Sanders Delegates Are Not Going Away Quietly at the DNC
Hundreds of Bernie Sanders delegates and their supporters met for several hours on Monday morning to orchestrate their protests on the floor of the Democratic Convention that will open later today and to hound members of Congress who are rejecting their issues—starting with the proposed Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal and a Medicare-for-all health care system.
“If you are against the TPP and are delegates and can be whips for us, I need names,” yelled California Sanders delegate, Susan George, from the podium as activists unfurled a yellow and black banner with three-feet-tall letters reading TPP = BETRAYAL. “This is for tonight,” she continued. “We need a whip in every state.”
“Hey, hey, ho, ho—TPP has got to go! You got that down for tonight?” blared Larry Cohen, the ex-Communications Workers of America president and Sanders campaign representative. “The important thing here this morning is how we stop the TPP. We all know what’s wrong with it… We all know the TPP stinks and no TPP!”
“No TPP! No TPP! No TPP,” replied the crowd, as Cohen continued introduce Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley to moderate, saying he “does the right thing in every single case, including being the only U.S. senator to endorse Bernie Sanders for president.”
“Bernie for president! Bernie for President! Bernie for President,” the room erupted, as hundreds jumped to their feet and screamed.
That outpouring was part of a building crescendo that started at 9:30 A.M. in a remote wing of the downtown Philadelphia Convention Center where the Sanders campaign had convened a series of meetings to discuss how to keep two issues alive that have animated their movement—single-payer healthcare and opposing the TPP. But a parade of speakers began expressing their deep and at times visceral frustration with Democratic Party establishment, from not adopting a progressive platform, to standing with big business on trade at the expense of American workers and immigrants, to rejecting Hillary Clinton for president.
In between, organizers with the Sanders campaign let it be known that they were trying to gather enough delegates to bring their issues to the convention floor on Monday night, such as a proposed platform amendment where all Democrats agree not to adopt the TPP after the November election and before the next Congress is sworn in next January.
The session started quietly enough, although the Sanders campaign’s volunteers tried to bar reporters from entering. At first, it was only perhaps 100 nurses and top officials from National Nurses United in their ubiquitous red shirts and a smattering of dozens of delegates who filled a cavernous banquet hall.
The first speaker was James Zobgy, the longtime president of the Arab American Institute who was picked by Sanders to serve on the platform committee and introduced the amendment to support a single-payer, Medicare-for-all national health care system.
“It, like several of the other planks that were introduced, it was a no-brainer,” Zogby told the room. “But something weird happens in this process where people take their policy brain out of their heads and put in their politics brain… The fear of actually doing it stopped there. They play this chicken little game of the sky will fall [if they adopted a call for single payer].”
“This year we had a candidate running around the country calling for Medicare for all,” said Micheal Lighty, NNU policy director, who, like other speakers tried to inspire the activists to keep going and cited progress in states like Colorado, Minnesota and California. “We cannot win on any of our issues unless we fight for all of them… That is how we have to think of our fights and the political opportunities now. We are part of this broad social justice movement. The work we do electorally is a means to that, but not the end game.”
As the room began to fill, those in attendance were not there to hear consoling words. When Donna Smith, president of Progressive Democrat of America spoke, she said many reporters have been asking her if PDA would endorse Clinton. “PDA will not endorse Hillary Clinton,” she firmly declared, prompting the whole room to jump to their feet and cheer.
“The convention starts in about four and one-half hours, are you going to take this social movement to the convention,” Benjamin Day, executive director of healthcare-now.org loudly asked. “Eighty-one percent of Democrats support Medicare for all. What will it take, 85 percent? It’s not about convincing, it is about organizing. It is not just single payer, it is the racial justice movement, environmental justice, TPP… Keep this fight going! Let’s turn this entire convention into power. We will win this thing!”
But it was the TPP session that followed where the room filled with people and the energy to challenge the Democratic Party establishment rose to a new level and got specific. As Merkley introduced speaker after speaker, it became clear that nobody was ready to surrender to mainstream Democrats and abide by politely getting in line with Clinton.
When Gustavo Torres, executive director of the Washington, D.C. based Casa in Action, a immigrant rights group, told the room that prior trade agreements like NAFTA left hundreds of thousands of Mexican peasants without work and pushed them to migrate to the U.S. without documentation, people grimly nodded.
“We believe it is very important to send a message,” he said. “We want Secretary Clinton and Sen. [Tim] Kaine to be president, right?”
“No!” voices immediately replied. “Bernie! Bernie! Bernie!” chanted row after row of delegates and activists, followed by loud clapping.
“We want to send a message that the TPP is not a good deal for our families, right here and in central America,” Torres said, quickly summing up and leaving the stage.
Several minutes later came the CWA spokesman Chris Shelton, who told the room that never before has every major international union opposed a trade agreement. When he said that 28 House Democrats and 13 Senate Democrats voted to give the president fast-track authority to negotiate the TPP, people started yelling back, “Take them out! Take them out!”
He told the room that the Sanders delegates changed the platform’s draft language that said “there was a diversity of opinion about the TPP… The only word I could say was bullshit!”
“Bullshit! Bullshit! Bullshit!” the room responded.
“Our mission now is to get the officials of the Democratic Party take their implicit rejection of the TPP and make it an explicit rejection,” Shelton said. “I urge all of you to take action. Hold your members of Congress accountable—including those 41 assholes who voted for fast track. Tell them how angry you are that they turned their backs on workers… and then we must go home and organize. Are ready to stand up and fight? Are you ready to stand up and fight?”
“Yes… Fight! Fight! Fight!” the room replied. “Stand up! Fight! Stand up! Fight.”
Immediately after, the speakers got down to specifics. Speakers told the room that any delegate needed to sign their petition to amend the party platform to say the party would not support a TTP vote in the lame-duck session after November’s election. Other volunteers passed out sheets with anti-TPP talking point and buttons.
“The thing we have to do to keep the Bernie revolution going is win on TPP,” Lori Wallach, director and founder of Global Trade Watch energetically told the room. “There will be no bigger setback for corporate America!”
“If you’re a convention delegate, please come up here and sign this amendment now,” delegate Susan George told the room, taking the podium. That promted dozens of delegates to head to the side of the stage. As they massed and were also asked what state delegation are they from—to create a united front on the convention floor later on—the campaign’s Larry Cohen took back the microphone.
“You’ve heard these amazing panels… It’s up to us. This week is up to us. We need every state to raise this issue,” he said. “Are you with us or against us? We passed out the list of the 41 senators and representatives who voted for fast track. You are eating breakfast with them. Ask them, ‘Are you with us or against us?’”
“And when you are in the hall and you hear the chant, you pick it up,” Cohen continued. “Hey, hey, ho, ho, TPP has got to go… The president needs to hear it… The speakers need to hear it… Every night. Jump in!”
Then Cohen told the room that everyone had to leave the ballroom because the Secret Service needed to conduct a sweep because Sanders was coming and non-delegates had to make room for their 1,900 delegates. As the delegates filtered back into the room and waited, their periodic cheers were louder than anything heard before—and the man who inspired it hand’t even arrived.
After the closed-door meeting, delegates said Sanders gave a standard stump speech, encouraging them to keep on fighting, but also said they had to support Hillary Clinton. That prompted boos, according to people in the room.
"You could feel the pitchforks come out," said one nurse in a red NNU shirt, who added that the energy among delegates to protest and be heard was not deterred.