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Trip Reports from Sanders Delegates at the Democrat National Convention

Trip Reports from Sanders Delegates at the Democrat National ConventionTrip Reports from Sanders Delegates at the Democrat National Convention

By Lambert Strether of Corrente

I haven’t see trip reports from Sanders delegates who went to Phildelphia aggregated anywhere, so I thought I would do that for NC readers. (And, readers, if you know of more trip reports — there must be some! — please leave them in comments.) I’m not going to try to create a master narrative, and you’ll find most of the commentary in the headings under which quotes from the delegates are placed (like “Fake Process” under “The Party Decides”). Here are the sources I’ve aggregated. The first two are mainstream, and the rest are leftie sites (Truthout) or blogs (our own #SlayTheSmaugs).

  1. WaPo (Nomiki Konst, NY)
  2. Chicago Tribune (Hillary Colby, IL)
  3. Naked Capitalism (#SlayTheSmaugs, NY)
  4. Truthout (Lauren Steiner, CA)
  5. News Review (Carol Cizauskas, NV)
  6. Orange Juice Blog (Carole Levers, CA)
  7. Life and News (Mark Lasser, CO)

The common factors I’ve focused on are all institutional. As readers know, I have priors (and, I suppose, what might be called futures): I’m looking for (and, I think, finding) evidence of independent left entities, neither liberal (neoliberal) or conservative (neoliberal). Therefore, intitututional factors (tactics, structures, even culture) for both Democrat party loyalists and Sanders supporters and insurgents are of interest to me.

“The Party Decides”

Fake Process

Strong consensus on “stage management” by Sanders supporters here.

Mark Lasser (CO): “This show takes place in four acts and regardless of how distending actors may want to alter the narrative, the show will likely prevail in the producer’s intended course through all four and until the curtains close. The order of the show is: Act I, Messy display. Act II, An even messier display and a “roll call.” Act III, Reconciliation. Act IV, Unity.”

WaPo’s Dave Weigel, in story on Nomiki Konst (NY): “Over the next two days, the conversations between the two factions stepped up. Clinton’s campaign let it be known that this was always going to be negotiated, that the week was plotted out for there to be greater unity with every day after the nomination fight.”

Lauren Steiner (CA): “It didn’t help that the WikiLeaks emails were released that weekend, confirming what we all knew about the DNC sabotaging Sanders. The pent-up anger about that and the vacuum that was created by the fact that we were given absolutely no role except to sit and endure a staged coronation left us nothing else to do but boo and protest.”

Carol Cizauskas (NV): “It was definitely a very intense experience,’ 46-year-old Erin Bilbray, a Bernie delegate and DNC official from Las Vegas, said. “This was my eighth convention. I described previous conventions as Spring Break for Democrats, but this was definitely not that case at all. … It was hard watching so many Sanders delegates who thought the convention was going to be more than an infomercial and watching their realization that’s what it was. I was more disappointed in that I’ve never seen the [Nevada] delegation so separated. I also never saw the state party doing anything to heal the wounds after the bitter state convention. State party chair Roberta Lange certainly was not reaching her hand out to the Sanders delegates.’”

#SlayTheSmaugs (NY): “How dare delegates want to be anything on the floor beyond human props? Of course, they couldn’t enforce prop-dom; enough Bernie delegates avoided the ‘card trick’ at the end that the cameras didn’t show it, and they couldn’t make us hold up the forest of signs they kept giving us. Still, we were constantly disabused of any notion that we were present for a meeting of a political party having a substantive conversation, and the only way to opt out completely of being extras in the commercials was to simply leave, which many did.”

Hillary Colby (IL): “;I had no idea how ugly, how corrupt, how the convention was designed to keep out the grassroots people from having a voice,’ said Colby when she met with me on Monday, along with a few other Sanders delegates who wanted to share their experiences.”

The Opening Prayer

This must have been clarifying.

Carol Cizauskas (NV): “I believed the convention would proceed fairly as a platform for both candidates until the nomination Tuesday night would promote only one winner. Those hopes were drowned by the tone set in, of all things, the opening prayer. ‘We have an opportunity, oh God,’ Rev. Cynthia Hale said, ‘to give undeniable evidence of our commitment to justice and equality by nominating Hillary Rodham Clinton as our candidate.’ As the Hillary delegates began cheering, we Bernie delegates began booing.”

Double Standards

This too must have been clarifying. “They have no place to go” both at the micro-level (the terrain of the convention hall) and the macro level (party structure).

Carole Levers (CA): “When we arrived each day at the convention, we were not allowed to enter the convention floor until “X o’clock.” (Generally 30 minutes before gavel time, which could change daily.) The volunteer “guards” told us that no one was on the convention floor. We, in fact, could clearly hear that there were people inside — a whole lot of people inside. All four days we literally had to bull our way in, barging past the “guards” who chased after us. What we saw when we passed the curtains, of course, was that indeed there were a lot of people already in the hall — most all of whom we observed to be Hillary delegates.”

Mark Lasser (CO): “Hundreds of Sanders volunteers who traveled on their own dime to be at the convention are denied credentials. And those lucky enough to penetrate past the Clinton security goons and get a credential are not awarded the floor passes that they were promised, but instead get guest credentials allowing them access only to the rafters where they are of little use as volunteers to the Sanders delegates”

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Seat Fillers

I’ve never heard of the “seat filler” tactic used in past conventions; clearly somebody in the Clinton apparatus was on top of their game, if this is the sort of game one wishes to be played. Can readers comment?

Carole Levers (CA): “From Wednesday onward, huge numbers of Hillary ‘fillers’ were being bused in to fill the upper levels of the hall and to also assist in isolating Bernie Delegates to prevent them from being able to sit together in sizable groups. This was an attempt to greatly inhibit our ability to communicate and work together, as well as to be able cover for one another for restroom and dinner breaks. (Evidence of this was the huge number of buses that now filled the parking lot outside!) Since we were not allowed to bring in food to the convention floor, we either were forced to gobble down food while standing and hope that our seats would be saved or … just not eat. Many delegates were denied entry back into the convention floor after having left for a break. Some delegates were denied egress for restroom breaks, necessitating that they find another ‘door’ that would permit them to leave to attend to urgent physiological needs. … We had observed advertisements in downtown Philly from the DNC asking for people to serve as seat fillers — for pay. They were expected to hold and wave signs, chant for Hillary, and follow the lead of the Hillary delegates.”

Mark Lasser (CO): “The yellow vests are now congregating around the aisles. Anytime a Sanders delegate goes up to wait in the 90-minute-long long for what is truly the worst arena food in America or to go pee, the Clinton organizers try to place a hired seat occupier in the seat. These are not temporary seat fillers like you hear about at the Oscars, these are people being told to not get up once they take over the seat, even for a credentialed delegate. So when you were watching at home and it seemed like slowly but surely the crowd was becoming more supportive of the established Clinton storyline, this is due to a forced manipulation. It is visually true but not because people are reconciling, but because the crowd is being forcibly transformed.”

Lauren Steiner (CA): “In fact, throughout the convention, Clinton delegates, seat-fillers and other DNC volunteers intimidated us, took our seats and covered our signs with theirs. While I was able to have some pleasant conversations with a few Clinton delegates on the issues, about which they were woefully uninformed, many of my fellow delegates had negative experiences. They were pushed, shoved, mocked, insulted and generally disdained.

Sanders Delegates as Organizing and Self-Organizing

Organizing on Policy

Both the TPP signs and chanting and the anti-war chants made it onto tube; I saw them, especially the red “No TPP” signs.

TPP

Carole Levers (CA): “But the biggest highlight of the day for me and for Marleen occurred when we held our “No TPP” signs, turned toward our right and held the signs higher so that Bernie could see them from his seat in the upper area of the section adjacent to ours. He saw us, stood, gave a big smile and mouthed “Thank you!” Jane who was sitting next to him clapped, smiled and gave us the thumbs up!”

Lauren Steiner (CA): “It went off like clockwork. After the rules were adopted, Elijah Cummings, chair of the Platform Committee, started to speak. When he said ‘platform,’ the mic check began, and the vast majority of Sanders delegates in that hall held up our signs and chanted “No TPP” for several minutes. We got coverage in many media outlets.”

Militarism

Mark Lasser (CO): “Perhaps the most surreal point of the night is when a military leader speaks to how much butt we’re going to kick once Hillary is elected, the Sanders delegates start the chant, “Peace, Not War”, and the rest of the arena drowns this out with chants of ‘U.S.A.’”

Carole Levers (CA): ” I was harassed by five Hillary delegates who got in my face while I was sitting in my seat. They told me that we needed to quit chanting, go home, and that we did not belong there. They added that by chanting “No More Wars” we were disrespecting the veterans. I replied that none of us were disrespecting the veterans. We were honoring them by NOT WANTING ANY MORE DEAD VETERANS, killed in illegal wars for the profits of the wealthy. I reiterated that we were exercising our first amendment rights to which one replied that WE (Bernie delegates) had no rights. I was later shoved by a Hillary delegate into the metal frame of the seats.”

Carol Cizauskas (NV): “We heard other Bernie delegates chanting “No more war” and then the “opposing team” of Hillary delegates thundering over those chants with “USA.” It was darkly eerie. We discussed how it felt Orwellian, like the two minutes of hate in 1984. “Having chants of ‘No More War’ attempted to be drowned out by chants of ‘USA’ was baffling,” Alan Doucette, Bernie delegate from Las Vegas, said. “To me, USA is a symbol of justice and equality and not warmongering and looking for excuses to go to war. That’s what I want it to be and what it should be.”

#SlayTheSmaugs (NY): “The most dislocating experience was General Allen’s speech, with so many military brass on display, and the ‘fight’ between No More War and USA. That was chilling. Note, No More War is not: War Criminal! Or similarly ‘disrespectful’ stuff; it’s simply a demand not to make our present worse with more ‘hawkish’ ‘interventionist’ ‘regime change’ wars and war-actions.”

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Lauren Steiner (CA): “[Clinton supporters] decided to chant with us when we chanted ‘Black Lives Matter.’ But for some reason, they found ‘No More War’ to be offensive and shouted “USA” right after. At first, I was puzzled by the fact that they were shouting exactly what Trump supporters shout at his rallies. Then, after all the bellicose speeches and the fact that they had so many Republicans endorsing Clinton, it hit me that perhaps it was because they were courting Republicans now. They didn’t care about our support anymore.”

Organizing Resistance

To me watching on the livestream, all of this material did some real damage to the “unity” message, especially the Sanders delegates sabotaging the “card trick” (great metaphor).

The Walkout

Walk out, but to where? Here again we see “They have no place to go” at the micro-level (the terrain of the convention hall) and the macro level (party structure). The walkout gets as far as the press tent…. And? Now, to be fair, to walk anywhere else, you have to get out of the hall, through the exits, through a massive parking lot, and then march… Where?

Mark Lasser (CO): “Towards the end of the day, Sanders delegates, led by those from Washington state and California, walk out in protest and occupy the media tent just outside the arena. … So did the walkout get covered on TV? Unless you were getting your coverage from “The Young Turks” on YouTube, you probably had no idea it occurred.”

Carole Levers (CA): “On Tuesday evening, after the roll call vote, the Oregon and Washington delegates became disgusted with all the corruption and obstructionism that had occurred and walked out of the Convention, leaving a multitude of empty seats. Does anyone recall seeing this many empty seats on TV broadcasts?”

Carol Cizauskas (NV): “Outside in the convention hallway, I found other Nevada Bernie supporters. We saw a large crowd holding Bernie signs and yelling ‘Walk out.’ As they marched past us, we decided to join them. It was the right thing to do after the corruption, deceitfulness and rigging of this election—after the WikiLeaks documents confirmed our suspicions that this nomination was stolen, not earned. We protested with others outside the media tent not 200 feet from the convention center. We chanted ‘The whole world is watching’ and ‘This is what democracy looks like.’ We sang ‘This Land Is Our Land’ and gave interviews to reporters from multiple press outlets.”

T-Shirts

Again, we see confusion on the walkout count.

#SlayTheSmaugs (NY): “In the days before the convention I opted into helping organize an action I found on a Facebook post—the neon Bernie shirts for the night of Hillary Clinton’s acceptance speech. The point of the shirts was to be visible—boy, were they visible in the end—and to be pro-Bernie without being overtly anti-Clinton. On front and back the shirts said: “Enough is Enough” –Bernie Sanders and had a Bernie birdie. The original concept had been rather confrontational; to put them on suddenly when Clinton began speaking Thursday night. Instead many arrived for the seven-hour stretch in the convention center already wearing them. To me they were a marker of the strength of the Bernie wing of the party, a sort of visual reflection of the ‘coalition’ he was pitching instead of our being subsumed into the mainline party. We successfully distributed some 800 shirts, probably 750 of which went to delegates”

Mark Lasser (CO): “The only sign of remaining disunity is the more than 100 people wearing fluorescent green T-shirts that say, “Enough is enough,” a favored Sanders quote. (In actuality, nearly 800 people ordered the shirts, and while I can’t be certain exactly how many were part of the fluoro protest on the day, it was at least 100.) The shirts literally glow whenever the lights are darkened in the arena and the black lights become the sole source of illumination. As far as was apparent, only ABC News even noticed this passive protest.”

The Role of the Sanders Campaign

All of this is very saddening. The Sanders campaign seems to have foundered here on the contradiction between starting a political movement (“our revolution”) and running a political campaign (“our revolution”), where the needs of the campaign were paramount, and not the long-term health of the movement. For example, on the ground level, a campaign is like a travelling circus: It comes to town, puts up the tent, puts on the show, and leaves. But that doesn’t in any way create what I suppose one must call social capital in movement terms; that requires much more personal interaction and trust-building. And a campaign optimized for the “ground war” and the “air war” is not, itself, going to do any organizing at all (though to be fair, the Sanders post-election organizations may do that; we’ll have to see.) This comes out very clearly in how the Sanders campaign organized for the convention; they optimized for campaign professionals. I am shocked and disgusted that there seems to have been no material support for working class Sanders delegates to attend. I’m unsurprised that there was no formal attempt by the Sanders campaign to bust the unity narrative; that was the deal. I could wish that Sanders delegates had self-organized themselves into a visible faction, but given that the war-like tactics of the Clinton campaign, and the unfavorable terrain of the convention floor itself, it’s hard to see what they could have done more than they did. No doubt there’s discussion on this among Sanders supporters. Readers?

Failure to Support Sanders Delegates

Failure to Support with Costs

Mark Lasser (CO): “Here in Colorado — and to my knowledge this was similar in most states — the Sanders delegates are mostly working and middle class regular people who had to take a week off work, hit up friends and family for funds, and frequently launch GoFundMe pages to come up with the cash to ‘participate’ in the democratic process.”

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Carole Levers (NY): “My personal thank you (and Marleen Gillespie’s also!) to Bernie Sanders for helping with the cost of our hotel room. ”

Carol Cizauskas (NV): “I had worked so hard to get to this convention in volunteering and staff work for Bernie, in campaigning to be elected to attend, in raising money for and paying the balance of nearly four thousand dollars in airfare and hotel charges”

Failure to Support with Organizing

#SlayTheSmaugs (NY): “[T]he fact that I had no expectations is actually important, because it reflected to me the failure of Bernie’s campaign to organize, train and/or instruct us much as we headed into the convention. In the vacuum, we self-organized. We created a Facebook page closed to all but delegates. We created Google groups; we created Slacks; we created grassroots whip.”

Nomiki Konst (NY): “I want more people with voices like mine in the media; I want more of the amazing people in this movement to run for office,” she said. “And they’re marginalizing them. It’s so frustrating.”

Damping Down Sanders Delegates

Mark Lasser (CO): “A suited guy comes over to us, explains that he is a Sanders supporter and a Congressman from Wisconsin and that the Sanders campaign wants us to stop waving these signs. The one he says is really a step too far is the “No Oligarchy” sign.”

Lauren Steiner (CA): “Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver presented the Unity Reform Commission that the campaign had already agreed to. He framed it like it was a big win for Sanders, because the committee was required to make recommendations for reforms. However, the commission did not have to report until 2018. The Clinton and DNC appointees again outnumbered Sanders members and they could vote the recommendations down.”

Lauren Steiner (CA): “So here we were going into the convention with nothing to fight for. In fact, the campaign had done nothing to prepare us for any role at the convention at all. There was one staffer assigned to our delegation, and all he did was pester us to stay at the $700-a-night hotel, a severe hardship for Sanders delegates. We were told we had to stay there, so Sanders could confer with us each morning and each night. None of that happened. There was one conference call before the convention. However, it was more to explain Sanders’ endorsement and the future of the political revolution. And no one from the campaign met with us the first morning, either.”

WaPo’s Dave Weigel, in story on Nomiki Konst (NY): “Since last Monday, a small group of Sanders delegates had been asking for, and getting, meetings with a Clinton brain trust. They bottled up the anger of more than a thousand Sanders delegates, and thousands more protesters in the streets, and carefully explained what needed to happen to prevent a blowup.”

Delegate Collegiality

Carol Cizauskas (NV): “There is one place I did discover unity at the convention—among the Nevada delegates for Bernie from southern Nevada. I met them all in person for the first time at the national convention, and I couldn’t have felt more welcomed. The collegiality among them and toward me stands in contrast to the divisiveness created by the party. Others among us felt the same.”

Hillary Colby (IL): “This is just tipping our toe in the water,” said [Luis Aguilar, a 23-year-old delegate from McHenry], who promises to use most of his energy in the near future to fight the controversial Trans Pacific Partnership. “There are so many groups that have formed out of this campaign that will continue to grow stronger and affect the next election.”

Conclusion

I don’t see how anybody could come out of this convention regarding Clinton as the candidate of the Democrat party, as opposed to the candidate of the party faction that rigged the process from jump and forced her nomination through. That means legitimacy trouble for Clinton down the road, particularly on (what I imagine she hopes will be) her most cherished achievement: Executive war powers. I’m also sure there’s a good deal of discussion among Sanders supporters about what to do next. It will be interesting to see if the Green Party is able to recruit from among disaffected Democrats and Independents; notably, if Stein tried to supply leadership at the convention — she was, after all, physically present — she was unable to take advantage of the opportunity. None of the sources I read mentioned her at all. Readers?

The future lies ahead!

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This entry was posted in Guest Post, Politics on by Lambert Strether.

About Lambert Strether

Lambert Strether has been blogging, managing online communities, and doing system administration 24/7 since 2003, in Drupal and WordPress. Besides political economy and the political scene, he blogs about rhetoric, software engineering, permaculture, history, literature, local politics, international travel, food, and fixing stuff around the house. The nom de plume “Lambert Strether” comes from Henry James’s The Ambassadors: “Live all you can. It’s a mistake not to.” You can follow him on Twitter at @lambertstrether. http://www.correntewire.com

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