Convention is finally upon us! Monday, July 18th saw the kickoff of the Republican National Convention of 2016. It has been a long road to get here, and though we began with a broad field of seventeen candidates, we have narrowed it down to one, Donald Trump, who will receive the party nomination by the end of the week.

A 6AM wakeup call and app check revealed that the official schedule was still not on the RNC application, and then the FFL girls discovered that our hotel had lost power due to a crazy thunderstorm that had overtaken Cleveland in the middle of the night. After a nice trip to a lovely AirBnB with electricity and our amazing founder Amanda Owens, we were up and ready to go. Our hotel was near the airport and a little bit out from the heart of Cleveland where the convention was taking place, so we drove to a meet up place and hopped on a big yellow school bus to head into town. About halfway through the ride, as we began to enter the downtown area, we realized that the person asking for directions at the front of the bus was in fact the bus driver. Note to event organizers: always make sure the bus driver knows where they are going. When we finally arrived, we let security wand us down and search through our belongings before we made our way to the FFL marketplace booth and began to organize everything after it had been searched by Secret Service, who don’t respect a good stack of folded shirts.

The theme for Monday was announced as “Make America Safe Again” and among the slated speakers were two Benghazi survivors and the mother of Navy SEAL killed in Benghazi along with many members of Congress. With the recent reports from Congress on Benghazi and increasing threats against the men and women in blue doing their best to keep us safe, there was a buzz in the air. With the deadly ambush on Baton Rouge that killed three police officers, this topic was so poignant and timely.

The convention kicked off with a moving statement from GOP Chairman Reince Priebus recognizing the recent deaths of police officers and a moment of silence for the families of those who have lost loved ones during these trying times. Priebus said, “The men and women who protect our safety and well-being, who put their lives on the line every day, they’re our genuine heroes.”

Early afternoon speeches included reminders of those lost in the past year, calls to action against an administration that will not name our enemies while they kill us on our own soil, and an exciting speech from CRNC chairman Alex Smith, who invoked Ronald Reagan when she reminded us all that there is a new generation of conservatives on the ground. She told the entire country just how unstoppable millennials are in the fight for freedom.

One of my favorite pre-taped parts of the afternoon session was the package put together of Republican Governors, including the lovely female governors we know and love (Nikki Haley, Susanna Martinez, etc), about how Republican Governors are working towards better states and a better country. They are the ones balancing budgets, protecting free speech, being creative in education, and more.

Things got very exciting just after 4PM EST when the Never Trump movement tried to force a roll call vote on unbinding the delegates and allowing them to vote their conscience. At the time, the majority of delegates in nine states had signed on to force vote, but chaos ensued as chants took over the convention center and the center podium was even abandoned at one point. After a second voice vote, it was announced that three states had withdrawn their support and no roll call vote would be taken and no delegates would be unbound. This led for some delegates, including those from Colorado and Iowa. Read our article about that chaos here.

The evening kicked off with speakers like Willie Robertson, actor Scott Baio, and former Governor Rick Perry of Texas.  “Making America great again starts by taking care of our veterans,” he announced before he introduced “Lone Survivor” Marcus Luttrell who expressed his joy at being raised in a patriotic family before going to serve his country. It was great to hear from someone who has given so much for their country on a night devoted to the safety of our nation. He poignantly said to the next generation, “We are looking for the next generation of giants. Who among you will love something more than yourself?” He asked.

Next up was Patricia Smith, the mother of Sean Smith, one of the brave men killed in the 2012 Benghazi attack. On the verge of tears, she delivered a heart wrenching speech about her son’s final words to her and laid the blame directly on Hillary Clinton for the lives lost.  “She lied to me and then she called me a liar,” Smith told the audience, who responded by boo-ing the presumptive Democratic nominee. That’s the Hillary we’ve known for years, and it’s up to us to make sure she doesn’t end up in the White House.

            After a video detailing the crimes committed by Hillary and the Obama administration in relation to the Benghazi attack, the co-authors of “13 Hours”, John Tiegen and Mark Geist, took the stage and gave their side of the story. The two survivors were warmly greeted by the convention center and their stories are testament that our men needed help that night and Hillary Clinton kept that help from getting to them. After them, we heard from the parents of Brian Kelly, the border patrol agent who was killed, and then Antonio Sabato Jr, a soap star who talked about his own faith. Then came Mary Ann Mendoza, the mother of a man killed by an illegal immigrant.

Sherriff David Clarke of Milwaukee started his speech by saying, “I want to make something very clear: Blue Lives Matter.” His speech was especially heartbreaking as we mourn the loss of three police officers in Louisiana. He spoke of the recent acquittal of one of the officers in the Freddie Gray case and called for our party to unite behind the law enforcement in our country and end this anarchy that is killing the men in blue.

Other evening speakers included Representative Sean Duffy and his wife Rachel Campos-Duffy and Senators Tom Cotton and Jeff Sessions and Joni Ernst along with former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and retired Lt. General Michael Flynn.

The big speaker of the night was Melania Trump, wife of the presumptive nominee, who was introduced by none other than her husband himself, who of course walked out to the tune of “We are the Champions.” She expressed her thanks for how nice the attendees have been to her and her family and told the audience that she has been aware of her husband’s intense patriotism since the moment she met him, over eighteen years ago. She detailed her upbringing in Slovenia, where her parents instilled in her the need for hard work. It has been ten years, almost to the day, since Melania Trump became a US citizen, what she calls the greatest privilege on earth. She ended her speech by highlighting her husbands “never-give-up” attitude and telling the audience that her husband was the right guy to fight for this country. She absolutely slayed her speech, and no doubt her dedication to her husband will serve as an inspiration for many. Her speech was one of the most well-crafted of the night, and I look forward to many more speeches by our future first lady.

The FFL marketplace booth was super popular throughout the day. Other marketplace workers and RNC staff were stopping by before the gates had even officially opened to make their purchases. News outlets also stopped by to interview our founder and some of the girls in red elephant skirts working the booth about the organization we know and love. We’re a rapidly growing organization and people are paying attention to us. One of the highlights of my day was getting to meet Jesse Watters! No doubt the week will hold more exciting celebrity sightings.

Stay tuned for day-by-day recaps of the Republican National Convention here in Cleveland, Ohio and more articles concerning the happenings here at the Quicken Loans Arena and surrounding areas.

Aryssa D
FFL Cabinet Member