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What It's Like To Be A Delegate For A Virtual DNC?


After Democrats lost Wisconsin to Donald Trump in 2016, the party vowed not to take the state for granted. One way to make it a priority - hold the 2020 Democratic convention in Milwaukee. But because of the coronavirus pandemic, everything from the nomination votes to Joe Biden's acceptance speech will happen virtually. What does that mean to be a delegate to a virtual convention? Maayan Silver of member station WUWM in Milwaukee went to find out.

MAAYAN SILVER, BYLINE: For months, Milwaukee was preparing for an influx of 50,000 people - to wine and dine them on local favorites, like cheese curds and cream puffs, and put on a big political show. Instead, the city will get remote broadcasts and online streaming to the disappointment of some.

DEIADRA QUEARY: It's just like being a kid on Christmas. It's like somebody canceling Christmas.

SILVER: That's Deiadra Queary of Milwaukee, a first-time delegate for Biden.

QUEARY: You know, you've been good all year, you wrote your letter, you set up, you know, and then somebody cancels Christmas. That's a lot to deal with, you know?

SILVER: She's standing outside the Wisconsin Center in the city's downtown, where Democrats had planned to hold a scaled-down convention until last week. Now very little will happen there. Query says it's the responsible thing to do, and she's still enthusiastic about encouraging people to vote for Biden.

QUEARY: My focus is young people, and in particular young Black males. So I will talk to young men that I see in the store. I talk to them in the restaurants because I want to know what's on their minds. And I want to know what their hiccups are.

SILVER: In addition to solidifying the Democrats' message, the convention is usually a place for schmoozing, says Wisconsin state Representative LaKeshia Myers. She was a delegate in 2016.

LAKESHIA MYERS: So I was able to meet Bernie. I was able to meet Cory Booker and have my picture taken with him. So that was one of the fun things that happened.

SILVER: Myers will be a Biden delegate this year, voting for him from her computer. She says delegates this year will be missing out on longtime traditions.

MYERS: Button trading is very, very popular when you go to Democratic conventions. There are people who have buttons from the '68 convention, '72 convention. So, you know, I actually was able to trade for an original ERA button.

SILVER: Not everyone is as disappointed by the change in the convention's format. Vik Verma is a Biden delegate and vice chair of the Lincoln County Democrats. It's a swing county in north-central Wisconsin.

VIK VERMA: By watching these events and seeing the vice president with no applause, there's just a focus on what he's talking about. And I can only speak for myself. I very much enjoyed watching it in that way.

SILVER: While they won't be showing up in person, many delegates are putting their energy into political activism this summer. About three and a half hours northwest of Milwaukee, in Eau Claire, Wis., Bobbi Green is stapling Biden for Wisconsin yard signs together in her pickup truck. She's taking them to houses in a congressional district that swung from Obama to Trump in 2016.

BOBBI GREEN: Just going to jump out. I'll be right back.

SILVER: As she's delivering one, a neighbor asks where she got it.

GREEN: What? The Biden sign? Yeah, at the Eau Claire County Democratic Party headquarters office. Do you want one? Yeah? I got another one. Hold on.

SILVER: While Green is disappointed about the convention going virtual, she's trying to remain upbeat.

GREEN: I've got a little bit of Zoom fatigue, to be honest with you, just because that's how all of our meetings for everything have been lately. So in that way, I'm dreading it. But at the same time, I think that he's going to use this convention as kind of a way to assure us that we can straighten this ship out.

SILVER: While Milwaukee won't wind up hosting the convention, Democrats hope voters here will jump onboard. For NPR News, I'm Maayan Silver in Milwaukee.

(SOUNDBITE OF KRAFTWERK SONG, "COMPUTER WORLD") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Maayan Silver is an intern with WUWM's Lake Effect program. She is a practicing criminal defense attorney, NPR listener and student of journalism and radio production.
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