SocialismToday           Socialist Party magazine

Issue 201 September 2016

The most contentious Democratic convention since 1968

The 2016 US Democratic Party National Convention held in Philadelphia from July 25-28 was engulfed in controversy, tension, and protest. Inside the convention, outside the convention gates, and throughout the city on the subway, in bars, restaurants and hotels, the political polarization was plain to see.

In many ways, this convention was the most contentious since the Chicago convention of 1968 and points to even further upheaval against the establishment in the years ahead.

Thousands descended on Philadelphia in protest. In spite of a heat index topping 110 degrees Fahrenheit at times, there were daily four mile marches from the city centre to FDR Park outside the gates of the militarized wall surrounding the convention.

The biggest marches occurred on Sunday and Monday, involving thousands. The vast majority of people did not belong to any traditional left-wing organisation. They represented a new generation of activists, awakened by Bernie Sanders’ primary campaign, and now set to move beyond him.

The most popular chant, by far, was ‘Hell No, DNC, we won’t vote for Hillary!’ The hashtag #Demexit was trending.

The Green Party 2016 presidential candidate Jill Stein had an energetic and high profile amongst the protests. Protesters treated her like a rock star. Undoubtedly, the vast majority of protesters, who had come from all over the US, seem set to support her in November.

However, many will do so as a protest and still others maintain hope the Democratic Party can be reformed. Socialist Alternative participated in all the protests, calling for support for Jill Stein and for the building of a completely new party of the 99%, as a necessary tool to build mass movements and a genuine political revolution.

The Democratic National Committee (DNC), the organiser of the convention, angered many present and former Bernie supporters, not just outside, but inside the convention hall, culminating in a walkout of hundreds of delegates on Tuesday night.

Just days before the Democratic Party delegates gathered in Philadelphia, 20,000 DNC emails had been released by WikiLeaks, spanning 16 months up to this May. They painted a convincing picture of what most Bernie supporters had already suspected: the DNC had rigged the primary process for Hillary right from the start.

Delegates faced enormous pressure to get on-board with Hillary’s campaign, even before they got to Philadelphia. Yet many Bernie supporters stood their ground, angered at the way the DNC has treated them. DNC chair, Representative Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, was forced to resign over the email leaks.

Bernie Sanders played the chief peacemaker role for the party establishment, yet even he failed to bow many of his supporters who booed his support for Hillary on Monday morning in a pre-convention meeting of Bernie delegates.

The DNC went to even greater lengths to impose unity, using fear of Trump, the moral authority of progressive leaders, and outright disciplinary action. Nina Turner, a prominent Bernie supporter and the Ohio state Democratic Party senator, was stripped of her credentials, along with other Bernie supporters who had protested inside the convention hall.

Things came to a head on Tuesday 26 July. The DNC had blocked attempts by Bernie delegates to democratically propose from the floor an alternative to the Vice Presidential nomination of Virginia senator, Tim Kaine.

Kaine has a record of opposing a woman’s right to choose, while supporting the death penalty and pro-corporate economic policies. His nomination was seen as another betrayal, and not allowing a democratic discussion and vote on his nomination was just one more example of the indefensible arrogance of the corporate leadership of the (un)Democratic National Committee.

After the roll call vote on Tuesday night, hundreds walked out. The DNC’s actions created the mood for a walkout, but it was not entirely spontaneous action – no effective protest ever is, really.

Kshama Sawant, Bernie or Bust, Occupy Wall Street, Movement4Bernie and Socialist Alternative helped organize the walkout. Socialist Alternative members Pam Keely and Kshama Sawant were quoted in

"‘We’ve had it, we’ve just had it!’ Pam Keeley, a Washington State Sanders delegate who was one of the organizers of the walkout, told VICE. ‘We’ve had it with the hypocrisy, the lies, the being used for votes and campaign funds and then just being thrown out like garbage. This is basically a peasant’s uprising’.

"Keeley said that about 80 delegates walked off as Sanders conceded for the last time, but ‘several hundred’ were prevented from leaving by police.

"According to one delegate, Sanders himself sent out an email telling delegates not to walk – but some committed Sanderistas have grown disenchanted with their former icon and believe that the candidate has wandered off the trail he helped blaze.

"The reason that people got behind Bernie Sanders was that his message was a message of rebellion against a hated establishment, Kshama Sawant, the city council member from Seattle who supported the walkout, told VICE. ‘It was circular logic for Bernie to expect that his supporters would support his choice to turn around and say: All the political revolution was great for a few months while it lasted, now let’s fold our movement behind the very epitome of the establishment that we hate’."

A crowd of nearly 5,000 protesters gathered outside the convention on news of the walkout. People lined up along the double barrier walls from FDR Park to the barricaded exit at Philadelphia’s AT&T Station.

Socialist Alternative was one of the few organizations there among one of the most energetic crowds this week. There was non-stop chanting, tensions with police, pepper spray, and arrests. The crowd later joined up with Black Lives Matter, who marched all the way from North Philly. Jill Stein addressed the crowd to big cheers, and protesters occupied intersections and stayed long into the night.

The DNC and police did not allow protesters outside and walkout delegates inside to come together on Tuesday night. The delegates staged a sit-in inside the DNC media tent, and then were dispersed and sent in different directions. Some were coaxed back inside by appeals to pay respect for the Mothers of the Revolution speaking inside. Others went to City Hall for a rally with Nina Turner. But on Wednesday and Thursday many walkout delegates joined the protest outside the DNC.

The 1968 Democratic Party convention was seen as a radical turning point for the movement against the Vietnam war. Likewise, the upheaval around the 2016 Democratic convention, and more generally the presidential election itself, points to a historic shift to the left in US society.

It is important that, in spite of Bernie’s own capitulation, many of his supporters have not gone down in defeat without a struggle. These efforts provide further evidence that the Democratic Party establishment will go to any length to frustrate, defeat, and trap any true political revolution.

Now it is time to draw clear conclusions. To win our political revolution, we cannot rely on any one individual. The ‘us, not me’ political revolution needs our own independent mass organisation to organise our revolution.

We need a new party of the 99% to help capture the growing anger of millions, elect our own candidates, build grassroots mass movements, and defeat the billionaire class and their two party system.

Patrick Ayers

Socialist Alternative (USA)

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