Every four years, we elect a president and with this comes the national party conventions. Last week, I attended my first Democratic National Convention (DNC) as an elected delegate and it was an amazing experience.
The original plan was to have all of the elected delegates from across the country convene in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, but we moved to a virtual format due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The virtual format actually allowed delegates to hear from many more people individually and participate in many more issue caucus meetings than if we had moved around a convention hall in person.
During the day, we had caucus meetings for a diverse range of groups including the Interfaith Community, Seniors, Native Americans, Hispanics, AAPI, African Americans, LGBT, Youth and Women. We also had issue caucus meetings including Small Businesses, Environmental and Climate Crisis, Labor and Poverty. These caucus meetings allowed delegates to ask direct questions and get specific answers on issues that were on the Democratic Party platform.
In the evenings, we had short video and live statements from Democratic leaders including senators Bernie Sanders, Cory Booker and Elizabeth Warren, as well as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.
What I found most valuable was the opportunity to hear from people that were not necessarily Democrats or politically inclined, just people and their experiences and what they would like to see happen over the next four years. We talked with a diverse range of people who are confronting racism, joblessness, homelessness and economic and health recovery from COVID-19. We heard from environmental activists, teachers, and religious and business leaders.
After speaking with many of these caucus leaders, I felt much more of a one-on-one connection with them and the commitment they share for democratic ideals and navigating the legislative process. Their commitment to civic engagement was inspiring. If we had been at an in-person convention, I doubt we would have had this level of contact with these leaders.
The highlights of the Democratic National Convention were many but here were some for me.
Michelle Obama spoke on the first night of the convention and she was incredible. Michelle had a front row seat for the eight years of the Obama administration and her words on compassion, civic action and the importance of this election were on-point. One of my favorite lines was:
“A president’s words have the power to move markets. They can start wars or broker peace. They can summon our better angels or awaken our worst instincts. You simply cannot fake your way through this job.”
Small Business Council: Build Back Better
Most jobs in this country come from small businesses and we need to make it easier to start a small business because entrepreneurship is foundational to the American spirit. Vibrant small businesses bring virtues and values that our local communities thrive on. Entrepreneurs are our community leaders. The COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on small businesses has been devastating. Small businesses will need to be agile as they rebuild, retool and reinvest to move forward.
We heard from several members of Congress who own small businesses. They discussed what it takes to start a small business, the pressures of startup costs, regulatory hurdles, and the specific challenges that minorities face when starting a new business and trying to access capital.
We talked with small business owners who had a challenging time accessing the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) that we will need to reinforce as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to threaten the viability of small businesses. The Biden-Harris proposal to ensure that only small businesses receive the PPP funds, and not large corporations, was widely applauded.
Council on the Environmental and Climate Crisis
A recent Pew poll released in June showed strong bipartisan majorities for creating green energy jobs, sustainable energy and planting carbon-absorbing trees. These policies are part of the Democratic Platform and the Biden-Harris Environmental Plan. In addition, many of the oil and coal-powered plants are disproportionally located adjacent to poorer neighborhoods and minority communities. Environmental justice seeks to remedy that history of racism and classism.
Bold, systemic changes only come from aiming high. Our environment and global climate change cannot wait for incremental changes. We must act now to preserve a future worth living for future generations.
We heard from our Governor Jay Inslee, who has become a national leader in climate change and was known at the convention as the “Climate Change Governor.” Governor Inslee discussed some successful strategies at the state level and how we can implement similar strategies at the national level. He spoke about the scale of the Biden environmental and climate plan, and step-by-step plans to phase out fossil fuels and implement green energy. He emphasized the need to always have climate justice as top-of-mind in every environmental proposal.
My experience at the DNC, despite it being a virtual meeting, affirmed my belief in the ideals of progressive social justice, environmental protection and climate change, reinforcing our local small businesses and seeking change through civic action and community building. I am looking forward to the election this fall and continuing to do my part to stir up, as the late Congressman John Lewis said, “good trouble.”
Jason Ritchie currently serves on Sammamish City Council as a councilmember. He was a first-time delegate at the 2020 Democratic National Convention.