Democrats nominated Joe Biden for president Tuesday night from dozens of locations in a roll call vote that was shockingly entertaining, weird, and great.
Traditionally, delegates shout the votes inside an arena. Instead, because of the coronavirus, they voted from afar. In practice, the roll call built from something fun to something fascinating and deep: the uniqueness of each state to the other, all in one frame, all together in one sentiment during a time when people are physically separated.
Because of the weirdness and awfulness of 2020, thrilled messages sat alongside very somber ones, big groups in front of beautiful mountains or old buildings, alongside individuals in nondescript locations, but uniquely American in their affect. It was a glimpse at all the wonderful places people are missing.
Standing in view of the historic Edmund Pettus Bridge — at night, lit up in blue — the elector for Alabama cast 52 of the state’s votes for Joe Biden, calling it a way to honor the life of the late Rep. John Lewis. A vocal and harsh critic of President Donald Trump who also refused to attend his inauguration, Lewis marched with Martin Luther King Jr. across the bridge in 1965.
“A lifetime later, civil rights and voting rights remain America’s great unfinished business,” Rep. Terri Sewell said. “If we want to honor John Lewis’s incredible life, let’s restore the Voting Rights Act and ensure that democracy belongs to all Americans.”
Dressed in traditional clothing, Rep. Derrick Lente spoke from Sandia Pueblo, one of New Mexico's 23 Indigenous sovereign nations.
"We are all united with the love of this beautiful place we call home. And we believe that we owe it to the next generation to protect the natural and cultural resources that are their inheritance, and to that end, also respect tribal sovereignty,” he said.
In a nod to rural America, a Black farmer in Maine, state Rep. Craig Hickman, announced 22 votes for Biden while standing in front of a barn.
“My American dream? I'm living it,” he said. “A 25-acre organic farm on the lake, a roadside farm stand, and a bed and breakfast. My husband and I aren't corporate tycoons. We just want to make an honest living and feed our community. Small businesses like ours are the backbone of rural economies across America.
"Joe Biden has a plan to help more Americans, especially people of color start their own businesses."
Biden’s home state went last, the electors speaking live from the train station in Wilmington where “Amtrak Joe” famously caught the train home every night to be with his young sons.
“Long before this train station bore his name, you’d see Joe Biden up here on the platform with the rest of the crowd, on his way to work or going home to his family,” said Gov. John Carney. “That's always been his North Star, delivering for families like his own, working people who struggle and sacrifice to build a better life. Nobody has ever had to wonder who Joe Biden is in it for.”
“I have been doing this for a long time, so let me just be plain,” announced Cozzie Watkins, a Black nurse and activist in North Carolina. “Black people, especially Black women, are the backbone of the party, and if we don't show up, Democrats don't get elected.”
North Carolina was part of Biden’s Super Tuesday victories, thanks in part to overwhelming support from Black voters.
“I'm putting on my mask and going to every corner in North Carolina to help organize,” said Watkins, her fabric face mask already hanging around her neck.
A Nebraska meatpacking plant employee provided one of the most emotional moments of the roll call, highlighting the danger of COVID-19 to workers, particularly in the meatpacking industry.
“They call us essential workers, but they treat us like we’re expendable,” said the worker, Geraldine Waller. “Workers are dying from COVID, and a lot of us don’t have paid sick leave or even quality protective equipment.”
“We are human beings, not robots, not disposable,” Waller added. “We want to keep helping you feed your family, but we need a president that will have our backs.”
A plate of calamari stole the show in Rhode Island, where state Rep. Joseph McNamara stood on the beach next to the fried dish.
McNamara spoke about how the state’s fishing and restaurant industries have been “decimated” by the pandemic.
“The calamari comeback state casts one vote for Bernie Sanders and 34 votes for the next president, Joe Biden,” McNamara declared.
Reminding voters of the historic racial justice movements that have taken place across the country, the elector from Oklahoma referenced the Tulsa massacre of 1921, where a Black community known as the “Black Wall Street” was destroyed by mobs of white residents.
“Ninety-nine years ago violence devastated a thriving black community here in Tulsa, Oklahoma,” said the elector, standing in front of a wall with art reading “Black Wall Street." “Today, hatred still lives in our nation, but so does resolve. Oklahoma refused to let ourselves be defined by division then, and our nation must turn back the tide of violence again now.”
From a grassy field out in Ohio, one electrical worker wearing a union shirt made a blunt argument against voting for Trump.
“It seems like every time working people believe in a Donald Trump promise they wind up getting screwed,” said the man identified as Josh, wearing a shirt for the union International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. “Well, Joe Biden has more than just a promise — he actually has a plan to bring jobs back to America.”
Backed by a mural of a Latino man with a cowboy hat and his arms fisted up to his face in a show of determination, Rep. Veronica Escobar cast the state’s votes from El Paso, where a gunman murdered 23 people inside a Walmart.
“A year ago, my safe community of El Paso was targeted by a domestic terrorist who murdered 23 innocent people, injured 23 more, and devastated all of us,” she said. “His motive was racism and xenophobia. In the face of hate, we choose love.”
It was one of a number of references to gun violence and the call for gun control from the party.
“In the face of continued violence in America, we demand change,” she said, as she and five other people behind her raised their fisted arms like the mural behind them. “The time has come to act.”
In New York, where the impact of the coronavirus outpaced much of the country, nurse Scheena Lyande Tannis highlighted some of the criticisms continuing to plague Trump’s pandemic response.
“Many healthcare workers don't get paid sick leave or have enough protective equipment," she said. "I have two children with asthma and a mother who's high risk. I worry every day about bringing this virus home to them.”
The Caribbean immigrant from the Grenadines joined Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul as she announced 277 votes for Biden. “It’s Joe time,” she said in front of a New York City skyline.
“When my daughter was murdered in Parkland, Joe Biden called to share in our family’s grief,” said Fred Guttenberg, whose 14-year-old daughter Jaime died in the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018.
“I quickly learned about his decency and his civility. But I also learned about his toughness and how he’s beaten the NRA,” Guttenberg added.
Since his daughter’s death, Guttenberg has become a well-known staunch critic of the NRA and an advocate for tightening gun laws. He’s also been a supporter of March for Our Lives, the youth-led gun violence prevention movement that grew out of Parkland.
“Together with victims of gun violence and our nation’s youth, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will take on the NRA again and win,” Guttenberg said. “Let’s win back our freedom to live without fear.”
Recent college grad Rachel Prevost announced Montana's votes in front of grazing cattle.
“When COVID shut down my college, I came home to my parents' ranch in Montana to finish senior year online,” said Prevost, one of the millions of students who had to figure out online learning in 2020. “But some days I can’t get a video to load or an email attachment to send,” she said, mentioning the need for improved rural broadband.
Framed by towering rock cliffs, Howard Chou, an immigrant and activist, appeared with his family of four — nearly all wearing face masks. He addressed Trump’s response to the pandemic and the concerns of families around the nation about how to move forward amid the pandemic.
“We have three family members that tested positive for COVID, and it just doesn’t feel safe to put Evan and Emma back to school,” the elector said. “Millions of families will have it much harder. I know Joe Biden cares about these struggles, and that’s why I trust him to fight for us.”