What is the DNC playing at: AOC, Kamala Harris,& Team Biden Campaign Messaging

David Pinsonneault
6 min readAug 20, 2020


The Democratic National Convention (DNC) is now in full (virtual) swing. We have heard from Bernie Sanders, Michelle Obama, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Bill Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton, Kamala Harris, and Barack Obama. We have even heard a plea from the great state of Rhode Island to eat more calamari. Tonight we will hear from Joe Biden. The DNC is an opportunity to display party strength, party unity, and to share ideas with the American public. Polling for Joe Biden looks great right now and, for that reasoon, his team seems to remain committed to following the same playbook Hillary Clinton used in 2016.

One sign of this was the choice to go with Kamala Harris as Vice President. On the surface, the Democrats checked off some very big boxes. A (relatively- politically speaking) young, black woman, now has an opportunity to get to the White House. With America’s history, one cannot deny that this is well overdue, albeit women of color have been on tickets for non-major political parties throughout our history. It can still be argued, however, that political records matter. Would you rather have a black woman with a Bernie type ideology or with Joe Biden’s? We were given the latter, which is why I think this is a similar move to Hillary picking Tim Kaine is 2016. Tim Kaine, at least, was supposed to move the needle in Virginia. Kamala Harris did not win her home state of California during the Democratic Primary — she had already dropped out. Bernie took the state decisively.

As a leftist, it is all too easy to pick apart Harris’ track record. She does not have the greatest record as a prosecutor, imprisoning people for minor drug offenses and later lacking tact while joking about smoking pot herself. She is cozy with the donor class. I’m not here to re-litigate all of this but I do not see how she moves the needle with voters in states that actually matter. She matches Joe Biden’s politics as a moderate and has mass appeal to liberals, who are already poised to vote against Trump. The working class in America has been bleeding for some time, and things have only gotten worse during this pandemic. That brings us to the DNC and the choices made by party leadership to maintain their power.

Bernie Sanders did very well in the 2016 Democratic Primary. He ran on a bold set of principles, values, and ideals. He went to the American people, listened to their concerns, and proposed systemic changes to help them. Hillary ended up winning with 55% of the vote to 43%. In 2020, Bernie jumped out to a lead until *basically* every other candidate running took the hint to drop out and endorse Biden. Moderate Democrats consolidated their power and, when the pandemic hit, Bernie stopped campaigning. As it stands, Biden has 51% of the vote to 27% for Sanders. I would expect Bernie to have made a bigger dent with real campaign operations in states that voted after March. I say all of this to point out that the Democratic Party is divided by ideology and that that is okay. Many Democrats associate with Bernie instead of Biden. Younger Democrats, in particular, are ready for a change in party leadership now.

You would think that the speaker list at the DNC would reflect party demographics. Representation is supposedly a Democratic ideal. What we got, however, was the same, tired, list of establishment speakers — the Obama’s, the Clinton’s, Republicans, and billionaires. A lot of the rising stars in the party were excluded. The DNC raised up billionaires and Republicans instead of the likes of Stacy Abrams, Julian Castro, Katie Porter, Pramila Jayapal, Squad Members, etc.

AOC was given 60 seconds to speak. Let’s talk about that.

Party leadership is either 1) really out of touch or 2) knows exactly what they are doing.

With the party split between moderates and progressives, why do the speakers really only come from the former? AOC, perhaps one of the best speakers in all of politics and the future of the progressive movement, was given 60 seconds to nominate Bernie Sanders for President. It was not widely explained why she did that with her time. It was entirely procedural and she was not given time to do anything else, like explain the way she views the world or that she has endorsed Biden. To the average viewer, AOC looked like she was speaking at the wrong event. She looked like the anti-unity voice who doesn’t care about beating Trump, and I think that’s what party leadership meant to do. Give her 10 minutes in the limelight, and voters are going to be questioning a lot of established structures in our society. Give her 60 seconds to nominate Bernie Sanders, and she isn’t a team player.

This was another move to stifle dissent. Party leaders are clutching their pearls. They know their time in power is coming to an end and, instead of raising up the ideas of someone like an AOC, they are seeking to knock her down a few pegs. They are giving the “Vote Blue No Matter What” camp ammunition for her mentions. It is becoming harder and harder to criticize how Democrats haven’t exactly had the backs of the working class over the last several decades. If you raise those concerns, you’re turned into someone who doesn’t care about removing Trump from office. Can you want Trump to be removed from office but also want to see the Democratic Party more responsive to its base?

Look, we have a two party system. I’m going to vote for Biden. Hillary won by millions in 2016 but we do our elections by plurality in the United States. I’m just not convinced that silencing progressives who speak to working class concerns is the best way to win an election. The Biden Campaign is all in on anti-Trump messaging. It makes sense. Trump is a ticking time-bomb. He is imploding. He is unhinged. He says outlandish things every day. I’m still worried about how that messages in swing states. If you’ve spoken to working class folks in swing states, you’ll know that they’re hurting. I’m not sure they’re going to be receptive of messaging that is purely anti-Trump. The bootstrap sentiment is still alive and well in America. A lot of people move past Trump’s racism and bigotry because they want to see him as some sort of self-made icon. I still haven’t heard from a single Biden supporter what they like about his platform. I know he has a website full of plans but the election is being turned into voting against Trump instead of voting for Biden, and that’s potentially dangerous.

My hope from now until Election Day is that Democrats show off how their ideas differ from the GOP. They have made is clear at the DNC that they have little interest in that. I think that is a mistake. I’m not saying all of this to say that things won’t change under a Biden presidency. Political discourse will change. Things will be polite again. We will stop normalizing attacks on BIPOC and immigrants. Those are good things but I think Democrats are often prevented from speaking in an unapologetically pro-working class way. This is because they are entwined in the same pay to play political system as Republicans are. They are beholden to the donor class. Will CEO pay be curbed under a Biden/Harris administration? I’m not convinced that it will, but I sure hope that liberals begin to see how much more work needs to get done and engage in some real activism other than shaming people into voting against Trump.

The real work begins, or continues, after Election Day. We need to keep organizing our communities and workplaces. So many liberals want to just make Trump the enemy but we need to fight bosses and companies that exploit workers and pollute the environment. We need mass mobilization to hold politicians accountable at every level and make sure that they represent us instead of the 1%. Trump needs to go but I think we need to think critically about why establishment figures in the Democratic Party are doing things in a particular way. Do they want to defeat Trump to help people or to preserve power? The answer might be a little of both but a power change does not necessarily mean change for working people. We need to not just unite by party, but by our class and labor. That is how we are actually going to create sustained change and make it a little easier for working people in this country moving forward.



David Pinsonneault

Union/Political Organizer @SEIU. Alum @BarackObama. Chicago living. Blood clot survivor. 15x marathon finisher. Always looking for better.