Maiden Voyage – Part I

This weekend marked my first foray into the world of political conventioneering — at least as an adult.  As a child, I had a fair amount of exposure to political gatherings and such through my parents, albeit of the liberal/Democrat stripe.  Smart Girl Summit 2011 (#SGS11) served as my initiation into convocations of the conservative variety.  I knew I’d want to compose a blog entry about it, but now realize there are actually two or three separate pieces weaving themselves together through my overly tired synapses.  The more straightforward one — the easier one — is simply my review of the weekend’s events and experiences.  The more complicated one is still percolating, and, frankly, weighing on me.  For now, though, it will have to wait.  So, without further ado, a look back at my Adventures in Smart Girlery.

How I Got There

I’ve been on Twitter since August, 2008.  It wasn’t until early spring of this year, however, that I truly began feeding my political junkie habit with it. Once I started following more than a handful of similarly-minded folk, it kind of snow-balled.  Soon, I wasn’t just reading what others had to say, I was talking back, interacting, and, somewhat to my surprise, forging actual friendships.  I cannot recall whether it was the lovely Miss @Nikkibama or the amazing Miss @Mamaswati who first mentioned Smart Girl Summit to me.  Whomever it was pointed out that it was being held in my fair city this summer, which meant I really had no excuse not to attend. So, I signed right up and began looking forward to it.

Anticipation

As the summit drew nearer, I found myself eagerly anticipating it.  The line up of speakers was impressive.  And here was a chance for me to meet and mingle with fellow conservatives — people who actually speak my language and whose eyes don’t glaze over when you start discussing primaries and debt ceilings and the Fair Tax.  Most importantly, I was really excited about meeting both Nikki and Sarah — in my few months following and interacting with them, they’ve both shown themselves to be very bright, energetic, engaging ladies, and I just new we’d have ourselves some fun!

The last minute announcement that @AndrewBreitbart would also be in attendance at the summit was the wickedly delicious icing on the cake.  I hate to so readily cop to hero worship, but…who am I kidding?  The guy’s proven himself a fearless warrior in the fight to expose leftist hypocrisy and journalistic double-standards.  Plus he’s rather endearingly irreverent.   

Outside the Comfort Zone

Thursday rolled around and I knew some of the SGS crew would be arriving early.  I briefly chatted with fellow St. Louisan @Stix1972 (Doug Welch) about trying to meet up with the early birds for dinner or a drink, but the realization that I really didn’t know any of them made me a bit apprehensive.  Still, as posts began accumulating in the #SGS11 time line, I clicked on the authors’ profiles and started following those I hadn’t been previously.  One friendly lady, @skigarmisch (Michelle Lancaster), punctuated her arrival from Texas by posting a lovely pic of the view from her room.  Well, it would have been lovely if the window hadn’t been quite so dirty.  Little did I know this was simply a foreshadowing of the less-than-optimal accommodations my new friends were about to encounter….

As the end of the work day drew near, I went back and forth on whether I should head over to the hotel and introduce myself.  It felt a little awkward — would I find familiar faces?  (They’re awfully hard to recognize from a postage-stamp-sized avatar.)  Many of these folks already knew each other — would I be intruding?  I decided to suck it up and step outside my comfort zone, and headed over to the hotel.

Communion

As I entered the lobby of the Crowne Plaza, I caught sight of a small group off to the side with laptops and headphones, apparently mid-podcast.  A couple of them looked familiar — people I’d followed earlier in the day from the SGS time line — but I certainly didn’t want to interrupt their show.  I decided to have a seat and wait for a bit to see if any other summit-goers appeared.  Soon, a group of ladies began to gather — I walked over and asked if they were “Smart Girls”?  Indeed, they were.  Introductions were made — here was @bluedevilmsn (Tuesday) from North Carolina, and @NicholsUSA (Natalie Nichols) of Texarkana; @MarciaChambliss of Alabama, and my new Twitter and G+ friend, the aforementioned @skigarmisch/Michelle, also hailing from Texas. These lovely women graciously welcomed me into their midst and soon invited me to join them for dinner. 

Ultimately, we decided to keep it simple and dine there at the hotel.  I’d eaten lunch in the restaurant there before, but it had been awhile.  The empty dining room which greeted us upon our arrival perhaps should have been a tip off that the dining experience might not be top notch.  To be fair, the waiter was very nice — in spite of suddenly finding himself besieged by a gaggle of fired-up conservative gals, and one potential fugitive from justice (more on that later).  And the food, once it arrived, salads hand-in-hand with the entrees, was actually pretty good.  The company was delightful. I truly enjoyed getting to know these ladies and their stories — comparing notes on our various blogging/Twitter experiences, prior conferences, pets, kids, grandkids.  

Later, we made our way back downstairs to the hotel bar.  One thing I discovered while we were at dinner was that the cell phone & wi-fi reception in the hotel was sporadic at best.  Despite multiple attempts to get back in touch with @Stix1972/Doug, I wasn’t able to make contact and let him know where we were.  I was happy to see he’d made his way to the hotel and was catching up with the FTR Radio crew I’d seen earlier.  More introductions were made — here were the adorably spunky @Melanieann79 and polysyllabic word fan @IrishDuke2 of Michigan; SGP Tech Queen @Michelle_Moore and idea guy and STL area triangulator Brian B. (whose Twitter handle I never did get?!)  And my friendly and funny downtown “neighbor” Doug.  We learned, to our disappointment, that Mr. Mohawk (@FingersMalloy) had encountered motorcycle mechanical difficulties on his way, and wouldn’t be able to join us until the next day.

 I left the hotel Thursday evening glad I’d made the effort.  Now I’d know quite a few people by the time the summit officially commenced!

Fryeeeday

I made a pretense of working Friday morning, but my attention was firmly fixed two blocks north. I was anxious for Sarah and Nikki to arrive and to start greeting other Twitter friends, as well.  I wandered over once registration opened up and got my handy-dandy summit badge — now I was officially a Smart Girl!! (And to think, a laminated badge was all it really took?!)  I soon found Tuesday and we made a quick detour to Starbucks before the speakers got underway.  Back at the hotel, I spied Sarah across the lobby and greeted her with a big hug.  @Mamaswati has this incredible gift for making everyone she meets feel like they’ve been best friends for life. 

Back upstairs,Tuesday and I grabbed seats together in the Mississippi Ballroom. Something that caught me by surprise, pleasantly so — before the program started, we all stood and said the Pledge of Allegiance.  (I sense progressive lips everywhere curling up into sneers of derision. Y’all go ahead with that, I’m gonna keep loving my country and its flag.) 

First up was Missouri’s Lt. Governor, Peter Kinder (@PeterKinder).  I like the man.  I always enjoy his radio appearances and his speech, though brief, served as confirmation of the reasons why — confident, competent and chock full of good old fashioned Missouri sensibility (a/k/a “common sense”). Next up was Nicole Neily of the Independent Women’s Forum — sharp, impressive and informative.  Then came Rebecca Kleefisch (@Rebeccaforreal), currently serving as Lt. Governor of Wisconsin, and boy, did she wow me.  Great story, great passion, great presence, great save of the lectern….  She is one neat lady and Wisconsinites should count themselves quite lucky to have her!

Next, Kristina Ribali (@ORlibertygal) of Freedom Works gave us a very effective and informative demonstration of Freedom Connector.  I regret not getting to talk a bit more with her during the summit, but she is also one impressive lady.  Plus, she sports awesomely offensive t-shirts. (“Capitalism = Freedom” — the horror!!)

During a short break, I had the great pleasure of meeting two wonderful ladies seated in front of us. Andrea (who doesn’t have a Twitter account, darn her) is a fellow St. Louisan and an actor, looking to get some conservative projects off the ground.  Debbie (@LawMom), is a single-mom lawyer from Texas whom I took to immediately.  We have so much in common.  Plus, she’s quite simply an amazingly cool lady!  I look forward to brainstorming and collaborating with her on some legal beagle conservative Jiu-Jitsu. 

After the break, Deneen Borelli (@Deneenborelli) fired us up and got us all looking forward to her forthcoming book: “Blacklash: How the Left is Driving Americans to the Government Plantation.”  Pick up some popcorn and wait for some leftist heads to metaphorically explode over that one. 

Then my new friend Natalie took the stage to share the story of her emerging battle with the Old Boys Network in her home county of Bowie (that’s Booooooeey), Texas.  Natalie currently serves as the County Clerk, and it seems her objection to the removal of the Pledge of Allegiance and prayer from the court minutes and subsequent calling out of (fellow Republican) Judge Sterling Lacy for his mendacity regarding it has her now potentially facing loss of her job, indictment, and up to six months in jail and a $2,000 fine for “Disrupting a Public Meeting”.  All of this stemming from ridiculous kowtowing to political correctness for fear of being sued by the ACLU.  I should mention that Natalie is this teeny-tiny little wisp of a girl.  I suspect, however, that some have misjudged the amount of fight in her.  I’m saying prayers that Natalie will soon be vindicated.  You can put that in the record.

Marilyn Musgrave, former Congresswoman from Colorado, next took the stage and shared some inspiring thoughts on her tireless work fighting for pro-life causes and candidates.  One thing I noticed as I listened to all these speakers — when someone truly has the courage of their convictions, it shines through — a light from within; a beacon. 

The last speaker of the day was Phyllis Schlafly, conservative activist, Eagle Forum founder, and fellow St. Louisan.  As a young person in a liberal world, I only heard her name hissed as a curse.  She was the anti-feminist.  Funny, as I listened to her speak of her education, work and life experience, she struck me as the ideal feminist — smart, capable, and anything but a victim.  I picked up an autographed copy of her latest book after the speech. 

Smart Girl Prom

After a quick change back at my office into somewhat cocktaily attire, I returned to the hotel for the Banquet and Awards.  Down in the lobby, I met more folk I’d only known previously as mysterious Twitter personae: @TookieW, @RebelPundit (whom I understand snagged shotgun for the Breitbart Camaro ride from Michigan). I believe Adam Sharp (@SharpElbowsNet) was there, too. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to chat with any of these fine fellas at length, but I do know they are folks I’d want on my side if I were ever gearing up to do battle.

I had the great pleasure of dining with @Mamaswati and my new contingent of Midwest friends: Loren Heal (@lheal), Effinghamite, Precinct Coordinator and blogger extraordinaire; Rick Hornsby (@rjhornsby), excellent brother, dog lover, photographer, power-cord supplier, and, when needed, muscle to back up his Smart Girls; Mark Warner (@mwarner95), Indianapolisanian, Irishman, gentleman, Pence-Wooter, and all-around good guy; Glen Asbury (@glenasbury), Kokomoianite, biographer, possessor of the kindest soul and who welcomed me so warmly when we first met it almost made me teary; and Emily (@hostagehoosier), darling soon-to-be mama teaching DC a thing or two about the Midwest.  What lovely, lovely people these are!

Dinner was quite yummy. Especially as it was punctuated by some great pep talks!  The event was emceed by the (Breitbart-described) Goth/Wonder Woman version of Phyllis Schafly, Dana Loesch (@DLoesch).  Anyone who follows Dana’s show or Big J contributions already knows this:  She is St. Louis’ own conservative juggernaut.  Whip smart, fiery, fearless and focused, she is, quite simply, awe-inspiring.  (Yo, Progressives…WHY YOU NO LIKE??!!  Kidding – I know why they no like.  She scares the bejeebers out of them and makes them feel ickily uncomfortable and inadequate. Keep up the excellent work, Dana!)

The evening’s first speaker was Tracy Henke of Americans for Prosperity, with some words of wisdom regarding economic policy, especially timely in light of Debt Ceilingpalooza.  She was followed by one of the biggest smile-inducers of the summit for me: Jon David Kahn (@mrjondavid) performing his American love song, American Heart, which sounded awesome, despite the cruddy acoustics/circular speakers. 😉   I do love the way he unapologetically loves our country! Plus, when I got to talk to him later, I found him to be just a genuinely cool fella.  I especially liked his enthusiasm for finding himself in a room full of conservative women — I know that’s a rarity in his neck of the woods! 

Next up was U.S. Senatorial candidate Jamie Radtke (@jamieradtke), whom I quite frankly just adore. I first heard her on Dana’s show several months ago and was so impressed I began following her on Twitter.  Jamie just gets it.  I would love nothing more than to see her succeed in her bid for Virginia’s Senate seat — we would all benefit from her being there!

Last, but far from least, Andrew Breitbart.  Disarmingly funny, brazenly blunt, and all fired up.  It impressed me that he’d hopped in a rented Camaro and roadtripped it down here from Michigan to attend.  His account of the hotel towel shortage had me cringing again at the decidedly unimpressive accommodations, though he was good natured about it all.  Later, he was extraordinarily patient, posing for pics with all the fangirls and fanboys, myself included.  I would think it might be weird to have that degree of hero-worship focused on you, but he seems to take it all in stride.

After dinner, folks hung around for cocktails and the movie “Fire from the Heartland.” I was pleased to meet and chat briefly with Ann Wagner (@Ann4Congress) who’s currently running for Congress in my district. I didn’t know much about her before, but found her quite personable, bright and energetic. It’s reassuring to know we have someone like that vying to succeed Todd Akin!

One of the evening’s funnier moments came as I was chatting with Tuesday and Fingers (who is simply a delightful man.  Like Sarah, he has a knack for making you feel like a dear old friend.)  We were discussing how warm it was in the room when I recalled that I had my mini-fan in my purse.  I suppose it looked somewhat suspect when I first pulled it out and held it up for their inspection.  The look on both faces was priceless.  I hurriedly explained, “No – it really is a fan!  See?” Only, when I flipped the switch to turn it on, nothing happened.  At which point I mused, “I guess the batteries are dead.” This prompted outright laughter.  Shaking my head, I returned the fan to my purse.  A few minutes later, I felt my purse vibrating, but couldn’t figure out why. A quick inspection revealed that the fan’s batteries had apparently reanimated.  Really – you can’t make this stuff up!

The remainder of the evening was split between the hotel bar and the conference room, chatting with my new friends.  Very much enjoyed getting to know them all a bit better!  Even that soul-devouring @demonsheep! The end of the evening found us all back downstairs at the bar, amid grumblings from several of my pals regarding the slooooowness of the elevators.  It probably didn’t help matters that the hotel was hosting one or two very large family reunions, and it was a Cubs-Cards weekend. 

At one point, Loren and I decided to go talk to Breitbart who was seated nearby. I worked up the nerve to sit down next to him and tell him how much the first couple chapters of his book reminded me of me — not his wild-child days at Tulane so much, but just his outlook and motivators at that stage of his life.  Another friend or two came over to talk, as well, and I found myself somewhat trapped — not in a bad way at all — it’s just that there was no graceful or polite way to exit the conversation so as to avoid monopolizing it.  So, I ended up having a nice chat with him — about my work, St. Louis politics, commercial real estate, kids.  I confessed to him how pleased I was when I awoke one morning a couple months ago to find that he’d started following me on Twitter.  Only to realize moments later that my new follower was actually one Andrew Breitfart.  It did put a grin on my face yesterday morning when the real McCoy actually did start following me.  This is what Twitter geeks would generally refer to as #winning.

There’s more to say about Breitbart and his remarks at the summit that’s of a more serious, less fangirlish, bent, but that’s going to have to wait for another entry.  This one’s already turned into a novella. And I haven’t even gotten to Saturday yet.  Part II will follow Monday evening…..

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