DNC 2016, Day 4: The Rise of the Berniecrats

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DNC 2016, Day 4: The Rise of the Berniecrats

Demonstrations continued Thursday, during the final night at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. As Hillary Clinton formally accepted her party’s nomination for the presidency of the United States, becoming the first female to do so for a major party in American history, Bernie Sanders delegates, wearing day glow yellow shirts, designed to be visible from the floor under the blue lights of the convention arena, staged a silent protest on the floor of the convention.

As the rest of the crowd cheered, and rose to its feet, waving American flags distributed by DNC volunteers, the delegates sat, stone faced, some holding signs in support of Sen. Sanders, or against the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement. A few broke ranks with their compatriots and booed before being escorted out of the arena by DNC volunteers. Others staged a walkout.

The whole incident undercut the “Stronger Together” narrative the Democrats have been pushing. Though it is no secret the primary revealed a deep rift in the party, for months the establishment has denying it. It can no longer be denied: The 2016 Democratic National Convention will go down in history as one of the most contentious and divided in history—up there with 1948 when the Dixiecrats left over Truman’s desegregation of the armed forces, and 1968 where the delegates for the slain anti-war Bobby Kennedy were allocated to the interventionist Hubert Humphrey over the anti-war Eugene McCarthy.

Over the four days of the convention, months of hostility between the two camps which had been building throughout the primary, came to a head.

Bernie delegates heckled and booed whenever the former Secretary of State’s name was mentioned. They staged a walkout of the convention hall and a sit in in the media pavilion when Clinton won the roll call. They held an impromptu press conference with Nina Turner, Susan Sarandon, and Danny Glover among others—also in the media pavilion. Outside the convention center, separated by miles of labyrinthine fences, thousands of protesters gathered, chanted, and danced exuberantly in defiance of what they felt was an undemocratic primary, and a fundamentally dishonest candidate who cannot be trusted to solve problems she herself, is a part of. The exiting delegates joined the protests—and many never returned.

Those that did found themselves subjected to harassment and heavy scrutiny from DNC officials and Clinton delegates. Many—if not most—of the Sanders delegates I spoke with reported having their seats filled and credentials threatened:

Jason Thompson, Arkansas Delegate

This kind of discontent and division does not bode well for the party’s presidential hopes in the fall and beyond—even if Clinton does win.

I reached out to the DNC for comment, but have not heard back. I will update this piece if and when I hear back.

“I don’t get it,” one irked-looking DNC volunteer responded when I asked for his thoughts on the silent demonstration. “Do they want President Trump?” A conversation I’d had with another reporter on Tuesday came to mind.

“They aren’t really Democrats,” she’d said, implying that Sanders supporters had no loyalty to the party, and no desire to really stay in it.

To be sure, there is certainly an element of that within the protesters (as Jason Thompson of Arkansas). A new hashtag, #DemExit, which had been circulating the Bernie Sanders online groups, popped up occasionally as I interviewed angry delegates.

However, the vast majority of Sanders protesters and delegates both inside and outside the convention hall, were absolutely Democrats, excited to elect progressives in down-ballot races. Even those identifying with ‘Bernie Or Bust’ and ‘Bernie Or Jill’ were, by and large, not interested in leaving the party—and by extension everything Sanders had worked towards.

That said, however, most of Bernie supporters also do not see the 2016 elections so much as a choice between the “lesser of two evils,” as they do a choice between complicity in the breakdown of our political system, and working to save it.

After watching various speakers yesterday, it became apparent that the crux of the divide between the Sanders side and the party establishment comes down to the fact that the latter is out of touch with the times. Speaker after speaker, yesterday, seemed to borrow Republican themes like nationalism, tough talk on terrorism, family values, and the historic significance of electing the first woman to the White House in order to boost Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Rather than court Sanders voters by focusing on the issues the Vermont Senator brought to the forefront of the national conversation, party leaders seem to be doing their best to appeal to disenchanted conservative voters.

When former mayor of Los Angeles Antonio Villarigosa stood up and said of immigrants, “They’re God-fearing, faithful, and family people,” I nearly fell out of my chair. The idea that a Democrat, at the Democratic National Convention, would imply that religion should have any bearing on whether or not one deserves to become a citizen of this country, where such religious tests are unconstitutional, was eyebrow raising.

This speech, of course, a day after former New York City mayor and billionaire, Michael Bloomberg, who infamously put down the Occupy Wall Street movement with the NYPD, gave an address, and a day after the beloved progressive leader and former Democratic Ohio state senator, Nina Turner, was barred from doing so.

In fairness, however, Clinton probably sees more room for growth with conservatives than she does with progressives at this point—and, at this point, she’s not wrong.

There is no doubt that breaking the glass ceiling is an important step, but it could be argued that because today’s young people do not question whether or not a woman can or should be president, in a sense, the glass ceiling has already been shattered.

During the primary, when older feminist icons like Madeleine Albright and Gloria Steinem questioned (and ridiculed) young women who weren’t planning on supporting the female candidate, they ran headlong into a wall of criticism. Young people—and Sanders supporters in general—are less concerned with the immediate historic implications of electing a female president, than they are with whether or not they’ll be able to find non-freelance work that allows them to become independent, fully formed members of society; or whether they’ll be able to find a career when so many “entry level” jobs require years of experience; or how they’ll be able to live if they do not become millionaires and billionaires in a country with a rapidly shrinking middle class; or whether or not their government will ever truly be responsive to their demands or act in their best interests if they’re not the one percent; or whether the planet will be livable 200 years from now; or whether the US will ever not be at war; or whether our justice system and politicians will ever treat black Americans like human beings.

That’s why Hillary Clinton will likely have a hard time convincing Sanders supporters to get behind her in November when she spends so much time talking about history, and says things like “If you support affordable health care for all, join us!” To the “permalance” generation, living paycheck to paycheck in a terrible job market, affordable is still not affordable. Similarly, her plan to allow students to refinance their student loans rather than forgive their debt is a minor step that will only help those young people with the social capital to take advantage of that—and not be taken advantage.

Party leaders appear to believe that so long as they’re better than Donald Trump, they’re doing just fine politically. Such has been the policy of Democrats for decades: So long as the GOP is worse, all is fine. That low bar liberalism is no longer a standard progressives are willing to accept. Sanders supporters are mad, and they’re getting involved in the process.

This is the rise of the Berniecrat.