Everyday Americans Were the Stars of the DNC

The centering of their voices served as a reminder that lawmakers work at the behest of the people — not the other way around

Brayden Harrington addresses the Democratic National Convention. Photo: Handout/Getty Images

Decked in a coral-colored shirt and standing in his poster-covered bedroom, 13-year-old Brayden Harrington told the story of a meeting that changed his life. See, Brayden has a stutter, and so does Democratic nominee Joe Biden. When their paths crossed in New Hampshire in February, Brayden saw himself reflected in the vice president. “He told me that we were members of the same club. We… ” Brayden said in a video address that was broadcast on the final night of the Democratic National Convention, closing his eyes as he drew out an “s” sound and pushed through his impediment, “… stutter.” Throughout his two-minute speech, Brayden stumbled a few more times, but his cool demeanor never broke. He showed a piece of paper to the camera: “He showed me how he marks his addresses, to make them easier to say out loud,” Brayden said, smiling. ‘So I did the same thing today.”

To see that Biden showed a young boy that a stutter wouldn’t hold him back from his dreams made for one of the most touching moments of the convention. And it underscored that the true stars of the DNC were everyday Americans.

Jacquelyn Brittany, a security guard who met the vice president in the elevator of the New York Times building and who had the honor of nominating him during the states’ roll call. Kristin Urquiza spoke beautifully of her father, a Trump voter who died of coronavirus. Estela Juarez, an 11-year-old girl whose mother was deported to Mexico and whose father is a U.S. Marine, said that Trump “tore our world apart.” DeAndra Dycus delivered a searing speech on gun violence, speaking on how her son, DeAndre, can no longer speak or feed himself after being shot in the back of the head at a party six years ago. He was only 13.

When they talked about how their lives have been upended, we could feel their pain.

So-called “normal people” have always been a staple of conventions, but this year’s format allowed their speeches to pack a more emotional punch. As the coronavirus pandemic has ravaged the country with no end in sight and millions remain inside their homes after five months, the intimate nature of the addresses made people feel closer than ever — even if it was through a screen. We saw inside their bedrooms and their living rooms. Their joy and their anger and their pain were clear in their eyes and voices, and it made viewers see themselves reflected in their lived experiences.

Their messages were more powerful than anything political insiders, billionaires, and Never Trump Republicans had to say. Unlike the empty-sounding words of a John Kasich or a Mike Bloomberg, these everyday folks appeared as real, three-dimensional people, and when they talked about how their lives have been upended — either by the Trump administration or by the systems that existed long before him — we could feel their pain.

A running theme of the convention was “We, The People.” It’s easy to feel jaded at those iconic words in the U.S. constitution, particularly as the nation’s current standing doesn’t work for many. It doesn’t work for those acquiring thousands of dollars in medical debt because they don’t have access to affordable health care. It doesn’t work for those who continue to face discrimination in every facet of their lives solely because of their race, sexual orientation, or gender identity. It doesn’t work for those who don’t get paid fair wages nor receive the workplace protections they deserve. It doesn’t work for those who live in the nation’s five colonies. It doesn’t work for those who live in communities ravaged by the gun violence epidemic, or the opioid epidemic, or climate change. The list goes on.

The challenges of America are many, and can lead to deep apathy and hopelessness. But centering the voices of everyday Americans at the DNC served as a striking reminder that lawmakers work at the behest of the people — not the other way around.

Award-winning journalist covering politics, gender, race, activism, and more. Puertorriqueña.

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