The Democratic National Convention: Bernie Sanders' scrappy idealists dominate the conversation

The Democratic National Convention: Bernie Sanders' scrappy idealists dominate the conversation
Bernie Sanders supporters of all stripes gather outside the DNC (J. M. Giordano/City Paper)

There's nothing more dispiriting than idealism gone sour.

The fallen idealist, feeling screwed for the first time ever, imagines they're more in the right than ever, so they jump right over pragmatism and declare, "fuck it" on some pissy principle. Or, as it pertains to the rancid rage of Bernie Sanders supporters, they all gather at Philadelphia's City Hall on the first day of the Democratic National Convention, a few miles from the Wells Fargo Arena where the convention is held, and say, "Bernie or bust," which is kind of the same as saying, "fuck it," given that Hillary Clinton is the nominee and she is up against Donald Trump, a fascist at worst and a terrifying dumbass with no plan at best. Not to mention, Sanders himself has pretty much told all his bros to chill and fall in line.


"If you don't believe that this election is important, if you think you can sit it out, take a moment to think about the Supreme Court justices that Donald Trump would nominate," Sanders said when he spoke at the DNC Monday night. "And what that would mean to civil liberties, equal rights, and the future of our country."

But Sanders supporters—rabid, excited, dogmatic, bitter, all at once—won't fall back.

Curdled idealism is also exasperating.

On Monday, Bernie or bust-ers had co-opted the most toxic of slogans, "Hillary for Prison," one seen and heard all over the RNC Convention in Cleveland last week. It was also emblazoned digitally on the side of an InfoWars truck by Alex Jones, which when it circled Philly's City Hall was met with plenty of cheers and whoop-whoops. And inexplicably, Bernie's supporters have dubbed their opposition as "Demexit," a nod to "Brexit," easily understood as one of the most unwise and petulant financial mistakes possibly ever. There's also plenty of the same sexism seen at the RNC aimed at Clinton on signs and shirts.

These thousand-plus Bernie supporters marched down Broad Street to the front door of the DNC, or as close as they could get—a big tall metal gate protects those with credentials—while some detoured down to nearby FDR Park where there was a Jill Stein rally going on slowly but surely all day.

In FDR Park, people kept mentioning the "massive rally" (a sign also said "massive rally" and pointed in its direction), though what it consisted of at 3 p.m. was some tents, some white dreadlocked dickwads trying to out-woke one another, some musicians, a few punks, and a collection of deeply sincere and stalwart liberals who haven't been subsumed by moderation. The outside had a music festival vibe to it. Sanderstock. It grew throughout Monday and into the evening, weathering a storm that swept over Philly like the one straight out of "The Mummy" starring Brendan Fraser. It rained everything out briefly but also cooled everyone down—because it was so, so hot.

Outside amid the Sanders shouters, there's are some Black Lives Matter protesters here and there, but mostly it all felt like a hangover from Occupy, with lots of class chatter and rage at the moneyed, which is all good and well, but it also highlights the rub of Occupy: these people can literally afford to be here protesting. Mostly white and mostly middle class, these people are angry in that protest-as-extracurricular-activity way that's so specific to doing OK in America. This initial burst of Bernie-mania takes a hit by Monday night when the entire party bends over backward to assuage as many people as possible and Bernie Sanders proudly takes an "L" in hopes of preventing Donald Trump from being president.

Oh right, the big action on Monday was a bunch of Sanders supporters staging a sit-in front of the entrance to the DNC in which they were politely and methodically crossing a fence and then arrested, only they weren't arrested but given citations for disorderly conduct. Not that Sanders' supporters are mostly correct about everything, mind you: Sanders is undeniably the better candidate and he probably has a better shot at unequivocally beating Trump. But hey, while Clinton and the Democrats run on a kind of smug disconnect, the Sanders crew, who are, when they aren't alternately demanding Sanders be the nominee or telling you to vote for Jill Stein, often furious. It's not a particularly compelling or inviting style of progressivism—it's more like hardheaded-ism.

On Tuesday, Sanders supporters had yet to take the "L," invoking Sanders and praising Jill Stein and staging a brief "Demexit" from the convention center in protest following the roll call.

Also happening yesterday was the Black DNC Resistance March, which both coincided with and countered the evening's DNC speakers The Mothers of the Movement, which included the mothers of Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and other people killed by police.

The march offered up a contrast to aggrieved Bernie-ites—an example of what it's like to truly feel underserved and misrepresented. At one point during the march, Pam Africa of the MOVE Movement declared that there's "no hope" in either Clinton or Sanders, which is a totally acceptable response from someone who is part of a political movement that was literally bombed by the police in Philadelphia back in 1985.

In contrast, Bernie bros boasting that they're gonna take their ball and go home, even after their hero has said they should not, feels petulant. These mostly angry white boys fighting for the people will be fine. The hedged socialism of Sanders and the half-stepped free market-preaching state's rights goo-goo-ga-ga of Trump operate the same for whites, really. If Sanders supporters weren't so intent on shouting everybody else down (including say, Elijah Cummings while he talks about abortion rights and Black Lives Matter), it might be easier to buy into their "for the people" stance, but after two days, it's not convincing. Being right isn't enough. Listening helps.

That the protestors—Demexiters, Black DNC Resistance marchers, and the many that overlap—all gathered together close to 5,000 strong later in the night was heartening, however, and an illustration of how the movement can govern itself and work out its problems and doesn't need the party telling them how to do it and doesn't need Philly cops in riot gear to contain it. The appearance of Black Lives Matter too seemed important given Hillary and former president Bill's disastrous crime bill reputation—and Hillary's "superpredators" line, which is always echoing through anything she says on the topic of race.

The Black DNC Resistance March also seemed important because Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, our city's lame-duck-basically-absentee mayor as of late, presided over Tuesday's roll call. This continues a long Democratic Party tradition of politicians who fuck up their state or their city or are just deeply unappealing being enabled by the party on a national level. See also: Cory Booker, maybe the best speaker at the DNC so far (next to Michelle Obama) and king of Twitter, but also a disappointment in Newark where he was an all-gestures mayor, oversaw a water agency corruption scandal, and brings with him an icky start-up money origin; Joe Biden, charming chill bro of the Dems set to speak tonight, but also in the past a moralizing knee-jerk who shamed Anita Hill and was one of many Dems disastrously off-base on Waco (also: Chuck Schumer).


All in all, overseer of purely symbolic gestures was a good role for $RB: She is good at presiding over nonsense such as the slow, performative grind of democracy as chaos and anger, cogent and incoherent, raged on the floor and outside the arena. She's become an expert at ignoring things, like the insane apartheid-like qualities of Baltimore and our corrupt police. This morning, it was announced that the remaining three officers charged with the death of Freddie Gray would not be tried.

The protests in Philadelphia so far are bigger than in Cleveland last week, and they look better on the news. But the massive police occupation of Cleveland during the RNC pretty much made it impossible for large gatherings—and one of the larger ones, the End Poverty Now Rally was barely covered by the news media at all. Moreover, the cops from across the country that were dropped into Cleveland to patrol tended to divide and then subdivide every protest group or even, say, a pair of protestors that were arguing, with lines of police and fences of police bikes. Dissent was impossible, as Trump prefers it, I imagine.


That Bernie's crew are more stolid and sturdy or fervid isn't exactly true, they are just more single-minded. Philadelphia's burst of protest speaks more to what Bernie Sanders supporters come out for—Bernie Sanders and that's about it, with a smattering of social justice—and the proximity of Philadelphia to other east coast cities, than it does the movement proper. And as other have pointed out, it's all been rather orderly disorderly conduct, down to the police zip-tying each protester and then moving onto the next like they're wrapping a wristband around each dude's arms before they're let into a show.

Voting for president is always a form of harm reduction and the role of president is not for someone who is strong-willed and morally serious or even consistent, so Bernie Sanders loses. Except he doesn't lose because his scrappy, shout-y magnanimity greatly decreases the chance of Trump becoming president.

Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, remains something of an afterthought at the DNC even though yesterday she is now the first woman nominee for a major party in American history and that is very important.

The DNC, then, tells a familiar story: loud, bratty men dominating and derailing the conversation to make sure it's clear that they didn't get exactly what they wanted.