Every evening this week at 9 p.m., Andrew Schaeffler, LSA sophomore and founder of Students for Biden at the University of Michigan, watched the Democratic National Convention, waiting for the moment former Vice President Joe Biden would officially receive the Democratic Party’s nomination for U.S. president. But, instead of the uncontrollable shouting and boisterous cheers usually characteristic of a political convention, Schaeffler has turned up the volume on his television to hear from the various politicians and activists speaking at the convention remotely. 

Though the convention has been vastly different than the last one, Schaeffler said he has enjoyed watching nonetheless.

“I think it’s been absolutely amazing,” Schaeffler said. “I’ve been blown away every night by all of the really incredible features. I think that it really illustrates the diversity and just the amazingness of the Democratic Party.”

Party leadership planned for the event to be in person in Milwaukee, Wisconsin; however, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, it was converted to a largely virtual event. Though Milwaukee still served as convention headquarters, the speakers — including Biden and Harris — did not travel there and state delegations were encouraged to conduct their business remotely. 

Lavora Barnes, chair of the Michigan Democratic Party, spoke with The Daily and said the new convention format has allowed for more engagement across the nation.

“Everything that we would have done (in person), we’ve now done virtually,” Barnes said. “So we’re able to involve more people from across the country …  to connect with the voters or talk about their personal stories. We’ll get a little bit more of that than we might have had if we had been having to wait through the applause and moving people on and off the stage. ”

The convention comes a week after Biden announced Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., as his pick for the Democratic vice-presidential nomination. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who spoke at the convention on Monday night, was also rumored to be a possible choice. Following the announcement last Tuesday, Whitmer voiced her support of Harris. 

Following remarks from Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Whitmer spoke live. Her statement underscored the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic and what she described as the largely inadequate response from the Trump administration.

She began by discussing the assistance Michigan autoworkers received from the Obama administration in 2009, when $80 billion was given to General Motors and Chrysler in hopes of pulling the companies out of dire financial straits. Whitmer explained autoworkers have offered assistance in return by producing personal protective equipment during the pandemic. 

“Autoworkers across Michigan sprang into action,” Whitmer said. “They started making protective equipment for doctors and nurses on the front lines. Let me break it down: President Obama and Vice President Biden saved these autoworkers’ livelihoods. Then these workers did their part to save American lives. That’s the story of this great country.” 

Whitmer continued by praising Michiganders’ response to the virus and criticizing the Trump administration. 

“Over the past few months we’ve learned what’s essential: rising to the challenge and not denying it,” Whitmer said. “We’ve also learned who’s essential, too … Not a president who fights his fellow Americans rather than fight the virus that’s killing us and our economy. ”  

Barnes commented on Whitmer’s speech and the presence of Michiganders in the convention. She said Whitmer and Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., who was featured on behalf of Michigan in the roll call vote, represented the state well. 

“Governor Whitmer’s speech was terrific, she is just so good,” Barnes said. “I get messages and phone calls from folks all over the country about how terrific our governor is. She was a great speaker on that mainstage. I love the roll call vote — I’m proud to have Gary Peters. He did a great job representing as part of that roll call.” 

Two days later, on the third night of the convention, Kamala Harris accepted the party’s nomination. She spoke about her family and how personal experiences shaped her public service career.

“(My mother) raised us to be proud, strong Black women. And she raised us to know and be proud of our Indian heritage,” Harris said. “She taught us to put family first, the family you’re born into and the family you choose. And even as she taught us to keep our family at the center of our world, she also pushed us to see a world beyond ourselves.” 

Harris also addressed the country’s current struggles as a result of the coronavirus and its history of racism. She noted racial disparities in the toll of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are a nation that’s grieving: grieving the loss of life, the loss of jobs, the loss of opportunities, the loss of normalcy,” Harris said. “And yes, the loss of certainty. And while this virus touches us all, let’s be honest, it is not an equal opportunity offender … This is not a coincidence. It is the effect of structural racism.” 

After Biden announced Harris as his choice for vice president, many Democrats criticized her history as a prosecutor and the decisions she made during that time.

LSA junior Eman Naga also took issue with some of the policy stances Harris had taken while campaigning for president.

“She signed onto Medicare-for-All and then came out with a weird hybrid plan, and she’s probably not even for that now,” Naga said. “So I don’t like her for that reason. I don’t like her for her prosecutorial record. I didn’t like her at all.”

Schaeffler commented on this criticism and explained why, though he understands the concerns, he believes she would still be a successful vice president if elected. 

“I know that there have been some concerns, rightly so, about her prosecutorial records,” Schaeffler said. “But I think we can also understand that there’s a whole different dimension to that, in the sense that she was one of the most progressive district attorneys in the country at that time. And far beyond that in the Senate, she’s had one of the more liberal voting records.” 

Biden gave a similar speech Thursday night. He began by commenting on the outcry against systemic racism that has driven protests across the country.

“This campaign isn’t just about winning votes, it’s about winning the heart and soul of America,” Biden said. “Winning it for those communities who have known the injustice of the ‘knee on the neck’ … They deserve to experience America’s promise in full.” 

Throughout his remarks, Biden repeatedly discussed young people’s involvement in activism, lamenting the various challenges they face in the current political climate. 

“(Young people) are speaking to the equity and injustice that has grown up in America: economic injustice, racial injustice, environmental injustice,” he said. “Whether the existential threat posed by climate change, the daily fear of being gunned down in or the inability to get started in your first job, it’ll be the work of the next president to restore the promise of America to everyone.” 

In a reference to recent criticism of President Donald Trump, Biden described how his administration would handle current international challenges. 

“The days of cozying up to dictators are over. Under President Biden, America will not turn a blind eye to Russian bounties on the heads of American soldiers,” he said. “Nor will I put up with foreign interference in our most sacred democratic exercise: voting. And I’ll always stand for our values of human rights and dignity. ”

The University’s chapter of College Republicans did not respond to the Daily’s request for comment by the time of publication. 

The Republican National Convention is taking place next week from Aug. 24 through Aug. 27. It will be held, at least partially, in-person in Charlotte, North Carolina. Attendance will be limited to encourage social distancing and some of the convention will be livestreamed, though the public will not be able to view certain parts of the event.

Daily Staff Reporter John Grieve contributed reporting.

Daily Staff Reporters Emma Ruberg and Julia Forrest can be reached at eruberg@umich.edu and


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