When Barack Obama accepts the nomination before some 75,000 people at a Denver stadium on Thursday, he’ll be surrounded by a contingent of average Americans from all walks of life — just not Hollywood performers, musicians and other famous figures who have so publicly championed his candidacy.
So what, exactly, will be the role of celebrity during the week of the Democratic National Convention?
The easy answer: Causes. In fact, outside the convention hall itself, it will be a veritable ComicCon of causes, as dozens upon dozens of events are slated throughout the week promoting everything from African poverty relief to the plight of war veterans to the world trade imbalance.
Some of the bigger events include:
- Jakob Dylan, NERD and Fall Out Boy perform for Rock the Vote at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House on Monday night.
- Melissa Etheridge, Cyndi Lauper and Rufus Wainwright perform at a Fillmore Auditorium concert on Tuesday night for the Human Rights Campaign.
- Kanye West is scheduled to perform at the Exdo Event Center for a Wednesday concert for Bono’s ONE Campaign and the Recording Industry Assn. of America.
- The Black Eyed Peas headline a Wednesday night concert for the Creative Coalition.
That is just a fraction of what is in store. The week is filled with daytime receptions, luncheons and cocktails tied to particular issues.
Jennifer Lopez, for instance, is one of the headliners for a Wednesday reception for the Children’s Defense Fund that is honoring Marian Wright Edelman, with Viacom and Capitol File magazine as co-sponsors. Annette Bening will be honored at a Wednesday morning Creative Coalition reception tied to the documentary “14 Women,” about the life and times of 14 female senators in Congress. And Fran Drescher is planning to address a women’s caucus on health issues.
One of the focal points of the advocacy will be at the Starz Green Room, just across the street from the Pepsi Center, where the cabler is hosting an entire pavilion of panels and speakers, with book signings and film screenings. There, SeaChange Communications, the firm led by Jamie McGurk and Victoria Hopper, have organized a host of events tied to various issues — from the rise of China, India and Russia, to “True Patriotism: Who Owns It?”
At the same venue, the IMPACT film festival will showcase socially themed pics, including “Battle in Seattle,” a chronicle of the drama and protest surrounding the 1999 World Trade Organization meetings in Seattle. A panel includes director Stuart Townsend and Teamsters president James Hoffa, with one of the film’s stars, Charlize Theron, also in attendance.
Lines for security were already long at the Pepsi Center, even though no official events start until Monday.
Inside the security perimeter, CNN set up a makeshift cafe out of an old brick building, and the restaurant already was bustling.
Some members of the media already were grousing about some of the arrangements, like portable toilets instead of real bathrooms.
And as always, reporters were comparing credentials, wondering how they could secure better passes to get on the convention floor.
Even though the week was expected to be slow on suspense, some said that was beside the point.
Democratic strategist Paul Begala said, “Yes, it is scripted, but it is like a wedding. And like a wedding we want to make this commitment communal. We want to publicly confirm what has already been decided.”
The convention festivities will kick off Sunday night, with a benefit event for hurricane Katrina recovery called the “All-Star Jambalaya” at Fillmore Auditorium featuring legendary New Orleans acts and hosts including John Larroquette and Harry Shearer; and an environmentally themed concert called “Green Sunday at Red Rocks,” featuring Sheryl Crow, Dave Mathews with Tim Reynolds and Sugarland, and speakers including Robert Kennedy Jr. and Van Jones.
Laurie David, who helped spearhead the “Red Rocks” event, says she is not overly worried about environmental issues getting lost in the maze of various causes.
The Denver Host Committee “really tried to examine every detail of this convention to make it as green as possible, so you are going to be getting that message through the entire convention,” said David, who also will be a speaker at the event. Delegates will be picked up in hybrid cars, vendors will serve food on recycled plates, even hotel keys will be made from “sustainable materials” rather than plastic.
Tom Sheridan, whose Washington consultancy org represents the ONE Campaign, among other clients, says he’s realistic about how much will be accomplished during the convention hubbub, but it was important to have a presence in front of so many lawmakers and the media.
“There’s so much going on, it will be difficult to penetrate on a substantial level,” he said. “But what you want to make sure is that you are present and visible with your basic message.”
Bono, who is finishing a new album, is not expected to attend, as he did in 2004. A ONE Campaign bus will travel from Denver to St. Paul for the Republican convention the following week.
Many issue-based orgs are reaping some benefit from more stringent lobbying rules, which have made it more difficult for companies like Viacom, AT&T and Time Warner to solely sponsor events unless it is regarded as a benefit for a nonprofit group. So associations like the Poker Players Alliance have teamed with the Paralyzed Veterans of America to sponsor a Tuesday night event at Coors Field, with Ben Affleck scheduled to be among the celebrities at the tables.
Not to be forgotten is that there will be stars promoting causes that have a direct impact on Hollywood, like funding for the arts.
Tim Daly, co-president of the Creative Coalition, said he hoped to “let politicians know the arts is not something they should be afraid to talk about. It is important for politicians and the American public to begin to understand that the arts are part of the main course in our society.”
Although Obama has enjoyed the overwhelming support of the entertainment industry, there has been some concern in Hollywood circles about being too visible, particularly in light of John McCain’s ads that attack Obama for being a celebrity in the same sense as Britney Spears and Paris Hilton. The fear is that too much of a celebrity contingent will give McCain more fodder.
Obama campaign sources say no edict has been issued to limit industry involvement, although the campaign is being judicious as to how to deploy some Hollywood surrogates. Stars like George Clooney, Scarlett Johansson and Matt Damon, while not expected in Denver, are hosting fund-raisers, which are usually restricted to the press, and therefore get less media coverage. On Sept. 3, Michelle Obama will headline an event at the Beverly Park home of Samuel L. Jackson and another gathering at the home of CAA’s Bryan Lourd. The latter event is aimed at the gay and lesbian community and is co-hosted by Tom Ford and Kevin Huvane.
There’s little evidence that other industry creatives, operating outside the campaign, are toning it down.
Robert Greenwald’s Brave New Films debuted a Web video earlier this week that hit McCain on his multiple homes. The media apparently picked up on it, and when the politico asked the candidate how many homes he had, McCain said he was unsure and, “I’ll have my staff get back to you.”
“He decided to give us a gift,” Greenwald said. “I couldn’t have written the line better if I was an Oscar-winning screenwriter.”
Meanwhile, musician Dave Stewart debuted a new musicvideo, “My American Prayer,” featuring an array of Obama supporters including Forest Whitaker, Joss Stone, Lauper, Barry Manilow and Perez Hilton. And on Thursday night, Drescher, Jamie Foxx, Lucy Liu, Kathy Griffin and Isaiah Washington were among the stars who showed up for a fund-raiser for Obama at the Beverly Hills home of Theresa DeBell and Robert
Siegel, raising some $200,000 for the candidate. The event was organized by a group of industry publicists and raised about $200,000, according to the AP.
The situation will be much different in Denver, however, with some 15,000 members of the media present and any celebrity’s presence bound to be magnified. Oprah Winfrey, one of Obama’s biggest supporters who helped him draw tens of thousands in joint appearances last December, plans to attend the convention’s closing night, but reportedly will not have a speaker’s role at the convention. Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg are keeping mum about their plans, and Norman Lear did not plan to attend as of last week.
For those who end up not going, the consolation is that they will not have to navigate expected huge crowds, a web of different credentialing guidelines and various other hassles.
Shearer, who attended that last DNC in Boston, quipped of the expected scene: “The race is to find out where all the parties are. So you have a lot of people wondering, ‘How do I get into the best parties?’ Or, ‘How do I get a better credential than the one I have now?’ People can spend half their time trying to get a better credential.”