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Mackenna Lee


Disembark, Grow, Illuminate.

As a teenager, I attended three Chicago Blackhawks Fan Conventions and at least one Cubs Fan Convention.

Fan conventions overlap with amusement parks, press conferences, and talk shows – they blend into a cultural phenomenon of people watching, celebrity worship, and pageantry Q&A. In case I am misleading, they are great, but the performance aspect of these events is obvious.

With the Democratic and Republican National Conventions firing, I’ve mentally revisited these events. The zest to be closer to the stars who played the ice and the ballfield fills the air. Fan conventions grant “exclusive” access and exposure to our heroes.

The political conventions are not dissimilar – they are a dedicated space for this “exclusive” exploration into the politician running for president. Even when a candidate’s omits personal details, we build an archetype of the person via the content and the method by which they highlight issues.

The lines blur substantially when the stakes rise from the playground sports to real world politics (which some would argue the latter is the former). Both focus more on the accolades of those at the center of the conventions. Both events market themselves as a product worth buying repeatedly. Both are built as a power engine to plant ideals into our hearts and minds.

The fantasy of the conventions and the treatment of the messaging colors our interpretation of the presenter’s honesty. The coverage has a film on it – departing from reality to a binary world. You can be with “them” or “us”. You can be “wrong” or “right”.

The garden variety conventions – and even the pandemic era virtual concessions – spotlight those on the stage and the bubbling delirium they incite. Sold on the people, rather than solutions. Sold on performances of few, rather than prosperity of many.

We miss opportunities for inclusivity and trail-guiding.

Inclusivity appears as differing opinions. The existing mono-messaging does not chime harmony, but rather suggests the silencing sub-populations. I’d prefer to listen to those who represent shades of the spectrum articulating where they diverge and why.

An increasing undercurrent distrusts giving an audience varying perspectives, as it widens the possibilities beyond a unified consensus on a path forward.

If we enable people to process arguments and decide, they may disagree.

Trail-guiding appears as wandering discussions. Much of today’s content shoves a pre-prescribed agenda in broadcasted primetime. Let folks gather, organize, and learn. We can be passive consumers of ideas, but to become emboldened advocates – to hook ourselves tightly to a cause and its benefits – we need to partake in its construction.

To migrate to a convention of substance, organizers must recalibrate. We pedestal esteemed voices but forget everyday organizing. Candidates give stage time to family members, though we learn much more of the candidates from their encounters with strangers.

It’s not simple for candidates. They must gain comfort in unknown, in the unsaid, and in the less-produced, less-tightly controlled. Conflict is hard, as well as disagreement, but that does not mean we avoid it.

When I attended the Chicago Sports Fan Conventions, we waited in line, crowd-surfed to sneak an autograph from passing players, and purchased endless memorabilia. We exerted effort to be a fan. Thus, when attending a political convention, I expect to exercise mentally. I wish for the trust to arrive at the same platform after careful consideration rather than submitting to the delivery of a spoon-fed, carefully measured argument diet.

The onus is on them – the organizers, the candidates, the parties – to re-invent conventions unconventionally. We bear responsibility to transition from passive plaudits to active participants.

Conflict is hard, as well as disagreement, but that does not mean we avoid it.

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