Genre conventions are all the rage in America. There is Walker Stalker Con for he Walking Dead, IDCon for true-crime Discovery Channel shows, and new comic book conventions pop up every weekend. Fan conventions are like clothing lines for celebritie —everybody thinks they’re a good idea and half of them don’t work (for every Rihanna and Fenty there’s a close-out bin for Nicki Minaj’s fashion line at Target.)
Fortunately Politicon, where political stars and pundits from the right and left get together for a weekend of policy cosplay and virtual combat, actually works as a convention, with one little caveat: At most conventions, whether you like Kirk or Spock, Justice League or Avengers, you eventually shake hands and go home. Politicon is a convention filled with people who want to fight and don’t expect to leave as friends, and that makes all the difference.
This year’s Politicon was in the L.A. Live Convention Center next to the Staples Center in newly-gentrified downtown Los Angeles. Just like any other convention, people walk around to various booths to buy swag and show up at panels to see their heroes, in this case, political ones. You name them, and they were there: Kathy Griffin, Charlie Kirk, Tucker Carlson and Ben Shapiro all did panels while MSNBC hosts Joy Reid, Lawrence O’Donnell, Ari Melber, Kasie Hunt and Richard Liu held townhalls at “Democracy Village.”
It was an interesting look at the changing popularity of political talking heads. Last year Tomi Lahren was the biggest draw, this year her panel was emptier than a C-SPAN book club taping.
Every side room had a name based on some aspirational part of American politics. The “President Pence” panel took place at Liberty Hall. Touré interviewed Dennis Rodman for “Slam Dunk Diplomacy” at Civic Hall. Who doesn’t want civics, liberty and democracy? Of course, all of these hall names made my day as a panelist for the epitome of the black American political experience.
I was supposed to do a panel in Equality Hall but couldn’t find it. I was walking with Yvette Nicole Brown (actress from Drake and Josh, Community, Talking Dead, The View and overall political soul snatcher on Twitter) and we kept asking staff where Equality was. They swore it was just around the corner but we couldn’t seem to find it no matter how hard we looked. If Politicon is a microcosm of American political discourse there was something oddly fitting about black folks being told repeatedly that Equality is just around the corner, but there are no signs and no clear path to get there. We asked some black staffers where to find Equality and they pointed us in the wrong direction. Finally, this nice white woman agreed to take us to Equality, and she cheerily pointed to the door and said without a drop of irony, “Equality is right before Freedom.”
Apparently, Equality was a lot easier for her to find than it was for us.
Such is the life of black folks in modern American politics because, while most African-American pundits can disagree vehemently on issues, we usually get along at the end of the day (also, because there aren’t that many of us, which is a whole other issue). That’s not so much the case with other panelists at Politicon, and things can escalate quickly.
“We pay a lot in insurance” Desarie Green, the Legal Director of Politicon, told The Root.
When you get this many political activists and loud talkers together in Trump’s America, things can get volatile. Last year, MSNBC security analyst Malcolm Nance and I got surrounded by a bunch of alt-right thugs. Anyone who thinks that Politicon is just a degradation of politics into theater has clearly never been. The men and women on stage are serious. These are life-and-death policy discussions in the midst of occasional fan service. That’s why Politicon dropped alt-right poster boy and frosted tips enthusiast Milo Yiannopolous from the line-up, and escorted conservative kook and Musiq Soulchild cosplay winner Will Johnson out of the event for harassing Michael Avenatti. Of course, that wasn’t all.
Charlie Kirk, newfound squeaky-voiced teen of the right earned the annual Carmelo Anthony Marshmellow Fisticuffs award for threatening to fight Cenk Uyger from The Young Turks—but was somehow not able to make it off stage to follow through on his threat. Zerlina Maxwell of SIRIUS XM Progress and MSNBC was booed on stage by sexist Bernie Bros. for having the audacity to say that Hillary won the Democratic nomination and that nobody wants Bernie in 2020 except Donald Trump and Killer Mike.
My own panel on The Deep State went to hell when Fox News analyst Dan Bongino got into a fight with our moderator Dr. Vince Houghton about whether or not Hillary was conspiring with the Russians to expose Obama’s birth certificate before Donald Trump could buy NBC and stop Iran from spreading Ebola (I’m only joking about part of this). Bongino called us idiots, Houghton called him a “fucking moron” and Bongino marched off stage throwing a water bottle like his boob job had just been exposed on The Real Housewives of Pentagon City. The MAGA crowd got so rowdy we all had to be escorted out by security, which is the craziest panel I’ve ever been on, and I’ve done panels with Omarosa.
My favorite political fight of the weekend was when I met Phil Scott of The Advise Show, some ankh-right crusty sock hole of a program on YouTube.
“The Root is anti-black male, that’s why I don’t read it,” he sneered at me after I introduced myself at the Urban Game Changers booth in the main exhibition hall. All I could think of is how lucky he was that fellow Root scribe Monique Judge hadn’t gotten there yet; she’s much less tolerant of hoteppery than I am.
I asked him to name one anti-black male article on TheRoot.com but he couldn’t. I pulled out my phone and scrolled through last week’s stories; he didn’t see any that were anti-black male, yet he persisted.
“Y’all are white-owned and constantly attack straight black men, that’s all there is to it,” Scott said.
Eventually with some prodding he mumbled something about Damon Young’s satirical article about toxic masculinity on Very Smart Brothas from a year ago, but he couldn’t tell me when The Root went from “black-owned” to “white-owned” (the site has always been edited, written by and run by black people, if it matters to you) and accused me of being a part of the vast anti-black male, pro-gay agenda that we work on every day at The Root, which happens right after taking our marching orders from the white feminists and Zaddies who’ve had us in chains for decades. Mind you, I’m always amused by these ashy supposedly pro-black types like Phil who lecture black journalists about betraying black kings and queens and doing the white man’s bidding while hiding their decidedly non-black wives and girlfriends back in their momma’s basement. Keep Swirling Phil!
So in the end, did Politicon solve America’s political problems? Of course not, it was about fun, connecting with allies, arguing with enemies and— for once—putting on a political show that doesn’t involve MAGA crowds beating journalists to the ground. It’s a great event that any politically engaged American should attend. I look forward to next year’s convention where hopefully the same passion and conversations from American politics can be re-created in a safe environment. I just hope they make Equality a little bit easier for black folks to find, as that part was just a bit too realistic.