Thirty six years ago, Gina Hemphill — the granddaughter of Jesse Owens — carried the Olympic Torch into the Los Angeles Coliseum, completed a lap around the track, then handed off the revered flame to Rafer Johnson (the USA team’s flag bearer at the 1960 Olympics) so he could light the Olympic cauldron.
It was a stirring symbolic gesture that dutifully honored one of the most stirring symbolic gestures in the history of sports.
And roughly a quarter of the U.S. population witnessed it.
The Olympic torch relay has long been celebrated as a manifestation of the Olympic spirit. But the truth is, the relay is much more a manifestation of America’s motto, E pluribus unum.
Journeying thousands of miles, via tens of thousands of torchbearers, the Olympic torch traverses from coast to coast, over mountains and through deserts, absorbing a piece of every place it touches to fuel its singular flame.
I believe this year’s Democratic National Convention needs its own kind of torch relay; an opportunity to tangibly prove we are indeed a big tent party.
Imagine the perfect-for-Instagram sight of the Parkland teens handing a perfect-for-Instagram torch off to John Lewis’ son at the Florida-Alabama border so it can be walked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma.
Imagine it then being taken north to Tennessee, so Alexis McGill Johnson can celebrate Planned Parenthood’s recent victory over the proposed ‘heartbeat bill’ (/shed a light on those kinds of attempts to weaken Roe).
After that, it could be shuttled up to West Virginia for a trip through coal country, or maybe to Wayne, Michigan for a stop at the Michigan Assembly Plant.
By passing a literal torch, the Alaskans watching climate change melt their glaciers can symbolically clasp arms with the shell harvesters of Washington who have watched climate change besiege their livelihood. The 182,000 DACA recipients in California can physically demonstrate their solidarity with the Arizona immigrant rights groups (still) fighting to get innocent children out of un-American cages.
The opportunities are only bound by one’s creativity.
Expectations are already being lowered when it comes to this year’s convention. Nevertheless, one of the main goals for this year’s event should be avoiding letting the mainstream media shape a “there’s no good way to do an online convention” narrative that sucks up all the oxygen in the Twitterverse.
A Democratic National Convention torch relay can do that, by programming their event coverage for them.
When the Parkland kids have the torch, there are gun control advocates on every news network.
When John Lewis’ son makes his way across the bridge, Black Lives Matter spokespeople are out in full force.
Every time the Democratic torch gets passed, there are coordinated ad and fundraising campaigns getting blasted out.
Out of many tent poles, one tent.
As someone who used to work with the experiential campaign experts at iSL and MXM, I promise you this is doable in this time frame. However, if you’re worried about organizational deficiencies, this idea could just as easily be shaped into a “lead up to November 3rd” enthusiasm generation/voter registration event.