Party conventions aren’t just about politics and parties. They are also about education and promotion. Groups come looking for supporters, or just to inform the public. They push their products as readily as any merchant. Some groups ask for money, some don’t; some feed you, some don’t. All want your attention and use various ways to get it.

For weeks, think tanks and magazines sent e-mails asking me to sign up for their panels and lectures in Cleveland. I wanted to see what women’s organizations were doing so I abstained.

Once in Cleveland, I couldn’t find anything specifically for or about women. It appeared that women’s organizations had gone underground! The last day I discovered that that wasn’t entirely true, but they were scarce. Compared to previous Republican Conventions, women weren’t organizing as women, or appealing to women as women.

The National Federation of Republican Women (NFRW) sent a well-decorated bus, but it was locked and parked inside the security zone, where everyone who came in had to have credentials and go through a very invasive search. In past conventions the NFRW was a major presence. They used to host a luncheon for the candidate’s wife but that ceased in 2004. As far as I could tell, no group hosted a luncheon for Melania, though I’m sure she was invited to a lot of parties.

Jo Freeman Convention Photos

Where did I go during the day? The Hill had a short list of events, a tiny fraction of what there really were. On it was a Big Tent brunch by the Log Cabin Republicans. This is a gay group which formed 30 years ago to try to stop the GOP from restricting personal freedom. They have held Big Tent events at other Republican conventions with Republicans for Choice and the Republican Majority Fund. The latter were no where to be seen in 2016.

There was that said that press was restricted so I showed up at the 9:00 a.m start time on Wednesday only to be stopped by security before I could even get to the media check-in table. It seems that neither my name or organization was on their list. Of course not, as there had been nothing about pre-registration in the event listing, let alone how. All the press credentials dangling from my neck weren’t good enough to persuade the woman in charge of the Big Tent to let me in. She said that they were at capacity and we should leave. We didn’t. I heard her tell a Danish radio station which also wasn’t on the list to wait until 10:00. I waited.


At 10:00 I followed the Danes into the search tent as though I was part of their crew. Once past the search, Media Check-In took my information and gave me a Big Tent ticket. There weren’t a lot of people inside that tent. Those sitting at the few tables were cordoned off from those standing, with the press in the back. I worked my way forward so I could get a good camera angle, only to be told by the communications woman to move to the back. Since I couldn’t see the speakers, I counted the house. There were about 50 people and maybe 20 press under a tent large enough for 200.

Big Tent brunch ticket


The big name attraction was Caitlyn Jenner, who was introduced as the most famous Republican in the country. She demurred that that title now belonged to The Donald. She told her story, as she has many times, adding only why she was a Republican. She said it had been harder to come out as a Republican than as a woman. She was a Republican when The Donald was a Democrat, but didn’t talk about it.


Afterwards I walked to the Cleveland Convention Center. On the way I passed a small park where four members of the League of Women Voters were passing out information. They are studiously non-partisan, but believe that more women should get into politics. They may have been the only group there for whom that was a goal.


The press warrens in the CCC were barely populated, though there were more people in them than last week. The women at the Host Committee booth looked downright lonely. There’s a media shuttle to the press warrens in the parking structure next to the Q, but it’s really too far to run back and forth.

Next stop was a luncheon at the Purple Tent whose keynote speaker was Dr. Ben Carson. The Purple Tent is a local group that believes in identifying common American values that promote unity rather than enmity. It wants people to be civil to each other. While attendees munched sandwiches and potato chips and drank bottled water, Dr. Carson addressed those themes.


Finished up the night at the Q. On the floor I paid a visit to the Ohio delegation. Usually the host state gets some of the best seats in the house in front of the podium. This time, those went to New York and Florida, The Donald’s home states. Ohio had the worse delegate seats, way over to the side and in back. Tuesday night few sat in those seats. Wednesday night they were almost full, but none of the occupants carried a TRUMP sign and I saw only one Trump button. I asked the delegation leader about this and he almost exploded with disdain. Trump is punishing the entire Ohio Republican Party because of Kasich, he said. He’s sticking it to the Buckeye state. He didn’t do anything for us and we won’t do anything for him. “I’ll vote for Trump, but that’s all I’m going to do,” he said.


Thursday I went to the only event specifically for women that I could find. It was aimed at women small business owners, by the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council. Speakers discussed the Ten Things Candidates Need to Know About Women Entrepreneurs.

Kellyanne Conway © Jo Freeman | 2016 Kellyanne Conway ©Jo Freeman|2016

I didn’t find a master events list until Thursday afternoon, in the hands of a woman wearing a badge saying Committee on Arrangements. She said they weren’t giving out copies due to “security” but she did let me read it. There were a couple events with the word “women” in them. Women did more than I thought, but far less than at previous conventions.

That evening the NFRW bus finally came to life, as it became the site for a small party on the theme of “Republicans Who Stay Home Elect Democrats.”

I went to that party after writing this story in a tent sponsored by the Alliance for American Manufacturing, which has comfortable couches and free drinks. The AAM is an alliance of some of America’s leading manufacturers and the United Steelworkers. Their slogan is KEEP IT MADE IN AMERICA. The Donald might agree with that.


Jo Freeman covered the conventions for SeniorWomen Web. Her stories were initially posted at