The Democratic National Convention kicked off Monday night with an evening of inclusion and inspiration.
The inclusion: representation of LGBTQ+ people, people of every ethnicity, Joe Biden’s former rivals for the presidential nomination, and even Republicans. The inspiration: songs from a youth choir, Bruce Springsteen, Leon Bridges, Maggie Rogers, the late John Prine (a casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic), Billy Porter (possibly the first performance by a Black gay man at a national political convention), and Stephen Stills, appearances by health care workers and those who have lost loved ones to the pandemic and police brutality, and capped off by a speech by former First Lady Michelle Obama. Participants appeared from a variety of locations rather than gather in a convention hall during the pandemic.
Obama noted the very narrow margin in the states that gave Donald Trump his Electoral College victory over Hillary Clinton in 2016 despite Clinton besting him by nearly 3 million in the popular vote. “In one of the states that determined the outcome, the winning margin averaged out to just two votes per precinct — two votes,” she said. “And we’ve all been living with the consequences.” Then she laid out the consequences in stark terms.
“When my husband left office with Joe Biden at his side, we had a record-breaking stretch of job creation,” she said. “We’d secured the right to health care for 20 million people. We were respected around the world, rallying our allies to confront climate change. And our leaders had worked hand-in-hand with scientists to help prevent an Ebola outbreak from becoming a global pandemic.
“Four years later, the state of this nation is very different. More than 150,000 people have died, and our economy is in shambles because of a virus that this president downplayed for too long. It has left millions of people jobless. Too many have lost their health care; too many are struggling to take care of basic necessities like food and rent; too many communities have been left in the lurch to grapple with whether and how to open our schools safely. Internationally, we’ve turned our back, not just on agreements forged by my husband, but on alliances championed by presidents like Reagan and Eisenhower.
“And here at home, as George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and a never-ending list of innocent people of color continue to be murdered, stating the simple fact that a Black life matters is still met with derision from the nation’s highest office.
“Because whenever we look to this White House for some leadership or consolation or any semblance of steadiness, what we get instead is chaos, division, and a total and utter lack of empathy.”
She lauded Biden as a man of empathy, calling him “a profoundly decent man” who “was a terrific vice president” to her husband, President Barack Obama. In contrast, she said, “Donald Trump is the wrong president for our country. He has had more than enough time to prove that he can do the job, but he is clearly in over his head. He cannot meet this moment. He simply cannot be who we need him to be for us. It is what it is.” The last sentence was spoken by Trump recently regarding the deaths from COVID-19.
She said she would not go back on her promise from 2016 that her side go high when adversaries go low, but she added, “But let’s be clear: Going high does not mean putting on a smile and saying nice things when confronted by viciousness and cruelty. Going high means taking the harder path. It means scraping and clawing our way to that mountain top. Going high means standing fierce against hatred while remembering that we are one nation under God, and if we want to survive, we’ve got to find a way to live together and work together across our differences.”
Obama concluded, “It is up to us to add our voices and our votes to the course of history, echoing heroes like John Lewis who said, ‘When you see something that is not right, you must say something. You must do something.’ That is the truest form of empathy: not just feeling, but doing; not just for ourselves or our kids, but for everyone, for all our kids. And if we want to keep the possibility of progress alive in our time, 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.”
The evening also featured appearances by the family of George Floyd, the Black man whose death at the hands of police in Minneapolis led to nationwide protests against police brutality and systemic racism; his relatives led a moment of silence for Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and others recently lost.
There was a discussion between Biden, social justice activist Jamira Burley, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo, NAACP President Derrick Johnson, and author Gwen Carr — the mother of Eric Garner, who died in police custody in New York City in 2014 — about how to reform law enforcement, end brutality, and assure justice for all.
Lesbian soccer star Megan Rapinoe interviewed medical workers about providing care during the pandemic. Phoenix resident Kristin Urquiza talked about losing her father, a Trump supporter, to COVID-19. “One of the last things that my father said to me was that he felt betrayed by the likes of Donald Trump,” she said. “And so, when I cast my vote for Joe Biden, I will do it for my dad.” His only preexisting condition, she noted, was trusting Trump. Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan discussed handing the pandemic in their states. The evening saw many denunciations of Trump’s abysmal response to the crisis as well as his attempts to undermine the U.S. Postal Service when many Americans are seeking to vote by mail.
Biden’s received praise from some of his former rivals for the nomination, including Bernie Sanders, Amy Klobuchar, Tom Steyer, Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, Beto O'Rourke, and Andrew Yang. (Pete Buttigieg will appear Thursday.) He got good words as well from several Republicans — former Ohio Gov. John Kasich, former New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, entrepreneur and onetime presidential candidate Meg Whitman, and former Congresswoman Susan Molinari, all saying they’ll support Biden. “These are not normal times,” said Kasich, noting that his concern for the nation takes precedence over party loyalty.
Musical highlights included a youth choir opening with the national anthem, Springsteen’s “The Rising” playing over images illustrating America’s diversity, Prine’s “I Remember Everything” playing during a pandemic memorial, and Billy Porter joining Stephen Stills at the end to sing the Vietnam-era protest song “For What It’s Worth,” which Porter recorded this year (it was written by Stills and originally released by Stills’s band Buffalo Springfield in the late 1960s). The whole evening was hosted by actress and activist Eva Longoria.