2020 Election
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Young Leaders Give a Glimpse of What’s to Come for Democrats at Virtual Convention

4 minute read

Former Vice President Joe Biden was nominated as the Democratic presidential nominee on Tuesday, as a parade of his old allies appeared onscreen for the second night of the virtual convention. Many are supporters who have long run in the highest echelons of the Democratic Party; former U.S. Presidents and other legacy names made up the bulk of the program.

Despite the extraordinary circumstances, the evening would have sounded a lot like the Democratic conventions before it if not for several memorable appearances by up-and-comers within the party, including U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who gave a short speech seconding the nomination of U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, and former Georgia state House minority leader Stacey Abrams, who closed out a joint keynote delivered by 17 of the party’s next generation of leaders from around the country.

Democratic power structures have long favored politicians like Biden and other establishment figures, and the primary made clear that the progressive positions many of those young leaders have embraced are not the center of gravity for the party.

But as the presidential candidate — who, in a sign of the times, returned his mask over his face after he briefly thanked the party for the nomination — casts himself as a transitional figure for the party, the ever-looming question of “what comes next?” hangs constantly in the air. On Tuesday, it was the progressive wing and young leaders who offered some answers.

Ocasio-Cortez said she was there “in fidelity and gratitude to a mass people’s movement working to establish twenty-first century social, economic, and human rights— including guaranteed health care, higher education, living wages, and labor rights for all people in the United States.”

It was an ode to the movement Sanders and progressive allies attempted to expand during the presidential primary. Though progressives are now working to convince their supporters that they should back Biden — included Sanders himself, who gave the latest such speech Monday night — Ocasio-Cortez’s statement was a nod to the resilience of a strain of politics growing in popularity within the party, especially among its younger members.

Ady Barkan, a health care activist diagnosed with ALS, a deadly disease that has paralyzed most of his body, also appeared to vouch for Biden. Barkan first endorsed progressive Senators Elizabeth Warren and then Sanders. In poignant remarks delivered via computerized voice, Barkan urged Americans to elect Biden and to get a bill through Congress that would guarantee health care.

“We live in the richest country in history, and yet we do not guarantee this most basic human right,” Barkan said. “Everyone living in America should get the health care they need, regardless of their employment status or ability to pay.”

The Democratic Party has long prided itself on being a big-tent party, and its diversity in both ideology and its members was evident throughout the night. The keynote address featured trailblazing leaders including Nevada state Senator Yvanna Cancela, the first Latina to serve in the state Senate; Sam Park, the first openly gay man in Georgia’s state legislature, and Randall Woodfin, the youngest mayor of Birmingham, Alabama, in more than a century.

For the roll call, delegates cast their votes from around the country, appearing in settings tailored to local flavor and to the times. There was defense of mail ballots from Utah; a request to keep Iowa in your thoughts after the derecho that hit the state on August 10; and pushback against white supremacy from Virginia.

The Biden campaign has participated in Unity Task Forces on various issues, where Biden-world allies and progressives have worked together to create proposals for Biden and the party. Both have made a point in collaborating after a long primary, seeking to stitch together a broad coalition to go up against Trump in November.

Tuesday’s convention gave a sense of which stars and policy ideas it has waiting in the wings, even if they’re not the ones on this year’s top ticket.

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Write to Lissandra Villa at lissandra.villa@time.com