Will mothers' voices echo with voters?

'Mothers of the Movement' entire DNC convention speech
'Mothers of the Movement' entire DNC convention speech

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'Mothers of the Movement' entire DNC convention speech 08:49

Story highlights

  • Ruth Ben-Ghiat: "Mothers of the Movement" used pain to push for gun control, police reform
  • Mothers' moral leadership in stark contrast with GOP's siege mentality, she says

Ruth Ben-Ghiat is a professor of history and Italian studies at New York University. Her latest book is "Italian Fascism's Empire Cinema." The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN)American political conventions are, at their heart, stages for telling stories. We've heard many of these over the last several days, by Republicans and Democrats. From the former group, we've listened to stories of a nation that's broken and in crisis, its citizens threatened by foreigners and each other. "I alone can fix it," says Donald Trump, this nation's savior.

Among Democrats, stories of optimism and activism, told in the key of "we," have prevailed so far. "When crisis hits, we don't turn against each other, we listen to each other," first lady Michelle Obama said in her keynote speech Monday.
Ruth Ben-Ghiat
Within this chorus, the voices of the mothers stand out. The "Mothers of the Movement," who appeared on the Democratic National Convention's second day, might have had every reason to agree with the GOP's diagnosis that violence and crime are ruining America.
    Each of these women had a child killed in horrific circumstances. Seven sons and daughters (Trayvon Martin, Blair Holt, Jordan Davis, Hadiya Pendleton, Dontré Hamilton, Michael Brown and Oscar Grant) died from gunshot wounds by vigilantes, criminals or the police; one (Sandra Bland) died following alleged abuses in police custody; and one (Eric Garner) was choked by police while pleading that he could not breathe.
    These grieving mothers saw their children's deaths give new life to the fight for racial justice for black communities in America, with the Black Lives Matter movement being its best-known manifestation. They unveiled to a white public and to a new generation the realities that most black families live with and most whites don't experience. The profiling and criminalization, which render blacks suspect in their everyday movements and actions; how blacks are treated differently than whites in custody, in court and in jail; and how black-white interactions are still determined by "the echoes of Jim Crow," as former Attorney General Eric Holder put it in his own talk at the convention.
    All of these realities became newly visible to Americans, not least because of the circulation of videos of some of these deaths on social media. As a mother myself, I cannot imagine how it might be to have to see my child's death discussed and viewed casually on television news programs that I might encounter in airports, bars or the convenience store, or every time I opened Facebook or Twitter.
    Mothers of the Movement took shape out of this space of pain as an advocacy group for gun control and police reform and as a means for these mothers to speak truth to their children's memory. Parenting does not end when your child dies, said Lucy McBath (mother of Jordan Davis), in one of the evening's most moving moments. "What a blessing to be standing here so Sandy can still speak through her Mama," said Sandra Bland's mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, in another. Our dead may be buried, but they are not silenced, says the movement as a whole.
    Mothers take stage at DNC to 'Black Lives Matter' chant
    Mothers take stage at DNC to 'Black Lives Matter' chant

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      Mothers take stage at DNC to 'Black Lives Matter' chant

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    Mothers take stage at DNC to 'Black Lives Matter' chant 00:47
    Some might have been surprised at the group's endorsement of Hillary Clinton, and the mothers' willingness to campaign for her in places such as Chicago and South Carolina. After all, Black Lives Matter had shaded more toward Bernie Sanders. Yet it was Clinton, not Sanders, who established a relationship with the mothers based on a commitment to children's rights and reform of gun laws -- as well as a common maternal identity.
    Judging from their comments at the convention, the mothers see their role as bridge builders: between the dead and the living, between Clinton and black constituents and between the police and mistrustful black communities. Their message of compassion for the police as well as victims of violence strikes a tone of hope for America.
    The mothers' moral leadership and outreach contrasts starkly with the Republicans' current siege mentality. We are better than this, the Mothers of the Movement say to that other nation enchanted by tales of walls and arms as told by a strongman leader. Come November, we will find out which of the competing stories on offer during this campaign that Americans find more compelling.