Claudia Clark
Author and Speaker

The presidential Democratic and Republican conventions occur the summer before the fall election and the mark the beginning of the presidential campaign cycle. Usually thousands of delegates from across the country converge for several days in a select city to formally nominate their candidate to run on the presidential ticket and they adopt/modify the platform for the party. The event is surrounded by months of preparation and fanfare with a list of prominent speakers and entertainers ranging from key party leaders to every day citizens carefully chosen by the party to tell their story of why they support the party and the select candidate. From the stage, speakers can see the flood of thousands of people who fill the audience cheering, waving miniature American flags or the most recent election campaign signs. Usually delegates sit on the convention floor with other members from their state. From their seats, they cheer, cry, and hug one another during the events. Midway through the convention the Convention Secretary does a roll call, and from the floor, the states beginning alphabetically state how many delegates their state is designating for the candidate. After that has finished, the votes are tallied, and the party announces who their presidential and vice presidential candidate for that election cycle will be. The convention ends when the vice presidential candidate and the presidential candidate give speeches formally accepting their party’s nomination. After they speech, their family, the Running mate and their families join the candidate on stage where they join arms and hold them high into the air as audience erupts in applause, and cheering, and manage to drop thousands of balloons on the convention floor—signifying the official beginning of the 2020 Presidential Campaign for the Party. For a political junkie there is nothing more exciting than watching the events unfold and listen to the speeches and watch democracy play out. That is how conventions run in NORMAL times, but in many ways 2020 has been anything but NORMAL.

Although the Coronavirus has managed to turn the world upside down, 2020 is an election year, and the show must go on. Nevertheless, both parties had to be creative in how to delivery their message in these unprecedented times. Fairly early in the spring when it remained questionable whether a traditional convention would occur, Democrats began to prepare for a virtual convention. The Republicans on the other hand, reacted to these unusual circumstances in the same manner they had addressed the pandemic—with reluctance and defiance. Trump and other party leaders went back and forth on several location sites and finally “settled” on a combination of video recording speeches and in person gatherings held in Washington D.C.

With the time zone difference, despite my best efforts to watch the conventions in real time, I could not. Instead, I cherry picked both some “prominent” and some every day citizen speeches from the Democratic convention on You Tube the following morning to watch. Full self-disclosure– I could not bring myself to watch one second of the Republican Convention. I knew to provide a balance and fair assessment; I should watch parts of both conventions. However, I feared neither my blood pressure nor my television would survive the 4 nights of lies, deception, denial, finger pointing, and f ear mongering the Republicans would display and I did not want to contribute to Trump’s ratings in any shape or form. I assumed MSNBC would replay the “highlights” the next day, I could see enough of what I needed to see, and the differences between the two conventions and the two messages could not be any starker.

The Democratic convention consisted of carefully selected locations which provided the backdrop for keynote speakers which told a story: The beginning of the story was to talk about the failures of the Trump administration, the 2nd part of the story detailed the consequences if we continued down the same path for four more years, and finally, why selecting Joe Biden would be the best alternative to restore democracy. The list of speakers included a “whose who” list among party leaders including Former President Obama, and former first lady, Michelle Obama, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi New York Governor Andrew Cuomo , and former Secretary of State John Kerry. Former Biden primary challengers including Senator Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Amy Klobuchar spoke about the importance of uniting the party and voting for Vice President Biden. However, one thing that was unprecedented and that was the number of prominent Republicans such a former Secretary of State Colin Powell, and former Ohio Governor John Kasich who also spoke on Biden’s behalf. In addition to the politicians, people who lost family members to the Corona Virus as well as those with pre-existing health conditions spoke about their concerns with the Trump administration as well.

Using zoom, speakers gave their remarks, once one candidate finished, another one began. In some instances where “applause” was necessary, multiple zoom rooms appeared giving the speaker the effect of applause. Even though these scenes were not as “exciting” as the traditional conventions, they were every bit as powerful. Every person addressed the need to restore Democracy and the United States standing in the world. All of the speakers implored citizens to vote and reminded them despite the obstacles and the scare tactics the Republicans threw to prevent people from voting (closing polling places in minority precincts, dismantling the post office) it was imperative that everyone vote–otherwise Democracy may not survive another four years of the Trump administration and his policies. The speakers talked about the long list of threats facing Americans under the Trump administration including: voting suppression of people of color (with the systematic closing of voting locations) the teargassing of innocent protesters, the systematic racism facing people of color, the horrific handling of the Coronavirus, the staggering effects of the economy, climate change, and the declining reputation of America abroad. President Obama selected a museum in Philadelphia were the Constitution had been signed as his location where he reminded citizens that no matter how difficult Republicans might make it for people to vote, they still could not deny any one the right to vote, and thereby he pleaded with people to do their part and vote. Similarly, Michelle Obama acknowledged she understood the obstacles, and encouraged people to wear comfortable clothes, bring a sack lunch—be prepared for challenges but above all, do not give in to the challenges.

While the various speeches, moved me, my personal favorite part of the entire convention was the state roll call. Instead of the usual floor vote when people went alphabetically by their state, stood up and pledged their delegates to said candidates. This year, because of the Coronavirus, people from all walks of life stated their votes. For example, in Arizona, a Latina teacher stated the challenges she faced in her state, and how she believed Biden would solve them, and therefore she proudly pledged the x votes to Biden and x votes to Senator Sanders. An African American gay bed and breakfast owner in Maine pledged their delegates for the state of Maine. Members of the Sioux Tribe in South Dakota pledged their votes for South Dakota. Since we are celebrating the 100 anniversary of the passage of women’s suffrage young women from Tennessee discussed the significance as she pledged Tennessee’s delegate count. Admittedly I had not planned to watch the whole event—I was only going to watch a few states to get a sense of it. However, I became so engrossed that my breakfast grew cold as I was unable to tear myself away. I was so impressed at the diversity and the representativeness of people included. The Democratic Party did the best they could to include all types of people who represent America. I felt tears in my eyes as I realized that was what America was all about, and I had never been so proud to be an American, and a Democrat.

A week later, the Republicans convened in primarily in Washington D.C. for their convention. Unlike the Democratic Party, the Republican Party had decided to forego modifying their platform until 2024, so this convention really was nothing more than a party leaders catering to the whims and beliefs of one person—Donald Trump. Despite federal law (Hatch Act) which prohibits using of federal property for partisan politics, the Republicans held their convention in federal buildings in Washington D.C, and Trump even gave his acceptance speech from the lawn of the White House despite the illegality of the actions and the cries of protests from the media and the Democrats. It seemed the more people protested, the more adamant Trump was to hold the convention in D.C. Like the Democrats, party leaders such as the Governors from the states of Iowa and South Dakota spoke, the first lady gave a speech, and current U.S. Senator from South Carolina Tim Scott spoke. In these remarks however, they treated the pandemic which has now killed over 180,000 Americans as something in the past. When watching the various segments, the Republicans used terms radical socialism and lawlessness to describe what would happen if Biden were elected.

To me, the most offensive thing they failed to mention was the shooting of 29 year old African American Jacob Blake in Wisconsin. The night before the convention began, Blake was shot 7 times by a white police officer. Luckily he was not killed, but is paralyzed from the waist down and has a long road of recovery. Instead of address this, the Republicans blamed the lawlessness and protests that erupted on Democrats, and claimed there would be more civil unrest if Biden were elected.

In between the series of speakers such as former UN Ambassador Nicky Haley who argued that America was not a racist society, Trump participated in other unprecedented events for a political convention including administering pardons and overseeing a citizenship ceremony for people who subsequently were people of color. These tactics were extremely nauseating and offensive. They were a weak attempt to illustrate to the country that Trump and the Republican Party was not racist—despite wanting to build a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico, despite placing children of color in cages, and despite the ongoing death of African Americans at the hands of law enforcement officials. These events that Trump administered in the midst of his convention I found to be extremely offensive and hard to stomach because these people were being used (in one of the most memorable days of their lives) as a political ploy so people will look the other way at the countless actions the Trump administration has taken.

In his acceptance speech, Trump mentioned Biden 43 times in his acceptance speech. He turned his speech into being against the Democrats rather than for him and the republicans. He did not once mention what he would do to ensure the cities would be safer, or how he would combat climate change as California is once again burning and a Category 4 (strongest hurricane to hit land in over a century) Instead of acknowledging the staggering unemployment rate from the Coronavirus, the Republicans brag about the stock market—failing to take into account the stock market does not impact most average Americans. The Republicans do nothing to secure the safety of American elections from Russian interference and made no reference to the bounty placed on American soldiers. The country is in complete chaos on so many levels, and yet they expect American people to believe they deserve another 4 years. Democrats stated it clearly when they argued the country cannot survive another 4 years of Trump’s leadership. Michelle Obama stole the show on the opening night of the Democratic Convention when she said Trump was simply not up for the job, “It is what it is.” The exact same words Trump used when he was questioned about the staggering death toll facing Americans due to his leadership of the coronavirus. Ronald Reagan asked the now famous question, “Are you better off now than you were 4 years ago”? With the failed administration’s leadership of the pandemic, the ongoing racial tensions facing the country, the unemployment rate worse since the Great Depression, and the declining status of the United States on the world stage, I can safely say ABSOLUTELY NOT.

To be honest, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren had been my initial pick since I first heard her speak many years ago. I had originally hoped that former Vice President Joe Biden not even enters the presidential race. I had nothing against him, I thought he was a good vice president, and I thought he would make a fine president. However, I simply believed that it was time for someone new. Nevertheless, even before she officially withdrew from the race and it looked as if Biden were picking up enough momentum that he could be the nominee, I began to shift my enthusiasm. I often think and say that Democrats are our own worst enemies .People pouting and threatening to vote 2rd party or not even vote if either “their” candidate did not receive the nomination or not even vote. Then people began to sing the same song over the potential running mate. I honestly think people are picker about whom they will vote for president than who they will marry. There is no perfect candidate, and as much as I loved President Obama and Senator Warren, I disagreed with them on some issues. However, I agree with them more often than not and on key issues for me. Moreover, there are times that voting is a matter of voting the lesser of two evils. The right to vote is something women and people of color take for granted today—but it was a right people had to fight for. Among the many disterous of 2020, America lost Congressman John Lewis—a long time Congressman who throughout the course of his life who had been arrested 40 times for the sacred right to vote as an African American. 2020 was also the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th amendment which granted white women the right to vote in the United States. Women such as Susan B Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton were arrested for the right to vote. I have always believed we owed it to these people to vote. Living in Europe where the 60% of the population vote in any given election, Europeans find the dismal number of Americans who do not vote astonishing. Australia actually fines its citizens for not voting. I do not believe in doing that, as I think forcing or punishing citizens to vote defeats the purpose of Democracy, but that doesn’t mean I do not think every citizen should participate and lawmakers need to do more to make it easier and to encourage people to participate in the democratic process. We know that Trump won because people either voted 3rd party or people simply stayed home because they did not like either candidate. During the 2016 candidate Donald Trump asked what we had to lose. 175,000 deaths from a pandemic, the greatest economic recession since the Great Depression, ongoing gun violence, racial tensions, and continued attacks on the free press, military ausing tear gas and rubber bullets to deter peaceful protesters, bounties on U.S. soliders—in short Democracy is on the line.