PHILADELPHIA – The Democratic National Convention is not going as planned. Inside the convention hall Monday night—the first of what will likely be four very long nights for party leaders—large swaths of delegates loyal to Bernie Sanders booed loudly, sometimes angrily, every time Hillary Clinton’s name was uttered from the microphone.
It began right away. When Rev. Cynthia Hale mentioned Clinton in her invocation, groans and booing broke out and soon morphed into chants of “BER-NEE! BER-NEE! BER-NEE!”
The booing and chanting went on like that all night. It didn’t matter who was speaking, Sanders delegates were willing to interrupt anyone—even Sarah Silverman, a stalwart Sanders supporter during the primaries who this night tried her best to sound enthusiastic about Clinton. Sometimes the chanting and booing stopped speakers short, sometimes it rose up after applause for Clinton had died down. But it was always there, casting an awkward pall over what DNC officials were hoping would be, according to the official schedule, “United Together Monday.”
But they weren’t united at all. And Clinton’s name wasn’t the only one that elicited jeers. Almost every mention of Clinton’s pick for vice president, Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, elicited cries of protest—especially from the California delegation. “We’re just more progressive, demographically,” said Robert Shearer, an outspoken thirty-something California delegate. He strode around the convention floor giving interviews and holding high a “Never Hillary, Never Trump” placard. And he wasn’t alone.
Clinton Supporters Try to Hold Their Heads High
As the night wore on, one got the sense the DNC was trying to push back. The cheers for Clinton got louder, and speakers kept saying her name (and Kaine’s) despite the booing. Some of them even pushed back. Michelle Obama, probably the only person beside the president who could safely take a shot directly at Sanders supporters, said of Clinton, “When she didn’t win the nomination in 2008, she didn’t grow angry or disillusioned.” Later, she admonished the crowd, “We can’t afford to sit back and hope for the best.”
But it wasn’t enough. They kept up their protestations of Clinton and Kaine. It didn’t even matter if the speakers were Democratic superstars like Cory Booker or Elizabeth Warren. A very visible, and audible, faction of delegates simply would not leave it alone.
For all the discomfort and tension leading up to the night’s big finale, things really got awkward when Bernie Sanders himself took the stage. By then, the stadium was entirely full. When Sanders came out, the crowd went wild.
This time, the chanting went on and on. Sanders stood at the podium, unable to begin. When at length he did, he began by thanking “the hundreds of thousands of Americans who actively participated in our campaign.” He thanked those who contributed “an average of 27 dollars,” and the “13 million who voted for a political revolution”—the supporters who gave him 1,894 delegates. To wild applause, he said, “I look forward to your votes during the roll call on Tuesday night.”
He thanked the people of Vermont. He thanked his family. He thanked President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden. He thanked almost everyone. But he didn’t thank Clinton.
Sanders urged his supporters to “take pride in the historical accomplishments we have achieved. Together we have begun a revolution to transform American. And that revolution, our revolution, continues,” he said. “I look forward to being part of that struggle with you.”
Eventually, he got down to the issue at hand and said, “Hillary Clinton must become the next president of the United States.” The cheering that followed resolved in chants of “BER-NEE! BER-NEE!” When Sanders launched into his pitch for Clinton, the crowd began to thin out.
Kaine: ‘Thumbs in the Eyes of Sanders Supporters’
The DNC’s Bernie Sanders problem isn’t just going away on its own. Flash points abound. Perhaps the biggest one, at least for the Sanders crowd, is Kaine. At a press conference Monday morning, a group calling itself Bernie’s Delegate Network told reporters it’s been conducting online straw polls, asking Sanders delegates their views on a host of issues.
The group’s national coordinator, Norman Solomon, said each poll is getting an average of 275 to 300 responses in a 24-hour period—what he considers “a good sample size” of Sanders delegates. When they asked delegates about Clinton’s VP pick, more than 88 percent responded that Kaine was “unacceptable,” while only 3 percent said the Virginia Senator would be “acceptable.”
“Clinton had the power to move toward unity,” Solomon said. But the choice of Kaine amounted to “political thumbs in the eyes of Sanders supporters.” Asked why the delegates could not just set aside their frustrations for the sake of unity, Solomon replied that the Sanders movement is rooted in “resistance-based movements” of the Left, not the “neo-liberal” policies of moderate Democrats like Kaine. “We’d hoped that Clinton would’ve sought to roll those back,” he said, “but Kaine is a sign of promoting them.”
Hillary for Prison 2016
Adding to the discord inside the stadium were thousands of protesters just outside. Multiple protest marches that began Monday afternoon converged in the evening at FDR Park just as the convention got going.
The protesters, it seems, will be a constant feature of the DNC this year, making a spectacle of all the issues that divide Democrats, from the Trans-Pacific Partnership to Marijuana legalization. But nothing divides them like Hillary Clinton. On Monday afternoon, for the second day in a row, a large group of protesters gathered at City Hall bearing anti-Clinton signs and banners and chanting, “No, no, D-N-C! We don’t want no Hil-la-ree!”
In a moment of supreme irony—one of many to come this week, no doubt—the mob of protesters cheered when a truck drove past bearing a huge sign reading “Hillary for Prison 2016,” which bore the unmistakable logo of Infowars.com—the conspiracy theory website of right-wing celebrity kook Alex Jones. The protesters had no idea. Each time the truck circled back around City Hall for another pass, the protesters gave a hearty cheer and waved signs declaring, “Hillary is the candidate of the war machine.”
More ominously for the Democratic Party, many protesters Monday were decked out in crisp new T-shirts and holding shiny new signs that read, simply, “DemExit.”