BOSTON – When Teresa Heinz Kerry spoke to the Democratic National Convention Tuesday night,thousands of delegates seemed to raise signs printed with her name at once. At the Sept. 11,2001,commemoration Monday night,thousands of flashlights simultaneously lighted the FleetCenter.
Could it be that more than 4,000 delegates had a coincident urge to point small lights to the sky or throw up signs that say,“We Love Teresa”?
It could be – but it's probably not.
Much of the convention's sign-raising and cheering is organized through a system of communication between delegations and the “Campaign Boiler Room,” said one of the few who has been there,Kobi Little,an Alabama delegate.
Little is a delegation whip – every delegation has them. Whips are the links between the people orchestrating the show and the delegates who are watching,reacting and performing on cue.
Whips meet with convention coordinators each night before the convention session begins,said Marsha Folsom of Cullman,Ala.,the delegation's other whip. They actually meet in a place they call the Boiler Room. In fact,when Folsom first tried to find the place,a policeman jokingly directed her to the basement.
During the convention,Folsom and other delegation whips stand near their delegates and the delegation's computer terminals wearing bright yellow vests. Near the screens are phones that connect the whips to the Boiler Room,which serves as a sort of central command,Folsom said.
Those phones “ring about every five or 10 minutes,” Little said.
Over the phone come directions about what to do when. Whips relay those directions to delegates. They also receive speaker schedules in advance and tell their delegations what to expect and when to get ready to cheer,Little said.
“Folks are already excited,” Folsom said. “It's our job to organize that excitement.”
It can be hard work,Little said. That they have so much to do is an indication of how well organized the convention is,he added.
Alabama's whips have spent the past two mornings briefing delegates on their duties and urging them to follow directions – so far Alabama is doing very well,they said.
At Alabama's Wednesday morning caucus meeting,for example,Folsom reminded delegates that signs with a speaker's name – such as the Kennedy signs that crowded TV screens Tuesday night – should not be raised when a speaker's introducer comes out,but only when the speaker actually comes out. There had been some confusion about that Tuesday.
Folsom said the most important whip duty was to be Wednesday night – making sure the voting goes well.
“It's part cheerleader,part worker,” she said. “But mostly,it's just good fun.”
Folsom and Little agreed that between the delegation's excitement and determination to elect a Democratic president,the Alabama delegation is an easy to lead.
“Our delegation-tracker was telling me that our delegation was getting noticed for being so enthusiastic and united,” Little said.
And that's a good thing,delegates said. One of them,Sheila Smoot,told the others,“We've got to outshine Mississippi!”