An Unexpected Advantage of a Virtual Convention

Aug 18, 2020

LEFT: Louis Fleming during the 1988 DNC in Atlanta, Ga. RIGHT: Catherine (Fleming) Bruce at her home in SC. Bruce is attending the DNC's mostly virtual convention as a delegate.

In 1988, Catherine Bruce’s father attended the Democratic National Convention in Atlanta, Georgia; she still has his program booklet. This Year, Bruce is following in her dad’s footsteps as she attends the DNC’s virtual convention that was supposed to take place in Milwaukie, Wisconsin. Bruce, a delegate for former Vice President Joe Biden, has attended the party’s national conventions before; first in 2012 in Charlotte North Carolina and again in 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. But this year, as a delegate, things were supposed to be different.

“Only the delegates get to do certain activities, but I had a sense of it [the convention] and certainly was excited to go,” Bruce said. Instead, the Congressional District 6 delegate will anchor at home in downtown Columbia.  She’s decorated the space where she will attend virtual events with party paraphernalia and pictures, including a shot of her dad wearing a button-cladded hat and holding the American flag. Bruce was excited to attend, but was also concerned about safety.

“I had misgivings with regard to being in these large groups, in the COVID circumstance.”

On August 5, when the DNC officially announced speakers, including the presumptive nominee, would not attend the convention in person, there were more than 53,000 new cases of COVID-19  reported in the country, for that day.

For months, the DNC tried to hold on to its original plans for the traditional convention, including pushing the four-day event back a month, telling delegates to stay away and incorporating strict health protocols.

When the final decision was made, Bruce said she was “sad not to be there physically, but I agree with their decision.”

She also believes efforts to energize and engage delegates virtually and fill any voids left in the absence of a physical convention, is actually filling a void that existed before the pandemic.

Buttons are a big deal at national conventions. Despite not being able to attend the convention in person, Bruce said delegates still got their national and state swag bags, complete with 2020 convention buttons.

“Many of the groupings of the delegates were based on the candidate that the delegates were pledged to. I wanted to create an opportunity for those of us who pledge Bernie, or Joe, or any of the others, to be able to talk together more; because I think that’s sorely lacking.”

Delegates are connecting more through Facebook groups, like the one Bruce created. The National Coalition Delegation Facebook group has about 100 members from across the country and abroad. Bruce said she believes, through these efforts, there was more engagement around voting for the nominee, but also for the party’s platform.

“The platform is a very important way for people to buy-in to what the party is doing; to see if the party has been listening to everything that’s happened this year and has been responding adequately in the form of this platform.”

Bruce said these virtual groups are giving members more power. She believes being separately physically, but connected virtually is making party stronger.

“I think it will not hurt us. I think we will use the situations we find ourselves in this year, to make lemonade. That’s what we’re going to be doing, because we know that’s what we have to do.”

The DNC will be livestreaming each night of the convention and provides a schedule of daytime and evening events.