A personal take on the 1996 DNC

Today it was announced that Chicago has been selected by President Joe Biden as the site of the next Democratic National Convention, in 2024.

Today, we’re featuring a story that has little to do with politics or politicians and everything to do with the lived experiences of ordinary people.

L-R: journalist John Callaway, Senator Paul Simon, producer Tom Weinberg, Michael Johnson shooting the program None of the Above in 1996

A message from Tom Weinberg

August, 1996.  Democratic National Convention. Chicago redux. United Center.

Our task: Find and interview somebody in that environment who didn’t vote, to be featured in our PBS documentary “None of the Above.”

Camcorder crew: Skip Blumberg (videographer) and me (producer of the TV show).

Seemed like a good idea: in the midst of the place where electoral politics was the most intense, find a non-voter. We only had about two hours hours to do what would likely be a ~30 second video interview in the 90 minute broadcast.

Walking past the protest pen and getting through security took an hour. Skip spent the next 55 minutes, mostly solo, trying to score the right person. He found a few, but they were all afraid to go on camera. He had to give up. We had to go meet John Callaway, the host of “None of the Above,” downtown. I was on Madison Street waiting to rendezvous. Here comes Skip, walking backwards (a technique he had perfected over 30-something years) pointing camera and mini shotgun mic at a guy in a uniform.

They go right past me, the guy talking, Skip asking questions still moving backwards. I join them, trying to stay out of the shot. The guy was Michael Johnson, walking to the El train to go home.

We were with him five times in the next month. He turned out to be one of the nicest, smartest, most generous people we had ever met.

This video features excerpts from the resulting documentary about Johnson, The Other MJ, alongside clips of journalists Alison Cuddy and Jason Marck reviewing the doc on WBEZ’s The Morning Shift in 2013.

Alison Cuddy

“This is what makes documentary so great, finding those really small stories, those small characters at the edges of big events, through which you can see a whole different reality.”—Alison Cuddy


“For me it was almost a Studs Terkel video, in the way that Studs was able to find ‘regular people,’ average people, and really make them the stars—that there are no small people, there are no small stories.”–Jason Marck

Watch the 30-minute version of The Other MJ here: https://mediaburn.org/video/image-union-the-other-m-j/

Watch the 90-minute special on non-voters, None of the Above here: https://mediaburn.org/video/none-of-the-above-8/



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