With a Pennsylvania baseball cap and her 2016 Bernie Sanders campaign t-shirt on, Nelly Torres tuned into her first night as a delegate in the first-of-its-kind virtual Democratic National Convention.
As the lone Sanders delegate elected in Pennsylvania’s 11th Congressional District, Torres joined in a group Zoom call with fellow J.P. McCaskey High School alumni and local political organizers with a “Bernie” campaign sign wrapped in colorful fairy lights. One last hoorah celebrating the U.S. senator from Vermont for his work pushing ideas like universal health care into national discourse and inspiring a new wave of far-left candidates to run for office since his first presidential run in 2016.
“These topics were not popular or mainstream,” Torres said. “We did a lot, we pushed on a lot of these issues that weren’t being validated. We did that. That’s really amazing and we didn’t do it by ourselves. It’s everybody who participated in voting and having conversations.”
Torres, a leader from Lancaster Stands Up and Lancaster city resident, said she created a Twitter Monday night to participate in a national hashtag #BecauseOfBernie. Prior to 2016, she was not involved in any political campaigns, and was inspired by her own personal struggles to afford health care for the medications she needs following several brain tumors. Since then, she’s made political activism a major part of her life.
Torres and the four other Lancaster County delegates kicked off the convention with a Pennsylvania state delegation breakfast on Monday, with speakers including U.S. Sen. Bob Casey and Democratic Auditor General nominee Nina Ahmad. From there, delegates could choose to virtually join caucus meetings -- one of the main ways attendees are able to discuss policy issues more directly with stakeholders from around the country during a traditional presidential convention.
Still, Lancaster’s delegates tuned in to several caucus meetings to listen to discussions for top issues, with delegate and School District of Lancaster teacher Bryan Hower joining the Labor Caucus meeting and state-appointed delegate and state Senate candidate Janet Diaz attending the Hispanic Caucus meeting and a caucus meeting about affordable health care. Mike Maguire, the political director for AFSCME Council 13 and delegate said he would be tuning into the AFSCME labor caucus on Tuesday, and Torres said she joined women’s caucus and Hispanic caucus meetings on Monday, among others.
Monday’s convention was the first day of what Democrats are calling a “convention across America,” as speakers, delegates and voters all tune in virtually for what was scheduled to be a nominating convention in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The two-hour program included short clips, both live and pre-recorded, of speakers and performers across the country including Sanders, former first lady Michelle Obama and former Republican Ohio Gov. John Kasich.
For Maguire, this is the first convention since 2012 he hasn’t attended in person. Once he sent in his ballot, he said the experience has been “nonchalant,” and is missing the excitement from the convention floor.
“The speeches were filled with fire and brimstone,” Maguire said earlier in the day on Monday. “Things like that really got you really excited to do this.”
Maguire was most excited to see Obama speak and was interested to tune into Fox News to see how the conservative media outlet portrays the virtual convention, something he usually would miss out on if he was in the convention frenzy.
While a majority of Lancaster voters chose Biden as their candidate for president, only two Biden delegates ran to support him at the convention. Five candidates ran as delegates committed to supporting U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders for president, although Sanders had already suspended his campaign prior to Pennsylvania’s primary election. Delegates already submitted their votes prior to the convention.
Torres said she had several accessibility issues during the first day of the convention, with issues accessing closed captioning she needed to participate.
“You can see a lot of cracks in this way of having a convention,” Torres said.
She later said she was impressed by the inclusivity of the first night’s convention, with Arizona resident Kristin Urquiza whose father died from COVID-19 speaking as well as the remarks of George Floyd’s family.
Torres added that Biden and the Democratic party will need to do more than just “sweep past” the top priorities for Sanders voters, including addressing racial inequities and climate change.
“You can’t just heal these wounds and relationships without acknowledging it,” Torres said. “You have to win trust and respect.”
Sanders spent his speech making the case for former Vice President Joe Biden’s platform, praising his commitment to raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour, funding universal pre-K and transitioning the country to 100% clean electricity within 15 years.
“Our campaign ended several months ago, but our movement continues and is getting stronger every day,” Sanders said. “Many of the ideas we fought for, that just a few years ago were considered ‘radical,’ are now mainstream. But, let us be clear, if Donald Trump is re-elected, all the progress we have made will be in jeopardy.”
Torres said she will continue to represent Lancaster and York counties’ Sanders voters throughout the rest of the convention.
“If for nothing else, I voted for [Sanders] proudly and voted no on the [Democratic] platform and I’m proud of that,” she said. “I can go on and say I did my part. For all of us; not just some of us.”