Wanna-be witnesses to history

Times Staff Writer

Early Saturday morning Dermot Givens will load suitcases -- and his 8-year-old son, Damian -- into a rented van and begin his journey to the Democratic National Convention in Denver.

The Los Angeles attorney is going even though he doesn’t have a ticket to any of next week’s events. He doesn’t plan to volunteer. He’s not a delegate, doesn’t hold political office and is not on anyone’s VIP list.

But Dermot and Damian Givens expect to arrive in Denver in plenty of time to somehow watch Barack Obama step up to the podium Thursday and accept his party’s nomination for president in front of 75,000 people at Invesco Field, home to the Denver Broncos.

They will be joined by hundreds, or perhaps thousands, of others who have no tickets but are drawn to the Mile-High City to be part of current events.


For Givens it will be an opportunity to hear Obama on the anniversary of another storied event: the 45th anniversary of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington. Givens’ memory of that event is the car ride he took with his parents, who were driving from Detroit to the march.

“They dropped me off at my aunt’s house in Pittsburgh,” he recalled. “I grew up a kid of the civil rights movements, and I could have said ‘I went to the March on Washington.’ But I didn’t. They dropped me off in Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh!”

The ranks of those who plan to just show up in Denver include a New York City lobbyist for social programs who said she had been energized by the Obama campaign to fight even harder for the poor; the head of an economic development program in South Los Angeles who said the campaign had rekindled emotions she hadn’t felt since the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s 1984 run for the presidency; and a Jackson, Miss., lawyer who wasn’t an Obama supporter but now finds herself drawn to the candidate and to Denver.

They will all have to work hard to achieve their dream.

The convention is expected to draw at least 50,000 people (5,000 delegates, 15,000 members of the media and 30,000 others) from out of state, and most of the area’s 42,000 hotel rooms are booked. In addition, a lion’s share of the tickets to Obama’s speech Thursday have been distributed to residents of such battleground states as Colorado, Nevada, Wyoming and New Mexico.

But where there’s a will, there’s a way. “There will be a large screen on the side of the convention center, and ‘watch parties’ ” are being staged throughout the city, said Jennifer Backus, a senior aide to the Obama campaign for the convention. “The goal is to bring as many people into the process as possible.”

Jackie Dupont Walker, president of the Ward Economic Development Corp. in South Los Angeles, put the word out that she was looking for inside seats but said she wouldn’t be too disappointed if she didn’t get in. She said that she had attended several conventions and that this time she would be content to be in the vicinity of the action.

“I just want to be somewhere on the grounds,” she said.


Carolyn Webb de Macias, a retired USC vice president, found last-minute low-cost accommodations for herself, her husband and three adult sons. And she too is asking around for tickets to any of the scheduled events.

“The five of us will be bunked together family-style,” she said. “When people say ‘Where were you on Aug. 28?’ we want to be able to say we were in the noise.”

Clarence Clemons, a Ladera Heights public insurance adjuster, plans to fly to Denver and then rent a mobile home for the duration of the convention. And he’s looking for a ticket.

“The day Martin Luther King spoke in Washington, I was a young man in the Navy, watching the speech on television with my grandparents,” he recalled. “I said, ‘If I ever get an opportunity to experience history like this in my life, I will take it.’ And now I’m 70, and I never imagined something like this happening in my lifetime.”


In Los Angeles lately, when the call goes out for seats at the convention, it’s frequently Kerman Maddox on the other end of the line. The political consultant, longtime Obama supporter and member of Obama’s national finance committee has received 200 requests for convention tickets in the last 10 days, mostly from celebrities, elected officials, religious leaders and party activists. The requests have a familiar ring.

“I hear people say, ‘Hey, can you hook a brother up?’ or ‘Can you help a guy out?’ or ‘I need tickets. I need floor passes,’ ” Maddox said. “I tell them, ‘I’ll do what I can, but please don’t ask for floor passes.’ ”

Recently he received a request that was a little different. In a letter, Lark Galloway-Gilliam, a longtime friend and executive director of Community Health Councils in South Los Angeles, asked for help for her older brother, “a devoted Democrat and Obama supporter.”

Lloyd Edward Galloway Jr., 59, has suffered from cerebral palsy since childhood. Unable to walk or talk, he has a vibrant mind and spends hours each day following the news reports and analyses of the campaign. For his Aug. 4 birthday, the family bought airline tickets and arranged hotel accommodations for a trip to Denver with younger brother Mark.


“All that we need now are two passes to the acceptance speech,” Galloway-Gilliam wrote. “I know it’s asking a lot -- but dreams do come true, and his life is a testament to the strength of the human spirit. I’m asking everyone I know because it’s that important to him.”