2016 Democratic National Convention, Night Two: Black Lives Matter

Day two of the Democratic National Convention kicked off with the roll call, during which every delegation got to step to the microphone and speak their votes triumphantly into the arena. It’s a thing that somehow always manages to pierce my cynical heart and make me weepy and patriotic. Bernie Sanders’ brother, Larry, casting the last vote for Democrats Abroad, was especially touching.

And then I got to watch something I never thought I’d see in my lifetime: A woman getting the official presidential nomination of a major political party. In a very classy move, Bernie came down to the floor to stand with the Vermont delegation and make a motion that Hillary Clinton receive the party’s nomination. It was an important symbolic gesture that President Obama called to thank him for after the convention. (Hillary made a similar move in 2008 by asking for Obama to be nominated by acclamation.) A small group of Sanders supporters staged a walkout, but the consensus among reporters in the arena was that the mood and energy of the moment was ecstatic.

It was also another great contrast between last week’s Republican National Convention, which spent its first 30 minutes of primetime after the roll call showing Paul Ryan standing alone on stage with his jaw clenched while the rules committee hashed out a way to explain to Alaska that they had to vote for Donald Trump.

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Mothers of the Movement

The most stunning moment of the Democratic National Convention so far — and, in fact, one of the most stunning things I have ever witnessed in my life — was Mothers of the Movement taking the stage to honor their children: Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, Jordan Davis, Dontré Hamilton, and Hadiya Pendleton. They stood together and exhibited more grace and strength and compassion than I’ve ever seen, and in the face of the worst tragedy that could ever befall a parent, in a country fraught with systemic and overt racism. The video above is a longer version of the one the DNC showed before the Mothers took the stage; you can watch the full video of their speeches here.

It’s an especially poignant moment to witness in light of today’s news that charges have been dropped against all the officers involved in Freddie Gray’s death.

Not only did the Mothers of the Movement give Black Lives Matter its most prominent moment in the spotlight to date, it also made the strongest argument yet that Republicans do not own faith. It’s a theme we’ve seen crop up more than once in Hillary’s campaign, especially since Tim Kaine hopped on board, and it’s no small feat to try to beat back the notion that the GOP is the party of Christianity.

Sandra Bland’s mother, Reed-Veal, quieted the crowd immediately when the first words she spoke into the microphone were: “Give me two moments to tell you how good God is. Give me a moment to say thank you. We are not standing here because He’s not good. We are standing here because He’s great.”

They didn’t just say it; they lived it in front of the entire world.


Celebrities

Between the politicians and activists, the night was peppered with short speeches and performances by celebrities. In fact, the entire event was hosted by Elizabeth Banks, who arrived in the arena as a silhouette against a bright white backlight, engulfed in smoke, and continued to troll Donald Trump for the rest of the night.

America Ferrera and Lena Dunham did a pretty solid “Trump Is Making America Hate Again” bit.

Alicia Keys performed flawlessly (of course).

Meryl Streep arrived in an American flag dress and did a whoop of joy before giving a short speech about what it takes for a woman to be the “first female anything.”

And many celebrities you care about joined in an a capella “Fight Song” collaboration.


Bill Clinton

Bill Clinton delivered a long, rambling, very endearing How I Met Your Mother-style keynote address that attempted (and in many way succeeded) in reintroducing the country to Hillary Clinton. He walked the audience through their life together, from the moment he first saw her on Yale law school’s campus to yesterday morning when they cried together over the loss of a dear friend. Again and again he came back to the same point: Hillary Clinton has made a life out of being being the change-maker Americans need.

“I met a girl” is how he started the speech. And then he painted a real picture of a real woman who has spent her entire life going from state to state and country to country making things better. And then the former president asked everyone to compare that painting to the cartoon villain the Republican party has been convincing Americans Hillary Clinton is ever since she said she’d rather read policy papers than bake cookies.

Rachel Maddow haaaaated it. She called it “shocking and rude.” But the rest of the press went bananas for it. I went bananas for it, and I am absolutely no fan of Bill Clinton. And, look, I get it: We shouldn’t need a man to humanize a woman for us, but since 1940, when Eleanor Roosevelt stepped up to convince Americans to reelect her husband, we have required First Ladies to come to the stage and humanize their husbands at their party’s convention. We shouldn’t need a man to list off the accomplishments of a woman to validate her contributions to society, but history has been erasing women for centuries, and so someone has to bear witness to what we accomplish.

The main message of Bill Clinton’s speech was that Hillary, like all women, has done the hard and invisible work, while he, like most men, stood in the spotlight. Slate called it Bill Clinton’s Love Song. Vox said he reframed himself as a supporting player in Hillary’s life. New York Magazine applauded him for finally doing what Hillary has done for him for his entire career.

President Obama, Vice President Biden, and Tim Kaine will take the stage tonight. I’ve got to believe their focus will be split between extolling the virtues of Hillary Clinton and ripping Donald Trump to shreds.

Heather Hogan is an Autostraddle managing editor who lives in New York City with her partner, Stacy, and their cackle of rescued pets. She's a member of the Television Critics Association, the Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer critic. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Heather has written 904 articles for us.

13 Comments

  1. You articulated everything that I’ve been thinking about since last night RE: Bill Clinton’s speech.

    On one hand: We shouldn’t need men to humanize women, on the other: humanizing the candidate is the job of the political spouse. At some point, I think, Bill had to show that to do that and also that he’s willing to step back and be a supporting – as opposed to star- player in her campaign.

    On one hand: That speech was long, rambling, and bordered on tedious at parts. A man shouldn’t have to list off a women’s accomplishments for them to be seen as true. On the other: If he didn’t, then who would? So much of what Hillary did, she did with no fanfare. And if we’ve learned anything not only from this election cycle, but from 2008- no one is giving her credit for that work. Even last night one of the MSNBC commentators referred to it as “Bill Clinton doing Hillary Clinton Trivia Night”. TRIVIA NIGHT?!?!? Her life work amounts to trivia? That is how men belittle the hard work of women. And so, I think the speech was demonstratively necessary.

    I know that Maddow hated it, but I really loved the “I met a girl” line. It just captured my heart. I’m a sap that way. But I think it also plays well to the press. I saw it on headlines from Jezebel to People Magazine to Cosmo to the NYTimes.

    • To be fair, Maddow hated the beginning, but liked the end. And she (and Nicole Wallace) specifically said she didn’t like the beginning because of the way Bill introduced Hillary as just “a girl” and the slightly creepy stalker-esque way he talked about the early days of their courtship.

      I saw her commentary about the speech before I actually watched the speech itself, and I agree with you that the “I met a girl” beginning was adorable. I really didn’t have a problem with it at all. But I do sort of get where Maddow is coming from when she talked about it being the right speech given by the wrong person, considering what the entire world knows about their relationship.

  2. And, THE MOTHERS OF THE MOVEMENT! It’s the one speech I hope everyone listens to. I watched it and couldn’t stop crying. But it is so important.

    Black women and black mothers have long been the back bone of black activism in this country. I was telling a friend that I couldn’t stop thinking of Mamie Till, who’s son Emmett was brutally beaten to death as a preteen for supposedly “looking at a white woman” in sexual manner in one of the moments that many credit with starting the Civil Rights Movement.

    Long before Trayvon Martin or Michael Brown, Emmett Till was the story that black parents told their children, their sons, as a warning call. Anyway, Emmett was beaten beyond recognition. Almost any parent would have asked for a closed casket at the burial, looking was too much to bare. But not Mamie. Not only did she have an open casket, she invited JET and Ebony magazine (two of the biggest black presses of the time) to come and take pictures. She said she wanted “the world to know” what they did to her baby.

    I never, ever forget her story. And when I look at the Mothers of Movement…. yall. Black mothers shouldn’t have to do this. No one should.

    • No, they absolutely should not have to do it. The fact that they shouldn’t have to and do it anyway, and with the goal of spreading love and hope and creating real change, is too much grace for me to even comprehend. Watching them last night, rewatching that video this morning, I am struck by the fact that they came to GIVE. I saw someone on Twitter say that, once again, black women have saved this party. Yes! Look at where the soul of these last two nights came from: Michelle Obama and Mothers of the Movement.

      I can’t help but contrast this reality with the dog-whistling racism Fox News embarked on from the moment Obama announced his candidacy. “He’s a black president who is appealing to black voters who just ‘want stuff.'” Literally, that is what Bill O’Reilley said the night he was reelected. Playing into these propagandic stereotypes of black people. If anyone has a right to take something, it’s the Mothers of the Movement. They lost their children to unchecked violence by white men! In 2016! Yet, they didn’t come to take comfort or fame or even take out their righteous anger on the DNC. They came to GIVE to all of us. They demonstrated the deep racism of the GOP and the conservative punditry cycle by simply existing in their grace.

      I said this last night on Twitter, and it’s true: The Republican party robbed me of my faith. The witness of Mothers of the Movement made me want to place my hope in the rock solid foundation on which they have found their strength.

      • Yes, Heather, YES!

        And since you mentioned the dog whistle politics of Fox News, I should note that it was reported last night that Fox chose not to run the Mothers of Movement segment live. They were the only cable news station that made the decision to omit them. Instead, Fox showed an interview with Karl Rove about demonstrations outside the convention, and a Bill O’Reilly-moderated segment about immigration.

        http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/democratic-convention-fox-news-doesnt-914853?utm_source=twitter

        This is how you rob black people of their humanity. Both it what you say, and in this moment, what you don’t say. Fox has spent how many hours demonizing the black victims of police brutality and justifying the police that committed the murders? And they won’t even grant the mothers their time at the microphone? They purposefully cut away? I don’t have the words.

        But I try not to give in to the anger. Michelle Obama said it best: “When they go low, we go high”.

        I just continue to try and walk with these women. And hope we all keep doing the good work so that, one day, hopefully sooner than later, more women don’t have to join them.

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      He wasn’t beat to death, Emmett Till was killed by single gunshot to the head then dumped into a river.
      But I think he woulda died from the beating he was given before he was shot…I could detail why I think that but what I’ve already stated is enough.

      I’ll never forget his face, his cheery young living face with his mother Mrs. Mamie Till sitting next to him her arm on his shoulder smiling.
      As long as I live I’ll never forget because I was so young and even he looked like a kid to me.
      Innocent in ways I wasn’t and happy.

      Sorry if this is morbid, or possibly upsetting and off topic it just affected me deeply as child and I can’t stop myself sometimes.

  3. Thanks for this recap, Heather! I was impressed with Bill’s speech. I think he did a good job highlighting Clinton’s accomplishments. In an ideal world, we wouldn’t need men to get that message across, but oftentimes men are most receptive to other men. Additionally, I learned more about Clinton’s past than from other speeches about her and I feel more confident that she will indeed stick to the progressive agenda that she’s laid out. I can’t wait to watch the Mothers of the Movement speech. I hope every single person who can’t see the (huge, glaring, important) differences between Trump and Clinton start paying attention to these speeches.

  4. I’m Canadian, and I wasn’t really engaged in American politics back in 2008, and in 2012 the Democratic nominee was obviously a foregone conclusion so I didn’t really pay attention to their convention that year, so this is the first time I’ve watched a convention roll call, and a convention nominate a presidential candidate. And I have to say, I didn’t think it would really affect me that much, but holy CRAP. I was tearing up during that roll call. Bernie’s brother really got to me, Hillary’s friend from Illinois got to me. The whole thing was really, really moving, and that really surprised me.

  5. I do want to point out though, and I’m sorry if this kills everyone’s buzz a bit, but Bernie DIDN’T actually call for Hillary to receive the party’s nomination by acclamation. Rachel Maddow explained this really well last night, which is the only reason I know it at all. Bernie moved for her to be nominated, yes, but he actually asked that the roll call be recorded so that every individual vote is marked down for history. Instead of pretending that Hillary was nominated “by acclamation” (aka unanimously) Bernie moved that the delegate votes for HIM be recorded for posterity so that history shows he received 1800+ votes. So while yes, it’s gracious of him to be the one to officially nominate Hillary, it was ALSo kind of a dick move on his part, and not quite the same as what Hillary did for Obama in 2008. I don’t dislike Bernie, but I haven’t been pleased with the way he’s been stealing Hillary’s thunder throughout this entire convention.

    • Those votes deserve to be recorded. What he did for millions of people in this country deserves to be recorded and remembered. He’s inspired millions. That can’t be denied and shouldn’t be forgotten.

  6. I’m still not feeling easy about the Democratic Party. Things just feel… off. It seems like they’re misrepresenting “more progressive than the other guys” as actual progressivism.

    I guess I can’t catch the celebratory mood when I’m watching the proceedings and thinking, “better, but not remotely good enough.”

  7. I thought Bill’s speech was note perfect. And I rolled my eyes hard at Rachel Maddow’s comments.

    The Mothers of the Movement were stunning to me. The comments from Sandra Bland’s mother, quoted in this article, were particularly touching. I cried for quite a while after listening to them and the the mother of one of the Orlando victims. I’m sorry I can’t remember her name.

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