak to the audience after a showing of the film

CUP is the documentary film production and marketing arm of the conservative advocacy group Citizens United. It's best known as the plaintiff in a 2010 Supreme Court decision that ruled that there could be no limits on corporate spending on elections made independent of campaigns. That decision was prompted by the release of CUP's 2007 film "Hillary: The Movie" which attacked Hillary Clinton when she was running for President. The Federal Election Commission initially ruled that the film was an a card reading A corporation is not a person, where the word corporation has been made to look like an animal with blood dripping from its sharp teeth"electioneering communication," which could not be released to the public within 60 days of a general election or 30 days of a primary. In a 5–4 decision, the Court held that prohibiting corporations or unions from engaging in such actions was an unconstitutional ban on free speech. It extended the logic of its 1976 decision, Buckley v. Valeo, which had held that individuals can make unlimited expenditures on elections, but that their contributions to campaigns could be limited. The Citizens United decision gave birth to the campaign against "corporate personhood" – the idea that corporations had the same constitutional rights as people.

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