Delegates and leaders of the D.C. Democratic Party could not travel to Milwaukee for the Democratic National Convention due to the coronavirus pandemic, but events in the District took place to educate residents about the party’s platform and its plans to help elect Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as president and vice president of the United States.
D.C. Democrat State Committee Chair Charles Wilson said he learned from national party leaders the convention would be mostly virtual in July.
“I learned the top party leaders wanted people to be safe and healthy and decided not to have a mass gathering in Milwaukee as a result of COVID-19,” Wilson said. “When people here found out the news, they were disappointed. The Democratic convention is like the Super Bowl of politics. However, everyone understands why it could not take place in Milwaukee so we came up with plans here in D.C.”
Brandon Frye, an educator who serves as a delegate for Biden, said he looked forward to attending the convention.
“It is the first time I have been elected as a delegate and I really looked forward to going to represent D.C. and to do my part to help Joe Biden and Kamala Harris,” Frye said while sitting on a panel for an Aug. 16 Ward 8 Democrats virtual forum on the convention. “This is a bittersweet experience for me. I thought it would have been a great convention if not for COVID-19.”
Dr. Christine Warnke, who also participated in the Ward 8 Democrats forum and has served as a delegate and a superdelegate over the years at several conventions, said she missed being able to go to the convention and mingle with Democrats from other places.
“I think it is a wonderful experience to get to know people from other places and we can educate them about what D.C. statehood is about,” she said.
Wilson said the 2020 party platform includes supporting D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton’s bill for the District to become the 51st state, which ironically ended up on page 51 of the document.
Wilson said D.C. Democrats planned virtual events during the week of the convention with guests such as former Sens. Carol Moseley Braun and Bill Nelson and a fundraiser for the D.C. and Vermont Democratic parties featuring former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego and D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser.
Bowser served as the lone prime-time speaker from the District during the convention. The mayor spoke about her confrontation with the Trump administration after National Guardsmen forcefully cleared peaceful demonstrators on June 1 at LaFayette Park so the president could go to St. John’s Episcopal Church for a photo-op. The incident led her to approve the painting “Black Lives Matter” on the southern end of 16th Street NW, which she said was to call out Trump’s racist rhetoric and his mistreatment of the District.
“I said enough,” Bowser said in a videotaped message. “If he did this to D.C., he will do this to your city and town.”
Norton, who has attended and spoken at many past conventions, said in the three decades she has served in the Congress, the Democratic convention has always been the opportunity for the country to see and learn about the plight of the residents of the District and their quest for full citizenship. But on Monday, Aug. 17, as she waited for the start of the convention which has been reduced to two hours on network television and YouTube, Norton reflected on the moment for the country and the District’s political history.
“We are about to elect the first African American woman as vice president,” she said.
Norton said in addition to Harris’ nomination, the platform embracing District statehood means a lot.
“We are going to use this convention to make people understand what we know and they don’t,” she said. “The residents of the nation’s capital don’t have the same rights we have. We need more national forums to acquaint the American people with the plight of the people in our hometown.”
Norton’s former chief of staff, Donna Brazile, who led Al Gore’s 2000 presidential campaign and served two stints as the acting chair of the Democratic National Committee, said even though people didn’t gather in Milwaukee for the convention, the online version could be considered special.
“This is a historic moment in American history because for only the third time a woman will be nominated for vice president on a major party ticket and while we will not be there physically, we will get together in spirit for a new moment in American politics,” Brazile said.
On Sunday, Aug. 16, the Rev. Derrick Harkins, former senior pastor of the District’s Nineteenth Street Baptist Church and the Democratic National Committee’s director of Interfaith Outreach moderated a virtual interfaith service titled “Uniting America,”
Harkins said the Democrats plan to reach out to Black churches during the campaign’s home stretch. However, he stressed that people of color will not be taken for granted this year.
“We respect the importance of the Black church as an anchor in the Black community, and we know that educating, organizing and mobilizing around the critical issues of our day has always been part of the fixture of the Black church,” he said.