BY: MIROSLAV TOMOSKI
The man with the llama said he was going to city hall and who were we to stop him? “It’s an alpaca,” He made a point to correct the passersby on the thirty-four-block hike up Broad Street. He and his curly haired companion, Shay, are opponents of Monsanto and advocates for a more natural way of life. They are members of group called Just Us Riders, and were among hundreds of activists who had come to Philadelphia on a runaway train that was once the Bernie Sanders revolution.
After Senator Sanders crowned Hillary Clinton the official Democratic Party candidate on Tuesday night, hundreds of his own delegates left the Wells Fargo Arena, where the Democratic National Convention was held, in a mass walk-out.
It was no surprise that Clinton would win the nomination. She held a healthy lead over Sanders in the delegate count going in and by the time thousands of registered Democrats descended on Philadelphia the convention was merely a formality. But that didn’t stop Sanders’ delegates from drowning out the speakers on the stage with cheers of ‘Bernie’ while those who weren’t chosen to attend pitched tents at FDR Park and doled out free water and vegan chilli.
On the day after the walk-out, hundreds of protesters gathered in front of Philadelphia’s city hall with a new sense of purpose after a recent e-mail leak revealed that Democratic National Committee Chair, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, openly discussed a strategy to undermine the Sanders campaign in favour of Hillary Clinton.
“I came here to fight and that’s what I’m trying to do,” a Sanders delegate said addressing the protesters on Wednesday afternoon. “I can guarantee you that when we get out of this convention, the Democratic Party will not be united like they want us to be because they did nothing to try to unite us.”
The delegates who organised the event, and were selected by voters in their home state to represent Bernie Sanders, felt that they had seen this bias first hand on the convention floor.
“Monday night could have been spent talking about both candidates,” the speaker continued, “Instead, it was just cheer leading over and over for Hillary Clinton.”
After six months of painting Hillary Clinton as the enemy of the revolution and a product of Wall Street corruption, Sanders had a difficult time reigning in his own revolutionaries. The Senator received boos and cheers in equal measure all week as he tried to juggle his endorsement of Clinton with reassurance that the revolution wasn’t over.
But whether Bernie likes it or not, his movement continues and is not fully ready to accept a leader it didn’t choose. “There are some delegates who are going to support [Hillary Clinton] simply because they’re afraid of a Trump presidency,” One Bernie delegate said to the crowd, “but I’m not going to operate on fear!”
While it was difficult to find anyone in the square who was willing to throw their support behind Hillary, no one seemed to hold a grudge against Bernie for falling in line. “I love him so much.” A Detroit delegate for Sanders said, claiming Sanders was pressured into supporting Clinton, “He’s got to go back into the [Senate] chamber and deal with those people.”
Sanders has been a lifelong Independent, having served as a Senator and a Congressman with no party affiliation and only recently registered Democrat so that he could attend the convention.
The Democratic party insists it has adopted a significant portion of Bernie’s platform, including a $15 minimum wage, and free tuition to public colleges for middle class families. But the delegates who organised the protest on Wednesday felt that the party hadn’t gone far enough, noting that Bernie’s proposal of Medicare for all – among other issues – were left out.
The headliner of the event on Wednesday was Green Party candidate Jill Stein, who was nominated on June 22, 2016 as the first female to lead a political party in the United States. Hillary Clinton, who officially accepts her nomination on July 28th, will be the first female leader of one of the two major parties.
In her speech to protesters on Wednesday, Stein appeared to be the unofficial heir to Bernie’s revolution. Protesters crafted signs for Jill out of old Bernie sanders merchandise, while listening to the Green Party candidate give a speech packed with familiar policies and other proposals that went beyond Sanders ideas.
In addition to calling for 100% renewable energy by 2030, Stein told her potential supporters, “We call for a truth and reconciliation commission to put the legacy of slavery behind us,” as well as reparations for African and Native Americans. “All the rest of us are immigrants, let’s be clear about that.” Stein told the crowd.
When asked about Stein’s speech and proposals, many seemed to appreciate the message, but were not fully prepared to quit on Bernie.
“I like the fact that [education and healthcare] are prioritised and paid for by our tax dollars so that everybody gets it.” Said Mark Alexander of Mortal Beasts and Deities, a group of stilt dancers, “It’s not free, I think she shouldn’t use the word free because Republicans jump on that.”
A fellow stilt dancer, Mykuhl Henderson welcomed Stein’s perspective on foreign policy, saying, “I like the historical perspective that she gave in terms of the Middle East because we fall asleep.” He said, referring to Stein’s mention of the CIA’s involvement in Afghanistan during that country’s war with the Soviet Union. “Sometimes we have the attention spans of adolescence.”
Despite the alternatives, and Sanders endorsement of Clinton, supporters still can’t help but feel the Bern. With only a few months left until election day on November 8th, Bernie’s stranded revolutionaries could make the difference between handing the White House to Clinton or Trump. But at this point, they’re asking themselves: what’s the difference?