Making the best of an extraordinary and unconventional moment, Minnesota Democrats held an outdoor party on a steamy Thursday night to celebrate the nomination of Joe Biden to run against President Donald Trump in November.
The gathering at Nicollet Island in Minneapolis was the only in-person event in Minnesota associated with the Democratic National Convention, which was to be held in Milwaukee before the COVID-19 pandemic pushed much of its programming online, as it has next week’s GOP convention.
Minnesota convention delegates, Biden campaign representatives and elected officials, including U.S. Sen. Tina Smith and Minnesota House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, donned their face masks and cautiously mingled outside.
Biden delegate Janet Nelson hung out — socially distanced, of course — with what she called “the Duluth delegation.”
It wasn’t her first convention. Nelson served as a delegate for Hillary Clinton in 2016 and was an alternate delegate for Walter Mondale back in 1984.
“I was a whip for Hillary — we kept the Hillary delegates in line and made sure they got to the convention hall, that they got to the breakfasts on time,” Nelson said of that year’s gig.
At those previous conventions, among crowds, there were caucuses, union meetings and social gatherings that made the cities they were held in feel especially alive, Nelson said.
“This time with everything being virtual, it’s just not the same,” Nelson said. “I’m very excited for Kamala [Harris, nominated to run for vice president]; that’s super exciting. But it’s really different. You’re sitting there on the other side of a computer or watching it on television, just like everybody else.”
Nelson, along with first-time delegates, said she was happy that Minnesota Democrats chose to do at least one in-person event.
“If there would have been no in-person part of it, it’s really just no different than going to a conference,” she said.
Earlier in the week, first-time delegate Elise Eckert, 20, expressed disappointment that she was unable to have the full convention experience.
“I was of course really excited to hear [former President Barack] Obama speak,” she said. “One of my biggest letdowns of coronavirus was not being able to go to the convention and wanting to be around all the DNC leaders and delegates.”
Guests wandered between the indoor pavilion space and the outdoors, chatting under tea lights alongside the Mississippi River. Painters created live art of smiling delegates, while attendees listened to speakers as they waited for Biden’s acceptance speech, which ended the four-day convention.
Briana Lee, 34, of Hopkins, who originally supported Bernie Sanders, said she was happy to finally meet her fellow delegates, though she would have loved to have had a more intimate in-person convention experience.
“But it’s OK,” Hopkins said. “I was able to probably attend more because I didn’t have to run around. I’ve definitely tried to do as much as I could.”
Corey Day, from the Minnesota Biden campaign, said he was pleased with how the event went.
“We’ve never done this before, in the history of our party — in either party,” he said.