Sanders Delegates and Protesters Make Their Frustrated Presence Known on Democratic Convention's Opening Day
The soldiers in Bernie Sanders’ political revolution took to the streets of Philadelphia by the thousands on Monday as swaths of his 1,850 delegates inside the Democratic Convention hall also made their displeasure known on the first night of the party’s national convention.
While speaker after speaker ticked off the reasons why Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine would make good on a long list of progressive promises and must be elected, Sanders delegates hissed, chanted and interrupted, calling out "Bernie, Bernie," or “No TPP, no TPP.” The unity needed to beat Donald Trump, whose numbers in the polls rose after the GOP convention in Cleveland, seemed doubtful.
Earlier in the day, Sanders was booed by his delegation in a downtown ballroom when he told them to vote for Clinton. As delegates were bused into the convention site, a sports arena in a cordon of security on Philadelphia’s southern fringe, they passed hundreds of protesters behind wire fences with pro-Sanders signs and posters saying things like “Never Hillary.”
Sanders was slated to speak in the hall later that night and sent out releases saying he would slam Donald Trump and make the case for Clinton. But by Monday afternoon, he sent out another release warning against “booing, turning our backs, walking out or similar displays,” because, he said, “that’s what Mr. Trump wants.”
But whether Sanders can convince his delegation to fall in line was emerging as the question of the night—and possibly the 2016 campaign. Hours before Sanders took the stage, his delegates did not succeed in amending the party platform with specific anti-Trans Pacific Partnership trade pact language. They wanted to get congressional Democrats to oppose it if came up for a vote after the fall election. One activist said it was the best way to keep Sanders’ revolution alive.
Platform Setback in the Big Hall
But it was not meant to be. As Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-MD, the platform committee chairman strode to the podium to extoll the party’s values and ideals, he was interrupted by shouts of “No TPP, no TPP.” Cummings ignored it and pushed ahead, but his words clashed with the chants. It was only when he said the platform was pro-choice that the cheers became louder than the Sanders delegates' chants. As he left the podium, their chants continued. Suddenly the sound system kicked in and music filled the room. A video quickly started about the committee’s good work. “In the end, the platform committee came together in the spirit of unity for Democrats and our country,” its cheery narrator said. When the video concluded, there was no applause.
The platform co-chairs took the stage and moved the adoption of their panel's work. “I’m proud to present the most ambitious platform the Democratic Party has ever offered,” said Paul Booth, a committee member and union leader from Washington, D.C. After citing highlights, he said the party needed leaders like Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine to deliver on the platform’s promises. One section of the audience cheered while another started chanting, “Bernie, Bernie.”
After a few more speakers, the platform was approved by a voice vote in the room. The yeses drowned out the no votes by a large margin. The chair thanked the committee and as fast as that, it was over. More music started up again, and as the next speakers took the stage, the room heard the opening of the Beatle’s "Come Together."
If that sounds awkward, it was. It felt uneasy in the room, even from high in the arena where much of the alternative press was sequestered. There were far more mainstream Democrats in the room than Sanders noisemakers, but they rarely made themselves heard. Sanders delegates, meanwhile, heard speaker after speaker give speeches about Democratic values, Democratic stances and how Clinton and Kaine are the best hope for continued progress. After hours, the first overt message of thanks to Sanders came from a fellow U.S. senator, Jeff Merkley of Oregon, the only one to endorse Sanders.
“We owe an enormous debt to Bernie Sanders,” he said. “Bernie Sanders inspired us to look for bold solutions to the problems that we face… Bernie Sanders inspired a grassroots revolution that is here tonight and will continue long after the campaign is over.”
The Sanders faction cheered loudly, as Merkley was the first national official from the podium to speak of the fights that “Bernie and Hillary” can make together and win. That’s when he too was interrupted by chants of, “We want Bernie, we want Bernie.” He pressed on, saying, “We must be united in this battle. Whether you felt this year we're feeling the Bern, or ready for Hillary, all of us are ready for an America that rejects discrimination and embraces diversity… so let's work together, as Bernie and Hillary have.”
The factionalism got so fraught that at one point, after comedian Sarah Silverman, a Bernie supporter, explained why she would vote for Clinton with gusto—“I am proud to be a part of the Bernie movement, but part of that movement is making absolutely sure that Hillary is the next president”—the vocal Sanders delegates started yelling for Bernie again. Silverman was standing next to former comedian and U.S. Sen. Al Franken, who has been a Clinton supporter, to show that unity is possible. But Silverman had enough, blurting out, “To the Bernie-or-bust people, you’re being ridiculous!” That brought the loudest cheers of the night.
Sanders Finally Speaks
Finally, after many hours, the room’s majority—Clinton supporters—and Sanders’ flock got to hear from the senator himself. But first, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-MA, gave a rousing speech slamming Trump as a rapacious businessman in her inimitable and blunt manner, and First Lady Michelle Obama gave one of the night’s best speeches, an eloquent and passionate depiction of Clinton as having the character, conviction and discipline to be the president she wants as a role model for her daughters and all children.
“The issues a president faces are not black and white and cannot be boiled down to 140 characters,” Michelle Obama said, referring to Trump’s infamous tweets. “You can’t make snap decisions. You can’t have thin skin. You need to be steady and well-informed… I know the kind of president Hillary will be, and that’s why in this election, I’m with her.”
But it was Bernie’s big night, perhaps the biggest and most improbable of a career going back decades in which he has largely been the ultimate outsider. Clinton campaign workers passed out blue posters with Bernie on one side and “A future to believe in” on the other. As Sanders took the stage waving one arm like a prize fighter, the room lit up with his supporters giving him a standing ovation and not quieting their cheers for minutes.
Sanders did not disappoint, touting the accomplishments of his grassroots revolution and the unfinished work of its progressive agenda. He embraced Clinton, saying anyone with sense should see that a Clinton presidency would make progress on all the issues his campaign has raised and cares about. He slammed Trump as a man who would only serve the rich, ignore the poor and appoint Supreme Court justices that would roll back every issue in the progressive pantheon.
“Let me thank the hundreds of thousands of Americans who actively participated in our campaign… Let me thank the 2.5 million Americans who helped fund our campaign with an unprecedented 8 million contributions… And let me thank the 13 million Americans who voted for the political revolution… giving us 1,846 pledged delegated here tonight!” Sanders began.
“I understand that many people here in this convention hall are disappointed about the final results of the nominating process. I think it is fair to say that no one is more disappointed than I am,” he said, quickly adding he takes enormous pride in what was accomplished. “Together we have begun a political revolution to transform America and that revolution continues….Election days come and go, but the struggle of the people to represent all of us… that struggle continues… and I look forward to being part of that struggle with you.”
Sanders listed all the issues "this election is about” and pivoted toward making the case for Clinton.
“This election is about which candidate understands the real problems facing this country and offers real solutions,” he said. “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 that brings us together and makes us stronger… On these measures, any objective observer will conclude that Hillary Clinton must become the next president of the United States.”
That line brought a standing ovation as the crowd broke into cheers, with Clinton supporters rising to their feet. Sanders said Hillary understands the struggles and the issues his campaign fought for, while Trump believes “the opposite.”
“Brothers and sisters, this election is about overturning Citizens United,” he continued. “Hillary Clinton will nominate justices to the Supreme Court who are prepared to overturn Citizens United… and end the movement toward oligarchy that we are seeing in the country… and defend a woman’s right to choose… worker’s rights… the rights of the LGBT community… the needs of minorities and immigrants and the government’s ability to protect our environment.”
Sanders told his supporters they must not sit out this election—as many of his most fervent followers have threatened they will do, or possibly vote for the Green Party candidate.
“If you don’t believe this election is important, if you think you can sit it out, take a moment to think about the Supreme Court justices that Donald Trump would nominate,” he said. A few minutes later, Sanders brought it to a quick close.
“Hillary Clinton will make an outstanding president and I am proud to stand with her tonight!” he declared, waving and walking off the stage.