By Christine S. Escobar
Aug 2, 2016
Thousands of Bernie Sanders supporters and delegates from across the nation converged last week inside and outside the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia for 5 days, at times marching under 90–100 degree temperatures.
Refusing to fall in line behind Hillary Clinton as the Democratic nominee, they aimed to show the nation and the world their dissatisfaction with the outcome of this year’s Democratic primary.
Some supporters, convention demonstrators, and one national delegate for Bernie Sanders from Ohio I interviewed say they see Clinton’s nomination as not merely a victory for an opposing candidate, but a larger statement of gross injustice to American voters.
Many I spoke to say the backlash against the existing two-party system of politics in the U.S. is a very strong movement with mass appeal to varied interest groups from Black Lives Matter, to the environmental movement, workers rights, single payer health care, and many others, and is a movement which will continue for quite some time.
Several denied the prevailing sentiment that they are willingly leaving the Democratic Party, even as some have joined the mass #DemExit action or by outright refusal to vote for Clinton in November.
When in fact, they say they have been essentially forced out through the actions of the Democratic party leadership, including Clinton herself. Until then, party unity, it seems, will remain just a figment of anyone’s imagination.
Meg Mass, 44, is assistant director at The University of Chicago Writing Program and an environmental educator. She believes the Clinton nomination undermines the ideals of feminism because it sets the example that a woman would not be able to attain Clinton’s level of political success in a legitimate manner, free of cheating, media collusion, party manipulation, and deception, as evidenced by the recent DNC email leaks.
By trotting out her victory in this year’s primary while refusing to condemn the now public dealings of the Democratic party staff, and bringing the denounced former party chair, Debbie Wasserman Schultz into her campaign as “honorary chair”, Clinton effectively places her stamp of approval on a highly manipulative and underhanded primary election.
“I came from a strongly Democrat family, “ Mass explains. She said she has always voted Democrat, with the exception of local races when there are Green Party candidates on the ballot. Mass said she votes not so much by following the endorsements of organizations, but more so on the individual candidate’s positions.
Mass says it is precisely Clinton’s intelligence and political connections that make her “even more dangerous” because she operates “without a moral compass”, and certain political actions under a Hillary Clinton presidency could have longer range consequences far more difficult to identify and prevent.
“I really don’t see how I could vote for her,” Mass explains. “Clearly trying to keep Trump out of the presidency is a goal…on the other hand who am I to support so many things that are unconscionable? There’s a very good chance that I’ll vote for Jill Stein.
With Trump we will know the damage right away, there will be people to stop him before he gets very far. So it can be undone. With her, we may never know the damage that she does to our country, to other countries,…that is even more terrifying.”
The issues facing the political climate in the U.S. are larger than Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton and all-encompassing, according to Mass.
“We can’t go back and we can’t continue on this path, because it’s just gotten us more and more off-kilter. Now we’re being patted on the head…’now you need to smile and play nice.’ We don’t have to get along.
[Clinton] is a neoliberal and that trumps gender. I don’t think that any window dressing can change what you think if you support neoliberal policies.
This is a referendum on neoliberalism. The people said ‘no.’ Neoliberalism said: ‘sorry you don’t have a choice.’”
Puja Dutta, 28, from Columbus, Ohio works in the financial industry and has been a lifelong registered Democrat. She attended the convention as a National Delegate for Bernie Sanders from Ohio. This primary was the first time Dutta canvassed and phone banked for a political candidate.
“I canvassed in 4 different states, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Kentucky“ she says. “I’ve probably made over a 1,000 phone calls. It’s been exhausting, but also very rewarding.”
She describes the scene from within the convention center and the strained interactions between the Sanders delegates and the Clinton delegates:
“All of us Bernie delegates arrived. We have a close-knit organization here in Ohio, it’s sort of grown from the Bernie delegates in Columbus. We went into it having our community, but wanting to expand it. We were very excited to build relationships, network, but it was like we all had a light in us that was extinguished by the Clinton campaign. Most of the people that we spoke to (the Clinton delegates and their guests}, didn’t want to interact with us.
They would look at me, roll their eyes and walk away. They wouldn’t even speak to us. They were curt. The level of condescension…it was very clear that this was their thing, their party, and we were the intruders. It was very exhausting and very demoralizing.
If [the Sanders delegates] hadn’t had each other, we wouldn’t have had anyone. The reality is this is the governing of our country. We want to see our country prosper.
For us, we’re activists, most of us are activists, there doesn’t seem to be a place in the Democratic Party for us. Most of us want to unite with [the Clinton supporters and delegates]. We want the Democratic Party to go back to the FDR roots.
For [the Democratic Party] to turn on us and basically attack us like this, especially with the DNC and the WikiLeaks emails, ….it’s hard to understand why the Democratic Party is treating us like we’re the enemy. We did make up something like 46 percent of the vote.”
Dutta thinks the misconception that there is a typical “Bernie voter” is based on controlling and suppressing the progressive movement.
“It really bothers me that the whole Bernie Bro (myth) exists, …I’m a millennial, I’m Indian, I’m a female, and I’m educated.
They are terrified of us. We have awakened a movement. That’s why you’re seeing supporters get attacked this way: ignoring the fact that older men and women and people of color even exist in this movement.
There’s a class division, more than anything else. For someone who’s comfortable in the system, that’s terrifying. For a lot of people the system is broke, it’s very broke. When you’re afraid to go to the doctor, because you can’t afford it. That is broke.”
Some voters appear to see feminism as “a construct of the gender that you are born with,” Dutta believes. She says this is an oversimplification of feminism and could explain the distaste many women voters, including herself, have regarding Clinton’s nomination.
“How am I supposed to be proud of this situation..as a feminist? Being a feminist is not about getting one over on anyone, on being in charge of anyone, it seems to me that a lot of the Clinton-era feminists believe that. I don’t think they’ve evolved beyond that. Is this what we wanted? We wanted a woman with active FBI investigations? That’s not what feminism is to me. Tulsi Gabbard, Elizabeth Warren, Nina Turner, those are the kind of women who have integrity.”
If we’re so reliant on identity politics, that we ignore policy,..then we are never going to get where we want in this country.”
Dutta went to the convention with an open mind about supporting the eventual nominee, but her experiences there changed her mind. She said she is now leaning toward the Green Party choice.
“[Clinton supporters] are hoping that if they can shame us and demoralize us enough, that we will just vote for her and fall in line. I think they are hoping that the same thing that happened in the Obama presidency will happen to the progressive movement. I’m not angry at anybody. There’s a lot of anger in our movement as well. The most important thing is that we don’t allow ourselves to be splintered.
They [Democratic Party] don’t want us. The Democratic Party has shown us that they don’t have room, we’re not leaving..they’re kicking us out. They don’t even want to hear what we have to say. We’re not a cult. Democracy is not about being a cult.”
Brian Riley, 49, works in economic development in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He was a volunteer for the Bernie Sanders campaign and canvassed and phone banked for Sanders during the Democratic Primary.
“I did not know about Bernie before the campaign. I found out about him in 2015. The more I found out, the more I was inspired. I had never done any political work before. I’m generally a Democrat voter, but I’m starting to question what that means,” Riley says.
Riley admits he is not optimistic about a Stein 3rd party victory in the general election. This view colors his focus on actions beyond November. He is working on plans to organize brainstorming sessions with other similarly engaged voters in various cities. He said he has a goal to have talks occur in a dozen cities over Labor Day weekend.
His objective is to “create space for that conversation” on how voters can identify issues closest to them and be moved to take action on these issues locally. Riley is interested in growing the circle of the existing 13 million or so voters who backed Bernie Sanders.
“People need a little time to process what it means to them. Figure out what they really care about. How to be active, how to plug in…it’s not even about the next election,” he explains.
I think people need the space to become more aware of how to make this part of your civic life. The problems aren’t going to go away because of who we elect in one election.
There’s a sustained effort by the right-wing think tanks…they’ve gotten us to know what the right stands for. We all know: smaller government, less taxes, this rolls off the tip of our tongues. It’s even more complicated on the left. We have to do the business of democracy…This is much more complicated than election tactics. We’re not going to beat them….this is long game. I think of democracy as a verb.
I worked in 9 cities in my last job, I’ve seen Bernie signs in every city. I have seen 4 Hillary signs to date. There are a lot of people who are energized, more so than ever in my lifetime.”
Riley attended the convention demonstrations for 3 days last week. He said the protest marches, were in a way, disempowering, but there will always be a role for public demonstrations.
“Everybody else knows what to expect from these types of activism. The photographer knows that they can show a certain [photo]. All of this is saying to me, yeah there’s some stuff we’ve got to do, but yeah, we’ve gotta have new tactics.
We’ve got to continually evolve to be the most effective. We’ve got to keep getting more people. I think there’s a role for protests, but it’s a diminishing one. In the end, it’s a meme.”
Meg Welch, 53, from Evanston, Illinois, works for the federal government. She says she did not have preconceived ideas about what to expect in Philly. Welch was hoping the convention would be contested. She believes Sanders’ endorsement of Clinton prior to the convention took the life out of the movement, at least temporarily.
“I think there would have been many, many more people [at the convention protests] had he not endorsed her. It wasn’t massive as it could have been,” she says. “I had sort of hoped that [Bernie] might walk out and start his own party. I knew it was probably unlikely.”
Welch says she has followed the Sanders campaign since July 2015. She phone banked and later canvassed for Bernie Sanders in Indiana before that state’s primary. In previous elections, she voted for Barack Obama twice, and for Bill Clinton twice.
“I’m not doing that anymore.” she says, in reference to her Clinton vote.
She credits the Sanders’ campaign with galvanizing various activist groups to convene: single payer healthcare, Black Lives Matter, Occupy Wall Street, Fight for $15. But, she says most were in Philadelphia to “protest the election.” Welch stayed in Philadelphia for 3 days during the convention.
“Sunday I was disappointed by the turnout, …but then Monday, it was a much bigger crowd as it wore on. [The firefighters] opened the fire hydrants for us. There were musicians playing, it made it more of a .. it did something for the morale.
We saw no tensions or interactions with police. Tuesday night, I was on a plane coming home late, that’s when people stormed the wall and there were a few arrests.
I was a little apprehensive, to tell you the truth, because of all that had been happening with the police. The Philly police, for the most part, stayed calm.”
She continues to have ambivalent feelings toward Bernie Sanders and wonders why he did not fight for California, when votes were still being counted. She has decided to vote for Stein in November.
“I do not believe [Sanders] lost California,” Welch says.
“I know it’s perfectly routine for a candidate to endorse the nominee, but this was different. It was a strong endorsement..I didn’t believe he believed a word he was saying. I thought he would never even use the ‘e-word’. You’re just doing a 180.
When [Bernie] started out, he didn’t know Donald Trump was going to be the Republican candidate. I really do think that he is apoplectic at the thought of Donald Trump being president.”
Welch, like many Sanders supporters, has taken verbal abuse from some Clinton supporters with opposing viewpoints online. But, now she feels it has gotten out of control.
“I think about this, and I feel bad about this. I’ve unfriended 2 people [online]. What I’m finding..and I don’t want to say this, but is it’s one sided. I’m finding that people are being very aggressive. I have never online or in person, given them my reasons why they should be voting how I’m voting. It’s not reciprocated. They feel very entitled.
They just dismiss it, that you’re being irrational. But, look I have reasons. But they’re not even interested in hearing reasons. When you start responding…I get this vitriol. I’m pretty restrained..but if someone makes a claim, I’ll make a counter claim. I just find it not based on issues.”
Welch says many supporters of Clinton and the mainstream media continue to gloss over the DNC emails.
“The kind of message that this sends is that you can do all of this and no one even bats an eyelash. It’s not even incumbent on [Clinton] to at least disavow this kind of behavior. Win however you can, if you have to cheat do whatever you can.”
Jessica Reed, 33, is a former tax accountant from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She traveled to the convention on her own and stayed with two Ohio delegates for Sanders from Sunday until Wednesday evening.
Reed says she was “crazy involved” in following the Sanders campaign online. She donated early on, often in response to a major event or call to action from the campaign. When it got closer to Pennsylvania’s primary, she canvassed in her state and phone banked. While canvassing, she befriended two delegates.
“I always voted Democrat, Reed says. “My parents always told me, they’re the party of the working people.”
Most recently, however, Reed switched her party registration along with the many other Sanders’ voters during the planned “#DemExit” action last week. But she does not intend to sit out the general election and “abhors” Donald Trump.
“I will absolutely be voting. I am 98 percent sure at this point that I will be voting for Jill Stein. I have put it out there (for my Hillary supporter friends) if you can convince me otherwise..
I was excited to find out that [Stein] will be on the Pennsylvania ballot. I do think Jill Stein made a concerted effort to be a part of groups, and coordinate, she did a good job of tapping into the different groups.”
Reed says she saw Stein speak at a rally toward the end of a march during the convention, and on Tuesday, she saw Stein out in the streets marching with the protesters, in “activist mode.”
“I liked it because she was tapping into my feelings..I like activism. But, I worry about the broader appeal..I think the narrative could easily be written that she doesn’t have much substance…I just worry about what the media narrative could be. I felt like she was showing that she is with us.”
Reed reserves her greater admiration however, for the Sanders delegates at the convention who refused to give up their protests while facing condemnation and intimidation from Clinton supporters and convention staff.
“The delegates, to me, are the new American heroes. They showed immense integrity. I kept telling the delegates: I know it feels bad inside, but it feels really good to know that you guys are not folding. It was heartening to see that those people were standing their ground.
I did meet a lot of like-minded people who weren’t going to take no for an answer for a long time. We know we have big numbers. I think there’s a lot of hope. We’re not feeling defeated. They want us to feel defeated, but we’re not.”
photos: Brian Riley