Can Philly’s Noisy Sandernistas Avoid Pyrrhic Victory?


When the Republican National Convention rolled into Cleveland last week, law enforcement was on high alert. Police officers were outfitted with riot gear, out-of-town departments flooded the city (and were given their own National Guard units to protect them), and panicky news teams brought their own private security. And then, nothing.

There were hardly any demonstrations, only scattered arrests, and police outnumbered protesters ten to one, with scores of reporters and photographers descending on every activist like flies to Trump-branded shit.

The Democratic National Convention, which began yesterday in Philadelphia, has has seen a convergence of protest movements in front of City Hall, with causes ranging from Black Lives Matter to the dismantling of ICE, restoring voting rights, and, the largest and most vocal contingent of all, supporters of Bernie Sanders, now emboldened by the leak of DNC emails that confirm that the party had been conspiring against their savior.

This wasn’t supposed to be the case. The media had warned of angry hordes descending on Cleveland and turning violent, while those same provocateurs were expected to skip out on the gathering Democrats, a would-be ally. Instead, protesters skipped Cleveland, and have focused on loudly making their deep distaste for Hillary Clinton known.

With Sanders officially ceding his revolution to Clinton’s cause in his speaker’s slot on Monday night, Berners felt as if this was a final chance to save their candidate from himself and somehow swing the nomination to him before the official roll call on Tuesday. During speeches on the floor, Bernie delegates loudly booed anytime Clinton’s name was mentioned (leading to Sarah Silverman finally telling the Bernie delegates they were being “ridiculous”).

“I think the DNC needed to see the numbers that are behind Bernie,” Candace Richardi, 47, told the Voice. Richardi had traveled from Burlington, Illinois to support her defeated candidate. “There was nobody at the RNC who I needed to talk to, or be near, or even protest. The RNC is just another extension of Hillary, and I just don’t want to give it my time.”

Protests from the left at Democratic Convention will always bear comparisons to 1968, when protesters clashed with police in Chicago over LBJ’s decision to go into Vietnam.

“To me, it’s much more sustainable,” said Richardi’s friend, Dave Wilcox, who was attending college at the nearby University of Illinois during the Chicago protests. “1968 was about the war, it was about thousands of young men dying. But this is about the future of democracy.”

The demonstrations in Chicago were wracked with violence, and yet here in Philadelphia, even without the presence of riot cops, things have remained peaceful. Police have opened fire hydrants for overheated marchers, removed the Mississippi state flag after protesters objected to its Confederacy-inspired stars and bars, and calmly erected barriers as protests closed in on the convention itself. The ‘Bernie or Bust” movement is angry, but it’s an anger directed at the Democratic Party itself, for believing they’ll just go along with Hillary as the nominee.

“I made up my mind to protest when I saw Bernie’s endorsement of Hillary,” 20-year-old LES resident Rachel Torres said, while taking part in a march from Philadelphia’s City Hall to the arena in South Philly where the convention is taking place. “I feel like Bernie is just playing the game at this point. He’s like FDR in 1932, winning the contested convention by waiting it all out.”

Like Torres, others are holding out hope for Bernie to somehow seize the nomination from Hillary’s grasp. Sensing the urgency of a surging Trump, Bern-ers chanted “Bernie beats Trump!” at passing Clinton delegates, who seemed both amused and disturbed by the mass of protestors awaiting them outside the Wells Fargo Center.

Aubrie Davis, 34, had traveled from Los Angeles to Philadelphia for the convention. She was wearing a shirt that read “Fuck politics, vote Bernie.”

“Fuck the establishment,” Davis said, sounding eerily reminiscent of bygone convention protesters, who would be against the political system as a whole and not necessarily latched onto a single candidate. “I’m fucking pissed at the DNC. If Bernie’s the nominee, I’ll vote Democrat, but if not, I never, ever see myself voting Democrat again.”

As a thunderstorm hit Philadelphia, several activists from the organization Democracy Spring stepped over the barricades in front of the entrance to the convention and were arrested, calmly, en masse. “The police have learned a lot since the last time we had a convention,” said Kelvyn Anderson, Executive Director of the Philadelphia Police Advisory Committee, the city’s police watchdog. In 2000, Philly police violently clashed with protesters during the Republican National Convention, resulting in 391 arrests.

On Tuesday, a massive Bernie rally and march is planned in the moments leading up to her officially receiving the nomination. For Bernie supporters, and the myriad of other protesters that are trying to connect to a party that is predictably swinging rightwards before the general election, this has become a moment where the Democratic party might lose an entire generation of progressives who feel they’re being forced to choose between an unpredictable pit of evil and a familiar puddle of sorrow.

Yet as Sanders himself put it on Tuesday morning, “It is easy to boo, but it’s harder to look your kids in the face who would be living under Donald Trump.”

On Monday afternoon, the Democratic National Committee apologized to Sanders over the emails that clearly showed a coordinated effort to derail his campaign. “Keep your apology,” the pro-Sanders crowd chanted, as the delegates moved quickly into the arena.