Here’s What It Was Like to Be a California Delegate at the Democratic National Convention

Bill Kysella was one of the many California delegates representing the Golden State at the Democratic National Convention.EXPAND
Bill Kysella was one of the many California delegates representing the Golden State at the Democratic National Convention.
Henry Cherry

As Hillary Clinton took the Democratic National Convention stage Thursday night, dressed in a shimmering white suit, you couldn’t miss the blue spark of vitality transmitted by her eyes, multiplied in size on the two gigantic Jumbotron screens towering above her. That night at Philadelphia's Wells Fargo Center, the former senator, secretary of state, first lady (and wife, mother and grandmother) sounded presidential. That’s what voters and the media look for, those soundbites we can latch onto. But you can see in Secretary Clinton’s eyes, those huge Jumbotroned eyes, something that doesn’t often translate in her speeches. Her eyes burn with an intense drive. When she talks, even Sanders delegates cheer. There’s a reason they host political conventions inside sporting arenas.

Check out Henry Cherry's photos of the Bernie Sanders supporters protesting at the DNC.

But it was a long road to the unity forged by Clinton’s final speech. Well into July, Clinton’s main competitor seemed to be Sen. Bernie Sanders, rather than Republican nominee Donald Trump. Sanders offered an endorsement on July 12 but continued toward the convention unbowed. A few days before the DNC began, Sanders supporters held protests and a secondary “people's convention” after a monthlong orgy of shootings by, and of, police officers across the country. Then the Democratic National Committee email leak reignited many of Sanders’ supporters and caused delegates to argue vocally and, in some cases, physically. On Sunday, the day before the convention began, Debbie Wasserman Schultz resigned her post as head of the DNC. But here at the final night of the convention, Clinton stood onstage and hoped to connect with delegates from around the country and viewers around the world.

Bill Kysella is one of these delegates, representing California.

As a delegate, Bill Kysella bounced from events to meetups to the main speeches at Wells Fargo Center.EXPAND
As a delegate, Bill Kysella bounced from events to meetups to the main speeches at Wells Fargo Center.
Henry Cherry

He’s a Hollywood local with a deep connection to Hillary. As a Clinton delegate, he was a part of the four-day political karate chop. At that final Thursday speech, he held his Clinton/Kaine sign as he watched intently among the audience of Wells Fargo Center. “In November, a lot of people will be voting against Trump,” he says, “[but] I’m voting for Hillary.”

The delegates' days at the convention are packed with meetings, parties and forums. Kysella made sure to stay on schedule. He made notes of the lunches and dinners that would have the largest impact. He was a member of the LGBT caucus, the environment caucus, the labor caucus and the Hispanic caucus.

This isn’t his first time as a delegate, and she’s not the first Clinton he's supported. His first election as a delegate was during Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign. Kysella hails from an Orange County union family. He went to UCLA and then law school at UC Davis. A Los Angeles city attorney for the Department of Water and Power, the politically savvy Kysella spent five years as a prosecutor in Hollywood. “It was a great job,” he says. “I was working in the community where I lived. When I was there, it got better through the Business Improvement District, the neighborhood councils, the LAPD and then-councilman, now-Mayor Eric Garcetti. Some of my best friends now are Republican cops. ”

Gay and Latino, Kysella is not hemmed in by identity politics: “I’m a Democrat,” he states proudly. But his drive isn’t fueled by a hatred for the Republicans. Instead he agrees with Clinton’s view of America. “Most Americans will see [Trump’s] selfishness and disloyalty. We’re already seeing the recklessness of Trump inviting Russians to hack American computers,” he says. “There’s a stark difference between Clinton and Trump.”

But his week at the DNC was marked by differences between Democrats. 

Bernie Sanders supporters disrupt a California delegate event.EXPAND
Bernie Sanders supporters disrupt a California delegate event.
Henry Cherry

Early in the week, the California Democrat breakfasts set a dramatic stage for Kysella and the other delegates fueling up in the Marriott for the daytime DNC events. These breakfasts offered the most visceral moments outside of Wells Fargo Center.

On both Monday and Tuesday, Bernie supporters interrupted the meal and proceedings with Occupy-style protests. Conflict erupted when Sanders himself urged his disappointed supporters toward Clinton. A mass of protesters and media gathered at the foot of the Sanders’ podium, while the packed room watched in awe. The protesters expressed betrayal, crowding the stage, waving arms, placards and fists at Sanders, California Attorney General Kamala Harris and congressman Adam Schiff.

During one eruption, Kysella sat at a table near the back of the hall and reflected on the protesters’ passion and freshness, rather than castigating their anger. As a determined Clinton delegate, Kysella was at the philosophical center of some Bernie supporters’ ire, though none directly engaged him. Even after that raucous second California Democrat Breakfast, Kysella embraced a kind outlook. You could mistake it for careful political sentiment, which might be somewhat true, but he empathizes with Sanders’ supporters. After all, he’s been on the losing end, too. “Some of Sen. Sanders' supporters are experiencing the first time coming up short,” he says. “It always sucks when your candidate doesn’t win. Booing is easy. But Sen. Sanders finally said the words.” 

California delegates prepare to watch Hillary Clinton speak at the Democratic National Convention.EXPAND
California delegates prepare to watch Hillary Clinton speak at the Democratic National Convention.
Henry Cherry

Through the monstrous Philly humidity of the last days of July, Kysella and the other delegates weren’t just there to battle; they were in Philadelphia to have fun. The general election campaign promises to be brutal, so Thursday night’s speech by Clinton was to be a celebration and a call to action. This is the energy that delegates like Kysella are charged with bringing back to their home states.

On Thursday night, the grand finale, Kysella stepped inside the Wells Fargo Center ready to celebrate. He cheered and waved a Clinton/Kaine placard as the wash of the political crescendos began to fall around him. This is the moment, the bell ringer when his candidate takes the stage and aims to shatter the glass ceiling. There’s a sparkle in Kysella’s eyes when he sees Clinton finally taking the stage.

After it's all over, he says he wants to bring the spirit of the convention back to California. “I’m looking forward to actually leaving Philadelphia energized to campaign back in L.A.,” he says, “to share the experiences: This is what Sen. Sanders told us. This was the impact of Michelle Obama’s speech. That’s going to help get others excited back home.”

Bill Kysella watches the stage before Hillary Clinton appears on the final night of the Democratic National Convention.EXPAND
Bill Kysella watches the stage before Hillary Clinton appears on the final night of the Democratic National Convention.
Henry Cherry

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