Entries in Democratic National Convention (1)

Friday
Apr082016

Dr. Allison Cotton: A Passion for Politics 

Allison Cotton, Ph.D. Photo: Karrie Davis Family Photography. Long before she earned her bachelor’s, master’s and Ph.D, Allison Cotton was a daddy’s girl. That meant learning to hold her own in a political discussion about local, national and international issues.
She hails from a family of life-long, active Democrats, but it was her father who stirred her passion for politics.  

“My dad was always active, always going to meetings and watching political talk shows,” says Cotton, who officially registered to be a Democrat when she was a sophomore in college, and is currently seeking to be a Hillary Clinton delegate. 

If elected at the convention/assembly on Sunday, April 10, it will mark her second go-round. She served as a Barack Obama delegate at the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver. Tears of joy flowed a lot for her during that convention, but no more than at the very moment when she became the second delegate to sign the petition to nominate him for president of the United States. Her name will be forever connected to the first African American president of the United States.
So, how do you top that? Rather, how do you come close?

Perhaps a repeat performance, but this time for the candidate who might stand in history as the first woman president of the United States. As she prepares for the Sunday vote, she is reflecting on her first journey as a national delegate. 

Being her father’s daughter, she naturally duplicated his habit of attending local political meetings, including city candidate forums, on a regular basis. When she saw the opportunity to be a delegate and have a more active role in nominating Obama, she jumped at the chance and was willing to fight for it. But she didn’t know how. She inquired, asking questions all along the way.

The process, lasting a couple of months, required completing lengthy paperwork, successfully passing a background check and attending meetings – some open, some closed. Though the process itself was not a secret, she chose to only tell her father of her mission.

“It was hard on him because he was proud of me and wanted to brag,” says Cotton, who holds a bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of Colorado at Boulder in 1991, a master’s degree in sociology from Howard University in Washington, D.C. in 1995, and a Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Colorado at Boulder in 2002. But he respected her wishes, and was a partner in her mission. After every update to him, “he would say ‘Okay, what are we going to do next?’ ”

As a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., she also turned down a number of social and civic engagements. They noticed her absences. But she stayed her course, realizing that she was navigating a new process and really wouldn’t know how to answer their questions about it when asked.

“It is very competitive to run for a national delegate position,” she says of the many levels from caucusing to the actual election to national delegate. “You have to go through the motions.”

Becoming a delegate also required campaigning among other delegates for votes for the coveted position. She recalls, “A lot of people had campaign materials like candy, hats that lit up and all kinds of gimmicks to promote themselves. I just had a poster and handed out fliers.”

She also had years of being politically active. People already knew her. If not from that arena, they knew her as the author of publications ranging in subject from issues related to the death penalty, eye-witness identifications, lethal behavior and expert witnesses to issues around race class gender and crime. Some knew her from her regular attendance at spoken-word sets around the city, soaking up the poetry scene. Or maybe it was seeing her drive by with the windows down, music blasting and top open as she likes to do.

Dr. Allison Cotton at the end of the convention after Barack Obama had officially been nominated by the Democratic party. Photo: Courtesy of Dr. Allison Cotton.Long story short, she made it to the congressional district level, where she was elected as a national delegate but then still chose to attend the state convention in Pueblo because she had been elected to serve as a state delegate as well. Each delegate had to give a two-minute speech to hundreds of participants at the congressional district convention. The professor of criminology did a variation of Obama’s slogan “Change We Can Believe In,” the chant “Yes, We Can,” and spelled out her name. She found out the next day that it worked!  Her name appeared on the Colorado Democratic Party’s website as one of the chosen few. 

Her mission was near complete, and now public. A Denver Post article announced the 70 national delegates and included a photo spread. She began receiving emails and calls from everywhere. 
“I was a celebrity for about two weeks,” says Cotton.

Sightings
Once on the floor of the convention, she settled into the fourth row listening to speeches and fielding calls from friends and family, namely her dad, who had told everybody to watch her on TV. He was calling to get updates, and also to report sightings of her on TV. She remembers, “On one call he said, ‘I think I saw your arm.’ ” 

The Second Time Around
Last month, Cotton was elected to serve as a delegate to both the Congressional District Assembly and the State Assembly. On Sunday night, she will know if she has advanced to serve as a national delegate again.

But if she is unsuccessful there, she may also have a chance to be elected at the state convention in Loveland next week. As she prepares for the final vote, she knows that her journey has not been in vain. Though attending political meetings is natural for her, there was a time when she was one of a few black women in attendance. In recent years she has noticed more black women and black men in the room. 

She says, “I feel and I hope that I have contributed to the participation of more Black women in the political process, those who care about the country and government, reflecting our values.”
If she is not elected this time around, she hopes the spot opens up for someone who has not experienced being a delegate so that yet another person can be introduced to a new experience. 

The tenured, full professor of criminology at Metropolitan State University of Denver, didn’t feel equipped to answer questions on the first go-round. “Now I have the answers. Now I know.” 

Her experience has only added to political talk with her father. “We have spirited discussions about the candidates and the issues. But it’s a more mature discussion that we have now,” says the author, who has traveled as a two-time Fulbright scholar to conduct research in both China and Egypt, and holds a packed calendar of speaking engagements on campus and at community events. 
She can certainly hold her own. 
“Black Women: Celebrating the Road Less Traveled” is a weekly online series published by Canady’s Corner to honor Black women who are making a mark in the world in their very own way.