“Alexa, Play the Democratic National Convention”: Night One Preview

August 17, 2020

Michelle Obama, Bernie Sanders, Democratic & Republican Leaders to Kickoff the Coalition for Biden-Harris

By Al Giordano

Live from hundreds of corners of America, the 2020 Democratic National Convention underway today will more resemble a telethon than the packed-arena spectacles of party nominations since the dawn of the TV era.

The many working parts of the coalition to defeat Donald Trump – a somewhat wider tent than Democrats have been able to construct in recent memory – will feature speeches and interventions ranging from national political leaders to up-and-coming rising stars and with increased speaking roles for ordinary and unknown American citizens who have been tapped to tell their stories.

We’ll walk you through the announced schedule and address some of the internecine tensions that have surfaced surround it in a moment. But first, here is your guide, with links, on all the varied ways one can watch or stream the event over the next four days.

The Democratic National Committee has set up a live stream to watch the unfettered primetime proceedings from 9 to 11 p.m. ET each night, free of the ads and talking-pundit interruptions that TV networks will add. ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC will broadcast only the headliner events in the 10 p.m. ET hour.

C-Span, CNN, MSNBC and PBS will air the full two hour primetime show starting at 9 ET.

There will be live streams on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media sites, as well as Amazon Fire, Amazon Prime, Apple TV and Roku streaming services.

Those with Amazon’s Alexa app will need only say, “Alexa, play the Democratic National Convention” to get the media systems blaring (I’ve always wondered how households with a real person named Alexa cope with what must be regular interruptions provoked by everyday conversations; the only thing worse, in 2020, I imagine must be for those through no fault of their own are named Karen).

The live proceedings will also be available via AT&T DirectTV, AT&T U-Verse, Comcast Xfinity Flex & X1 and with Playstation 4 PSVR game boxes.

Many media and online networks will bracket the show with their own pre- and post-game talking-heads shows. Stephen Colbert will follow with Ambassador Susan Rice on Monday, Senator Elizabeth Warren on Tuesday, Senator Bernie Sanders on Wednesday and Secretary Hillary Clinton on Thursday to offer their reflections on each night’s events.

What We Know About Tonight’s Convention Schedule

If past is prologue, the exact roster and order of speakers usually includes some surprises, but here is what we know six hours before showtime.

According to the official convention website, Monday’s headliners – certainly they’ll speak in the 10 p.m. ET hour when all the networks are tuned in – are Bernie Sanders, who has pre-taped an eight-minute speech, and Michelle Obama, likely with the longest appearance of the evening.

Other headliners on the DNC schedule for tonight are Senators Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Cathleen Cortez Masto of Nevada and Doug Jones of Alabama, Governors Andrew Cuomo of New York and Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, US Reps. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, host-city Milwaukee’s charismatic political leader and House member Gwen Moore and Rep. Benny Thompson of Mississippi, the convention chair. Singer-songwriter Maggie Rogers and soul sensation Leon Bridges will pop in with musical entertainment.

Not yet listed on the DNC schedule but expected to have a choice primetime slot is former Republican presidential candidate and Ohio governor John Kasich. He will be joined by other GOP leaders who are endorsing Biden-Harris: former New Jersey governor Christine Todd Whitman, CEO Meg Whitman, a prominent Republican, and former US Rep. (R-NY) Susan Molinari, who addressed the 1996 Republican convention.

There is also much yet-confirmed chatter that former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg may speak tonight or on a different night, to be announced.

On the left side of the coalition tent, US Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York will also speak, reportedly to place Sanders’ name into nomination, a mere formality since Sanders and she have already thrown their support behind Biden-Harris.

The Year of the Armchair Stage Manager

As one who has stage-managed political rallies, rock concerts, workshops, conferences, political roasts and other ceremonies, I can tell you that it is a truly thankless job.

As one who has floor-managed political conventions from Massachusetts to Pennsylvania, and has fronted for various rock bands over the decades, I’ve also been one of the guilty parties torturing those stage managers to secure more stage time and better placement. I’ve looked at hell from both sides now!

The poor stage manager! She and he have to juggle huge egos, all of whom believe they are deserving of greater status and billing – especially compared to “the other guy.”

When it comes to a political convention all the divas, er, very very important political leaders count with constituents who identify with them and adopt all perceived sleights as their own. The Democrats are disrespecting the (fill in the blank) base of the party! It’s endless and tiresome.

Then there is everybody else not invited on stage, they and their supporters steaming over their alleged exclusion. And their fans, absolutely rip-shit that so-and-so gets to speak but my fave can’t?

And when it comes to weaving together a coalition to win an election each of those factions contain cohorts that don’t believe or even grasp what a coalition is: by definition one brings together people and forces that have squabbled or opposed each other in the past, and probably will down the road as well. But for one glorious year and cause all the moving pieces are united.

God’s Minute, Our Eternity

Upon learning she was allotted just one minute for her intervention, Rep. Ocasio-Cortez tweeted a poem, God’s Minute, by civil rights leader Dr. Benjamin Mays:

I only have a minute.
Sixty seconds in it.
Forced upon me, I did not choose it,
But I know that I must use it.
Give account if I abuse it.
Suffer, if I lose it.
Only a tiny little minute,
But eternity is in it.

It was a beautiful and tasteful use of the verse, the same one the late US Rep. Elijah Cummings recited in his very first US House speech and carried around in his wallet for life. Speaking strictly for me, it’s exactly how I would look upon a minute of primetime TV if offered it. The short version: What a great honor! I sure don’t want to blow it!

Meanwhile, detractors of the rising political star known as AOC portrayed the poetry as her somehow complaining about the time limit, while her sometimes cultish stans portrayed the limit as an affront to either progressives or the young.

Others pointed out that other up-and-coming proven talents of the 2018 congressional class have not been invited to speak in primetime. They include US Reps. Ayanna Pressley (MA), Katie Porter (CA), Deb Haaland (NM), Lauren Underwood (IL), Beth Luria (VA), Donna Shalala (FL), Sharice Davids (KS), Lucy McBath (GA), Anthony Delgado (NY) and Andy Kim (NJ).

But they don’t have AOC’s star power! Beto O’Rourke and Julian Castro do, but they are not so far listed on the convention stage roster at all.

All of this is normal. AOC and every other speaker on the stage were selected based on long deliberations, polling, focus groups, Electoral College geography and other data, balanced and calculated to produce a convention show that shores up and bolsters voter turnout of key sectors of the Democratic base while also persuading the small group of swing voters who might still vote either way.

Too much of the complaining chatter on social media and elsewhere comes from those of what might be called the anti-coalition impulse, from those who seem to labor under the illusion that politics is a game of subtraction and not addition. Sometimes I call it vanguard politics. The approach – it never actually works to win battles – is to define the right side of a conflict so narrowly that only a leader and his or her acolytes can be considered pure or true. Everybody else in that equation is either the enemy or its enabler.

AOC will, I have no doubt, use her precious minute better than speakers allotted more time will use theirs. She has skills. Her posting of the poem, to me, indicates she gets that. I’m looking forward to her minute, and the eternity in it.

Coalitions 101: Embrace the Big Tent

Rule Number One: If you’re in a tent where nobody makes you feel uncomfortable, it’s not a coalition! What is so hard about that for some people to get?

Yes, they all did terrible things in the past. They look at us and feel the same way. Yes, they will do horrible things in the future. So will we, depending on who’s asked. But it’s truly glorious when for even that eternal minute formerly (or future) opposing forces can coalesce around a greater shared goal and good. Amazing grace, how sweet the sound!

Having attended or reported every Democratic National Convention since I was a teenager in 1976, I truly love these events, because they weave coalition, not in spite of it. Kamala Harris and I were two of the young people at the 1992 convention in New York, partying at the Apollo Theater uptown in Harlem at an event hosted by California political leader Willie Brown. In 2008, in Denver with Barack Obama, we had just learned that we’d be ridin’ with Biden as VP. That, too, was a coalition that took some getting used to!

All week I’ll be reporting to you here at Organize & Win the news and insight I pick up from these proceedings. When a convention is virtual, we all have floor credentials. I may even pop my head through some other media windows. Stay tuned, enjoy the show, spread the good words spoken, and embrace the coalition. If enough of us do, we can win it all – up and down the ticket – this year.

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