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Democrats kick off unprecedented virtual convention

The Democratic Party is making history Monday night by holding its first national convention to nominate a president remotely, in scores of different locations around the country. The shift to a virtual event was, of course, made necessary by the pandemic that has turned American life upside down over the past six months. Amna Nawaz reports on how we arrived at this unprecedented moment.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Tonight, the Democratic Party will make history by holding its first national convention to nominate a president not in person, but remotely, in scores of different locations, all made necessary by the extraordinary events of the past six months, events that have turned life upside down in this country.

    Amna Nawaz reports on how we got here.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Historically, it is fanfare and spectacle, celebration, and performance. The Democratic National Convention would typically bring together thousands of people, all under one roof, for a four-day affair.

    But today, in Milwaukee, home base for this year's convention, it is a much different scene, as organizers have been forced by the coronavirus pandemic to dramatically scale back plans to an almost entirely virtual convention.

  • Mandela Barnes:

    If COVID had been more appropriately managed in this country, you would see thousands of people in the streets of the city of Milwaukee.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Wisconsin Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes is a vice chair of the convention, and fought for months to bring this historic event to his home city.

  • Mandela Barnes:

    But the writing was on the wall earlier this year, as COVID numbers continued to rise. And with that in mind, I knew that it would be very difficult, nearly impossible, to pull off the large-scale convention that we thought we'd be able to.

    And when I saw the news, you know, I had already felt like I was playing the violin on the Titanic at that point.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Organizers have been working and reworking plans for months, making clear public health was a priority. Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez:

  • Tom Perez:

    Our North Star has always been public health and safety. That was clear from the outset. And we have always made sure that we listen to the experts.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Originally scheduled for July, the convention was delayed to August. The venue, originally the Fiserv Forum, home to Milwaukee's NBA team, with capacity for 18,000 people, was changed to the smaller Wisconsin Center that can house up to 4,000 people.

    Instead of one city hosting the entire event, the convention will now be anchored from Milwaukee, with curated content from other cities. As for the headliners, they will be virtual too.

    In years past, the party's presumptive nominee delivering an acceptance speech before roaring crowds has been a signature convention moment.

  • Audience:

    Hillary! Hillary! Hillary!

  • Amna Nawaz:

    This year, former Vice President Joe Biden will deliver his remarks from his home state of Delaware on the final night of the convention.

    In fact, all speakers, including his running mate, California Senator Kamala Harris, and other key figures in the Democratic Party, will be delivering speeches remotely.

  • Woman:

    We cast 47 votes for the next president of the United States

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Even the roll call vote, a hallmark moment featuring each state declaring its delegate count, will be done virtually, with input from each of the 57 states and territories.

    The event meant to cap off the primary season and kick off the general election won't be what it once was. But Barnes says he isn't worried it will fail to inspire the Democratic base.

  • Mandela Barnes:

    This is a virtual pep rally. And I think that folks will still leave excited, because, you know, we now have a vice presidential nominee. The ticket is finally set. And there's a lot of enthusiasm there.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    As around the nation, COVID cases continue to climb, millions remain unemployed, and a national racial reckoning unfolds, the Democratic National Committee says all these issues will make their way into convention programming, with Americans from around the country sharing their stories.

    Next week, President Trump and the Republican Party will host their own convention, similarly upended during the pandemic. But, before then, Democrats have four days to get voters excited for their party's 2020 ticket, all from safe distance.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Amna Nawaz.

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