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Michelle Obama, Democratic Leaders Lay Out Vision for Racial Justice at DNC

August 18, 2020 by Reece Nations
In this screenshot from the DNCC's livestream of the 2020 Democratic National Convention, actress and activist Eva Longoria, left, introduces Former First Lady Michelle Obama to address the virtual convention on Aug. 17, 2020. (DNCC /Getty Images/TNS)

In a three-part series entitled “We the People Demand Racial Justice” during the first night of the Democratic National Convention Monday, party leaders teamed with activists to address nationwide racial inequity.

The discussion outlined former Vice President Joe Biden’s plan of action for confronting the country’s systemic prejudices and reforming community relations with law enforcement. Some of the program’s featured speakers included NAACP President Derrick Johnson, Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo, the family of George Floyd and Gwen Carr, mother of Eric Garner.

Muriel Bowser, mayor of Washington, D.C., reflected on the June protests in her city that led to President Donald Trump employing U.S. Park Police and National Guard troops to disperse activists from Lafayette Square. Bowser’s remarks during the event were made from above Black Lives Matter Plaza, located on 16th Street Northwest near the White House.

Federal agents used tear gas, rubber bullets, pepper spray, shields and batons to disperse demonstrators from the square to clear a route for Trump to walk from the White House to St. John’s Episcopal Church on June 1, according to NPR. After incidents of violence and vandalism occurred amid protests, Bowser announced a citywide curfew put in place from 7 p.m. to 6 a.m., which remained in effect through June 3.

“We have to undo the laws and systems that have codified racism for far too long,” Bowser said during the program. “But we have to do something too, each and every one of us. Challenge our own biases. If we see something, do something. Together, we can turn this reckoning into a reimagining of a nation where ‘We The People’ means all the people.”

Biden was quick to condemn Trump’s response to the unrest the next day, saying the move to clear demonstrators showed the president was “more interested in power than in principle.” The following day, Trump visited Saint John Paul II National Shrine — a decision that ignited criticism from Archbishop Wilton Daniel Gregory, the head of the Archdiocese of Washington.

Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., also made remarks during the convention Monday evening from a remote location in Charleston, S.C. Clyburn highlighted the societal progress made towards racial equality while connecting Biden’s personal hardships with his ability to lead and unite in times of despair.

“We will need a president who sees unifying people as a requirement of the job,” Clyburn said during the event. “A president who understands the true meaning of community — and how to build it through trust and humility. And with so many families experiencing loss in this pandemic — lost jobs, lost loved ones, and lost confidence in the president to keep us safe — we need a president who understands both profound loss; and what it takes to bounce back.” 

While she understands that many might be reluctant to tune into a political convention at this juncture, former First Lady Michelle Obama said a president’s words have immense power to inspire. Due to the “immense weight and awesome power” bestowed by the office, one cannot “fake” their way through a presidency, she said during the event.

“As I’ve said before, being president doesn’t change who you are; it reveals who you are. Well, a presidential election can reveal who we are, too. And four years ago, too many people chose to believe that their votes didn’t matter.”

Former First Lady Michelle Obama

She also contrasted the state of the country when her husband, former President Barack Obama, left office compared to the present day. Despite a record-breaking stretch of job creation, securing health care for 20 million individuals, successfully preventing an Ebola outbreak from becoming a global pandemic, the past four years under Trump have undone much of this progression.

“As I’ve said before, being president doesn’t change who you are; it reveals who you are,” Obama said during the event. “Well, a presidential election can reveal who we are, too. And four years ago, too many people chose to believe that their votes didn’t matter.”

She continued, “Maybe they were fed up. Maybe they thought the outcome wouldn’t be close. Maybe the barriers felt too steep. Whatever the reason, in the end, those choices sent someone to the Oval Office who lost the national popular vote by nearly three million votes.”

Obama encouraged practicing empathetic behavior during her remarks, noting a regression of these principles nationwide. Her rhetoric during the event underscored and discouraged certain acts of intolerance — such as refusal to cover one’s face in public and “calling the police on folks minding their own business” because of their race.

Together, she said Americans of every creed and color can unite in setting an example of tolerance and growth for the next generation to follow. 

“Biden is poised to lead by this example with passion and resiliency,” she said.

“And if we want to keep the possibility of progress alive in our time, if we want to be able to look our children in the eye after this election, we have got to reassert our place in American history,” she said. “And we have got to do everything we can to elect my friend, Joe Biden, as the next president of the United States.” 

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