How Bernie Sanders' supporters are planning to shake up the Democratic convention
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) speaks at a campaign rally In Madison, Wisconsin on July 1, 2015. (Juli Hansen / Shutterstock.com)

Veep protests, amendment fights, interrupting Hillary.


Different camps inside Bernie Sanders’ 1,900-member delegation to the Democratic National Convention next week are anticipating varying degrees of protests—some telegraphing their intentions now, others planning in secret—if Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party do not make additional major concessions.

These protests go beyond high-profile public announcements in recent days, such as scholar and activist Cornell West, who was appointed to the Platform Committee at Sanders’ request, announcing he would be supporting Jill Stein, the Green Party nominee in November.

On Saturday, a group called the Bernie Delegates Network announced that more than 250 Sanders delegates had responded to its poll about the acceptability of six possible centrist vice presidential picks: Sen. Tim Kaine, D-VA; HUD Secretary Julian Castro; Sen. Mark Warner, D-VA; Sen. Cory Booker, D-NJ; Admiral James Stavridis and Admiral Mike Mullen. All were overwhelmingly rejected, with a majority of respondents saying they would “seriously consider” publicly denouncing a centrist VP pick and/or “nonviolently and emphatically protesting in the convention hall during Clinton’s acceptance speech.”

“You see in the survey if they close Tim Kaine, or someone like Tim Kaine, it could be a somewhat unruly convention,” said Jeff Cohen, co-founder of RootsAction, which conducted the poll in partnership with Progressive Democrats of America. “To have two corporate centrists on the ticket when 45 percent of voters were voting for a transformative progressive agenda is a slap in the face to them and to 1,900 delegates.”

Cohen said the poll—which did not offer any progressive choices, such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-MA or Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-OH—was sent to about 1,000 delegates to try to “facilitate communication” among people headed to Philadelphia because the once top-down Sanders campaign “is sort of a void now.” Cohen said, “As of Sunday night, 212 people had said they’re ready to denounce, and 179 said they were ready to protest during Clinton’s speech.”

The group, which hopes Clinton will pick a progressive, also has other protest plans. “We already have a distribution network for stickers inside the hall, which delegates can wear by the hundreds, some of which are pretty oppositional,” he said. “One will say ‘Stop the TPP.’ Another one will be ‘Hillary is a war hawk.’”

It is important to focus on the vice presidential choice, Cohen said, because it's one decision Clinton “cannot go back on” or reverse, and because “if you study U.S. history, of the 43 presidents we’ve had, about a third have been vice presidents.”

Many Possible Protests

The poll and its followup actions are one thread in an evolving tapestry of potential protests in Philadelphia. There have been other public efforts, such as e-mails to Bernie delegates since he endorsed Clinton last week that argued he did it just to get into the convention hall where he can still win. One such e-mail sent to New England delegates had this question-and-answer section:

Q: So Wait, Bernie DIDN’T quit today?

A: No. he has to say she won the primary, he endorses her and will help the party defeat Trump, yada yada but he DID NOT concede. There is a very big and important difference. Had he conceded, all of his delegates would go to Hillary and he would no longer be an option for the nominee.

Q: So Bernie can actually still win?

A: YES. And if he wasn’t still TRYING to win, he would have conceded. The ONLY option he had to get to the convention with his delegates behind him and have a chance to still win was to do what he did today. He is not a traitor. He didn’t sell us out. He did the only possible thing he could have done to keep fighting for the nomination.

Seeing this e-mail, one state Democratic Party official commented, “This is the craziness that is fueling some of our nationwide delegates. I’ve been told that everyone that is in a responsible position is dealing with these posts.”

“There are adherents to that strain of thinking, but it’s not very big,” said Karen Bernal, a Sanders delegate from Sacramento elected as a co-representative of the California delegation, the nation's largest. In a half-hour interview, she described a half-dozen different camps under the Bernie umbrella: the Bernie or Bust crew, reflected in the Q&A e-mail; a similar subset that thinks the party’s superdelegates, or hundreds of party insiders and elected officials, can still be swayed to pick Sanders; people, like those in the VP poll, who say they are willing to publicly protest on the floor; those who agree with those protesters but would not disrupt the proceedings; those who will follow whatever directions Sanders or the campaign says; and “eventual nominee” types, who tend to be elected or aspiring politicians, who will back Clinton.

“As you can imagine, we have everything from the most die-hard Bernie Busters,” Bernal said, speaking of the 200-member California delegation and its counterparts. “In terms of the people who occupy that universe, they are almost indistinguishable from protesters you will see outside the convention. Under no circumstance will they ever vote for Hillary. They’re very protest-minded… That goes all the way to the other end of the spectrum, which is the 'eventual nominee' types. These are all Bernie delegates.”

Keeping Plans Secret

What was most intriguing about the delegation Bernal described was that the individuals and contingents who are serious about protesting are looking at a series of upcoming decisions—not just the veep pick—and are keeping quiet about their plans, she said. They are not releasing vice presidential poll results, writing op-eds about moving to the Green Party or sending out far-fetched interpretations of the strategy lurking behind Sanders’ endorsement of Clinton.

“What I can tell you is most of the other national organizing efforts I know of are fairly insular, and you can kind of read into why they might be—because they plan actions,” Bernal said. “And so the organizing seems to be peer to peer, and not necessarily anything you would find publicly posted, because that is the nature of what they wish to organize. I’ll leave it at that.”

There are going to be “a couple of other shoes that drop” as the Democratic conventional approaches, she said. “The VP pick is one of them. Two other things from what I’m hearing—not only in California but in couple of other states—no one is accepting what has taken place regarding the minority [platform] report, and the fact that they have tried to shut down any kind of floor fight over the platform amendments that were rejected, particularly TPP [Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal]. There’s lots of delegates that want to push on that and fight back and insist on some action on the floor regarding that.”

“The other one is whatever comes out of the Rules Committee meeting on Saturday,” Bernal said, referring to the Sanders campaign’s effort to end the party’s superdelegate system. “You will definitely see, if it doesn’t go well, which, we believe with Barney Frank as its chair, that it won’t—there will be some action around that for sure. The reason you are not seeing a lot of things publicly posted is why would we want to advertise our intentions so publicly so they can be interfered with? That’s the thinking.”

Bernal said what’s uniting many Sanders delegates is a desire to have a roll call vote where each state announces its primaries and caucus results so the nation can see how much support there was for Sanders and his vision. Twenty-three states and 13 million people voted for Sanders, she emphasized.

In the meantime, Bernal said the Sanders campaign has barely been in contact with the state delegations, and many delegates have taken it upon themselves to do their best to represent the voters who are sending them to Philadelphia.

“There is no two-way communication whatsoever, and even one-way communication from the campaign is very little,” she said. And if there were top-down directions, “I am not so sure how successful it would be, because the Bernie delegates themselves are very independently minded. They have been informed by Occupy, Black Lives Matter and so on. What you have is a movement that is self-organized. I’m not so sure that unless the message was one of resistance, that necessarily everyone would fall into lockstep behind anything the Bernie Sanders’ campaign said.”

And so, the many slices of Sanders supporters have taken it upon themselves to decide what message they will bring to Philadelphia.

“In that void, you have various different self-organized organizations popping up, some of them with wide reach,” she said. “They are networking from state to state. Some of them are about trying to do what Bernie’s campaign wants. Some are about making a statement that is self-determined, because now everyone realizes the campaign has been compromised because of the endorsement. Kind of like snow on a warm day, they are melting into the landscape—the DNC landscape and Hillary Clinton landscape. Instinctively, many Bernie delegates see that. They are taking it upon themselves to define what they are going to insist upon at the convention.”

Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America's retirement crisis, democracy and voting rights, and campaigns and elections. He is the author of "Count My Vote: A Citizen's Guide to Voting" (AlterNet Books, 2008).