It ain’t easy sitting through an infomercial when you don’t have a part in it. We Bernie Sanders delegates came to Philadelphia having won about forty five percent of the elected slots. But when we arrived we had zero percent control over the agenda. On the heels of the public acknowledgment of what everyone already knew – that the Democratic National Committee tilted toward their chosen one, we were now subjected to four days of speeches on behalf of a candidate whose campaign we had battled through the entire year. Seemingly every fifteen minutes a speaker appeared live and on giant screens to tell us “And that’s why we need to elect Hillary Clinton president.” There were times when I thought this must have been how Manuel Noriega felt during “Operation Nifty Package,” when the U.S. blasted the Vatican Embassy in Panama with deafeningly loud rock music continuously for three days when the Panamanian General took refuge there. And certainly the events of the convention’s first day suggest that, if the DNC had actually been trying to drive Sanders delegates to distraction, the operation would have to have been considered a success.
For us, convention highlights were few. Sanders’s own speech, of course, and the nominating and seconding speeches. But there were no platform or rules debates, apparently the price paid for his getting a prime speaking spot on opening night. And efforts to mount a vice presidential challenge were so late and so minor that they were easily thwarted by a bit of DNC intransigence. Still, it was the first time since Jerry Brown stuck it out against Bill Clinton in 1992 that a Democratic Nominating Convention was forced to recognize the fact that there had actually been another candidate seeking the nomination. And think what you will about how some Sanders supporters conducted themselves, the fact is that speaker after speaker, right up to Barack Obama, felt obligated to acknowledge that there was another force in the house besides the Clinton campaign.
The roll call was bittersweet. Because we knew it was going to come out badly, of course, but also because when the super delegates were added in to the totals, many of the twenty-three states that we had won or tied in the primaries and caucuses came out looking like we had lost them. But still it was the official reading of just how far we had exceeded all expectations. For me, the high points were Bernie’s brother Larry calling out the total for the Democrats Abroad and the South Dakota spokeswoman citing the state as the home of George McGovern, whom I have always considered the greatest Democratic presidential nominee of my lifetime.
Figuring out anything that could usefully be done over the four days was not easy, but many of the California Sanders delegates labored mightily at it nonetheless, starting each morning following the official state breakfast with a caucus meeting reminiscent of Occupy, with speakers generally limited to thirty seconds and sonic reactions replaced by the hand signals of approval or disapproval used in that movement. (And by the way, in case you’ve gotten out of touch with just how big California is, we had 221 Sanders delegates – all elected, a number larger than the total number of elected delegates in every other state but Texas – and we lost the state!) On the last morning perhaps as many as twenty percent of those speaking teared-up during their thirty seconds, a level of emotional exhaustion I had never previously encountered in the course of attending many, many meetings.
On the morning of Clinton’s acceptance, we each received a text message from the campaign asking us, as a courtesy to Bernie, to extend the same respect to her that her supporters had extended to him when he spoke. And almost everyone did. I also think it’s fair to say that most everyone in our ranks recognized the symbolic value of a woman taking a major party presidential nomination for the first time. If she had represented Bernie Sanders’s politics we would have been delighted to be with her.
Other speakers, however, were greeted with chants about a number of issues. The one thing I take pride in from this convention is having been part of the group holding signs and chanting, “No More Wars” , throughout the speeches of Retired General John Allen and former Defense Secretary and CIA Director Leon Panetta. We were, of course, considered a major nuisance for doing this and were met by counter chants of “USA” – the powers that be apparently finding no irony in that juxtaposition. Our actions would virtually be the convention’s only critical acknowledgment that we have existed on a permanent war footing these last fifteen years.
On a personal level, like most other delegates, the preposterous price of the hotel rooms that the California Democratic Party secured for us caused me to seek roommates whom I met on the day before the convention – just like freshman year of college. Except in this case the pool of possibilities was limited to Sanders delegates, so we knew we would have something in common – enough, it turned out, to keep us up until 5:30 AM the last two days, also just like college. And then there was the group photo of about thirty delegates and that one last “Feel the Bern” chant in the hotel lobby at 4 AM Friday morning – the culmination of one of the great experiences of my life.
But it ain’t over folks: before Bernie’s speech to the delegates on the first day, we learned that the successor organization will be called Our Revolution, with the first nationwide video hook-up on a date to be determined in August. Be sure to watch.
Tom Gallagher’s book “The Primary Route: How the 99% Take On the Military Industrial Complex” is available here