At The Democratic Convention, Choreographing A Sea Of Signs

Jul 28, 2016
Originally published on July 28, 2016 5:37 pm

If you've been watching the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia on TV, you've probably seen it happen a few times already: Every few minutes, a fresh wave of brightly colored signs — bearing campaign slogans like "Stronger Together" or "Love Trumps Hate" — spreads across the convention floor like wildfire.

Shelly Loos is in charge of floor operations for the DNC. And it's her job to oversee the timing and distribution of the 300,000 to 400,000 signs at the convention, and the some 200 "runners" — volunteers running up and down the aisles handing out stacks of signs to delegates.

Unlike when Loos was a runner in 1992 — and the volunteers communicated via radio — Loos gives the "go" via mass text to "captains."

Her gig isn't without peril. This week supporters of Bernie Sanders showed their frustration by striking out Hillary Clinton's name or otherwise defacing the placards.

"I don't love it," she says, adding that "this is a convention and we accept other people's views."

Use the audio link above to hear the full story.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

This is the final day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. And if you've been watching at home on television, you've probably seen the crowd lifting brightly colored signs that seem to magically change, depending on what's happening. One moment there is signs with campaign slogans like stronger together or love trumps hate. And then suddenly, there are new ones bearing the name of the speaker on the stage. Well, our colleague Audie Cornish has more on how it all happens.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Storing this many signs involves black trash bags, so many trash bags.

SHELLY LOOS: Between 300 and 400,000 signs.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Madam Secretary...

LOOS: It's crazy, but...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: ...We are Ohio.

LOOS: ...It's awesome.

CORNISH: This is Shelly Loos. She's in charge of floor operations for the DNC. She says they've got these bags socked away in storage spaces all over the arena, not to mention the four freight storage pods in the parking lot. We found her backstage Tuesday, the night of the historic roll call vote that made Hillary Clinton the Democratic nominee.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Puerto Rico, you have 67 votes. How do you cast your votes?

CORNISH: Loos is wearing a black sleeveless T-shirt, dark jeans and black boots, but not the neon yellow vest her 200 runners have dawned for the night. You can see those volunteers on TV awning up and down the aisles, handing out stacks of signs to delegates.

LOOS: We set a - sort of a ready, set, go timeline. And when they get their go cue, they run them out, and they run back and get more. And they run them out.

CORNISH: Unlike when she was a runner back in 1992 and the volunteers communicated via radio, tonight, Loos gives the go via mass text to captains.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Two minutes to ready.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Two minutes to ready.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: Just go to the ready spot, all right? Don't go out on the floor.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #5: Just stand by the curtain.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #6: Please wait 'til I give you the signal to go out.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: South Carolina.

(CHEERING)

CORNISH: These are the moments Loos lives for. And this operation plays out over and over again over the course of a night. But her gig is not without peril. This week, Bernie Sanders supporters showed their frustration by striking out Clinton's name or otherwise defacing the placards.

LOOS: I don't love it, but I also think that this is a convention, and we accept other people's views. Like basically all these people have the same ideals.

CORNISH: And Loos can't worry about that. Right now she's trying to match the pace of the roll call vote. Thousands of green, blue and red signs with Clinton's signature H and arrow logo spread like wildfire across the convention floor.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MARCIA FUDGE: To suspend the rules and nominate Hillary Clinton by acclamation as the presidential candidate of the Democratic Party.

(APPLAUSE)

SIEGEL: That's from our colleague Audie Cornish behind the scenes at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.