Inside the 'Bernie or Bust' Movement's Last Gasp - Rolling Stone
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Inside the ‘Bernie or Bust’ Movement’s Last Gasp

Marchers grasped in the dark after their candidate’s show of party unity Tuesday

Bernie Supporters stage walkout at DNC, Vermont, Senator, Philadelphia, Presidential Election 2016, Hillary Clinton, 2016 Primaries, DemocratBernie Supporters stage walkout at DNC, Vermont, Senator, Philadelphia, Presidential Election 2016, Hillary Clinton, 2016 Primaries, Democrat

Some Bernie Sanders delegates walked out of the Democratic National Convention Tuesday.

Nicholas Kamm/Getty

It’s a balmy 90 degrees in Philadelphia’s Franklin Delano Roosevelt Park. The late afternoon sun is washing over some 1,500 Bernie Sanders supporters sitting in an open grassy field, rapt by the events unfolding on three massive LED screens that have been erected for the occasion. The crowd is angry, bereft and glued to the telecast as the presidential nomination roll call takes place. Their horror couldn’t be more at odds with the festival setting; it’s like watching a plane crash live on TV, at Bonnaroo.

Apart from a lone man in a “Hillary for Prison” t-shirt raving about how Clinton stole the election, a tense quiet hangs over the crowd as they watch each state announce their delegate tallies. (The man, an Alex Jones fan, appears determined to mobilize Sanders supporters for Trump by stoking their sense of injustice; he succeeds at summoning a “Hillary for prison!” chant from the crowd, but overplays his hand when he tries for an “All lives matter!” one.)

They whoop and holler when the states that broke for Bernie announce their votes, and boo and flip off the states where Clinton won a majority. When the emcee gets to Vermont, and the state elects to pass, a ripple of confusion moves through the crowd. A dude sitting on the grass explains to three women next to him what it means: the rest of the states will vote, and they’ll come back to Vermont so Bernie Sanders, the state’s senator, can formally nominate Clinton for president. “Are you fucking kidding me?” one of the women, stunned, demands in a low voice.

There’s a delay in the broadcast, so many in the crowd get a New York Times alert informing them Clinton has been nominated for president before they see it on TV. Some leave. The ones who don’t get on their feet, chanting “Ber-nie! Ber-nie!” when Sanders takes the microphone. Deafening boos rip through the crowd when the chair calls for a voice vote and affirms Clinton’s nomination. Pharell’s “Happy” can heard playing in the convention hall, but the mood in the park is ashen.

Rema Loab, 83, is standing under a tree when Sanders nominates Clinton. “No. I love you, but no,” she mutters under her breath. Loab says she’s worried for her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Clinton “has sold out to the fossil-fuel industry, and we can just expect climate change to go galloping. It’s gonna be worse” under her administration, she says.

Loab was born just 13 years after women won the right to vote, but she’s not struck by the historic nature of Clinton’s nomination. “It doesn’t mean a damn thing” that she’s a woman, she says. “I want a good person. I’ll probably be voting for a woman — Jill Stein — but I’m not sure [Stein can win] unless we all stick together.”

Over the PA system, someone announces a 30-minute panel on how the election was stolen from Sanders is about to begin on the main stage. Sarah Stovall is still sitting on the grass, wiping away tears and comforting her 14-year-old daughter, Kathryn. The pair worked double shifts cleaning condos this summer to raise enough money for the trip from Panama City, Florida.

Sarah introduced her daughter to Bernie, but it was Kathryn who insisted they make the drive. She liked that Sanders is in favor of clean energy and against the banks, and she likes that he’s a (democratic) socialist. “My dad is a firefighter, so he gets paid by our taxes, and he needs more money,” she says. She also likes his stance on raising the minimum wage to $15. “This year I’ll be working a minimum-wage job because I won’t be able to work with my mom all the time, and I don’t think it should be $7.25 — I think it should be more,” she says.

“We’re not going to vote for Hillary,” Sarah Stovall says, anticipating the question. She realizes that might mean a Trump presidency, and that concerns her, but she wants to see the DNC and the politicians who unfailingly stood behind Clinton punished for their bias. “I’m willing to pay that price just to teach them a lesson, and maybe they’ll fix what they did after they see what a mistake they made. I know that’s a huge price to pay.”

Dale Rains and his buddy Tom are sitting in a couple of camp chairs at the park’s edge, smoking a cigarette and gazing through the eight-foot fence that surrounds the Wells Fargo Center. Rains is the administrator of one of the dozens of pro-Bernie Facebook groups that sprung up around his candidacy; he came to Philadelphia to finally meet in person the people he first connected with online.

“I’m sitting here at the wall to let the delegates know it worked — that a revolution started, and it’s still here,” he says.

Laura Genna is sitting on a rock, writing on the back of her “Bernie or Bust” sign with a sharpie: “NJ voters: Get Jill on ballot! I have the petition.” Green Party organizers already have enough signatures to get Jill Stein on the New Jersey ballot in November, but they’re trying to amass a surplus in case any are challenged. She’s dressed head-to-toe in Bernie blue: t-shirt, bandana, “Talk birdie to me” pin.

Genna was a volunteer for the Sanders campaign in New Jersey. “I had a lot of social anxiety, so I didn’t really feel comfortable doing a lot of outreach. But I kind of pushed myself outside my comfort zone, and over time I started taking on more and more responsibility at the campaign office,” she says. “It was a life-changing experience. I felt so motivated and connected, and I felt like I was able to do things that I never imagined I would be able to do.”

“I think the DNC made a huge mistake today. They nominated the weaker candidate against Trump, and Bernie supporters had been saying ‘We’re not going to vote for her. We’re Bernie of Bust. We’re going to vote for Jill Stein. We’re going to vote for Gary Johnson.’ And they didn’t listen to us, so the vote is split because they did not nominate the candidate who could have unified the party,” she says.

While we talk, half a dozen pallbearers march by, hoisting a coffin painted with red, white and blue donkeys, chanting, “This is what democracy looks like!”

By this time, hundreds of protesters are gathering near the stretch of fence where delegates enter and exit the convention. They’re banging on the fence, and a couple of them even jump over it, while some demand the cops arrest the kleptocrats inside the arena. The group is split, though — when a couple people start throwing water bottles over the fence, a few others shout, “Don’t throw water bottles!” When a few motivated individuals grab a police barricade and prop it against the fence to use as a ladder, others convince them it’s a bad idea and carry it away.

Word is filtering out to the protesters at the fence — who, it’s impossible not to notice, are mostly white — that the Bernie delegates inside the convention hall have walked out in protest and are now occupying the media tent. Meanwhile, on stage, the mothers of black men, women and children killed by police are addressing the delegates still in their seats.

The news energizes the protesters outside. People are keyed-up, but not sure exactly what to do with the energy.

There are a few aborted attempts at starting a march before, shortly after dusk, a group of marchers finally gets enough momentum to make it further than a block. Hundreds of Bernie or Bust-ers make it perhaps a mile up Broad Street, a main artery of South Philadelphia, before they run up against the Black DNC Resistance March against Police Terrorism and State Repression. That march, coordinated by the Philly Coalition for REAL Justice, started with a rally in protest of police violence against black Americans at City Hall earlier in the afternoon.

At its helm are two big GMC pickup trucks, 10 demonstrators and billowing Pan-African flags in each truck bed. A man riding on one of the tailgates has a sign that reads “We’re not starting a race war, we’re trying to end one.” There’s another sign that bears the name of Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old boy shot by Cleveland police last year.

The Bernie or Bust protest switches directions, joining the black resistance march as it advances down the street. One woman walks in front of the pickup trucks, leading a chant of “No cop zone!” as she advances, forcing a cop on motorcycle who had been following the Bernie supporters to slowly walk his motorcycle backwards.

As tension rises between the protester and the cop, two white Bernie marchers try to intervene; the woman sharply waves them away, saying she doesn’t need their help. (The Facebook invitation for the black resistance march had read, “We cannot allow this political moment to be whitewashed like the Occupy Movement. We must capitalize off of this moment with one goal in mind; and that is to resist the capitalist and racist power structures that allow white supremacy and capitalist oppression to flourish.”)

At this point, the Bernie marchers have folded seamlessly into the black resistance march; instead of “This is what democracy looks like!” they’re chanting “Black Lives Matter!”

It’s right around this time that a group of delegates who walked out of the convention hall join the Bernie or Bust-ers in FDR Park. “This is a Dem-exit!” shouts Jill Merchant, a delegate from North Carolina. They’re anxious about whether their absence will be noticed, and if the DNC will be able to fill their seats. Merchant claims the group tried to get back inside the convention center after walking out, but that “they didn’t want us back.”

“We want unity, but we also want an apology,” Merchant says. When she hears Donna Brazile — acting chair of the DNC — has apologized for the emails, multiple times, she says that in that case they want a personal apology from Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

They also want a different vice presidential nominee. “Tim Kaine is not a good choice,” she says, citing his support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership. When she hears Kaine has disavowed his support of the TPP since being named Clinton’s running mate, she says it doesn’t matter; Hillary changes her positions, too.

With that, Merchant excused herself, and walked off, searching for something in the dark.

See Sarah Silverman slam “Bernie or Bust” at DNC.


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