Here’s What I Saw at the Bruising 2016 Democratic National Convention [NOW WITH VIDEO]


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DNC Convention 2016 - Bernie Rat shirt

A Bernie Delegate’s Observations of the 2016 DNC Convention (with input from other Bernie delegates)

(I considered entitling this;   An Observation of the 2106 DNC Convention … or, Welcome to the Neo-Feudalistic Society, but I didn’t….)

[Ed. Note: Carole Levers, a longtime activist and Democratic Party Board Member (who is speaking here only for herself),  was a Bernie Sanders delegate from CD-39.  She accepted an invitation from Orange Juice Blog to recount her experiences from last week’s convention without censorship.  This provocative and unsettling piece is the result.]

This was my first national party convention.  It was not exactly what I expected.  What the public saw on TV bore little resemblance to what actually transpired on the floor of the convention.  The following are some principal observations of the 2016 Convention by delegates for Senator Sanders — some mine, some related by others within our delegation.  These observations have been divided into three categories; The Good, The Bad and The Very Ugly.  Here goes!

The GOOD:

Not to be entirely negative: there were some excellent moments at the convention.  Here are some highlights:

  • Rules Committee:  We had two Southern California Bernie delegates on the Rules Committee, Dr. Jose F. Moreno (Anaheim City Council Dist. 3 candidate) and Katrina Bergstrom (who helped organize confirmed Bernie delegates in the weeks leading up to the convention).  One big takeaway from the Rules Committee was the limiting of the role of super delegates.  Government and other elected officials can remain as unpledged delegates, but the balance of the super delegates votes must be cast proportionately according to the popular vote in their state’s primary or caucus.  This effectively “reduces” the super delegates’ influence by 2/3.  It’s a win, but not the complete elimination of super delegates.  Thank you, Dr. Moreno and Katrina Bergstrom!

 

  • Platform Committee:  Some significant wins in the DNC platform included: Raising the Minimum wage to $15; expanded regulation of Wall St.; protecting and expanding Social Security (by raising the cap on taxation of higher income earners); immigration reform, including ending family detention; ending mass incarceration and private prisons.  Thanks to our So. CA Bernie delegates Russell Greene (PDA leader and environmental activist), and Ben Kemper (dedicated conference call organizer for Bernie)!  – Did we get everything we wanted or needed?  No, but we did make significant gains!

 

  • Bernie: We were all fortunate to see Bernie Sanders several times at the convention.  Bernie spoke at our delegation breakfast, at a dedicated meeting for delegates at the Philadelphia Convention Center and, of course, at the convention itself. There was a very poignant and tear-filled moment during the roll call of votes when Bernie’s older brother Larry Sanders, who has been residing in England for a number of years, was interviewed and his vote choice recorded.  This was part of the UK contingent of ex-pat voters.  Larry spoke and reiterated that he had cast his vote for Bernie. His eyes were rimmed with tears and his voice shaky as he invoked the memory of his parents, who had died young.  Bernie was also fighting back tears.

My personal thank you (and Marleen Gillespie’s also!) to Bernie Sanders for helping with the cost of our hotel room.  His campaign covered almost ½ of the charge.  Thank you for such kindness and generosity, Senator Sanders.  It would have been very difficult for us to be able to participate without your assistance!  Bernie’s concern for those on limited or fixed incomes speaks volumes for his character – and for his delegates’ admiration for him!

Other moments that were heartrending, included the speech by the parents of a Muslim soldier who was killed in Iraq while saving his fellow soldiers, and of course, the speech by Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth who lost her legs while serving in the Iraq.  The Representative entered the stage walking on her two artificial limbs.

And a big personal thank you from me to Tom Steyer for his having provided California’s delegates daily with a very nice variety of finger foods and beverages (including wine and beer) totally free of charge.   This saved us from the dreadful convention vendor food — and even more dreadful food costs for dinner!

A highlight for me was having had the opportunity to meet and work with the other Bernie Delegates in support of Bernie and the issues we have all strived to achieve!  I will never forget the warmth and dedication of this wonderful group of people with whom we had the opportunity to truly “Feel the Bern”!  Our organized actions were seen by millions of viewers and we are elated to have been able to send a strong message and reveal some truths!

Further input from fellow Southern California Bernie delegate, Alexis Edelstein supports this — and Alexis adds that we were able to make history in a non-violent way.  Protesting our Secretary of State, Alex Padilla, with chants of “Count Our Votes” was another high point as was speaking with the masses of protesters in FDR Park!  Alexis said that he had received a kiss from Maxine Waters!

But the biggest highlight of the day for me and for Marleen occurred when we held our “No TPP” signs, turned toward our right and held the signs higher so that Bernie could see them from his seat in the upper area of the section adjacent to ours.  He saw us, stood, gave a big smile and mouthed “Thank you!”   Jane who was sitting next to him clapped, smiled and gave us the thumbs up!

The BAD:

Hotel:   Aside from the fact that the DNC did zero to “negotiate” decent room rates for our assigned hotels (a regular room with 2 queen beds was $726.50 per night   with taxes and a 5 night minimum), information regarding transportation questions…etc. from desk personnel and the concierge ranged from “limited” to non-existent.  Such pertinent information such as the schedule and location for the convention buses that were to take us daily to the Wells Fargo Center seemed to be a “mystery” to all hotel personnel, as well as to the staff at the DNC Convention information table.

Internet services of $12.95/day were added in addition to the exorbitant room rate.  My roomie Marleen and I put our collective “feet down” and pointed out that in addition to paying what amounted to be close to a quadrupling of the normal room rate….we WERE NOT going to pay this additional fee.  They conceded and deducted this from our check out bill!  I feel badly for those that did not also “negotiate” away this ridiculous fee.

DNC:  OK … many of us paid the CDP/DNC breakfast rates for breakfast and the “bash” on Wed. evening at $200.  These were the four most expensive breakfasts I have ever had.  As for the bash — on Wednesday evening, we got back to the hotel from the convention via bus at 1:15 a.m. (the subway discontinues service at 12 midnight).  My feet were so swollen – as I had been operating on an average of 3 hours of sleep a night – that I opted for heading for the room rather than the bash!   (The closing time was 2 AM; and several people indicated that the food, etc. was nearly all gone). Does the event planner for the convention/hotels NOT know that you can actually negotiate rates for the services for food, etc.?  I’d say: apparently not.

On Tuesday morning at breakfast, while picking up our credentials, we were asked to indicate our vote for the presidential nominee on a “voting” paper.  The DNC was planning on using this paper vote and skipping the roll call vote during the convention.  Bernie found out about this sleight-of -hand move and forced the DNC to honor their original promise of having a roll call vote at the convention.  Bernie announced at our delegation breakfast that, after holding the DNC’s” feet to the fire,” the roll call vote would occur on Tuesday.

In the Convention Hall (Held at the Wells Fargo Center):

Brace yourselves: this is the LONG section!

When we arrived each day at the convention, we were not allowed to enter the convention floor until “X o’clock.” (Generally 30 minutes before gavel time, which could change daily.)  The volunteer “guards” told us that no one was on the convention floor.  We, in fact, could clearly hear that there were people inside — a whole lot of people inside.  All four days we literally had to bull our way in, barging past the “guards” who chased after us.  What we saw when we passed the curtains, of course, was that indeed there were a lot of people already in the hall — most all of whom we observed to be Hillary delegates.

We were not allowed to bring in “non-convention” provided signs (although we did anyhow; they were foldable paper signs!)  What we observed were signs being taken from delegates (Bernie delegates).  The only time Bernie signs were allowed was during Bernie’s speech on Monday night.

On Thursday, Marleen and I got to the floor early in order to save a block of seats for Bernie delegates … only to find that almost all the seats in the California section were already “reserved” for HRC delegates.  More amazingly, many were being staked out by non-delegates.  I put up reserved signs on a row of seats in which we had already seated some Bernie delegates.  A Hillary delegate told us that those seats belonged to them … to which I replied “No, we have reserved these for our delegates.”

That same Hillary delegate began telling other Hillary delegates to go and occupy our seats.  We had one Hillary delegate climb over a row of seats in order to enter our reserved seats.  She announced that she was told that these were “Hillary” reserved seats to which I responded “No, I placed the reserved signs up … and I would be happy to show you the papers that I used to do so.”  The Hillary delegate that told her to sit in our seats yelled that she had saved those seats.  I spoke to the lady who had climbed in and told her that the other delegate was lying; then I turned and told the other Hillary delegate that she was lying.  The lady who had climbed into our row said that she believed us and she left.  This was a constant occurrence: we had to be diligent in saving seats that were vacated for food or restroom breaks.

We also observed that there were a large number of people on the floor that did not have “floor delegate” credentials: they had “guest” credentials.  These people were being used to fill seats in order to deny seats for credentialed Bernie delegates.  Their credentials were NOT checked!  When we requested that the “guards” check certain people’s credentials, we were told “they are OK. they are credentialed.”  And of course they were … but the credentials were GUEST rather than FLOOR credentials.

On Tuesday evening, the Bernie volunteers (guards) were all stripped of their credentials and told to leave.  That left us on Wednesday and Thursday with 100% Hillary volunteers.  They were trained to attempt to deny Bernie delegates access, to try and strip Bernie delegates of their signs and seats, and to threaten to have their credentials removed.  One such bully threatened me with credential removal for complaining about an abusive Hillary delegate.  “While in my seat earlier on Thursday, I was approached  by a Hillary volunteer guard and told that my seat would need to be vacated for a photographer.  (There had been no reserved sign or other indication that my seat was previously “taken.”)  I didn’t budge.  That same person went and told Dr. Bill Honigman the same story.  I suppose that they expected him to tell me to leave my seat — but he didn’t, and I didn’t … and I wouldn’t have acquiesced, either!

From Wednesday onward, huge numbers of Hillary “fillers” were being bused in to fill the upper levels of the hall and to also assist in isolating Bernie Delegates to prevent them from being able to sit together in sizable groups.   This was an attempt to greatly inhibit our ability to communicate and work together, as well as to be able cover for one another for restroom and dinner breaks.  (Evidence of this was the huge number of buses that now filled the parking lot outside!)  Since we were not allowed to bring in food to the convention floor, we either were forced to gobble down food while standing and hope that our seats would be saved or … just not eat.  Many delegates were denied entry back into the convention floor after having left for a break.  Some delegates were denied egress for restroom breaks, necessitating that they find another “door” that would permit them to leave to attend to urgent physiological needs.

On Thursday, we again refused to give in to the intimidation of the HRC-DNC guards and instead just pushed our way through to the hall.  Upon entering, we found that the floor was already at least a third filled with Hillary delegates and “fillers”.

The Oregon/Washington Walk-Out

On Tuesday evening, after the roll call vote, the Oregon and Washington delegates became disgusted with all the corruption and obstructionism that had occurred and walked out of the Convention, leaving a multitude of empty seats.  Does anyone recall seeing this many empty seats on TV broadcasts?

The Washington and Oregon delegations walk out.

The Washington and Oregon delegations walk out of the Democratic National Convention in disgust.

This “walk-out” was a direct result of the sleight-of-hand attempt to force a paper vote as a replacement for the floor roll call vote. On Tuesday, after Oregon’s and Washington’s delegates remained in absentia, within 45 minutes those seats and all of the rest of the third level of the convention quickly filled in with “paid” fillers.  We had observed advertisements in downtown Philly from the DNC asking for people to serve as seat fillers — for pay.  They were expected to hold and wave signs, chant for Hillary, and  follow the lead of the Hillary delegates.

Alexis Edelstein points out that our own Gov. Jerry Brown ignored the rules and denied granting the motion made for a recount for the roll call vote.  Furthermore, the superdelegates ignored their “obligations” to represent the votes of the people in their states.  We were appalled that states that were WON by Bernie actually had MORE delegates allotted to Hillary.  This was due to the “misplaced” votes of the superdelegates from those states.  The will of the people was clearly ignored by the superdelegates.

Alexis reiterates that we were all treated as unwelcome guests by the DNC.  All of us felt the sting of the Hillary delegates, DNC personnel, and Hillary volunteer guards telling us to “go home” and that “we did not belong there”.

Lastly, and sadly,  Alexis observes that seeing Bernie “having to” support Hillary was a heartbreaking experience.  We could all read the negative body language.

The Unity message from the Hillary campaign was supposed to be a kumbaya moment, but the Bernie delegates were left with an empty feeling.  Nothing that was said would assure us that the progressive ideals that we all want to get instituted would be forthcoming.  Hillary’s speech did not provide any indication or hint of the solutions that she “plans” to institute as President, such as how she would prevent the TPP from passing or how she would address “debt free” higher public education.

The pick of Tim Kaine as Vice-President added to the disbelief that Hillary is sincere in her opposition to TPP, Wall St. regulations, and perhaps even women’s reproductive health issues.  Kaine was FOR the TPP and FOR further deregulation of Wall St. and banks up until a couple of days before the convention.  His Roman Catholic background and previous stances on women’s reproductive health are also concerning: will he flip back?  Who knows?  This pick signals that Hillary lacks the intention to be a serious progressive reformer.

We were left wondering …what does she really believe?

The VERY UGLY:

OK … now for brass tacks.

Hotel:

The confirmed Bernie delegates were conducting organizing meetings in a room in back of the indoor pool location.  The management learned of this and told us to leave.  They returned about 10 minutes later and informed us that they were allowing us to use a couple of meeting rooms in the hotel for our meetings.  They provided the room numbers and told us they would be ready in about 15-20 minutes. The Hillary campaign knew in advance what we were planning to chant, when we were planning to do these and the Hillary delegates were provided with counter chants.  For example, when we chanted “No More Wars” … they began chanting “USA!, USA!” and other appropriate counter-chants. They were also provided with the “appropriate counter signs” to wave and hold and were told to hold multiple signs in order to block our protest signs from cameras.  Because the Hilary campaign knew in advance EXACTLY and SPECIFICALLY what chants and actions we were planning to carry out for the next day, it appeared to us that our room had been bugged.

We were NOT given signs or the vertical signs (Obama, Hillary vertical bar/pole signs) and US flags.  Many of the Hillary delegates held huge banners high in attempts to block views of us. Some of the Hillary delegates actually used their signs and the vertical pole signs to try and tear or destroy Bernie delegates paper signs.  Marleen’s sign was swiped at numerous times by a Hillary delegate in front of her who was attempting to tear and destroy her NO TPP sign.  It left me wondering whether they were actually Pro-TPP … but apparently not.  Many of them were completely unaware of TPP and what it was!

That note this brings me to a segue.  In my opinion, delegates to an important convention such as the DNC National Convention should be well informed about the current important issues.  Sadly, it appears that in the case of Hillary delegates this was not the case.  I can, in confidence, say that I sincerely doubt that any of the Bernie delegates were ignorant of the TPP and what it is!

Merchandise:

The ONLY merchandise sold at the convention and at the dedicated Hillary stores within the hotels were Hillary-endorsed items.  There was ONE Bernie item in this offering: it was a T-shirt with a black and white caricature of Bernie with “rat-like” features (see picture).  This was a page taken out of the Nazi playbook where Jews were depicted as being “rats”.  How disgraceful.

Fig. 2: The one and only Bernie shirt offered for sale:

Fig. 2: The one and only Bernie shirt offered for sale:

Disorder on the floor:

Having fillers take up empty seats at the beginning of the convention gavel was bad enough but actually bullying people into allowing fillers to occupy Bernie delegate seats while the Berners were on restroom breaks or food breaks really took the cake.

More physical and verbal bullying continued with Hillary delegates and Hillary volunteer guards intimidating Bernie delegates.

One of the youngest delegates  — a Bernie delegate — was 17 years old .. and was harassed and harangued by older Hillary delegates to the point of tears.  This was an especially ugly scene.

Another of our young (22 year old) Bernie delegates was shoved and pushed by no other than John Hanna, a former DPOC Chair and CDP Rules Committee Chair.  John is not a child — why was he doing this?  Our delegate Shawnee Badger was peacefully protesting and had every right to be where she was.  Since when is disenfranchising our young people a “good idea”?  For so long the young have been disengaged — and now that Bernie has awakened a stirring in these young people let’s ENCOURAGE them, not shove and push and disenfranchise them.  These young people ARE the FUTURE of our Party and we need to embrace this.

Fig. 3:  John Hanna Shoving and Pushing our young Bernie delegate, Shawnee Badger

Fellow Bernie delegate Alexis Edelstein was kicked multiple times while protesting Gov. Brown and Brown’s ignoring of the floor motion to recount.  I was harassed by five Hillary delegates who got in my face while  I was sitting in my seat.  They told me that we needed to quit chanting, go home, and that we did not belong there.  They added that by chanting “No More Wars” we  were disrespecting the veterans.  I replied that none of us were disrespecting the veterans. We were honoring them by NOT WANTING ANY MORE DEAD VETERANS, killed in illegal wars for the profits of the wealthy.  I reiterated that we were exercising our first amendment rights to which one replied that WE (Bernie delegates) had no rights.  I was later shoved by a Hillary delegate into the metal frame of the seats. (see bruise photo, rotated to better fit the page).  This picture was taken five  days after the incident, when the bruise was already fading.

Bernie delegate's fading bruise five days after being pushed into metal fram by Hillary delegate.

Fig. 4 — Fading bruise on Bernie delegate’s thigh five days after she was shoved by a Hillary delegate into the metal frame of a seat.

The SAD TAKE AWAY:

The theme of the convention was UNITY….

My Grandmother always told me that you can attract more butterflies with honey than with vinegar.  Here, we were offered …vinegar.

If the Hillary campaign really wanted unity, they needed to reach out to us Bernie supporters.  Instead we were left with the feeling that we were under threat and that we needed to join them or we would be electing Trump.  We were not given reasons, progressive concessions or messages of inclusion or compromises that all of the millions of Bernie supporters hold so dear. The omnipresent “Stronger Together” and “With Her” signs highlighted the abrasive approach by her campaign.  They served to heighten our conviction to convey our support for both Bernie Sanders and the issues in which he and we so strongly believe.

The result of this convention may be that many of the Bernie delegates will be voting third party, writing in Bernie (which is not counted as a vote), with a few even voting for Trump (!) or not voting at all.  The new generation of voters that were brought in, activated, and given hope by Bernie have now been disenfranchised.  This new generation of voters, our FUTURE, have become very disillusioned by the corruption of this election process from the primaries and caucuses all the way to and through the convention.  Many will drop out; many will re-register as NPP, Green Party, or Libertarian and vote accordingly. This convention, the RNC convention, and the general election may well spawn the destruction of BOTH major political parties.  Even worse, this convention may go down in history as being not only the one that produced the first female Presidential nominee … but also as the one that disenchanted an entire generation of voters.


About Carole Levers