Day three of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia saw the continuation of the protesting which had been taking place all week from supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders. Though boos and jeers in the convention hall were not up to Monday’s or even Tuesday’s standards, they were nonetheless present—as President Barack Obama found out as he delivered his address in support of nominee Hillary Clinton.
That said, by and large, the crowd seemed fairly excited, as if the previous two days did not have historic demonstrations against the party leadership and the nominee. A casual observer might not have thought much about the intermittent protestations. By and large, in spite of Tuesday’s walkout and protests outside the convention center, the arena was packed.
But after speaking with multiple Bernie delegates, there was something seriously wrong.
“We went back to our seats, and even though we have 49 Bernie delegates for New Jersey, all our seats are filled up, and most of the Bernie delegates aren’t there,” Wayne Lewis, a Bernie delegate from New Jersey told me. “We try to walk down to [the] floor—they let us walk the floor, but they won’t let us stop anywhere.”
Multiple Bernie delegates reported similar incidents. “I had stepped out to see Nina Turner and Susan Sarandon,” said a delegate from Louisiana. “Came back in to take my seat—we have about five rows for Louisiana maybe six—small state I know everyone in my delegation including the alternates, and uh…half the people were not from Louisiana.”
Another delegate even showed me a text message their delegation had received the day before from the DNC, requesting help to fill in obviously empty seats in the California section, following the walkout, in order to keep up appearances.
In other words, there is a serious unity problem, and the Democratic establishment knows it—it just does not seem to care. If Democrats were as concerned with party unity as their slogan, “Stronger Together,” would suggest, you wouldn’t know it being at the convention yesterday.
For one thing there were various reports by Bernie delegates of harassment at the hands of their Clinton counterparts. Accounts of DNC officials taking their signs and ripping them up circulated throughout the arena. The delegates also reported threats that they’d be denied credentials. As journalist Rania Khalek reported:
And that is just the tip of the iceberg. Though most of the speakers at the convention praised Bernie Sanders, the DNC reportedly removed progressive former Democratic Ohio state senator Nina Turner from the agenda without providing a reason. Over the course of the primary, Turner found national prominence as a surrogate for the Vermont Senator, playing the role of ambassador for non-white voters. She respect and adoration of the Sanders movement for her unabashed progressivism and loyalty. For the Democrats to make the decision to cut her sent a clear message to Sanders supporters.
As if that scheduling change wasn’t tough enough for progressives to swallow, controversial former New York City mayor, Michael Bloomberg, remained on the schedule. Bloomberg, a longtime ally of Hillary Clinton, earned a reputation as persona non grata among progressives when he used the NYPD to evict and disperse the Occupy Wall Street movement, all the while blocking the public and press from reporting it. The violence that resulted—the brutality against the demonstrators—has haunted his legacy ever since.
As a result of the perceived slight of having their people barred from speaking, the Bernie delegates hosted their own “convention within a convention,” as one delegate remarked, inside the media pavilion: a press conference featuring such notable speakers as Susan Sarandon, Danny Glover, and of course, Nina Turner. As the procession filed into the room, swarmed by press and excited delegates alike, the crowd broke out into chants of,“We’re with Nina!”
Outside the pavilion, more Bernie delegates gathered and chanted, “Hey hey, DNC, this is not unity!” I consider this a fair assessment. The party is not now unified, and will likely remain that way unless something changes.
Of course, with this chant comes a hope that all is not yet lost.
The continued presence of the Sanders delegates at the convention—well, most of them (many have not returned)—is a hopeful sign for the party, as is the chant which implies a desire to come together. However, time is quickly running out for the DNC to make the necessary concessions.
As I walked through the crowd, I was reminded by something I was told two days before by a Sanders delegate with whom I’d had a long interaction: “I am listening, and I am waiting for them to come get my vote—what they do will determine what I do…but that’s on them.”
The party does have a real opportunity with this convention, but they’re screwing it up. After speaking with the Sanders delegates inside the convention hall and outside in Franklin Delano Roosevelt Park, it became clear what the Democrats could reasonably do to show a good faith effort at unity:
1) Apologize for the culture of bias against Sen. Bernie Sanders that was revealed to have existed at the highest levels within the DNC—the discovery of which prompted DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz to resign.
“They haven’t even acknowledged that they did anything wrong,” one protesting delegate told me. “It would be one thing if they acknowledged that they tipped the scales, but they haven’t.”
What’s more, the scent of impropriety still hangs in the air. Though she stepped down ignominiously, Schultz ended up hired as the honorary chair to Hillary Clinton’s 50 State program to elect Democrats nationwide. The top DNC officials who sent and received the scandalous, pro-Clinton emails promptly issued apologies, but faced no other consequences.
According to the protesting delegates, that must change for unity in the fall.
2) Amend the platform to utterly and expressly condemn the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement. The defeat of a measure to do just that by Clinton’s platform appointees has hung over the nominee in spite of her publicly denouncing the deal. If amends are to be made between the two camps, tougher language must be adopted.
The good news is, a significant number of Democrats from both camps, agree on this issue. There is very little risk involved in staking out, once and for all, this position, and so much to lose without doing so.
3) It must allow progressives to speak. The Nina Turner incident only served to heighten tensions between the party leaders and the Sanders supporters.
4) It must open its doors—literally. Thousands of disaffected Sanders supporters are demonstrating throughout the city.
If the Democratic leadership were shrewd, it would extend the olive branch by allowing the protesters onto the convention grounds, and providing water. A frequent complaint I heard from protesters outside the DNC was that the dual layer of fencing around the convention center as well as FDR Park was unwelcoming. “They want to keep us out,” cried a protester wearing a vest covered in a plethora of Bernie Sanders pins.
Of course, another option would be Hillary Clinton personally addressing the crowd—again bringing water.
If the Democratic Party believes its message of unity as much as its politicians claim it does, there is it must meet these protesters half way. Progressives are becoming the most important voting bloc in the United States because they are the majority of millennials. These voters are looking for reasons to vote Democrat, and prevent Donald Trump from winning the presidency. They just need an olive branch.
Yet Hillary Clinton and the Democratic establishment seem set increasing appeals to centrists and disaffected conservatives alienated by Donald Trump. Those priorities were on display yesterday at the convention as the DNC filled seats and fretted over appearances, but made no efforts at ameliorating the situation driving the protests. This strategy is only making things worse.
From what I have gathered from the Sanders delegates, something is being planned for tonight when Hillary Clinton formally accepts the nomination. If ever there were a point of no return for party unity, this is it. This is the DNC’s last chance to bring the party together.