While Democrats were for the most part united during the Democratic National Convention, there was no doubt that there were ripples of dissent. Standing on the upper levels of the Wells Fargo Center during the first night, impassioned Bernie Sanders supporters consistently booed every time Hillary Clinton was mentioned by one of her surrogates, the low point of the night coming when Elizabeth Warren took the stage. Her speech was overshadowed by angry shouts expressing feelings of betrayal which were not tempered until Bernie Sanders himself took the stage soon after.
Earlier in the day, a coalition of Democracy Spring and Sanders supporters had gathered at Marconi Park and walked several thousand strong down Broad Street, culminating in an effort to block the delegate entrance to the DNC leading to the arrest of 50 protesters after a showing of civil disobedience. These protesters were gathered to make a series of broad demands, from dealing with the influence of money in politics, to the ongoing deaths of people of color at the hands of police violence, to the perceived unfairness that the DNC email leaks exposed.
Demanding a More Progressive World
Although a recent PEW poll recently found that up to 90% of Bernie supporters will ultimately back Clinton, it is plain to see that the party has a problem in terms of outreach to its progressive and millennial base. Moumita Ahmed has been at the forefront of millennial involvement in the Sanders’ campaign, founding the massive social media network “Millennials for Bernie Sanders” and leading marches attended by thousands of supporters and celebrity advocates such as Rosario Dawson.
Moumita has come to Philadelphia as a delegate to try to push the DNC to adopt the most progressive platform possible. As a Muslim woman she acknowledges the dangers of a Trump presidency but stopped short of giving Hillary Clinton an endorsement.
“I feel like we have got to crush Trump no matter what, but movement building is our moral duty and I’ve done my part, what we need is a truly progressive movement to rebuild America.”
A Feeling of Being Wronged
The resignation of Debbie Wasserman Schultz as chair of the DNC following a leak of emails that showed biased statements made during the primaries have calmed tensions somewhat in the convention. Sanders has endorsed Clinton’s candidacy and urged his supporters to vote for her. But Erika Andiola, who handled Latino Outreach for his campaign, expressed how young voters felt disenfranchised and disillusioned by the perception that they’ve been cheated by the DNC.
Andiola called for a more progressive vision to unite the base.
“The DNC should adopt a platform that will get young voters engaged, it’s not enough to tell people to vote because Trump is on the other side of the coin, and you actually have to empower voters to get them on your side.”
Dissent May Not Be Evidence of Disunity. But Is It A Path Forward?
Code Pink co-founder Jodie Evans, who attended both the Republican and Democratic conventions, said while there is dissent among Democrats, she said activists were ridiculed and even attacked at the GOP convention.
What was important to her was not necessarily the elections however but how activists organize and how to build movements and people power in order to reach voters who make choices out of ignorance and fear.
One of the protesters who was arrested during the Democracy Spring sit-in was Andrea Perez from Miami, Florida. Andrea was a volunteer for the Sanders campaign and she also volunteered during President Obama’s campaigns. But she said Sanders represents the progressive movement like no candidate has before and she believes Sanders was not given a fair chance among rank and file party members.
Although she is an immigrant from Colombia and is aware of Donald Trump’s vehement anti-immigrant policies, she remains reluctant to support Clinton.
“I hate Donald Trump. My high school friend was deported back to Uruguay so I get the danger that our community feels if he gets the presidency, yet it’s very hard for me to vote for Hillary Clinton because of her record and it’s something that I will have to think about a lot until November.”
A Heightened Sense of What’s At Stake
On Monday night, I reflected on the words of Rep. Raul Grijalva of Arizona who is firm Bernie Sanders supporter. After the assassination of Robert Kennedy in 1968, he abstained from voting for the Democratic nominee and Richard Nixon ended up being elected to disastrous results to Americans and the people that Southeast Asia that suffered the intense bombing raids of the Vietnam War.
Rep. Grijalva called for unity behind a party that fought and represented progressive ideals.
It’s a cautionary tale for every person on the fence who knows that the stakes in these elections could not be any higher for communities of historical struggle. As the speeches roll on, we are seeing and hearing the vision of two Americas at display. Whoever wins will have an immense power to decide the path that our country takes moving forward. And there won’t be any looking back.
Thomas Kennedy is a writing fellow at the Center for Community Change Action and a writer for Law at the Margins. He is attending the Democratic National Convention this week in Philadelphia.