It wasn’t just the direct references and the montage of images honoring those who were among us who are no longer among us because of your nihilistic responses to COVID-19 and systemic racism that tethered last night’s Democratic convention content to sober, painful here and now realities. It was the whole, whole thing, from how it had to be held in virtual space to how that virtual space reflected the interiors of mostly ordinary people’s homes because that is where we all have to be for the foreseeable future. It was in the somber, cautious tones struck by most of the speakers, the sadness laced with little bits of grit and the well-rehearsed angry speeches striking a balance between the passion you knew was there and the need to be calm and clear. There were no tears. There was no furious gnashing of teeth. There were no raised voices. There was no name-calling or condemnation.
I don’t know whether it was deliberate (but my guess is that it was), but the first night of the convention programming seemed to be carefully navigating the line between telling us all the horror stories about our country that we know very well and respecting that we do indeed know those stories well. They couldn’t not address those stories head on – dealing with reality is the fuel driving the Democratic party’s train – but they had to find ways to do it that didn’t bludgeon the audience with so much existential doom that we were left feeling hopeless.
Part of how they effectively threaded the needle was by reminding us of the stories of us that have gotten painfully short shrift in Trump America – the stories of pulling together around a common cause, of kindness and compassion, of empathy and sacrifice. It was as though they treated what we’ve been through, and really, what we are still going through, like a bedtime story that a kind intelligent parent might tell their kind intelligent children. A story where the scary hard parts aren’t skipped over but are talked over and where the choices between going low and going high aren’t skirted but are weighed out and where the personal qualities of the protagonists and the villains aren’t just window dressing but are the heart of the narrative.
Another aspect of the needle threading that I found compelling and comforting was that they made clear the Biden/Harris campaign is about is mending the big tent, stitching and patching up the holes and at the same time, making sure the flaps are rolled up and everyone knows they are welcome. There didn’t seem to be much effort towards making the mending invisible. If anything, they seemed to sense that it’s actually better not to pretend that we’re all one big happy, completely harmonious family that’s agreed to use the beige thread and only the beige thread forever more. They seemed to be inviting more of a patchwork quilt sort of deal with all sorts of stitching – zigzag, blanket stitch, running stitch – whatever stitch on whatever color and pattern of fabric each of us might know how to do on whatever we have handy.
Next to Michelle Obama’s necklace, this is actually the part I liked the best – all the different kinds of people we got to see and hear from. In essence, we got to see ourselves and we got to hear from ourselves because there was almost certainly someone on screen sharing a bit of their story who we could relate to and see ourselves in. I hadn’t realized how hungry I was for that, how much I’ve missed that kind of affirmation and validation. I hope others feel that too and that we all realize that it’s not too much to ask that our leaders commit to seeing and hearing us, to considering our realities and our futures. It’s really not too much to ask, and really, it’s everything.
May we have leaders who care about our safety.
May we be willing to let go of drama in exchange for leadership invested in our happiness.
May we choose leaders who will do what’s needed to safeguard all of us and our democracy.
May we accept that strength is inclusive, strength is diverse.