Images and captions by Joeff Davis
The whole story of the Democratic convention in Philadelphia was the story of social justice achieved through inspiring grassroots movements—for civil rights, women’s rights, gay liberation and justice for immigrants.
But the last night was mainly a corporate production.
In place of the explosive vitality of Alicia Keyes earlier in the week, we got the canned performance of Katy Perry.
Floor whips ordered delegates to get ready to get to their feet and “go crazy” when Perry sang “Roar.”
“When do we dance?” a dazed Wisconsin delegate in a cheesehead asked. “Now!” a yellow-vested whip shouted.
A few minutes later the DNC tweeted “Katy Perry brings down the house.”
Chelsea Clinton stepped up and numbed the crowd with a soporific speech introducing her mother and highlighting her favorite children’s book, Goodnight Moon.
Finally, Hillary Clinton took the stage and basked in the moment-in-history we’d all been waiting for, to the wild cheers of the women delegates around me. She delivered a very substantive and notably progressive speech in her familiar uptight, wooden style.
Clinton drew boos and protest chants from the Bernie Sanders delegates even as she acknowledged their tremendous organizing efforts, adapted some of their key policies, and borrowed their language (“ I want you to know I’ve heard you. Your cause is our cause.. . . Our economy isn’t working the way it should because our democracy isn’t working the way it should. . . .Wall Street, corporations and the super rich are going to start paying their fair share.”)
Another politician would have lead with a joke and a touch of wry humility, warming up the crowd by acknowledging the strains between the Bernie people and the Democratic Party stalwarts, and letting some of the tension out of the air.
But that’s not Hillary Clinton’s style.
She acknowledged as much herself, saying she has spent her life in public service, but is more comfortable with “service” part, not the “public” part.
But it goes deeper than that. The purest expression of Clinton’s philosophy came when she described how she remembered her own mother, who was cruelly abandoned by her parents at a young age, and how she was reminded of her mother's story when she met a little girl in Arkansas who sat on the porch all day in a wheelchair, desperately yearning to go to school. Clinton set about fighting for the rights of disabled children to get the same access to public education as their non-disabled peers.
“Simply caring is not enough,” Clinton stated, in what could be her credo. “To drive real change you have to understand both hearts and laws,”
“It’s a big idea, isn’t it?” She continued. “All children with disabilities deserve to go to school . . . How do you make it happen?” Answer: getting heavily involved in policy details.
This is Clinton’s core belief: Life is tough. You want to make things better? Don’t complain, get in the fray, fight, engage, compromise, persevere.
The Bernie delegates, God bless them, are not quite ready for Hillary or the pragmatic, compromising realpolitik she represents. And you can hardly blame them for feeling whipsawed by their experience at the Democratic convention.
On Thursday night, no sooner had the great Reverend William Barber finished his sermon, calling on everyone present to join together to revive the heart of America, and walking off stage to thunderous applause, than General John Allen and his military retinue marched in to declare: “America is the Greatest Nation on Earth.” General Allen endorsed U.S. military ventures around the globe. “We will oppose and resist tyranny and we will defeat evil,” he declared.
("No More Wars," signs displayed during remarks by General John Allen (ret. USMC), former Commander, International Security Assistance Forces, and Commander, United States Forces - Afghanistan. Image by Joeff Davis)
Giant American flags waved and a sea of “USA” placards washed over the hall. Here and there, Bernie delegates began chanting “No More Wars!” and were quickly drowned out by primed Hillary delegates chanting,“USA! USA!”
A California whip standing next to me yelled, “Signs up!” and began leading a loud “USA!” chant as antiwar protesters struggled to be heard.
Throughout the night, the tension in the air was palpable. Multiple protests broke out and security officers and whips all over the floor kept a wary eye out for signs of trouble.
“This whole thing is fake!” said Gabriel MacArthur, a twenty-four-year-old Bernie delegate from Colorado, gesturing to the Hillary signs in front of him.
Colorado had forty-one Bernie delegates, placed strategically behind twenty-five sign-wielding delegates for Hillary.
“It’s a giant, fake infomercial,” said MacArthur. “I’m really kind of creeped out by this.”
“They’re blocking our ‘Ban Fracking’ signs,” he added.
“Yesterday they took our ‘No Oligarchy’ signs. Does that mean they’re for oligarchy? Not that they are, but they’re so against us, they’re willing to compromise what they believe in.”
Whether or not activists like MacArthur can overcome their distaste and savor it, however, the Sanders campaign has actually achieved a lot.
To win, Hillary Clinton needs the Sanders voters. And she knows it.
“Bernie Sanders and I will work together to make college tuition free,” Hillary declared in her address. “We will also liberate millions of people who already have student debt.”
The interesting question now is not whether Bernie Sanders voters will hold their noses and vote for Hillary. Most will.
The more interesting question is whether they will stick it out and stay involved in electoral politics.
“We all know that Donald Trump is a racist demagogue,” said Peter Rickman, a Bernie delegate from Wisconsin and the Working Families Party co-chair in the state.
As Rickman sees it:
“We cannot be fighting an existential, defensive battle in a protofascist Trump regime. We can make progress in a Hillary Clinton administration.”
Turning out people to vote for Clinton on November 8 is just a bare beginning, says Rickman. The Working Families Party is focused on running progressive candidates and winning local races.
Working Families has helped elect a slate of union activists and community organizers at the city and county board level in Milwaukee, and has staged a progressive takeover of the Racine school board.
If enough Bernie people are willing to work within the party, with the suits and the hacks and the phonies they detest, long enough and hard enough to take over the Democratic Party and force it to fulfill its progressive ideals, they could transform American politics.
And when they do, their movements against fracking and destructive trade deals and an end to U.S. military aggression abroad will be edited together with the heroes of the other great social movements of history into a sappy video montage at a future Democratic national convention.
Ruth Conniff is Editor-in-Chief of The Progressive.