As Americans watched from their well-worn couches, where many of us have spent almost all of our time for five months, the Democratic National Convention took its viewers on a coast-to-coast road trip.
Delegates from the states and territories announced their vote tallies before backdrops meant to be representative of their homes: wind turbines in Ohio, the neon Las Vegas sign in Nevada, a verdant forest in South Dakota, Joe Biden’s old home in Scranton, Pennsylvania.
Some, like New York, tossed a schtick in with the boilerplate: “It’s Joe time!”
Some, like Utah, spent its seconds making a political statement. The delegate spoke about the state’s longtime use of universal vote-by-mail, highlighting its reliability — a clear counterpoint to the voter fraud fear mongering spread daily by President Donald Trump.
Biden’s home state of Delaware gave its presentation at an Amtrak station, a nod to his famous origin story. The delegates passed the first time around, preserving for themselves the honor of putting “Delaware’s favorite son” over the top, making him the official nominee of the Democratic party.
The montage had an energy completely different than the absolute chaos that usually marks the convention’s roll calls. In a normal, non-pandemic year, dozens of delegates crowd behind a handheld microphone to shout their vote tallies above the din of a jam-packed conference hall. They wear silly hats and shill for their states’ exports and brag about the greats they’ve produced.
This time, it just felt different. Almost like the Parade of Nations at the Olympics’ opening ceremony, each state sought to showcase its natural beauty and to excitedly – but calmly — announce its nominations. Of course, some states found that old habits die hard: looking at you, Rhode Island, with a platter of fried fish to mark you out as the “calamari comeback state.”
It was also a moment of unity, even levity, amid a night that featured some very heavy moments, including a health care package showcasing Ady Barkan, an activist who was diagnosed with ALS in 2016.
Ultimately, it was a roll call that only would’ve happened during the pandemic, and it was moving because of it. For many of us, as our lives ground to a standstill these past few months, our views have been reduced to the streets outside our windows and the faces over our computer cameras.
There was something very powerful about seeing Americans of all kinds, from every corner of the country, with different accents, many masked and standing feet from each other, coming together to nominate the Democratic candidate.