Heather Pope never expected that she would be participating in the Democratic National Convention.
She didn’t think it was realistic that she, a 21-year-old recent Temple University graduate, could represent Pennsylvania as a delegate. Pope wasn’t even sure of the process until she attended a training session.
“I kind of thought, ‘Let me just try,’” she said.
“It was important to me to make a point to other young folks about their rightful place in politics and governing generally,” Pope added. “Young people are really kind of forced to earn their place or prove that we are worthy of a seat at the table, which is not how it should be.”
In a normal year, she would have been in Milwaukee, the city selected to host the 2020 convention, participating in caucuses and listening to many of the party’s leading voices.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Democratic convention will be almost entirely virtual. The four-day event begins Monday and will include televised speeches from Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and others, as well as performances by Billie Eilish and the Chicks (formerly known as the Dixie Chicks).
Anlin Wang, 27, of West Philadelphia, said he is “very relieved” the convention isn’t being held in-person, as much as he was looking forward to the experience. He’s a delegate pledged to Sanders representing the state’s 3rd Congressional District, which covers a large chunk of the city.
“I thought I would be a good candidate to represent progressive and left-wing values at the convention,” Wang said.
He and Pope are part of the Young Delegates, a group of politically-minded attendees under the age of 36.
Delegates will have the opportunity this week to participate in a wide range of councils and meetings, and Wang said he intends to attend as many as possible.
Pope, a Sanders at-large delegate, plans to attend an event about Palestinian liberation, as well as the women’s caucus and a workshop on how to campaign digitally.
“I think it will still be a fun and educational time,” said Pope, who lives in the Francisville section of North Philadelphia.
Most delegates show up on primary ballots after working with the state party and campaign of their preferred candidate and gathering signatures.
Their main job is to nominate a presidential candidate (typically a formality) and vote on the party’s platform and other resolutions.
Pope, a self-described Democratic Socialist, cast her ballot against the platform last week. She was disappointed the policy document didn’t call for a Medicare-for-all program and the legalization of marijuana.
“I found the platform to be very conservative and, frankly, disappointing,” she said. “I think that if Democrats want to make an effort to unify the party, they need to listen to progressives and be willing to compromise and make concessions.”
Wang isn’t happy with the trajectory of the party, either, even though, he said, more and more of the public is moving to the left, embracing views that previously would have been seen as radical.
“Party leadership, on the other hand, to my mind, is really not in alignment with its base on these issues,” he said. “That to me is concerning.”
Neither were pleased with Biden or his vice presidential pick, U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris. Polling shows young people are less enthused about the former vice president than older generations.
Among registered Democrats in Pennsylvania between the ages of 18 and 34, 65 percent had a “favorable” view of Biden, compared to 81 percent for the 35-49 group and about 90 percent for over 50, according to Civiqs.
“On every single policy issue I care about, him and I do not align as far as our values and our political thinking goes,” Wang said.
Pope was rooting for Congresswoman Karen Bass over Harris, who she said was “not an appropriate choice” given her history as a prosecutor during a time of national outcry against law enforcement.
Even so, Pope said she plans to vote for Biden to avoid another four years of President Donald Trump.
Both expressed an interest in staying involved in politics and pushing the party more to the left. Wang said he will soon begin working for Councilwoman At-Large Kendra Brooks, a member of the progressive Working Families Party.
“It really looks to me like the rank and file of the party is shifting pretty sharply to the left, and not just as a result of younger people with more progressive views becoming a bigger portion of the population,” he said.