Before they can even get in the door of the Wells Fargo Center Monday for the start of the Democratic National Convention, Hillary Clinton delegates must pass through a gauntlet of jeering Bernie Sanders supporters gathered behind the rusty, eight-foot fences outside. “A vote for Hillary is a vote for Trump! She will lose to Donald Trump!” one crust punk kid yells. “We will not vote for Hillary! There are millions of people behind us,” says a 20-something woman from Oregon.
Then there’s 68-year-old Allison Hall, gray haired with silver peace-symbol earrings, who’s there with her friend Nancy. “We’re from Brooklyn — 126,000 [voters] purged [from voter rolls] in Brooklyn,” Hall says. “We’re just appalled at the fraud. Where is the democracy? Where are our votes?”
Hall is a pacifist. “My high school boyfriend was killed in Vietnam. They admitted, after two million Vietnamese killed, 55,000 of my generation came back in body bags, ‘Oh it was just a mistake.'” That’s her number-one issue with Hillary: “She doesn’t ever find a war that she does not like. It’s just, it’s sickening. Any Democrat should have no trouble beating Trump, but she is the worst candidate possible because of her history.”
Hall will vote for her — “because I am terrified of Trump; I did my dissertation on Italy, and the similarities to Mussolini are just too much” — but moments after saying as much, she’s hissing at the delegates passing on the other side of the fence, “She’s a war hawk! She’s a war hawk! She’s going to lose!”
It’s people like Hall, and the crust punk, and the Oregonian, who represent Clinton’s fiercest challenge this week in Philadelphia: Bernie Sanders supporters whose feelings of being cheated were validated by the DNC email leak this past weekend. Most of them will ultimately support Clinton (some 90 percent, according to a Pew survey), but they won’t do it quietly — and some won’t do so at all.
The first hint that the DNC was headed off the rails came earlier Monday morning, when embattled, soon-to-be-former DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz was shouted down by protesters at the Florida delegation breakfast. Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake was hastily tapped to preside over the ceremonial gaveling-in to avoid any more embarrassments.
But Sanders supporters would not be placated, not even by their candidate. Bernie himself was booed by his fans Monday morning, after telling a crowd, “We must vote for Hillary Clinton.”
Inside the Wells Fargo Center, the first audible “boos” of the official DNC programming break out shortly after most of the delegates have found their way inside Monday afternoon. During the convocation, the Rev. Leah Daughtry invokes the Founding Fathers, who “set our country off on our ongoing journey toward a more perfect union.”
“This week,” she says, “We’ll move one huge step closer to the goal by nominating a candidate, Hillary Clinton, who not only believes that ‘We the people’ means…” The rest of Daughtry’s remarks are drowned out by chants of “Ber-nie! Ber-nie!” swelling from the risers, followed by competing cheers of “Hill-a-ry! Hill-a-ry!”
The booing and chanting can be heard more or less all night. At one point in the evening, comedian Sarah Silverman — who had been a Sanders supporter, but is now supporting Clinton — acknowledges the ruckus, going off-script to quip, “Can I just say: To the ‘Bernie or Bust’ people, you’re being ridiculous.”
The boos can be heard around the convention center, but the loudest and most persistent noise comes from a wedge of the stadium to the right of the stage, where the 551 California delegates are seated.
Earlier in the day, Alex Calleros, a Bernie “super volunteer” from Glendale, California, who was helping stake out a row for pro-Bernie delegates, tried to explain what people like himself are feeling. “There is just a lot of raw emotion right now because one of our suspicions about the DNC favoritism seemed to be proven to be accurate based on these email leaks,” he says. “A lot of us were called conspiracy theorists.”
Deanna Becker, sitting a few rows down, agrees. “The email leaks have revealed everything. This whole election was rigged,” she says. “The leaks were not news to me. We already knew that was going on just by exit polls. We knew. This was just proof. This was just vindication.”
Calleros adds that he was further disenchanted with Clinton by her selection of Tim Kaine, a candidate whose interest in bank deregulation feels like a pointed rebuke of Sanders’ campaign message.
“I think for a lot of us this election seemed like an amazing opportunity to make the Democratic Party the party that we always imagined it to be and wanted it to be, and it feels like in some ways they are resisting this push toward the future,” Calleros says. “It feels like, in some ways, they are kind of trying to get us out of the way, to [dispense with us] as an annoyance, to carry on with business as usual. And we don’t feel like there is time to do that anymore with climate change, with the student debt crisis — we just feel like bold action is needed now.”
Calleros and his compatriots have come to be heard, to register their disapproval, to rage at the rigged system they feel has failed them. But most of all they want to vote, and every time a speaker gets on stage and calls Hillary Clinton “the next president of the United States,” it feels not only like they’re being ignored, but like they’re being disenfranchised.
“We want our chance to vote. We’re 1,900 delegates here for Bernie Sanders, we came in here to vote, and every time they say, ‘Hillary has won,’ we say, ‘No, we get to vote,'” Kacey Carpenter says.
The feeling is particularly acute for Californians because the race was called by the Associated Press the night before voters in the largest Democratic state in the country were set to cast their ballots. “Every time they say it’s done, we say, ‘No! We’re going to vote,'” says Carpenter. “We. want. to. vote. for. Bernie!”
Carpenter says he‘s looking forward to the roll-call vote Tuesday, when he‘ll get to do just that: cast his state delegates‘ votes for Bernie Sanders. And though he doesn‘t necessary think more people will come over to Sanders‘ side, he doesn‘t rule out the possibility either. “We‘re in Philadelphia; it‘s about democracy and having the right to vote. A lot of us had to self-fund to get here. We worked very hard for the chance to come and represent, and so what’s been happening this whole time is like, ‘It‘s done!’“
Martha Kuhl, an older woman in scrubs and a Peter Pan hat, is sitting in the middle of the loudest Bernie-or-Bust chanting section in the California delegation. “Clearly the Bernie delegates are quite upset,” she says, straining to be heard over the a chorus of boos erupting behind her, “by many aspects of how this election was conducted — since we know it was unfair now, with the resignation of Debbie Wasserman Schultz.”
She’s a registered nurse and a member of National Nurses United, one of the first union groups to endorse Sanders. Besides the emails, Kuhl says she’s angry that the party failed to pass Medicare for all as part of its platform. “The fact that the Democrats wouldn’t endorse Medicare for all when 81 percent of the Democrats in America support Medicare for all — that is not democratic,” she says. “When I go back to work and I see a patient that can’t get the health care that they need because they can’t afford it, it upsets me greatly.”
Not even an appeal from Sanders himself can get the people in her section to quiet down. That afternoon, as it became clear that his supporters were not going to go down quietly, Sanders reached out. “I got an email [from Sanders] saying, you know, ‘Don’t boo,'” Kuhl says. “Obviously it doesn’t appear to be working.”
A few rows away, Yolanda Gonzalez is chanting, “Lock her up!” — the unofficial slogan of last week’s Republican National Convention in Cleveland. Beside her is a friend and fellow delegate, Karen Stevens.
Stevens says she feels taken for granted. “I have people that elected me, and a lot of them gave their last dollar to donate to get me here. I take it very seriously. It’s a responsibility,” she says. “And to come here and it’s like, ‘Just warm up the seat, and grunt when you need to for a vote’ — it’s offensive. It really is offensive,” she says.
Deanna Becker agrees. “We all worked very hard to get here. The majority of Bernie delegates are working-class folks. A lot of us work paycheck to paycheck,” she says. “We’re fighting for us — not for Bernie, not for Hillary, we’re fighting for us. I’m fighting for my son. My son is 12. He has autism. Medicare for all — that has to be something that we do.
“The only thing that’s going to change the way I feel right now is if Bernie is standing up there accepting that nomination,” Becker says.
There’s a brief break from the chants and boos when Michelle Obama takes the stage to deliver her stirring speech, but otherwise the noise really doesn’t let up until Bernie Sanders takes the stage, shortly before 11 p.m. He says to his supporters, many of whom are crying by the end of his speech, “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,” he says, noting that he looks forward to seeing his name put in nomination the following night. But he insists, again, that “Hillary Clinton must become the next president of the United States. The choice is not even close.”
Outside in the lobby, well after the closing gavel, as the remaining delegates and party functionaries filter out, a group of 30 or so protesters still aren’t letting up. “Show me what democracy looks like! This is what democracy looks like,” they chant, defiant in their Peter Pan hats.
This story has been edited to reflect a change in attribution since it was originally published.