The Revolution At A Crossroads: Sanders Delegates Weigh Their Options

Bernie Sanders 's supporters attend the first day of the Democratic National Convention on July 25, 2016 at the Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania,Photo by Olivier Douliery/
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PHILADELPHIA — Whenever a speaker on stage Monday night mentioned Hillary Clinton, an impassioned Bernie Sanders delegate from Wisconsin reached into the air with a black and white sign that simply said “no.” The man next to him flung his “Thank You Bernie T-shirt” into the air as if he were flying his flag.

When Sanders rose to speak in prime time, the crowd erupted in applause so loud Sanders struggled to drown out the crowd and actually get started.

“I understand that many people here in this convention hall and around
the country are disappointed about the final results of the nominating
process. I think it’s fair to say that no one is more disappointed than I
am,” Sanders said. “But to all of our supporters – here and around the country – I hope you take enormous pride in the historical accomplishments we have

For the most part, by the time the primetime programming rolled around, the mood among Bernie Sanders supporters in the Wells Fargo Center was mellowing. But the earlier protests, the contentious delegate meetings, and disruptions of early floor speeches threatened Democratic aims for unity on day one of their convention. It was undeniable that even after Sanders endorsed Hillary Clinton, his delegates weren’t all ready to.

“I can’t support Clinton. It would be going against my conscience. As a mother, there is no way I could do that,” said 31-year-old Indiana delegate Cherish Davis. “If Bernie is not nominated, I will be supporting Jill Stein as the presidential candidate,and then voting for Democrats down ticket, but unfortunately if Hillary is our nominee, Donald Trump will win.”

The day was punctuated by raucous demonstrations on Philadelphia streets, threats of an acceptance speech walkout and booing by some Sanders supporters of their own leader –Sanders himself–when he urged them at an afternoon rally to line up behind the Clinton-Kaine ticket.

On Sunday, some reporters noted Sanders supporters were chanting “lock her up,” a refrain that had its roots at the RNC where conservatives chanted against Clinton.

But despite the coverage, not all the delegates proudly wearing their Sanders buttons Monday were outright opposed to Clinton. Some signaled they needed some more time to come to terms with the fact that Sanders’ own unthinkable campaign was at the end of its road.

“Now it’s inevitable that it will be Hillary, and we need to move forward,” said Matthew Lewandowski, a Bernie Sanders delegate from Arizona. “Bernie has sent an email out about an hour ago telling us to settle down and telling us to realize that there is still a future ahead for us to work for the progressive ideas of the party … people ought to listen.”

As Sanders delivered his speech Monday, he served up the same progressive vision that had won him over with liberals on the campaign trail. His calls for a higher minimum wage, action on climate change and blocking of the Trans-Pacific Partnership were met with abundant applause. On the screens above the arena floor, an image appeared of a Sanders supporter’s eyes welling with tears. But as Sanders pivoted his speech and tried to entrust Clinton with his vision, his supporters remained divided.

“We need leadership in this country which will improve the lives of
working families, the children, the elderly, the sick and the poor. We
need leadership which brings our people together and makes us stronger –
not leadership which insults Latinos, Muslims, women, African-Americans
and veterans – and divides us up,” Sanders said. “By these measures, any objective observer will conclude that – based on her ideas and her leadership – Hillary Clinton must become the next president of the United States. The choice is not even close.”

As he continued to list the reason to support his former rival, heckling and a dull boo could be heard under the applause. Sanders powered on.

Sanders might have been telling them Clinton was the future, but across the state delegations Monday, Sanders supporters were grappling with what they thought should come next.

Joan Taylor, a Sanders delegate from Maryland, heard that Sanders had urged his supporters to vote for Clinton while she was at an event hosted by former NAACP president Ben Jealous, chair of the Bernie 2016 Maryland steering committee.

“I felt as I had been punched in the stomach, and wanted to burst out crying,” Taylor said. “But the guy next to me said, “Listen’ and so I did, and … I was informed what Bernie has planned. It’s not about him. It’s about moving the progressive ball forward.”

There were some delegates who still seemed to be in denial about Clinton’s impending nomination. Some Sanders delegates told TPM that they believed there was still a chance that the week could end with their man the nominee.

“Hillary Clinton isn’t the nominee, no one has voted yet,” Taylor said before the Sanders speech.

After the speech, Elayne Petrucci, a Sanders delegate from Detroit, still held out hope for a political Hail Mary pass of some sort. “He still hasn’t dropped out of the race. We are hoping for a Hail Mary pass. Until she is the actual official nominee, then he’s still in the race. We’re not happy about her, especially in light of the Wikileaks –the collusion between the DNC and the media,” Petrucci said.

The possibility of Trump was an even more troubling proposition for some Sanders delegates, however. Similar to how conservatives fear of Clinton had united them behind Trump, Sanders’ delegates fear of Trump was uniting them behind Clinton.

“Just as a person of color, hearing Trump’s rhetoric in the past several months and just knowing that it is going to be one of the two, she has more baggage than Louis Vuitton, but still it is not Trump,” said 18-year-old Indiana delegate Krishna Pathak.

But many were thinking ahead to how they continue Bernie’s revolution beyond Philadelphia, and even beyond. They were planning on keeping the pressure on their key issues, particularly when it came to the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Anti-TPP signs, buttons and T-shirts were among the most popular paraphernalia on the floor. Clinton and her running mate have come out in opposition to the current form of the deal, but Sanders’ supporters were still skeptical.

“As one of the speakers said, you can say stuff, the question is what will they do. So hopefully we are making progress on the issues,” Stephen Spitz, a Virginia delegate, said.

Others discussed turning their efforts down the ballots and towards the state and local levels,

“We’re organizing on the local level, and we are starting now. We are not waiting until November,” Kathryn Eskew, a New York delegate, said. “Looking at our local and our state elections and we are going to be making sure that people who support our more progressive agenda are able to run — it would be nice if they could do so in the Democratic Party.”

Ultimately, at a certain level, Sanders delegates were playing coy, un-eager to give up whatever leverage they still have.

“I don’t think anybody can say whether we will be unified or not. It really is too soon to tell. A lot depends on what happens in the next few days here at the convention,” Eskew said.

The reviews of his speech were mixed, among Sanders delegates. Ed Rollins, a delegate from Massachusetts, said Sanders “did what he needed to do to bring the party together.”

“Obviously it isn’t going to satisfy everyone. There’s an element among our Bernie group — particularly among the younger ones, who, this is the first national election they’ve gotten involved in — just have a hard time facing up to the reality of what the situation is,” Rollins said.

As delegates spilled out of the arena after Sanders speech, a protest chant began in the concourse: “Hey hey DNC, we won’t vote for Hillary.”

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