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Progress — and Setbacks — In Democratic Push for Unity

Convention hall atmosphere shifts but Sanders supporters continue protests

Several days in Philadelphia reminded Matt Lewis how liberal the Democratic party has become since the last Clinton was nominated, in 1992 (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Several days in Philadelphia reminded Matt Lewis how liberal the Democratic party has become since the last Clinton was nominated, in 1992 (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

When thunderous applause filled the convention floor Tuesday evening as Hillary Clinton became the first woman to claim a major party nomination, it appeared that Democrats had achieved party unity.  

Within minutes, though, at least 100 Bernie Sanders delegates walked out of the Wells Fargo Center and held sit-ins in the middle of three media tents. “This is what Democracy looks like,” they chanted.  

After a fractious first day full of booing and another swirling email scandal, the atmosphere at the Democratic National Convention was noticeably more restrained Tuesday.


Vermont delegate Shyla Nelson, one of the three Sanders supporters who spoke on stage to nominate the Vermont senator for the roll call vote, was a primary organizer of the protest, along with delegates from the South Dakota, Michigan and Washington state delegations. She said they were referring to the walkout as “No Voice, No Unity.”

“It was organized in an entirely non-hierarchical grassroots way by several delegates from several states who were hearing intense complaints that their voices were not being heard in this convention,” Nelson said.

“And out of a response to those grassroots constituents, many delegates felt that this gentle, quiet calm action was an appropriate responsibility to ensure that their voices would be heard.”

While the progressives received some victories in the platform, Nelson said they are concerned about the implementation of those planks, specifically whether opposition to the TPP is genuine.

Despite the walkout, backers of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders were largely supportive during the roll call vote of delegates. And when Sanders himself moved to suspend the roll call and nominate Clinton by acclimation, the applause was deafening.  

“I’m actually surprised they pulled off the roll call [without] booing or negativity from the floor. Total 180 from yesterday’s convention drama,” University of Kansas political science professor Patrick Miller tweeted.   

Bernie Sanders delegates and supporters stage a walk out and protest at the media tents outside the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia on Tuesday, July 26, 2016. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Bernie Sanders delegates and supporters stage a walk out and protest at the media tents outside the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia on Tuesday, July 26, 2016. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Still, some Sanders delegates remained obstinate in their refusal to back Clinton. A small group of dissenters started a protest in a hallway of the arena, chanting “Bernie or jail.” At one point, security stepped in between the Sanders supporters engaged in a heated argument with Clinton supporters.  

“Green is the new blue!” shouted some of the protesters, referring to their preference to vote for Green Party candidate Jill Stein over Clinton.   

Elsewhere inside the arena some delegates felt a different energy during the nominating process.   

“I hope we are united; I feel we are,” said Harry Gilliam, a 52-year-old delegate from Alabama.  

The increasingly positive vibe from delegates like Gilliam on the floor Tuesday followed a string of high-profile speeches Monday night from First Lady Michelle Obama , Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker, and Sanders himself calling for the party to unite around Clinton to defeat Republican nominee Donald Trump.   

While hopeful the “Bernie or bust” protests won’t continue for the rest of the convention, Gilliam said the Democratic Party always has two halves: one half that’s asleep, and one half that’s awake.  

The half that’s awake has Sanders to thank, he said, and calming their passion isn’t easy.  

“I feel their pain, you know what I’m saying?” he said.   

The Nevada delegation, which had one of the most tense clashes at their state convention earlier this year, held their composure during the roll call vote. Delegates cheered and waved signs for their respective candidate and didn’t protest during the vote.    

Joe Sacco, a Sanders supporter, raised concerns that Sanders delegates would not be allowed to appear on camera.  

“There are discussions through of all the representatives of Bernie throughout this entire convention, we may walk out before the end of this convention,” Sacco said. “There’s really no reason for us to be here. I feel like this is indoctrination and brainwashing, and we’re not willing to take it.”  

There were conversations among Sanders delegates, mainly over social media, about repercussions for any sort of protest, Sacco said.  

“We were told, whether or not this is a rumor or more intimidation, we were told that a massive walkout of the DNC would lead to being locked down, the facility being locked down,” Sacco said.  

Teva Gabis-Levine of Albuquerque, NM, is a Sanders delegate and whip on the floor. On Monday night, he and other whips received a mass text from Sanders urging supporters not to protest. (All delegates got an email with a similar message.) Speaking at a Bernie Delegates Network briefing Tuesday morning, Gabis-Levine said he chose not to share that message with his delegation.  

“I guess that was an act of protest in itself,” he said, noting most of the 16 Sanders delegates in his delegation did end up protesting on the floor Monday night.  

Gabis-Levine, 33, said he is not ready to work for Clinton’s election. “I couldn’t give her my full devotion,” he said.  

He acknowledged that Clinton has made some inroads with young voters — with her college affordability plan, for example — but said the “trust issue” still dogs Clinton among voters his age and younger.

Earlier in the day, a few miles from the convention center in front of City Hall, a group of protesters rallied around a melange of causes represented with signs like “Black Lives Matter,” “Decolonize the DNC,” “Bernie or Bust,” and “Stop Israeli War Crimes” bopping in the air. For those who couldn’t get into the convention hall, this was their only way of expressing themselves.

Kathleen Nishida, 52, of Philadelphia said she isn’t a “Hillary Clinton hater.” But she’s not yet ready to vote for her. She was at the march, wearing her “Bernie” pin, standing outside City Hall. The prospect of electing the first female president also holds a certain appeal for Julie Olsen, 59, a Sanders supporter from Anchorage, Alaska. She hasn’t decided whom she’ll vote for in November.

She felt inspired to vote for Clinton by a women’s caucus event she attended Tuesday morning with the incoming interim DNC chairwoman Donna Brazile, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

“It almost got me,” she said. But she’s still not there.

Bridget Bowman, Simone Pathe and Niels Lewsniewski contributed to this report. 

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