“The Crooked News Network! The Crooked News Network! The Crooked News Network!”
You almost feel bad for the CNN reporter, who is trying to interview someone in the midst of hundreds of screaming Bernie or Bust enthusiasts. It’s Sunday afternoon, a little after two, and she’s here, like I am, to cover a rally staged in the sweltering heat in front of Philadelphia’s Municipal Services building, only to find that the crowd disdainful of her presence.
“Show the guy who’s really doing the work!” one man yells at her, gesturing toward the street, where Billy Taylor, the thirty-one-year-old executive director of the activist group Philly.FYI, is speaking on a small riser.
“About time you cover the revolution, CNN!” shouts another.
“About damn time!”
A man in an orange shirt and wide-brimmed New York Yankees hat starts the mocking refrain; within a few seconds, a dozen or so gathered nearby have joined him, heckling her with chants of “The Crooked News Network!” loud enough to be heard over the din of the crowd.
The anger here is palpable, manifest in T-shirts that say “Hillary for Prison” and posters that read “Bernie or Bust” and “Hill No”: anger that, in their view, the media ignored or belittled Senator Sanders’s support; anger that Democratic super delegates flocked to Hillary Clinton before the first vote was cast; anger that, in hacked emails released on Saturday by Wikileaks, DNC officials had derided the Sanders campaign, proof, to their minds, that the fix was always in.
To put it mildly, this sort of protest—more raucous and defiant than any in Cleveland last week—is not how Hillary Clinton envisioned her coronation. More troubling for the Clinton camp, though, is how intractable these Sanders supporters seem. There’s an overriding sense that—even though Clinton won nearly four million more votes and secured 359 more pledged delegates than Sanders—Hillary cheated through some sort of election fraud.
As a woman standing in front of me, holding a Honk for Bernie sign, tells her companion: “There’s no way Hillary won.” She’s voting for Green Party candidate Jill Stein. Judging by the signs and literature being passed out, so are most of these people. To them, falling in line—even with the looming specter of President Donald Trump—means lending support to a corrupted system. If that wasn’t the case, they say—if Hillary had won fair and square—they wouldn’t be here.
And when the party formally nominates her later this week, they say, they’ll do their best to (figuratively) burn the whole thing down.
On stage this afternoon, there’s a blue and white casket marked “DNC.” Later, that casket will lead a procession of protesters two hours south (by foot) down Broad Street, from Center City to FDR Park, which abuts the Wells Fargo Center, where the DNC is taking place. If the Democratic Party goes through with plans to name Hillary its presidential candidate, they say, millions of Democrats from across the country will deregister from the party; the activists plan to fill this casket with those forms and deliver it to party officials.
“You cannot expose us to corruption of the party and then expect us to get in line with that corruption,” Gary Frazier, Philadelphia coordinator for Black Men for Bernie, yells from the stage. “We will deliver a powerful blow to the Democratic Party if they do not elect Bernie Sanders. … We are disciplined. We are knowledgeable. We are peaceful. But we WILL BE HEARD!”
“We know they cheated us,” Frazier tells me a few minutes later. He points to irregularities in New York, Nevada, and California, as well as the fact that exit polls regularly reported higher percentages for Sanders than were reflected in the actual tallies. “We know something’s going on,” Frazier says.
(Quick fact check: exit polls are generally terrible and tend to oversample younger voters, who overwhelmingly supported Sanders.)
Just then, a woman on stage encourages the assembled to vote for Stein instead of Clinton. “Jill Not Hill!” roars the crowd. She then calls for Bernie delegates to walk out of the convention. “We are ready for Jill Stein!”
A little after three o’clock, as the crowd begins to organize into a march, Frazier stands atop a tour bus marked “Black Men for Bernie,” microphone in hand, leading a call-and-response with the audience, which is still energetic despite spending ninety minutes in the unrelenting blacktop-laden blast furnace that is Center City today.
“If we don’t get it …” he begins.
“SHUT IT DOWN!” comes the thunderous response.
In a sense, this is the inverse to the dynamic we saw in Cleveland last week. The Republicans’ #NeverTrump holdouts are largely members of the political elite who can’t stand to see their party tarnished by a nativist demagogue—people like former Florida governor Jeb Bush and Nebraska senator Ben Sasse, as well as pundits like Bill Kristol and neoconservative foreign policy advisor Max Boot. The elites’ resistance to the Trump takeover was most pronounced at the RNC last Wednesday night, when Senator Ted Cruz, a rival, pointedly refused to endorse Trump and was loudly booed for it. Cruz has never been a part of the GOP intelligentsia or in any way a mainstream conservative, but his act of muted rebellion underscored an image of party disunity.
That disunity, however, isn’t nearly as pronounced among the party’s rank and file, even among evangelicals for whom a thrice-married libertine would seem anathema. Trump’s base is rooted in low-education whites, cultural (if not necessarily economic) conservatives aghast at changing norms and generally left out of the economic recovery.
For the Republicans, the elites are tepid, but the base has rallied to Trump’s banner.
The reverse appears true among Democrats. Party leaders—from the president to Senator Elizabeth Warren to even Bernie Sanders—have all unequivocally endorsed Hillary Clinton. But many rank-and-file Bernie supporters aren’t following Bernie’s lead; roughly one in five tell pollsters they plan to vote for Stein or Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson come fall, and only 64 percent say they will back Clinton.
“In this election cycle, voters are looking for a candidate who is a disruptor,” Jake Quinn, a DNC member and Bernie super delegate from Asheville, told me this morning. We’re in the lobby of a Holiday Inn forty-five minutes outside of the city, where the North Carolina delegation—which came in dead last in a lottery among the fifty-seven delegations for hotel bookings—is staying.
“Voters are looking for something different. This cycle is different—Trump and Sanders put the focus on that.”
Still, Quinn says, “in the end, we’ll be OK.” Elections are a choice between Candidate A and Candidate B, not between Candidate A and Perfection. In this case, Candidate B is Donald Trump. So Quinn expects most Sanders supporters to eventually come around, if only to make sure Donald Trump never possesses the nuclear codes. A similar thing happened in 2008, he points out, when a group of Hillary die-hards called PUMAs (that stands for Party Unity My Ass) said they wouldn’t vote for Barack Obama. Ultimately, most of them did.
“I expect the same thing to happen here,” says Quinn, a retired regulator with the Federal Deposit Insurance Commission who just so happens to have been born in Philly.
I ask what he hopes to see out of this convention: What will bring the Bernie or Bust crowd around?
“One word,” he replies. “Respect. That’s it.”
The Wikileaks email dump didn’t help. “You can’t pull that stuff and expect people to trust you,” he says.
Indeed, this afternoon, Bernie Sanders was himself booed by Sanders delegates when he asked them to support the Clinton-Kaine ticket.
The packed ballroom cheered and chanted as Sanders recounted the successes of his campaign—the $27 average donation, the 60 percent reduction in the number of superdelegates next election, the states he won and the platform changes he made. But when he finally got around to speaking about the woman who will actually be the Democratic nominee, the crowd soured on their hero.
“We have got to defeat Donald Trump,” Sanders said. “We have got to elect Hillary Clinton.”
The crowd descended into boos so loud it was hard to hear Sanders continue his sentence to name Clinton’s running mate, Tim Kaine of Virginia. The jeering was long and sustained as Sanders sought to get the crowd back by enumerating not why people should vote for Clinton, but why they must stop Trump.
“Trump is a bully and demagogue. Trump has made bigotry and hatred the cornerstone of his campaign,” Sanders offered.
Amid the angry response, one woman in the crowd shouted: “So has she!” People began to chant, “Take it to the floor!” even after Sanders bowed out of the race and offered his endorsement to Clinton weeks ago, ending the chance of a contested convention.
Quinn tells me he understands the frustrations of the people who marched down Broad Street yesterday afternoon; they’re calling attention to systemic problems and injustices, and that’s a good thing. But he prefers to work inside the proverbial tent. Inside, he says, you can change things a little at a time. You can make local parties more progressive and deepen the progressive bench on school boards and county commissions. “That’s how you make change.”
Tonight, Bernie Sanders, having earned significant concessions from the Clinton camp in both the party platform and DNC election processes, will make a speech inside the Wells Fargo Center, a call for unity to overcome the threat that Trump poses. A few hours earlier, at the adjacent FDR Park, Jill Stein’s campaign will host of rally of its own, seeking to pick off disaffected Bernie supporters.
“Most of the time, these things are a coronation,” Quinn says. “That’s not the case this time, man.”