As tensions around the 2020 election rise to a near-fever pitch, all eyes are on the Democratic party.
The Democratic National Convention was an important moment, one that was inevitably rigorously analyzed by pundits across the political spectrum. But did it hold up to expectations?
First off, the convention was held virtually over Zoom, leading to a fair amount of awkward technical issues. But it did feature a number of highlights, some of which came from unexpected places. Overall, the DNC was a lot of things, but ultimately it was a call to action.
1. Brayden Thomas
"Without Joe Biden, I wouldn't be talking with you today," began Brayden Thomas in his speech to the DNC. "About a few … months ago I met him in New Hampshire. He told me that we were members of the same club: W-we—s—stutter."
13-year-old Brayden took to the stage on the final night of the Democratic National Convention to explain how Biden had helped him come to terms with his stutter, a problem with which Biden also struggles.
Biden has previously opened up about his stutter, telling CNN that "still occasionally, when I find myself really tired," he finds himself stuttering. But, he clarified, "It has nothing to do with your intelligence quotient. It has nothing to do with your intellectual makeup."
2. Michelle Obama
Michelle Obama gave her speech from her kitchen table instead of from her usual podium in front of millions, but she still managed to command attention. "Good evening, everyone. It's a hard time, and everyone's feeling it in different ways," her speech began. "And I know a lot of folks are reluctant to tune into a political convention right now or to politics in general. Believe me, I get that. But I am here tonight because I love this country with all my heart, and it pains me to see so many people hurting."
Her speech was, as usual, a measured call for empathy. It also possessed a unique sense of urgency, which defined a lot of the convention. "If you take one thing from my words tonight, it is this: If you think things cannot possibly get worse, trust me, they can; and they will if we don't make a change in this election," she said. "If we have any hope of ending this chaos, we have got to vote for Joe Biden like our lives depend on it."
Like many of the other candidates, she reiterated the point that "if we want to be able to look our children in the eye after this election, we have got to reassert our place in American history. And we have got to do everything we can to elect my friend, Joe Biden, as the next president of the United States."
AOC was notoriously given only a minute to speak, but as promised, she packed every second with progressive punches.
"In fidelity and gratitude to a mass people's movement working to establish 21st century social, economic, and human rights, including guaranteed health care, higher education, living wages, and labor rights for all people in the United States; a movement striving to recognize and repair the wounds of racial injustice, colonization, misogyny, and homophobia, and to propose and build reimagined systems of immigration and foreign policy that turn away from the violence and xenophobia of our past; a movement that realizes the unsustainable brutality of an economy that rewards explosive inequalities of wealth for the few at the expense of long-term stability for the many, and who organized an historic, grassroots campaign to reclaim our democracy," she sa, sweeping the progressive party's laundry list of demands in one glorious sentence.
"In a time when millions of people in the United States are looking for deep systemic solutions to our crises of mass evictions, unemployment, and lack of health care, and espíritu del pueblo and out of a love for all people, I hereby second the nomination of Senator Bernard Sanders of Vermont for president of the United States of America."
Her support for Bernie Sanders confused some viewers, but political strategists quickly confirmed that it is standard practice for anyone who qualified for the nomination to receive an endorsement at their party's convention. Sanders received enough delegates to qualify, though he conceded to Biden in March.
Ocasio-Cortez has come to symbolize the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, which often finds itself in stark opposition to the centrist Democrats who mostly control the DNC. But her allyship with Biden proves that defeating Trump is a necessity agreed upon by the majority of even the most diehard leftists.
4. Billie Eilish
Billie Eilish delivered an impassioned speech before she performed her new single, "My Future." The song's optimistic lyrics felt appropriate given the DNC's message—a better future is possible.
"You don't need me to tell you things are a mess. Donald Trump is destroying our country and everything we care about," she said. "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. Someone who is building a team that shares our values. It starts with voting against Donald Trump and for Joe Biden," Eilish said. "Silence is not an option, and we cannot sit this one out. We all have to vote like our lives and the world depend on it, because they do. The only way to be certain of the future is to make it ourselves. Please register, please vote."
The song's final lyrics felt like a nod to many of the progressive members of Eilish's generation. "I'm in love, but not with anybody here," she sang at the end. "I'll see you in a couple years." It's a hope shared by many progressives—elect Biden now and get Trump out, and then launch a true progressive into office in 2024. But clearly, her speech implied, even if we're not in love with our current candidates, there's no other option.
5. Alexandria Villaseñor
Youth climate activist Alexandria Villasenor delivered a moving speech as part of a prolonged section about climate change. Her speech was also an uncomfortable reminder of the current wildfires that are ravaging California, which caused CA governor Gavin Newsom to step away from his speaking slot at the DNC to address the disaster in his state.
"I was 13 when the Camp Fire, the most destructive wildfire in California's history, broke out," the 15-year-old said in a message to the DNC. We were visiting family nearly 100 miles way but my asthma flared badly. I could hardly breathe. Climate change is impacting us now and it's robbing my generation of a future."
6. Elizabeth Warren
Standing in Springfield, Massachusetts' Early Childhood Education Center, Senator Elizabeth Warren delivered a clear, impassioned speech—which, of course, featured several plans and Warren's characteristic no-nonsense approach to creating real change.
"We build infrastructure like roads, bridges and communications systems so that people can work. That infrastructure helps us all because it keeps our economy going," Warren said. "It's time to recognize that childcare is part of the basic infrastructure of this nation—it's infrastructure for families."
Many noted that the building blocks behind Warren spelled out BLM, a subtle nod to Black Lives Matter.
7. Jennifer Hudson
In the final minutes of the DNC's third night, Jennifer Hudson performed a strange, glorious rendition of Sam Cooke's iconic "A Change Is Gonna Come." In a time when so many Americans are hungering for a sign—just a sign—that things are going to get better, the classic song felt like a perfect choice.
8. Kamala Harris
Kamala Harris accepted her Vice Presidential nomination with joy and steadfastness on the third night. Her speech was a rousing call to action, dedicated to every single viewer.
She referenced her backstory, lavishing praise on her mother. "She raised us to be proud, strong Black women, and she raised us to know and be proud of our Indian heritage," Harris said of the woman who raised her. "My mother taught me that service to others gives life purpose and meaning."
Her mother taught her allegiance "to the Word that teaches me to walk by faith, and not by sight," she said. "And to a vision passed on through generations of Americans—one that Joe Biden shares. A vision of our nation as a Beloved Community—where all are welcome, no matter what we look like, where we come from, or who we love."
She continued, "If you're a parent struggling with your child's remote learning, or you're a teacher struggling on the other side of that screen, you know that what we're doing right now isn't working. And we are a nation that's grieving. Grieving the loss of life, the loss of jobs, the loss of opportunities, the loss of normalcy. And yes, the loss of certainty.
"And while this virus touches us all, let's be honest, it is not an equal opportunity offender. Black, Latino and Indigenous people are suffering and dying disproportionately. This is not a coincidence. It is the effect of structural racism. Of inequities in education and technology, health care and housing, job security and transportation. The injustice in reproductive and maternal health care. In the excessive use of force by police. And in our broader criminal justice system.
"This virus has no eyes, and yet it knows exactly how we see each other—and how we treat each other. And let's be clear—there is no vaccine for racism. We've gotta do the work. For George Floyd. For Breonna Taylor. For the lives of too many others to name. For our children. For all of us. We've gotta do the work to fulfill that promise of equal justice under law. Because, none of us are free…until all of us are free.
"We're at an inflection point. The constant chaos leaves us adrift. The incompetence makes us feel afraid. The callousness makes us feel alone. It's a lot. And here's the thing: We can do better and deserve so much more."
Harris went on to reference her work with Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, while they were both Attorneys Generals fighting big banks after the 2008 economic collapse.
She also had some words of praise for the new generation. "I'm inspired by a new generation of leadership," she said. "You are pushing us to realize the ideals of our nation, pushing us to live the values we share: decency and fairness, justice and love. You are the patriots who remind us that to love our country is to fight for the ideals of our country."
In the end, she framed her speech as a call to action, echoing Michelle Obama's earlier words. "Years from now, this moment will have passed. And our children and our grandchildren will look in our eyes and ask us: Where were you when the stakes were so high?" she said.
She was met with thunderous applause—via Zoom, of course.
9. Joe Biden
On the final night of the DNC, Biden himself took to the stage and framed himself as a symbol of human decency, his words taking on almost spiritual overtones. Some are calling the speech the best of Biden's career.
"If you entrust me with the presidency, I will draw on the best of us, not the worst. I'll be an ally of the light, not the darkness," he said. "It's time for us—for we, the people—to come together. May history be able to say that the end of this chapter of American darkness began here tonight. As love and hope and light join in the battle for the soul of the nation."
10. The Calamari
In light of the events of the past four years and much of American history, it can be hard to love America at all.
But on the convention's first night, a roll call montage showcased some of America's destinations and the people who live there. Representatives from each state, from Alaska to Nevada, spoke about their states' unique history and beauty. America's national parks, its rich and complex heritage, its weirdness, and of course its people were on display, a refreshing change from the sterilized convention halls that too often possess all of our political system's power.
Online audiences were especially charmed by Rhode Island's Joe MacNamara, who addressed the DNC from a boardwalk—next to a giant plate of calamari.