Into the DNC and Black Lives
Archival Recording: Delaware is proud to cast its 32 votes for our favorite son (APPLAUSE) and our next president.
Archival Recording: Our friend, Delaware's Joe Biden. (CHEERING)
Trymaine Lee: Well, it's now official. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are the ticket.
Joe Biden: Well, thank you very, very much from the bottom of my heart. Thank you all. It means the world to me and my family. (CHEERING)
Kamala Harris: I accept your nomination for vice president of the United States of America.
Lee: And the first virtual Democratic National Convention, forced online by COVID-19, is over.
Michelle Obama: Donald Trump is the wrong president for our country.
Lee: The past four days have been filled with attacks on President Trump.
Obama: He is clearly in over his head.
Lee: There were emotional moments.
Kristin Urquiza: After the stay-at-home order was lifted in Arizona, my dad went to a karaoke bar with his friends. A few weeks later, he was put on a ventilator. And after five agonizing days, he died alone, in the ICU with a nurse holding his hand.
Lee: And the national roll call that featured cars...
Archival Recording: And a lot of folks wanted to let Detroit go bankrupt. But Joe Biden believed in us...
Lee: And beaches...
Archival Recording: California, home to our next vice president, Kamala Harris.
Lee: And even a plate of fried seafood.
Archival Recording: The calamari comeback state of Rhode Island casts one vote for Bernie Sanders and 34 votes for the next president, Joe Biden.
Lee: But as it all unfolded, something we'd been wondering about and watching for is how and whether the party, and the speakers, and now the candidates would address a critical issue: racial justice.
Protest Leader: No justice.
Protesters: No peace.
Protest Leader: No racists.
Protesters: No peace.
Lee: The Black lives lost to police violence.
Protesters: George Floyd, George Floyd.
Lee: The growing demands in streets across America--
Protesters: I can't breathe. I can't breathe. I can't breathe.
Lee: --not only for words but for actions, to show that Black lives do matter. (MUSIC) I'm Trymaine Lee, and this is Into America. We're asking Jamira Burley, one of America's most prominent Black millennial activists: How did Biden/Harris and the Democrats do this week on racial justice?
Jamira Burley has been an activist since she was 15, growing up in Philadelphia. She's based in New York City now, and she's part of a panel discussion on tape with Joe Biden on the convention's opening night. We first talked to her on Thursday morning and then again late on Thursday night, after Joe Biden's speech. Jamira, thank you so much for joining us. I want to ask you just out the gate: Do you support the Biden/Harris ticket?
Jamira Burley: Hell yes. I do think that they are representative of what this country needs. I can't survive another four years of Donald Trump.
Lee: So it's one thing to support a ticket, but you have a long history of activism around social justice and criminal justice issues, gun violence. Did you get what you were expecting out of the DNC in terms of them acknowledging or addressing these issues so far?
Burley: Yeah. I mean, I have high expectations. Some of them have been met. I think one of my expectations was that folks were blatantly honest when they talked about Black folks, right? It wasn't putting all minority communities together, which I think all of us fall fault to.
And I was very appreciative when many of the speakers talked specifically about Black Lives Matter, talked specifically about the racial uprising around the country and how in many ways the American government and institutions have failed folks for so long.
So I was inspired by that, and I do think that there can be more conversations around economic development, how we can better invest in communities across the board, and how we can create more comprehensive communities where folks are thriving and not just getting by.
Lee: Which moments over the last couple nights have stuck with you? Do any stand out?
Burley: To be honest, I love the heavy hitters. I mean, I'm a Hillary fan. I'm a Michelle Obama fan. But I think the ones that were the most touching both the first and second night were just hearing from everyday voters.
Archival Recording: We've literally had to reinvent our business several times since the beginning of the year just to stay afloat.
Archival Recording: I really want to focus on activism and still spreading important messages, given the fact that I can't go out.
Archival Recording: My biggest concern is that if these trends continue with this type of leadership, I will be the last generation farming this farm.
Archival Recording: But honestly right now, all I can think about is keeping my kiddos safe.
Burley: It brought home the fact that we are all in this together, from all walks of life, whether you're a farmer, whether you're a teacher, whether you're a student. But then Michelle Obama, (LAUGH) I felt like she was in my living room and we were chatting.
Obama: So what do we do now? What's our strategy?
Burley: It was interesting 'cause Michelle doesn't normally get political. And the fact that both in 2016 and 2020 she feels the need or she feels, like, a responsibility to speak up and it shows.
Lee: I think she literally said, "Y'all know I hate politics."
Obama: You know I hate politics. If you think things cannot possibly get worse, trust me, they can and they will if we don't make a change in this election.
Lee: We also saw the family of George Floyd speak. And it's always for me sometimes uncomfortable to see these folks who didn't ask to be in the spotlight, didn't ask to be centered in this way necessarily to be kinda thrust out there.
Philonise Floyd: My brother George was selfless. He always made sacrifices for his family, friends, and even complete strangers. But George should be alive today. So it's up to us to carry on the fight for justice.
Lee: What was your reaction to seeing the family of George Floyd out there on night one?
Burley: I hate trauma porn. (LAUGH) I'm not saying that they are trauma porn, but I think we get into a habit of, like, asking folks to share the most devastating moments of their life for political gain without supporting the very recommendations that those folks are championing, right?
They want to abolish and dismantle the police. But seeing them so sobering in that moment and, like, hearing them talk about their brother and really the implication of police violence in this country was probably the most authentic Black men faces, which I also feel like the party hasn't done a good job in engaging these Black male voters.
And so hearing them talk I think helped to provide some texture, some insight into what they're feeling. And it was very emotional. I remember having to, like, turn away at one point 'cause it still felt so fresh. I mean, we're talking literally less than what? Three, four months ago? And we're asking them to kind of take on this responsibility to convince folks why Joe Biden might be the candidate for them based on this issue.
Lee: When you talk about the lack of a Black male voice, it was wonderful to see Kerry Washington and Tracee Ellis Ross out there. Then I think to myself the 13% of Black men who voted for Donald Trump in the past. And I've talked to a bunch of brothers who said, "You know what? I like that the macho tough guy thing that Donald Trump does. I like that." And I wonder if the Democrats aren't losing an opportunity, if the DNC isn't even focused on it, or at least the young Black male voice.
Burley: No, I think they're missing a huge opportunity. I mean, when I was on Hillary Clinton's campaign, I came on and I was like, "Have we not engaged any of the coalition for boys and men of color? Like, I mean, it doesn't even have to be in a political way. But, like, I'm just curious if y'all have engaged any of their leaders, who are extremely well respected." And they didn't.
But I also think Black men get turned off by the idea that we only talk about the Black experience through a deficit perspective and not what Black folks have to include, right? So why aren't we talking entrepreneurship? Why aren't we talking about reinvestment in specific industries that Black men?
Lee: It's always pathology, that Black men, we're the center--
Burley: It's always.
Lee: --of the pathology.
Burley: Uh-huh (AFFIRM). Versus, like, how are we actually including their voices in a way that actually crosses so many different industries and issues beyond just gun violence, criminal justice reform? (LAUGH) Like, that's just not what the vast majority of them are doing. And I think the party constantly misses the ball when they can't tell Black folks, "We know this is the issues that are impacting your community. And based on if you elect me to office, this is how your life is gonna change."
Harris: (MUSIC) Greetings, America. It is truly an honor to be speaking with you tonight. That I am here tonight...
Lee: Last night, we saw centered the story of Kamala Harris, a child of two immigrants, one from Jamaica and one from India. And I wonder what you made of Kamala Harris's speech.
Burley: Well, at first, I think the lead-up to her speech was perfect because it talked a lot about, like, women and everyday servants, like teachers and just folks who are the backbone of America. And her sharing her story with her mother I think is the first time I've heard it.
Harris: I keep thinking about that 25-year-old Indian woman, all of five feet tall, who gave birth to me at Kaiser Hospital in Oakland, California. On that day, she probably could have never imagined that I would be standing before you now and speaking these words.
Burley: And it shows just how indebted she is and how much she learned from who her mother and father was and the foundation that they laid for her to be an activist, to be a part of the process. I was inspired. She was very sobering in many ways but also very calm. And I'm disappointed in the fact that, you know, I think she deserved a moment where she did have a live audience and in front of her a crowd who could fully kind of grasp what she was saying in the moment about what she knows to be wrong with this country, what she knows to be great about this place, and how it opened the door for her mother to be able to come here and led to her being an attorney general, and a U.S. senator, and now potentially the vice president of the United States. So very humbling.
Lee: A lot has been made about her being a prosecutor. But more recently, she stood with Black Lives Matter protesters. You've said yourself that, you know, she isn't perfect but she doesn't have to be. What does that mean?
Burley: It's so interesting that we're at a time where we are asking folks not to judge folks on the worst thing that they have ever done, but we only include a specific population in that conversation. And I think we have to extend it to everyone, right?
If we are asking folks to evolve over time, to listen to what community members are saying, to hearing new information and data, to actually look at the perspective beyond, like, their individual position, then we have to open the door for that evolution. And that's how I look for Kamala, is, like, I think over time Kamala is starting to understand that many of the actions that she took while as a prosecutor were wrong.
Her overarching record needs to be looked at in context, right, because she also created programs that enable for folks not to be arrested or ensure that there were rehabilitative programs within California. And so I think folks need to look at the holisticness of her entire experience and also recognize that she has evolved over time and has been willing to have an honest conversation about her past wrong that she has made to society.
Lee: You know, as much as we like to say, "The youth will lead us," and we praise young activists, and organizers, and politicians, and everything, they often aren't highlighted. But you had the opportunity on night one to sit on a panel in a conversation with Joe Biden. You were one of the few youth voices. And I wonder from your perspective: Did the DNC lean too much on Bill Clinton, the Carters, just the old guard and not focus enough attention on the young politicians, Dems, organizers, and activists?
Burley: I think the old guard is needed to some extent. I think the Dems spent too much time trying to cater to potential Republicans who are gonna cross the aisle, (LAUGH) in my opinion. I think if Republicans are gonna cross the aisle, great. Of course you realize the fault, right, in electing Donald Trump into office. And now, you've been impacted.
What has really irritated me about the Republicans that have been highlighted is whether you're talking about health care, whether you're talking about immigration, right, until it directly impacts them, they didn't give a damn. And so I think that was my frustration, because those stories weren't inspiring to me.
But I am encouraged that the second night there were so many more voices, particularly with the 17 elected officials who did the joint keynote. I do think more voices could have been used in prime time because there are so many amazing stories, so many amazing work that's being done by young people who don't have all the money, who aren't elected officials, but are in many ways the future of the party.
Biden really has to understand that, yes, you're trying to win the presidency and you in many ways also are on the cusp of being able to usher in this new generation of Democrats. And there are so many amazing voices that should have been included, I mean, beyond AOC, right?
The entire Squad could have been utilized in a more authentic way to share stories. Ayanna Pressley would have been phenomenal, (LAUGH) especially on the opening night. But, again, the Democratic Party itself is the old guard. Until they start ushering more younger voices within the institution in positions of power, they're gonna continue to push out conventions that seem very stale in some ways.
Lee: Now, you operate kinda at the intersection of organizing and activism and the politics, right? You move pretty seamlessly, I'll say, between these worlds and are a bridge and connector. But do you really think the Democrats, and the Democratic machine, and the DNC with the show actually care about Black people? Were there specific moments where, you know, the Movement for Black Life and Black Lives Matter was mentioned that stood out to you?
Burley: I feel like there could have been a speaker specifically that addressed it, race relations in America and specifically how Biden and Kamala Harris are going to address it. I'm hoping that Biden takes that mantle up in a way that seems authentic, right? Addressing his flaws of the past, addressing what needs to happen moving forward.
He does not believe in dismantling and defunding the police. And I think that is something he's going to have to grapple with. And so he needs to take that mantle up in a really serious way. Folks said that Kamala should've, but it shouldn't fall on the responsibility of Black folks to always bring up Black issues. Especially the head of the ticket needs to be the one that says this is gonna be an issue that he's gonna champion throughout his entire administration and this is what it is gonna look like.
Lee: (MUSIC) Jamira, we're gonna leave it there for now. We'll talk to you again after Joe Biden talks tonight. After the break, Jamira reacts to Joe Biden's speech. Stick with us.
Biden: If you entrust me with the presidency, I will draw on the best of us, not the worst. I'll be an ally of the light, not the darkness.
Lee: All right. So we're back and we're back with Jamira Burley. Thank you so much for hanging out late with us tonight. There was a lotta anticipation. What did you think? I know there was some expectation, hope that he would touch on some important topics regarding race and justice in America. You know, pound for pound, what did you think?
Burley: I mean, even before Joe Biden, the little boy that stutters, I didn't think I was gonna cry tonight, and I was in--
Lee: (LAUGH) They got you.
Burley: --like, bawling in tears.
Brayden Harrington: My name is Brayden Harrington, and I'm 13 years old. And without Joe Biden, I wouldn't be talking to you today. About a few months ago, I met him in New Hampshire. He told me that we were members of the same club. We stutter. It was really amazing to hear that someone like me became vice president.
Burley: But I think it set up the story of Joe Biden and the type of person that he is. His story and him speaking tonight, the contrast between him and Donald Trump was made so clear about who sounds more presidential, who has a clear vision for America. And he sounded like he cared about people. Like, he cared about the stories. He cared about the issues. And he made those correlations very easily into what the policy would actually look like if he was elected into office.
Lee: So when we talked to you earlier today, you said you wanted to hear Joe Biden and others specifically take up issues of racial justice in a kinda very direct way and to offer some sort of concrete steps for change. He did talk about systemic racism, and he did bring up George Floyd's family. And he kinda talked at length. I mean, much longer than I anticipated that he would spend on George Floyd and what it meant.
Biden: You know, one of the most important conversations I've had this entire campaign was with someone who was much too young to vote. I met with six-year-old Gianna Floyd the day before her daddy, George Floyd, was laid to rest. She's an incredibly brave little girl. And I'll never forget it when I leaned down to speak to her. She looked in my eyes and she said, and I quote, "Daddy changed the world. Daddy changed the world."
Lee: What did you make of that moment?
Burley: I mean, even when he started the speech off talking about, like, the knee on the neck.
Biden: Winning it for those communities who have known the injustice of a "knee on the neck."
Burley: I think George Floyd's story is unique because so many people were able to see it in real time, right? And they were able to recognize what it would look like if a police officer or multiple police officers put their body weight on you. And I think his story, like for many others, touched so many folks.
And I think Biden realized that George Floyd's story is what sparked much of this moment and that you can't talk about racial inequality, you can't talk about police reform in any sort of way without recognizing that this tragedy still lives on the minds of so many folks and we still to some level have not received any type of justice for George Floyd other than the arrest, which in my mind is not justice.
I am disappointed that we also didn't lend just as much time to stories like Breonna Taylor and to the trans folks who also have been impacted by police brutality because, again, that's why we have hashtags like #SayHerName, because we've realized just how excluded they often are from the national dialogue on reform. And Breonna Taylor's society still doesn't have justice and we're talking about hundreds of days later.
Lee: Did tonight deliver anything in the way of connecting to young people, do you think? Or is it more of the same?
Burley: I mean, he talked a lot about, like, the need for youth voices and elevating youth voices in his speech. But, to be honest, like, I know who's on his campaign, and I don't think that there has been any real transitional engagement, connecting with folks on the ground who are working at the intersection of these issues, who, you know, I don't expect everyone on his staff to understand or to know.
But I would expect you're doing the outreach to the folks who are on the ground and who have the level of expertise so that way he's not getting on a national stage, not realizing that by just talking about George Floyd you're actually being counterproductive to what the movement is trying to do. Not in whole, but in partially, right?
And so I do think that that's still something that they're gonna have to grapple with over the next 70-plus days, is that the young people on the ground don't feel like their life is gonna change. They don't feel like politicians in Washington, D.C. understand the real trajectory of the issues that they're facing. And until they feel like their voices are being reflected in actual policy recommendations and platforms, I don't see them going out of their way to vote.
Lee: So tonight is kinda the culmination of the entire convention, right?
Burley: Uh-huh (AFFIRM).
Lee: And I wonder from what you heard tonight and what you saw tonight, do you get the sense that, you know, what Biden projected is the kind of future or the kind of ideal of a future that you see yourself living in, that you would hope for, the kind of future that you can enthusiastically get behind?
Burley: Yeah. And I was surprised, like pleasantly surprised, because I think he started off very somber, very humble. And then he spent that time laying down the facts. But then towards the end, he almost seemed excited about the idea that we could be better than what we have in the past.
Biden: Will we be the generation that finally wipes out the stain of racism from our national character? I believe we're up to it. I believe we're ready. Just a week ago yesterday was the third anniversary of the events in Charlottesville. Close your eyes. Remember what you saw on television.
Remember seeing those neo-Nazis, and Klansmen, and white supremacists coming out of fields with lighted torches, veins bulging, spewing the same anti-Semitic bile heard across Europe in the '30s. And remember what the president said when asked. He said there were, quote, "very fine people on both sides." It was a wake-up call for us as a country and for me a call to action.
Burley: I think I was extremely excited. Do I think Biden is gonna be a perfect president? No. But I think we're at a unique moment where he is starting to realize that he doesn't have all the answers and he's willing to embrace the fact that change may look different than what he thought five or ten years ago and this is what he's willing to offer to this new vision of America.
Lee: Jamira, you're not only brilliant and a fierce advocate and activist. You're a trooper for stayin' up with us so very late. So (LAUGH) there you go. Thank you very much, Jamira.
Burley: No problem. Thank you for having me.
Lee: Jamira Burley is an activist based in New York City. (MUSIC) Into America is produced by Isabel Angel, Allison Bailey, Aaron Dalton, Max Jacobs, Barbara Raab, Claire Tighe, Aisha Turner, and Preeti Varathan. Original music by Hannis Brown. Our executive producer is Ellen Frankman. Steve Lickteig is executive producer of audio. I'm Trymaine Lee. We'll be back on Monday.