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DNC 2020: Virtual Convention, Real Talk

This week, democracy-ish welcomes CNN contributor Karen Finney. She’s sitting in for Danielle, who's on a well-deserved vacation.

  • The 2020 Democratic Convention was a star-studded call to action without a packed convention hall.

  • Democrats took advantage of the virtual format with an intimate, real-talk approach.

  • The overall message was clear: Nothing less than our democracy is at stake.

It’s official: The Democratic Party formally nominated Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. and Kamala Devi Harris as President and Vice President of the United States of America.

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the convention was, as nearly every political operative and pundit quipped all week long, decidedly unconventional.

In the Before Times, the DNC was slated to take place at the Wisconsin Center in Milwaukee. But now, it became a command center for a colossal virtual production.

With only a few exceptions, the speeches were delivered from offices, kitchens and living rooms across the nation. Delegates voted via live feeds from every state and territory that highlighted the unique qualities of every one.

That roll call process “brought out the complexity and variety of America, from Rhode Island calamari to New Mexico's native dress,” says Toure. “It was way cooler than what’d you get in the convention hall.”

Strategist and activist Karen Finney is an old friend of Toure’s and a veteran of four Democratic presidential campaigns. So she has attended her fair share of conventions.

“Hats off to them for doing a phenomenal job of condensing a whole four-day program into four nights of two hours each,” she says.

There was laughter, there were tears –– and plenty of righteous anger. Karen and Toure break down the format, the highlights and the net effect of a convention in the COVID era.

Episode Highlights –– DNC Keeps It Real

Hi, I’m Kamala!

To Toure, Kamala’s acceptance speech was a way to introduce herself to the country.

She placed herself in the tradition of Fannie Lou Hamer, Constance Baker Motley and Shirley Chisholm. She talked about her understanding of public service as a noble pursuit.

But her remarks stood in contrast to the fiery speeches of conventions past. “She didn't intend to burn down the barn in the way Obama did at the '04 DNC that launched his career. It was intended to be like a nice, warm hello, nice to meet you.”

Karen agrees, but points out that her speech was appropriate for the unique moment: Instead of a packed arena, Kamala spoke to a handful of reporters.

“When nobody's cheering … you have to bring all the energy yourself. I thought she did a fantastic job of rising to that occasion.”

Karen spoke this week with Star Jones, who has known our newly minted VP candidate since high school. Star, like her friend, is a former prosecutor. She points out that “you have to be able to deliver that kind of opening and closing statement to 12 people,” Karen explains. “Not a big crowd. It’s a skill.”

Kamala warms it up

To those who know her as a tough-as-nails senator, Kamala’s remarks reveal a softer side.

“As a Black woman, there are certain ways you say and do things. I thought Kamala was forceful and powerful and strong. But I know, from working with so many Black women candidates, that delivery really matters in how people perceive what you're telling them.”

That’s necessary, she adds, because of the pervasive trope of the angry Black woman –– and of course, because the public is critical of any woman in ways we are about men.

“You're right –– the smallest things are part of the introduction to America, especially when you're Black and when you're female,” Toure says, adding that in his early days as an MSNBC commentator, he’d watch himself back and notice that he often looked angry even when he was not.

“When you're in the middle of making a serious point, your eyebrows go down, which is a fairly natural reaction. But it looks very mean. You have to make a conscious effort to raise your eyebrows so you have an open face. So you look friendly.”

Black people in the public eye know this, he adds.