On Monday, storm clouds hung over Philadelphia as Democratic delegates arrived to Wells Fargo Center at AT&T Station south of downtown to a protesting crowd virulently against a Hillary nomination. Over 1,000 protestors—probably many more, most with Bernie Sanders shirts or stickers, were in high dudgeon after revelations of tilted tables and bias within the Democratic National Committee. Gone was the sense of hope and inspiration I’d seen at Bernie rallies in San Diego. What remained were conversations among clusters of Bernie die-hards about “tilted tables” and “election fraud.” The crowd was angry and Bernie signs shook with desperate vigor. But Monday had the feel of a stopped station wagon, a father behind the wheel, screaming at a dead end sign.
Of course, there were the smelly anti-choice foamers shouting down real conversations over their loudspeakers. And above us all were high fences bordering FDR Park, cleaving the lanyard-sporting delegates who spilled from their trains from the loud wall of protestors.
The broiling and mostly youthful crowd was as noisy as it was furious, so angry en masse that nearly every delegate who walked passed—ignoring the yells of the corralling police—took pictures of the mass of protestors wandering the park. (Former Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich, gerrymandered out of his district seat in 2012, forwent the picture and walked alone, waving to no one in particular through the fence.)
In every cluster of chatting protestors I walked into words like “cheat” and “fraud” were expressed. Many near the barricades had drawn their Social Security numbers and phone numbers on their arms, preparing to be arrested. The Wikileaks revelations and Tim Kaine selection were felt strongest here. The fix was in. The Democrats cheated! Wasserman-Schultz was in on it! Bernie really, really won! The DNC was crooked! The crowds repeatedly moved from “Bernie’ chants to forceful echoes of Alex Jones’s call to “Lock her up!”
“We’re going to lose in November,” Lisa Heinenan told me, wearing a “Hillary for Prison” shirt. Heinenan travelled from Grand Island, Nebraska with her daughter to protest Hillary Clinton’s nomination. Polls showed that Trump had received a significant bounce since his Cleveland convention. Heinenan’s splayed flowered banner read “BERNIE” with dozens of signatures from across the country. She described Senator Senators in angelic language—the finest of men. I asked her about the tone of the protests, their purpose and goals.
“We’re 99% defeated,” she said. “But this, this is a last ditch effort” she said, nodding as if I would understand.
I didn’t. I looked around at the “Hill No!” signs and the “Bernie or Jill, Never Hill” signs, a bit bemused. I pointed at her shirt.
“Bernie is inside, texting his supporters not to protest or disrupt the convention as a personal favor,” I told her. “What is all this for?”
“Sanders didn’t release his delegates,” Heinenan said. “He hasn’t conceded,” she said.
Such statements made me wonder: Were the Bernie die-hards saying that their candidate was supporting a criminal? Was he complicit in her crimes by failing to be on the barricades demanding, as Alex Jones had just days ago, to “lock her up”? What did it say about the “wise” sage from Vermont, a man Heinenan and so many others told me they respected as pure and decent and honest, if he now supported a criminal?
There were groups of Dreamers, a “Food Not Bombs” march, as well as bands, parades that circled and wandered to no where, and a thirty-foot inflated marijuana joint headed to a stage. But the storm growled and I escaped into the subway. On the train, I spoke to two young women who, like me, entered the air-conditioned subway under Broad Street with a sigh—breaking the gleaming misery outside like a cold drink. Both ladies had “Bernie or Bust” signs.
“I had to come for a bit,” one told me, “I had to see it through. But now, I’m going home.”