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What Young DNC Delegates Want From Their Party's Platform

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The Democratic Party wrapped up its convention Thursday evening with a speech from the now-confirmed nominee, Joe Biden - meaning, among other things, that it is certain that the next president will be a white man in his 70s. But this year, we've been making a point to reach out to much younger voters from diverse backgrounds to hear what's on their minds. And the parties have, too.

This week, the Democrats hosted more than 200 delegates under the age of 35. Many of them make up the Young Delegates Coalition, a group formed to amplify the voices of younger voters. Some want to make sure the party reflects their generation, especially the ever-growing diversity of the country. And some are hoping to push the party further to the left on issues like health care and climate change.

But how exactly do you do that, especially in a time when many long-term officeholders and activists are saying Democrats must pull together because the country just cannot tolerate another four years of President Trump? So we've called three young delegates to hear more.

Zenaida Huerta is a 22-year-old Bernie Sanders delegate from Whittier, Calif. This is her second convention after backing Sanders in 2016.

Hi, Zenaida.

ZENAIDA HUERTA: Hello.

MARTIN: Jae Moyer is a Biden delegate from Overland Park, Kan. Jae is 21, and this is their first convention.

Hi, Jae. Thank you so much for coming as well.

JAE MOYER: Hi there. Thank you, Michel.

RICHARD DORMAN: And Richard Dorman is a 21-year-old Biden delegate in Columbia, S.C. You might remember we met Richard when we traveled to South Carolina for the primary earlier this year.

Richard, it's nice to talk with you again.

DORMAN: Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: And because we met before, I'm going to start with you. Biden was your choice from the beginning. Could you just remind us why?

DORMAN: Well, Biden has a great bit of experience not only in the executive office of vice president but also as a United States senator. And I believe that his platform from the get-go was very practical in getting us to a place of universal affordable health care for all Americans. And he also has a good record on climate change legislation. That's the two biggest reasons why I support him.

MARTIN: So, Jae, I understand that you voted no on the party platform, in part because it lacked "Medicare for All." So tell me why that was important for you to do.

MOYER: Yeah, for sure. If we give people the opportunity to have the conversation, which is something that I didn't feel was happening at the Democratic convention this year, I feel that that is an issue that would have been brought to light. There were a lot of delegates that expected me to kind of almost blindly follow Joe Biden's policies. And while I like Joe Biden, I didn't want to do that, you know? I wanted to call into question anything that I felt was maybe not going to be the best for the platform.

I believe as Democrats we need to absolutely be spokespeople for every single person. I mean, if we're really going to do that, we're really going to advocate for what's best equitably for all Americans.

MARTIN: Zenaida, did you feel the same way? I mean, did you feel that there wasn't enough discussion around the issues that Democrats care about?

HUERTA: Oh, absolutely. I think it's not even that there wasn't enough discussion. There wasn't any discussion at all, at least amongst us delegates. We had no way to convene whatsoever at this convention. As a California delegate, we had daily breakfasts and pre-parties. But the camera option wasn't even enabled, so I don't even know what most of my fellow delegates look like or what their names are.

In my opinion, that was a critical error on behalf of the Democrats because these conventions are important for building enthusiasm for the ticket in November because as delegates, we represent grassroot organizers in our communities, and we have to return to our communities after this convention and give the case for why we need to elect Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.

MARTIN: You know, I think that the Democratic Party more broadly - and I think, you know, Richard, you articulated this when we were on your campus back in February - is, you know, more broadly, it's true that a lot of younger voters are the future of the party. But a lot of the more established officeholders and activists worry that the country isn't ready yet. And so there's this balance between appealing to the future but projecting something that the rest of the country that you need to win isn't yet ready to accept. So how do you mediate that? Jae.

MOYER: I think that there's a huge camp of people that are young that literally, this is their first presidential election. And if we don't appeal to that base, like, how do we expect people to get excited about their first election, you know, if we don't represent them the same way we want to represent that swing voter base? And this base of younger voters is going to vote Democratic if they feel represented.

MARTIN: Zenaida, what about you?

HUERTA: Yeah. I mean, I think there has been a lot of distrust with a lot of groups of voters in the Democratic Party. For instance, when I mention the Latino community, with him, I think amongst all ethnic groups, Biden is performing the lowest. And a lot of that is because of the previous Democratic administration, which led 3 million deportations. And we have to do a lot to earn back the trust and not relitigate the horrors that happened there.

And the same with young voters with - Gen-Z grew up in an environment of war. They grew up during the recession and don't really know what it's like to live in an America full of promise and hope. And a lot of that distrust can be solved by giving progressives a seat at the table because we're all on the same team. We're all Democrats, and there's no other reason why we shouldn't be helping Biden get to that goal of being elected in November.

MARTIN: Richard, what about you?

DORMAN: Well, I think we have to balance the ideas that are progressive but also with practicality. But I think the - Joe Biden, especially since he's gotten the nomination, he's really churned out a number of policies that could really appeal a lot to college students and younger people in my generation.

MARTIN: Why do you think that? I mean, Hillary Clinton had very detailed proposals. Why do you think that, Richard? You think proposals are enough.

DORMAN: Well, of course, you have to back up proposals once you get into office and everything. But, you know, just showing that - how these ideas that were - originally became part of the mainstream political cycle back in 2016 with Bernie, those proposals are actually now starting to become more part of the mainstream for the moderate part of the party.

I think it shows that the majority of the Democratic Party is really starting to coalesce around these issues. And I think that gives me great confidence that we'll be actually able to see these proposals passed.

MARTIN: I wanted to ask before we let each of you go, like, what are you going to be about the next couple of months? What is your work in the next couple of months going forward, leading up to election? And frankly, even beyond that, as three people who've decided that you're Democrats, who's decided that you want to work within the Democratic Party sort of going forward, what's your work going forward? And who wants to start? Maybe - Zenaida, do you want to start?

HUERTA: Yeah, sure. So I'm an elected Los Angeles County Democratic Party Central Committee member. So in the next month, I'll be interviewing local candidates who are buying the Democratic Party endorsement. And my goal with that is trying to build a ticket of progressive Democrats to accompany the Biden-Harris ticket in November for people in Los Angeles County.

But I also see our work continuing from November to April within the first 100 days of the Biden-Harris administration, God willing, where we can do, like, what Jae said about pushing Biden to embrace policies like "Medicare for All."

MARTIN: Richard, what about you? I know that you're more moderate than a number of the other folks that we've been speaking to. What do you think about what we've been sort of talking about here? Do you see a place for yourself in the party going forward?

MARTIN: I still see myself as there being a place for myself in the party. I mean, the Democratic Party is a big tent party, and at the end of the day, progressive or moderate, there are still those core issues that we collectively agree upon such as universal affordable health care, climate change action, being pro-choice and whatnot.

You know, I do believe that the party's starting to trend more and more towards the left. But, you know, I think that's more because there's just more of a conversation on these issues and because there's - these issues that the left speaks to are some issues that really have not been addressed much and have been ignored for so long, as - for example, as the cost of college. But, you know, as - so long as the Democratic Party remains big tent, we'll still - I'll still be here, and I will still be having these conversations.

MARTIN: Jae, what about you? What's your work going forward?

MOYER: Well, I have so many things.

MARTIN: (Laughter).

MOYER: I was trying to think while you were talking to the others. I was, like, I want to...

MARTIN: (Laughter).

MOYER: Most importantly, you know, we have elections statewide in Kansas - House races and Senate races, like I said, locally that are really, really important to Kansas in order to get us to turn into more of a blue state. And, you know, I'm also the secretary of local chapter of our statewide pro-LGBTQ organization, which is called Equality Kansas, and I really want to push for, like, an end to conversion therapy in the state of Kansas. You know, I want to see police reform and racial justice happening in my own city of Overland Park.

And so I think that's going to be a lot of my work - you know, is making sure that this country is just a better place for everyone to live in.

MARTIN: Jae Moyer is a Biden delegate from Overland Park, Kan. Richard Dorman is a Biden delegate from Columbia, S.C. And Zenaida Huerta is a Sanders delegate from Whittier, Calif. They're all part of the Young Delegates Coalition.

Thank you all so much for talking with us. I really enjoyed it. I do hope we'll talk again.

MOYER: Yeah, thank you so much, Michel.

HUERTA: Thank you.

DORMAN: Thank you Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.