A Bernie Sanders supporter describes her frustrating experiences at the Democratic National Convention.
Carol’s experience of the Democratic National Convention as a Bernie Sanders delegate elected from Nevada’s second congressional district. Reprinted from the Reno News & Review.
Last summer, I shot out of my computer chair, ran into the living room and shouted with joy to my husband, “Bernie is running for president!” I didn’t believe then that Bernie Sanders had a shot at winning, but supporting underdogs was my specialty. I had assumed until this time I would vote for the Democratic favorite, even though I had problems with Hillary Clinton because of what I saw as her hawkishness, her conservatism in social and economic justice, her lack of credibility, and her lack of good character.
A month later, I began volunteering full-time for Bernie’s election. When he spoke of health care for all as a basic human right, free public college education, and moving the economy to a level playing field, my heart sang. And I began to believe he had a real chance of winning. In October, I was hired as the first Bernie staff in Northern Nevada and worked in the campaign until shortly after the February caucuses.
I then ran for and was elected to the position of delegate to the national convention to continue fighting on the right side of history. I campaigned on my experience working for Bernie and on a change in me: I had become “Bernie or bust.” I could no longer consider voting for Hillary because I had seen unfairness in the national, state and local Democratic parties mirrored in the way she was campaigning.
Clinton’s debate behavior of ignoring time constraints, her continuing protests that the money she was receiving from mega-corporations would somehow not buy her as president (even though she had already been supporting them through her neoliberal policies) and her ongoing conservative militarism—all these turned me from being able to vote for her.
In the national party, denial of requests for additional debates and disenfranchisement of voters caused concern for Bernie supporters like me. The state party’s dismal behavior at the Nevada convention toward Sanders delegates created many Bernie or Busters. And in several county Democratic Party chapters, I repeatedly saw unethical favoritism toward Hillary.
Despite the majority of mainstream media coverage of the Democratic National Convention as a love fest for Hillary with delegates thrilled about the first female presidential nominee of a major U.S. political party, the convention was marked by dissension, protests and a staunch unwillingness of many Bernie delegates to fall in line with the party’s relentless calls for unified support of Hillary.
I had also been changed by Senator Sanders. At 54, I began to believe for the first time in the sacredness of my power as an American citizen and voter. I began to learn that standing for social justice was not only morally right, but was to be fought for. I began to understand that I would never again chip away at my soul by voting for a lesser evil. I knew from here forward, I would vote only for moral candidates who would fight for justice. In all that, I could never vote for Hillary Clinton.
Day 1: religious corruption
On that first day, when we delegates sat in our section a dozen or so rows up from the floor, I thrilled as I saw the vertical Nevada sign marking our area. My soul still hoped for fairness and a way for Bernie to be nominated. And no matter the outcome, I believed the convention would proceed fairly as a platform for both candidates until the nomination Tuesday night would promote only one winner.
Those hopes were drowned by the tone set in, of all things, the opening prayer. “We have an opportunity, oh God,” Rev. Cynthia Hale said, “to give undeniable evidence of our commitment to justice and equality by nominating Hillary Rodham Clinton as our candidate.” As the Hillary delegates began cheering, we Bernie delegates began booing. Shocked, I couldn’t believe the blatancy of this corruption of religion into politics.
“The prayer at the beginning soured the entire experience,” Bernie delegate Alexis Salt from Las Vegas said. “We were trying to have an open mind against everything our inner voices were telling us. We were trying to be optimistic. The message [with the prayer] was: ‘This is our house. These are our rules. We’re going to elect Hillary, and there’s not a damn thing any of you can do about it.’ … It was shoved down our throats: ’We’re not even going to pretend we weren’t going to cheat. We’re not going to apologize.’ We knew we were screwed then.”
Day 2: walk out
Despite the stark reality of the slick commercial for Hillary on Day One, Day Two woke me early with excitement and hope. This day would be the roll call vote, the iconic standing of delegates around their state signs, proudly announcing their decisions for their candidates. I had watched this roll call vote for years and never imagined I would participate in such an active way in our nation’s democracy, especially in voting for the best candidate I had known in my lifetime.
We Nevada delegates gathered for our daily morning meeting when we would hear speakers, and the state party would give us logistical information about the day and give us our daily credentials for attending the convention. At the end of this meeting we cast our votes on paper for our candidates.
“The prayer at the beginning soured the entire experience,” Bernie delegate Alexis Salt from Las Vegas said. “We were trying to have an open mind against everything our inner voices were telling us. We were trying to be optimistic. The message [with the prayer] was: ‘This is our house. These are our rules. We’re going to elect Hillary, and there’s not a damn thing any of you can do about it.’ … It was shoved down our throats: ‘We’re not even going to pretend we weren’t going to cheat. We’re not going to apologize.’ We knew we were screwed then.”
At the convention, Bernie’s state of Vermont voted last. We Nevada Bernie delegates waited for the senator to play a card we kept hoping he had held until this moment that would somehow reverse the rigging of this nomination for his opponent. Although realism told us he would cede the nomination to her, when it happened, we were stunned. It was as though we were punched in the gut.
A year of fighting for social justice in the Sanders revolution, Bernie turning the nomination over to Hillary, and delegates yelling all around me proved too much. I started sobbing and left the Nevada section. Outside in the convention hallway, I found other Nevada Bernie supporters. We saw a large crowd holding Bernie signs and yelling “Walk out.” As they marched past us, we decided to join them. It was the right thing to do after the corruption, deceitfulness and rigging of this election—after the WikiLeaks documents confirmed our suspicions that this nomination was stolen, not earned.
We protested with others outside the media tent not 200 feet from the convention center. We chanted “The whole world is watching” and “This is what democracy looks like.” We sang “This Land Is Our Land” and gave interviews to reporters from multiple press outlets.
I have likely protested dozens of times in my life for social justice and nonviolence. I have never been frightened before. I was frightened this time, surrounded closely by police, hearing rumors of snipers on the roof, and not knowing what came next. I had worked so hard to get to this convention in volunteering and staff work for Bernie, in campaigning to be elected to attend, in raising money for and paying the balance of nearly four thousand dollars in airfare and hotel charges, and in struggling every moment to support the Sanders revolution and the ideals it stands for against the onslaught of the Hillary infomercial of the Democratic National Convention—and I marched out. I didn’t know if I would be arrested but for the first time in my life stood against my fear of arrest. I didn’t know if I would be barred from the rest of the convention for walking out. I didn’t know whether our fellow protestors and I would return to fight from the inside or protest from the outside.
The next day found me exhausted and needing sleep and food to regain my strength to fight another day. But I had cast my vote for Bernie on that fateful second day. I had done what my conscience called me to do as an elected Bernie delegate.
Day 4: fear and loathing
After my day of rest, I was equal parts ready and filled with dread for the last day of the convention. This would be the day Hillary would speak. I didn’t know how we could find ways to protest her acceptance of the rigged nomination and all the glorifying speeches leading up to that.
No one could miss the message of the Democratic party at the convention—vote for our candidate or the racist, misogynist, unstable, dangerous Republican candidate wins. From Hillary Clinton to Bernie Sanders and many of each candidates’ supporters, we understand the perilous menace of a Donald Trump presidency. But the party propaganda fails with this hypocrisy: If Democrats believe that defeating Trump is paramount, the party would have promoted Sanders over Clinton. Not only did his rallies draw astoundingly large crowds time and again compared to much smaller and less enthusiastic gatherings for Hillary, but polls have shown for some time that Bernie has a much greater chance of defeating the Republican candidate, and by a wide margin.
At the convention, the party distributed campaign signs supporting Hillary. The previous signs of “Stronger Together” were replaced by “USA” signs. I felt uneasy at this display of patriotism that seemed like fans rooting for their hometown football team. I believe that the good of the whole world outweighs that of any one nation and that what people describe as patriotism is a dangerous slide to an “us versus them” mentality. We should be inclusive, not exclusive. We should not believe in the right and power of our country above all others. It’s too close to xenophobia.
About a half dozen speakers before Hillary came Gen. John Allen, who voiced an imperialism that scared us and that has been decried as warmongering: “From the battlefield to the capitals of our allies and friends and partners, the free peoples of the world look to America as the last best hope for peace and for liberty for all humankind, for we are the greatest country on this planet. … To those acting against peace, civilization and the world order: We will oppose you. And to our enemies … we will pursue you as only America can. You will fear us.”
We heard other Bernie delegates chanting “No more war” and then the “opposing team” of Hillary delegates thundering over those chants with “USA.” It was darkly eerie. We discussed how it felt Orwellian, like the two minutes of hate in 1984. “Having chants of ’No More War’ attempted to be drowned out by chants of ’USA’ was baffling,” Alan Doucette, Bernie delegate from Las Vegas, said. “To me, USA is a symbol of justice and equality and not warmongering and looking for excuses to go to war. That’s what I want it to be and what it should be.”
We Nevada Bernie delegates joined in the “No More War” chants. Once I began, I couldn’t stop. I felt everything in my being rise up against the nationalistic militarism, which I believed was leading to a frightening path. I needed to do everything in my power in that moment to combat it. Everything I had fought for throughout years of working for social justice and the last year as part of the Bernie revolution for peace poured out of my being. Others tried to quiet me, and I was told I could be evicted, but until my body stopped allowing me to shout for peace with all my might, I would not stop. I could not stop.
After that, I felt defeated and exhausted. We waited quietly, then, for the speakers preceding Hillary’s nomination acceptance. A Bernie delegate from another state surreptitiously gave us Jill Stein signs to hold up during Hillary’s speech. Since Bernie had ceded the nomination, several of us supported the Green Party presidential candidate because of her and the party’s similarity to Bernie’s values. Holding these signs became our final and silent protest.
No one could miss the message of the Democratic party at the convention—vote for our candidate or the racist, misogynist, unstable, dangerous Republican candidate wins. From Hillary Clinton to Bernie Sanders and many of each candidates’ supporters, we understand the perilous menace of a Donald Trump presidency. But the party propaganda fails with this hypocrisy: If Democrats believe that defeating Trump is paramount, the party would have promoted Sanders over Clinton. Not only did his rallies draw astoundingly large crowds time and again compared to much smaller and less enthusiastic gatherings for Hillary, but polls have shown for some time that Bernie has a much greater chance of defeating the Republican candidate, and by a wide margin. Couple that with the corruption of the Democratic party revealed most recently in the WikiLeak-ed papers that point to at best a rigged nomination and at worst stolen votes for the Democratic nominee, and many Sanders supporters cannot in good conscience vote for Clinton even to defeat Trump. I am one of those. Other Bernie delegates from Nevada follow their conscience to plead the opposite, while still decrying the bad behavior of the party at the national convention.
“It was clear right from the opening ’prayer,’ which expressed political support for Hillary Clinton, that the entire convention was to be a coronation,” wrote staunch Bernie delegate Leroy Pelton, University of Nevada, Las Vegas professor emeritus, in a letter to fellow Nevada delegates for Bernie dated Aug. 5. Pelton’s letter eventually grew into a plea for us to consider the consequences of not supporting Clinton as the nominee in order to defeat Trump. He continued, “Sanders delegates, although a very substantial proportion of all delegates, were merely to be used as pawns in the extravaganza. Unity was to be imposed rather than be given space to emerge. … This foolish strategy by the party establishment for organizing the convention’s unfolding predictably prompted a rebellion by Sanders delegates. No one likes to be used. … And why have a faux convention at all, if every last item has already been decided?”
For most Bernie delegates from Nevada, both the national party and the state party are at fault for the disunity coming out of the convention. And it is not just the relative youth and inexperience of many millennial Sanders supporters that leads many Nevada Bernie delegates to that conclusion; seasoned politicians and delegates with years of political experience from Nevada feel similarly.
“It was definitely a very intense experience,” 46-year-old Erin Bilbray, a Bernie delegate and DNC official from Las Vegas, said. “This was my eighth convention. I described previous conventions as Spring Break for Democrats, but this was definitely not that case at all. … It was hard watching so many Sanders delegates who thought the convention was going to be more than an infomercial and watching their realization that’s what it was. I was more disappointed in that I’ve never seen the [Nevada] delegation so separated. I also never saw the state party doing anything to heal the wounds after the bitter state convention. State party chair Roberta Lange certainly was not reaching her hand out to the Sanders delegates.”
With such deep wounds coming out of the state and national conventions for many Bernie supporters, is there a path forward? There is one place I did discover unity at the convention—among the Nevada delegates for Bernie from southern Nevada. I met them all in person for the first time at the national convention, and I couldn’t have felt more welcomed. The collegiality among them and toward me stands in contrast to the divisiveness created by the party. Others among us felt the same.
“Sanders delegates, although a very substantial proportion of all delegates, were merely to be used as pawns in the extravaganza. Unity was to be imposed rather than be given space to emerge. … This foolish strategy by the party establishment for organizing the convention’s unfolding predictably prompted a rebellion by Sanders delegates. No one likes to be used. … And why have a faux convention at all, if every last item has already been decided?”
“I was just so proud of … the Bernie supporters,” Alan Doucette said. “We all have our unique messages but under the umbrella of love and peace. Some endorsed Jill Stein, and some did not. Some supported Hillary, and some will not support Hillary. Within the Bernie community, I did not feel judged or pressured into any political opinion.”