Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has positioned the 2020 election as a “battle for the soul of the nation” in order to “build back better.” The third night of the Democratic National Convention on Wednesday sought to show voters what “better” might look like under Biden.
The event gave a platform to some of the country’s most contentious political debates: immigration, climate change and gun reform.
“People affected by everyday gun violence have to walk by the street corner where their best friend, their brother, their mother, their nephew, or they themselves were shot. And life goes on and on as if we all haven’t just watched a loved one die,” said a tearful Emma González, a gun reform activist who survived the 2018 Parkland school shooting.
Personal stories of people affected by gun violence, domestic violence, deportations and economic hardship anchored Wednesday’s programming. While the second night of the convention primarily focused on Biden’s past, Wednesday looked to the country’s future.
That theme carried through until the end when California Sen. Kamala Harris delivered a historic speech as the first Black or Indian American woman to accept a major party nomination for vice president. The future to her, she said, hinged on electing a president who could unite the country and “do the work” to end structural racism.
“We must elect a president who will bring something different, something better, and do the important work,” Harris said. “A president who will bring all of us together — Black, white, Latino, Asian, Indigenous — to achieve the future we collectively want.”
Appealing to young voters
The third convention night was a notable departure from the prior day’s focus on the nostalgia of Biden’s long political career, featuring speeches from a number of high-profile politicians, most of them white and male and septuagenarian. Wednesday by contrast seemed designed to appeal to younger voters by featuring issues like gun violence and climate change that have huge resonance within younger generations, as well as musical performances by singers Billie Eilish and Prince Royce.
“You don’t need me to tell you things are a mess. Donald Trump is destroying our country and everything we care about,” 18-year-old Eilish said ahead of her performance. “We need leaders who will solve problems like climate change and COVID, not deny them; leaders who will fight against systemic racism and inequality. And that starts by voting for someone who understands how much is at stake.”
The night also featured younger activists and a diverse cast of people affected by gun violence, current immigration policy, climate change, and the economic downturn caused by the pandemic.
President Barack Obama delivered a call to action for younger generations demanding change, describing them as “this country’s dreams fulfilled.”
“Earlier generations had to be persuaded that everyone has equal worth. For you, it’s a given – a conviction. And what I want you to know is that for all its messiness and frustrations, your system of self-government can be harnessed to help you realize those convictions,” Obama said.
Young voters can be a wildcard for elections, and typically have the lowest turnout of any age demographic. Biden also has an enthusiasm gap — while many young and progressive potential voters highly disapprove of Trump, they’re not excited by the prospect of a Biden presidency, either. Wednesday night’s line-up was outreach to those voters.
A focus on empowering women
From House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, to performer Billie Eilish, to women small business owners, mothers, victims of domestic abuse and vice presidential nominee Harris herself, night three of the DNC was all about women telling their stories while offering strong rebukes of Trump’s administration.
Before delivering her speech, Pelosi was featured in a montage highlighting her political career and portraying her as a strong woman who has stood up to Trump and fought him at every turn.
“As speaker, I’ve seen firsthand Donald Trump’s disrespect for facts, for working families, and for women in particular — disrespect written into his policies toward our health and our rights, not just his conduct. But we know what he doesn’t: that when women succeed, America succeeds,” Pelosi said.
Clinton spoke to her experiences with Trump’s rhetoric during the 2016 presidential campaign, and the challenges Harris may face in 2020. The segment on female leadership served as an appropriate precursor to Harris’ historic acceptance speech.
Trump’s rhetoric on woman since the start of his presidential campaign presents an opportunity for Democrats to showcase how Biden might serve them better through advocacy and measures like the 1994 Violence Against Women Act that he co-authored.
A way out of the economic crisis
Amid one of the country’s worst economic crises, many Americans are looking to the presidential candidates for plans to protect small businesses, create jobs and to provide financial assistance.
Trump has positioned himself as a savior for American workers, but Democrats described the president as unprepared to address these pressing needs.
“Joe Biden and Kamala Harris actually have a plan, not only to recover what we lost, but to improve upon it,” former Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis said. “Creating 5 million good union jobs by bringing back supply chains to America. … creating millions of jobs by investing in clean energy. … and making sure that working families can afford child care.”
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren also made an appearance to stress the need for affordable childcare, recounting the significance of her aunt taking care of Warren’s children so that she could work as a teacher. She also pitched Biden as the best candidate to help America through a challenging time. “I love a good plan, and Joe Biden has some really good plans — plans to bring back union jobs in manufacturing and create new union jobs in clean energy,” Warren said. “Plans to increase Social Security benefits, cancel billions in student loan debt, and make our bankruptcy laws work for families instead of the creditors who cheat them.”
Warren delivered one of the longer addresses of the night, amid criticism that progressive voices have taken a back seat during the convention.
Emotional stories take center stage
Amid the pandemic and the necessary social distancing measures that forced this virtual convention, the usual celebratory atmosphere has been lacking. But Wednesday took an especially somber turn, highlighting the real-life consequences of certain policies Democrats are seeking to reform while warning that four more years of Trump could do irrevocable damage.
The start of the evening featured three mothers of shooting victims, one of whom described how her 13-year-old son was left paralyzed after being shot in the back of the head.
Former Arizona congresswoman Gabby Giffords discussed her difficult recovery after a gunman shot her in the head in 2011.
“Words once came easily; today I struggle to speak, but I have not lost my voice,” Giffords said. “America needs all of us to speak out, even when you have to fight to find the words. We are at a crossroads. We can let the shooting continue or we can act.”
Eleven-year-old Estela Juarez read a letter to Trump telling him about her undocumented mother’s deportation to Mexico in 2018. “Mr. President, my mom is the wife of a proud American marine, and a mother of two American children,” she said. “We are American families. We need a president who will bring people together, not tear them apart.”
One story after another was designed to tug at the heartstrings, to stir empathy as well as indignation at the people and policies that gave rise to these personal tragedies.
That all culminated in Obama’s speech, when he issued a dire warning and indictment of the Trump presidency.
“Donald Trump hasn’t grown into the job because he can’t,” Obama said live from the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia. “And the consequences of that failure are severe — 170,000 Americans dead, millions of jobs gone while those at the top take in more than ever. Our worst impulses unleashed, our proud reputation around the world badly diminished, and our democratic institutions threatened like never before.”
Barack Obama takes aim at Trump’s legacy
In arguably his strongest rebuke of Trump yet, Obama picked apart his successor’s last four years in office, depicting Trump as an ineffective leader who has “shown no interest in putting in the work.”
With a few exceptions, Obama has avoided weighing in heavily on Trump. But his speech Wednesday painted a damning picture of the current president as a threat to American democracy, pointing to the tens of thousands of deaths and millions of jobs lost in the pandemic as happening on his watch. He acknowledged voters who may be disillusioned by politicians and electoral politics, and implored them to give Biden and Harris a chance.
“You can give our democracy new meaning. You can take it to a better place. You’re the missing ingredient – the ones who will decide whether or not America becomes the country that fully lives up to its creed.”
Kamala Harris marks the country’s past and future
Harris took the stage at a Delaware convention center to accept her historic nomination for vice president. In sharing the details of her life, Harris reflected an American story that is often underrepresented on the national political stage, one that illuminates the diversity and experiences of voters who have helped build the country, and who represent the Democratic Party’s future, but have not seen much of themselves in institutions of power to date.
Harris noted that her history-making moment would not be possible without the efforts and struggles of Black women before her. “Without fanfare or recognition, they organized, testified, rallied, marched, and fought—not just for their vote, but for a seat at the table,” Harris said. “These women and the generations that followed worked to make democracy and opportunity real in the lives of all of us who followed.”
She spoke about how her Indian immigrant mother and Jamaican immigrant father met, fell in love and marched for civil rights. Harris spoke to the importance of her support system, from her “chithis” (a Tamil word for aunts), to the Black Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority she pledged in college, to the network of historically Black colleges and universities.
In her address, she urged the country to move beyond Trump’s presidency, the pandemic and beyond structural racism. “Let’s be clear — there is no vaccine for racism. We’ve got to do the work,” she said, adding that she’s inspired by a new generation of leadership. Harris’ moment comes at a critical time for the party, which has wrestled with how to evolve with a new generation that is increasingly diverse, and how to make room for more progressive voices and platforms.