Today is my 31st birthday, so indulge me. Even if you’re sick of reading about the DNC, sick of hearing about Bernie Sanders and wondering why those damn millennials can’t just shut the heck up already, accept that their guy lost, and fall in line… here’s why.
And yes, you do need to know why, because there are millions of us and if you want to defeat the Orange One in the fall, you’re going to need our help. And if you want our help you need to try to understand where we’re coming from, stop calling us “idiots,” and recognize that we have a right to be angry (and, perhaps even more importantly, that anger can be a powerful force when we’re inspired to channel it for good).
Before we get started, I would like to preface today’s post with the fact that everything I’m about to say actually happened. And not only did it happen but as a professor of cultural anthropology and Sanders delegate from Philadelphia, I witnessed it with my own eyes. I am, as many of you know, prone to exaggeration upon occasion (mainly while navel gazing and carrying on about the various trials and tribulations that plagued my love life before I tied the knot), but this is not one of those times.
So, here is why those Damn Berniecrats are so angry:
1. Volunteers were denied credentials
Who knew that individual campaigns could send volunteers to the convention? I didn’t; I thought DNC volunteers were just life long do gooders like my mom, who camped out in a VW bus to staff a welcome table at the DNC last time around and was one of the first to sign up when the circus came to Philly…
But campaigns can send volunteers, and California sent hundreds who fund raised or paid their own way to get to Philadelphia. They were there to help the Bernie delegates, and even though I didn’t really understand why help would be necessary when I first met them, I would later see how vital they were (more on that in a minute…) but lo and behold, they were denied credentials.
I met two of them on the subway after I left the arena on Tuesday. They were from California and explained that the state had sent nearly 800 (!) people to help. On Monday, they were given only 200 credentials and on Tuesday, they were denied their credentials all together.
I offered them mine because I was heading home to lie down but two Hillary delegates seated on a bench nearby overheard and instructed me not to. They were older and looked like they’d been to a convention or two before, so I listened when they told me that my individual credentials were linked to me through a bar code, that giving them to someone else was illegal, and that I’d be booted from the convention in anyone found out.
A number of media outlets eventually began reporting about the ousted volunteers, but as far as I know, nothing was ever done to get them into the arena where their help was needed.
And oh was it needed. During breakfast on Monday morning, we were told that if we needed anything, anything at all, while we were on the floor, to flag down someone in a yellow vest. “The only thing we can’t do for you is go buy food,” she said, which prompted a laugh, “but seriously, anything else, let us know.”
So, on Monday night, which was not only the first night of the DNC but also my first night in a wheelchair, I found myself needing– like most people– to empty my bladder. I flagged a man in a yellow vest and informed him that I needed to go the restroom.
“Then go,” he said with a shrug.
“I’m in a wheelchair,” I pointed out.
He shrugged again, “What do you want me to do about it?”
“I need help.”
“Well then find a friend, I’m a whip. I can’t leave the floor.”
I was too shocked and too new to my temporary ADA status to know how to effectively advocate for myself in this kind of situation but luckily, I was seated next to a Bernie delegate and she very graciously offered to wheel me out. A very nice man from the ADA desk named Eric brought me a water bottle several hours later but after six or seven hours on the convention floor, you start to get hungry. And we were told we weren’t allowed to bring any food in…
There are of course plenty of concession stands at the Wells Fargo Center where you can buy a $9 hot dog if you like, but in order to do so, you need to leave your seat, exit the arena, and wait in line for about 20 or 30 minutes. The only problem with this is that if you leave your seat for more than 10 minutes, the floor monitors will fill it, because remember: appearance is everything. (On the final night, an elderly man seated in front of me was asked to switch seats because he was in a “highly visible area” and wasn’t “standing up to cheer often enough.” And no, I’m not making this up.)
Moral of the story? The only way you can get a bite without losing your seat, unless you have minions willing to buy food for you (we’ll get to that later), is to have a volunteer from the campaign act as your runner. But if they aren’t given their credentials, you’re left to fend for yourself.
2. Bernie Delegates got no respect
Sanders delegates were denied the very same respect they were asked to give to the Clinton camp over and over again. For the Pennsylvania delegation, it started on Day #1, during the CNN-sponsored breakfast. One of the very first speakers asked all of the Sanders delegates to rise and invited everyone else to clap as they “welcomed us” to the convention. As if it was their convention to welcome us to. I stood and smiled and thought for a moment, “Well, isn’t this nice of them.” But then, in the words of my generation, I got woke.
No! We had every right to be there, and while many of us (myself included) fit the stereotype of the new-to-politics-Millennial-for-Sanders, there were just as many who did not. And this theme was repeated over and over and over throughout the week, with “you young people” becoming a perennial favorite among party speakers.
And let’s talk about the walk outs. By now, you’ve probably heard that a number of Sanders delegates walked out in protest following the roll call vote and managed to occupy the media tent before anyone knew what was going on (if you hadn’t heard about this, there’s a short and even occasionally humorous report on Gawker that’s slightly less biased than the rest.) The prevailing narrative has been that Sanders supporters (often conflated with Bernie or Busters, even though they are NOT the same thing) are a bunch of sore losers who are A) too green to understand how the political process works and B) too rude to stick around.
Well, do you want to know when the walkouts really began? They began on Monday night, as soon as Michelle Obama finished her speech and Bernie Sanders took the stage.
Now, you all know that I love me some Michelle Obama, and yes, I can certainly see how you might be temped to just go home and call it a night after the First Lady tells you she wakes up each day in a house built by slaves and yet gets to watch her daughters, “two beautiful, intelligent, black young women” playing with their dogs on the White House lawn, because really how are you going to top that?
Maybe, just maybe, Corey Booker could have done it. But Corey Booker already had his turn and now it was time for one of the actual candidates to speak: Senator Bernie Sanders, who, whether you like the man or not, had earned nearly half of the delegates in the room and had, therefore– if I may be so bold– every right to speak.
And yet I counted a dozen Hillary supporters who got up and walked out, and those were just the ones I could see from my seat on the floor of the arena (which was, by virtue of being a delegate from the host state, quite close). I can only imagine how many delegates, super delegates, and party officials walked out behind me.
So the next time somebody tells you that the Berniecrats are a bunch of cry babies who won’t even listen, just remember the Hillary supporters who walked out the night Bernie Sanders took the stage: they left first.
3. Our Seats were given away
Everyone knows, even newbies like me, that the DNC is really just one big infomercial. You hope that they print victory t-shirts for both sides, like they do in the Super Bowl, to make you think your vote actually counts, but let’s face it: the decision was made long ago and now your job is to look good on camera.
So what’s the best way to project “party unity” on national TV? Well, there are a number of strategies (and I’ll get to them all, never you worry!) but one of the best is to pack the front rows with Hillary supporters.
How exactly do you do this?
One way is to change the gavel time. Gavel time, for those of you new to politics, is when the real “business” of the DNC supposedly kicks off: its when all of the delegates are meant to be in their seats and ready to vote on reports from the Rules Committee, the platform, and– oh yeah– the candidate.
Schedules are distributed well in advance, and if you’re an earnest and well meaning delegate, you think, “Yes! I can totally make it to the Latino caucus after breakfast, then I’ll head over to the Free Library for the round table discussion on police and police brutality in the age of new technology, grab a quick lunch with the Small Business Owners caucus, and then take the subway down to the Wells Fargo Center so I’ll be there in time for gavel.”
Be there in time for gavel.
It’s a phrase that is uttered, as a warning, approximately 700 times a day. And just in case you haven’t heard it enough, your whips (who, like the fictional Frank Underwood in House of Cards, are in charge of wrangling their underlings through whatever means necessary) are also texting you throughout the day: Be there in time for gavel!
But then, while you’re across town being a good little delegate, taking notes, engaging in meaningful conversations, making new contacts and trying to, you know, save the world (or at least your small corner of it), you get a text: Gavel time has been moved up. Be in your seat by 2:30.
This when a loud, collective “FUCK!” resounds through the city of Philadelphia and you find yourself scrambling to find the nearest exit, a water bottle, and a subway token because if you’re not in your seat by 2:30, it will be given away even though you’re the delegate who earned the right to be there, unlike the 12 year old clad entirely in Ralph Lauren along with his Barbie doll of a mother and equally obnoxious older sister who is also, ahem, NOT. A. DELEGATE.
By Day #3, it had become somewhat of a certainty: the moon will set, the sun will rise, and the gavel time will be changed. So we got smarter. We started skipping the caucuses and planning ahead, stocking up on water bottles to take to the floor, and taking the subway down to the Wells Fargo Center hours ahead of time to make sure we got our seats.
But the DNC got to smarter too.
And what’s the best way to keep the youngest and most vocal Bernie delegates out of sight? Why, ship them off to the Camden with free Lady Gaga tickets!
I only wish I was making this up. But it’s true: at breakfast on Thursday morning (which was the final and most important day of the DNC in terms of “party unity”), it was announced that one of our state officials had “secured a handful of Lady Gaga” tickets for an invite-only performance and that they would be distributed on a first come, first serve basis.
I didn’t really care– because the concert was in Camden— and even though I like to think I’m Superwoman most of the of time, I knew that there was no way that I was going to be able to take the ferry over to Camden and sit through a Lady Gaga concert a week after having had back surgery.
But I look the type: young, vocal, wearing a Bernie hat the size of Texas on my head. And as I left the dining room, a preppy looking intern of some sort approached me and offered me a pair of tickets. I took them and figured I’d give them to someone else if I couldn’t make the trip.
My roommates though, especially the younger ones, were less laissez faire in their devotion to the Mother Monster. In fact, within a few minutes, there was a waiting list. Free concert tickets are to millennials what crack is to… you get the idea. A Lady Gaga frenzy ensured, with about a dozen text messages and phone calls emitting from our hotel room alone. But after the initial excitement wore off, it suddenly dawned on us…
Wait a minute. If the concert was in Camden… and if gavel time was at 3:00pm… there was NO WAY we were going to get across the river and back in time to take our seats.
Nicely played, DNC, nicely played. But we’re one step ahead of you this time. We couldn’t get rid of those tickets soon enough.
I wish I could say this was the end of the drama, but there’s more. Knowing that everyone-and-their-brother was clamoring to get an extra ticket for their mother, their daughter, their best friend’s roommate and so on to see a major political party’s female nominee make history, I knew I needed to get down to the Wells Fargo Center well ahead of gavel time in order to maneuver myself and my wheelchair to my seat on the floor. So I headed out early, ran into my friend Amanda on the subway, and she kindly agreed to carry my bag for me and help me navigate my way to the ADA desk where I had to report each afternoon to pick up my wheelchair.
We were both very visibly decked out in progressive flare and I had on my pillbox hat with the No-TPP, $15 minimum wage and #BlackLivesMatter sign.
“No one is allowed in until 3:00,” we were told, not just by the ADA folks but by numerous officials and volunteers. So we made our way to the elevator and headed towards the correct entrance, arriving just as the clock struck three.
Nearly the entire PA Delegation section was already full. Every seat had been given to a Hillary delegate, a Hillary supporter, or a local politician. We had to speak to 5 different coordinators on the floor, several security personnel and countless volunteers to get ourselves seated, and even then I was shuffled around to 3 different seats before finally being left in peace.
There were two and only two Bernie delegates among the throng of people who had somehow mysteriously been allowed into the arena before 3:00 and they flipped early on for Hillary.
“How the heck did they get in?” we asked ourselves. I was even more appalled to recognize one of them and realize that not only had I collected signatures for him, but I’d even contacted one of my professor friends on his behalf to help with voter registration and ballot signature events at the community college.
A few minutes later, we had our answer: the two had spent the majority of the week brown nosing and were later seen fetching dinner for City Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown (who accidentally– I hope– smacked me in the head with her oversized designer bag later that evening and didn’t even bother to apologize).
Now, in the words of Bill Maher, I don’t know for a fact that the DNC targeted millennial Sanders supporters by trying to lure us across the river and out of sight with Lady Gaga tickets, I just know it’s true.
And if that’s a little too conspiracy theory for you, that’s fine– I hear you, and I wish I still shared your optimistic skepticism– but there’s nothing even remotely ambiguous about telling Bernie delegates that they’re not allowed in the arena until 3:00, only to fill their seats so the cameras won’t see them.
4. Dissent was completely (and systematically) drowned out
For those of you watching from home, those seemingly spontaneous chants of “Hil-la-ry, Hil-la-ry” were anything but. Instead, they were a carefully calculated effort to cover up the more subversive chants of “Wi-ki-Leaks, Wi-ki-Leaks” and other three-syllable expressions of the First Amendment.
Why do I say calculated? Well, because they were. Hillary supporters were instructed to drown us out, and there were scores of floor staff and other officials who existed solely to sniff out and try to stop any coordinated actions before they began.
There were also “moles” on the inside: Bernie delegates and sometimes even whips, many of whom worked for their state parties in some capacity and had, therefore, a vested interest in keeping the Berniecrats in line for the sake of advancing their own careers.
The Pennsylvania delegation wasn’t particularly well organized and although many of our members were and remain very active in a variety of grassroots organizations, we didn’t manage to plan any majorly visible actions as a state on the floor at the DNC. Some states, however, had matching T-shirts for a different issue each day of the convention: $15 Minimum Wage, Black Lives Matter, No TPP, etc. while others had glow and the dark shirts that read “Enough is Enough.” Others, like California, created a list of coordinated chants that were scheduled to begin at specific times while still others unfurled huge banners and matching signs.
Everything had to be kept very hush-hush though. Rumor has it that our cell phones and text messages were somehow being tapped, and of course the Facebook pages meant solely for Bernie delegates had been infiltrated. Word of mouth became, therefore, the only reliable way to get information from one state delegation to another, and just as some of us from Pennsylvania started to make contact with members of the California delegation, we got a message from one of the state whips: Bernie would be coming to come to breakfast with us, but only if we continued to “behave.”
California, you see, had gotten the honor of Breakfast-with-Bernie the day before, but not as a reward for good behavior. No, California got a slap on the wrist from the man himself, who (or so I have been told), asked them to tone it down.
I met a pair of California delegates on the subway one afternoon. They were waiting by the exit, discreetly distributing blank sheets of white paper to Bernie delegates so that we could write our own messages to cover the standard issue signs from the DNC. “Our supporters don’t want us to back down,” one of them explained. “We have the largest delegation and we had to do a lot of fund raising to get here and the folks who donated to us don’t want us to be silent. They want to see us. And we owe it to them.”
It was about this time that I began to develop a severe crush on the California delegation.
The next day, they lead a chant of “No More War, No More War” that quickly spread throughout the arena. The official response to drown us out? USA, USA!
That, for me, was one of the saddest moments of the DNC: that the opposite of peace is, evidently, the good ol’ US of A. I had to sit there wondering if I had somehow been transported to Cleveland for the Republican National Convention, because surely Democrats wouldn’t resort to such ignorant Jingoism. (Or would they?)
5. Their ain’t no such thing as Free Speech at the DNC
Last up, let’s talk about signs, shall we? I’d like to begin with a conversation that took place on one of the the ADA golf carts on the final day of the convention.
A woman of color seated behind me informed me that she liked my hat. “I disagree with it,” she continued, “But I like it.”
Seeing as my one and only qualm about the Quaker faith is that our meetings don’t, as a rule, include large numbers of African American women wearing fabulous hats, I’m always especially flattered when I get a compliment from someone who hails from a more flamboyant religious tradition. (The “crown” wearers are, after all, the experts in this case.)
So I chose, in the words of Michelle Obama, to go high and said, “Well thank you, I’ll take that. See? We’ve got party unity right here!”
“Party unity?” she responded, her tone suddenly changing. “But you all don’t believe in party unity.”
“If I didn’t believe in party unity,” I replied, forcing a smile, “I wouldn’t have bothered to show up today.”
“But you all are being disrespectful.”
There it was again: you all.
I politely reminded her that the Freedom Riders weren’t considered all that respectful back in the day, that our Founding Fathers didn’t just sit down and shut up.
“But the victims here…” she countered, her voice trailing off.
“The victims? I’m not sure I understand.”
By then, however, we’d arrived at our destination so I never did get a chance to try to figure out who exactly our signs were victimizing and where exactly she was coming from (and I was indeed trying; by the fourth day I’d gone from bargaining to acceptance and was, despite everything, actually feeling rather Zen about the entire ordeal. I would have been happy to have tried to continue our conversation).
The complaint, of course, that certain forms of dissent are more “appropriate” than others is nothing new. But let’s remember something, America: we dressed up like “Indians” and dumped TEA into the harbor.
We camped out in Washington DC to protest economic collapse during the Hoover administration.
We wore sashes and marched for the right to vote and went to jail for our unladylike behavior.
We sat in at lunch counters, rode buses, and crossed bridges for civil rights.
We stopped traffic to protest the WTO.
We held mass “die ins” for Eric Garner to protest police brutality and assert the fact that black lives actually do matter.
And this list, thankfully, goes on. It would be better of course, if it didn’t; it would be better if this list didn’t have to exist, but civil disobedience is woven into the fiber of our being in this country and its something that we are guaranteed under the First Amendment. In fact, the fact that it’s able to happen (even though every effort is made to stop it) is one of the greatest things about that country.
You can’t praise America as the land of free speech but choose when you’d like that free speech to be exercised. Civil disobedience isn’t meant to be convenient for you.
And if your young child gets offended because they heard a bad word or saw someone interrupt a speaker during the DNC, well, maybe it’s past their bedtime anyway. This is prime time, people. (Then again, if you’re the type of parent who lets your little one stay up late in order to “witness history,” maybe you can also be the type of parent who uses this as an opportunity to have a discussion about the history of our country.)
It is okay to have a personal opinion about when it is okay and not okay to protest. For example, I think it is not okay outside of a Planned Parenthood clinic, at a funeral, or on the steps of an LGBTQ community center. You can determine that for yourself (and help your cranky-up-past-their-bedtime-child make that same determine for himself, herself, or their self).
What you do not get to do is apply your barometer to anybody else.
Do I like anti-choice protesters hanging around Planned Parenthood clinics? Absolutely not. In fact, my most viral blog post to date was on this subject. I disagree with their politics and I think it is especially tacky of them to take advantage of their ability to intimidate women, often young and socioeconomically disadvantaged women, with their large numbers and intentionally disgusting graphics but this is America and they have a right to be there.
In the words of Evelyn Beatrice Hall (sometimes attributed to Voltaire), “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to death your right to say it.”
Now, how does this all relate to my tiny role at the DNC? Well, when you’ve spent the past 5 years of your life teaching anthropology, it’s hard to go back to being a “normal” civilian. You notice things, and sometimes you wish you hadn’t, but you can’t help it: it’s the way your brain has been wired to work, and when this happens, you can’t un-see the obvious parallels between the DNC and Soviet-style propaganda.
(Which is ironic considering how most of the vitriol heaped upon Senator Sanders comes from folks who equate socialism and single payer healthcare with Communism of the deep red variety.)
Do you remember those cute hand made Hillary signs from the second night of the DNC? The ones that made you feel all warm and fuzzy inside and think, “Isn’t that nice? She really is ‘authentic’ after all, and everyone loves her!” Well those signs weren’t hand made. I mean they were, technically, but they were hand made by DNC staffers (or campaign interns, more likely) and were distributed to delegates in the same fashion as all of the other printed signs we were instructed to wave at periodic intervals throughout the night.
The powers-that-be were somewhat lax about “unauthorized signs” at first but they began cracking down on Day #2. I held a printed sign from the California delegation that read “Down with Oligarchy” and was told that if I didn’t take it down, I would have my credentials revoked and be ejected from the arena.
“What about free speech?” I asked.
The floor monitor shook his head and told me that I had signed a contract as a delegate when in fact, I had done no such thing.
This happened again, and again, and again, all across the stadium, even to people holding perfectly benign signs reading simply, “Love is Love.” (Because “love” is not authorized?)
“Come on,” the floor monitor pleaded with me, “This is her convention.”
“Not it’s not,” I replied. “It’s ours.”
For more coverage of the DNC, check out:
- DNC Day #1: Of Cream Cheese and Media Gauntlets
- DNC Day #2: Sarah Silverman is Dead to Me
- DNC Day #3: When All Eyes Were on Vermont
- DNC Day #4: The Hat I Wore to My Grandfather’s Funeral
- DNC Day #5: AKA Rock Bottom
- The Bernie Sanders Interpretive Dance: What Happens Back at the Hotel
- Grandma, Where Were You the Night Hillary Clinton Got the Nomination?: An Epiphany
And for some back story on my involvement with the Sanders campaign check out:
- Why Netflix will make me a Better Mother. And a Better Patriot: West Wing, anyone?
- The Time I Caught Bernie Sanders’s Jacket: Canvassing in NH
#demsinphilly, #stillsanders, #notmeus, #feelthebern, #DNC