Shadowproof is sending journalist Rania Khalek to Philadelphia this weekend to cover the 2016 Democratic National Convention. In this interview, Rania previews her reporting from inside and outside the convention, and shares her thoughts on protests, party unity, and the final stages of this primary.
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Below is a transcript of the interview. The transcript has been edited for clarity.
KEVIN GOSZTOLA: As you’re looking to the next week, what do you see? What do you think you’re going to probably pay close attention?
RANIA KHALEK: There’s a couple things. There’s protests. There are all kinds of protests planned to take place outside of the DNC from groups ranging from groups that didn’t support Sanders because he’s not left enough to groups that did support Sanders and are now upset he’s not the nominee. The protests seem to be coalescing around protesting the Democratic establishment and Hillary Clinton. So, we’re going to see a lot of that taking place outside.
There’s been about $43 million spent on beefing up the security presence outside the DNC. They’re even building a fence, a mobile fence around the DNC, which is kind of interesting since the big theme of the nominee is “Breaking Down Barriers,” but regardless, there are going to be lots of protests taking place outside. I’m going to be focused on that as well as what is going on inside.
There are some actions planned for it sounds like the inside among delegates, who are unhappy with the establishment of the party and Hillary Clinton. I’m going to be focusing on that as well, and I should have access inside the DNC. So those are two things I will be keeping my eye on—the unrest on the inside and the unrest on the outside.
GOSZTOLA: We’re sending you to the Democratic National Convention. We didn’t send anybody to the Republican National Convention. I think that’s actually a question to consider briefly here in our interview for people who might wonder why we picked one over the other. In my quick analysis, I would say a lot of the establishment is offended by Donald Trump’s policies, but there isn’t much of a backlash against Hillary Clinton, which maybe makes it more important for protests at the Democratic National Convention.
What’s your read on why it might be more important this year to focus on the Democratic National Convention?
KHALEK: Both of these conventions, both the RNC and the DNC, will be saturated with media just as the RNC is saturated with media at the moment. With the RNC, like you said, the media does seem to be collectively offended by Trump, and so they’re covering the protests on the outside in a really fair way. They’re covering what’s happening on the inside in a very fair way.
I would add, for example, CODEPINK had people on the inside of the RNC unfurling banners that were denouncing Trump and pro-immigrant. Our friend Ali McCracken from CODEPINK bravely went into the RNC and shouted slogans inside against Trump and for refugees. The response to that was to promote it—by the media. Mainstream journalists were tweeting it, and they posted about it in various outlets in a positive way.
I imagine there will be similar things that will happen at the DNC because Hillary Clinton is no angel, and you’re not going to see the same sort of fair coverage. You’re going to see much more hostility toward activism because the mainstream establishment is only okay with activism as long as it’s against people that they disagree with. And they don’t disagree with Hillary Clinton.
I think it’s really, really important to have independent media like Shadowproof and others on the ground covering the protests on the outside and what’s happening on the inside. Just look at what’s happened and taken place throughout the Democratic primary. And, Kevin, you’ve covered this, I think, more than most people—the disinformation, the smears, and the anti-Sanders line that was promoted throughout the media during the Democratic primary. That hasn’t gone away. There’s still great hostility among the establishment against Sanders supporters, against people on the left.
That’s why we need independent outlets there, people like me and others, to basically give you an unfiltered view of what’s taking place because I don’t think you’re going to hear about it the same from the mainstream.
GOSZTOLA: I would add that it’s also about accuracy, right? So, we don’t want people to be reporting that chairs were thrown at people if there weren’t chairs thrown at people, which very well could happen at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. We’re happy that people like you will be there, and that they’re hopefully will be other independent reporters there to keep their eye on what CNN, MSNBC, and these other outlets may be reporting in mass.
One other thing that is worth talking about in the run-up to the convention is that we had this effort with “Never Trump” people that basically fizzled out. Now, there’s this group of people that are “Never Hillary.” We don’t really know all of their intentions. Some of them are smartly keeping it secret as to what they would like to do in terms of protest. But I think when you hear both of them speak what’s really fascinating to me is both are dealing with contempt for democracy within their own political party.
What would you have to add to that?
KHALEK: There is this “Never Hillary” contingent. There’s also the “Bernie or Bust” people, and they’re unhappy with the nominee. On the Democratic side, I do have to say it’s not necessarily dissatisfaction with democracy. It’s more dissatisfaction with a system that people feel is rigged. People feel it has been rigged. The media was against Bernie Sanders. You had the superdelegates against him. He didn’t really stand a chance in respects against someone like Hillary Clinton, who had the backing of the entire establishment.
Hillary Clinton does represent—She embodies all of the things that people are disillusioned by right now, and I think disillusioned in many ways across the political spectrum, right? Disillusioned with elites, disillusioned with politicians who lie, which are most politicians but Hillary Clinton really embodies that style of politician who flip-flops and says one thing but means another and reneges on what she says she is going to do.
People are really frightened by Hillary Clinton and the kind of things that she is preparing for or that she is saying she wants to do. Tomorrow [Thursday, July 21], a fundraiser for Hillary Clinton is being headlined by a leading neoconservative thought leader named Robert Kagan. People are really concerned about things like that, and I think it is interesting because that represents the reasons for the “Never Hillary” contingent. Whereas on the other side, on the “Never Trump” side, it’s more people—I mean, some people are concerned about Trump’s language and rhetoric, but Trump’s language and rhetoric is just a couple degrees cranked up of what Republicans have been doing and saying about immigrants and Muslims.
In reality, a lot of it has to do with the fact that they don’t know if they can trust Trump. They don’t know if Trump is going to be the right kind of war president in the way that Hillary Clinton is, and that’s why you see a lot of neoconservatives fleeing. A lot of the “Never Trump” people are actually led by neoconservatives, and those are the people who are fleeing toward Hillary Clinton or saying that they’re not going to vote for Trump.
GOSZTOLA: The thing that I think is really fascinating is that both really do not want the public to see parties that are not united behind their nominee. So you saw that having anybody in the RNC that wanted to register their vote for Cruz, for Kasich, for anybody other than Trump, that was something they would not allow. That’s why they had a voice vote.
I imagine that you’re anticipating, as you go into the DNC, that Hillary Clinton is probably going to be even more ferocious in the ways that they come up with paths or rules that they can use so Sanders people are not able to register their support for Sanders or register their opposition to Hillary.
Why don’t we talk about this issue of unity. So much in establishment media or corporate press is around this idea that everyone has to unite behind this candidate. Why is that such a flawed concept particularly?
KHALEK: The problem is that we have a two-party system that’s telling us we’re only offering you two options: it’s Hillary or Trump. That’s unacceptable to a large amount of people, who do not like either candidate. It’s actually striking or unprecedented how many people do not like them.
But, yes, in terms of political parties, there is this clampdown on anybody who dissents. I think it’s actually a little more difficult for the Democratic Party than the Republican Party because with Democrats they had a primary that was largely between just two people, Sanders and Clinton. People who are dissenting against Clinton are almost entirely behind Sanders, and they represent a larger chunk. Whereas Donald Trump was going up against a lot of people so it’s not just Cruz supporters or Rubio supporters. It’s a lot more mixed so there wasn’t really unity among the dissent.
There is a lot of unity among the dissenters on the Democratic side, and I think that’s why it’s going to be a little harder to suppress support for Bernie Sanders. I think that’s why we saw contentious debates during the platform committee hearings is because it was the Sanders camp and the Clinton camp.
I do have to say that there is something new that has happened since Sanders endorsed Clinton, and that is a certain segment of Sanders supporters have joined in that suppression. They’ve joined in rhetorically in that effort to say everybody now it’s time to get behind Clinton. Swallow your pride, and vote for her because we have to defeat Trump. But in doing so, they’re also spending a lot of time denouncing third-party candidates and basically telling anybody who plans to vote for Jill Stein, for example, that it’s a vote for Donald Trump. And it’s kind of funny because a vote for Jill Stein does not automatically add a vote for Donald Trump. Some people seem to think that it actually does.
The point is there is a lot of dissatisfaction. Regardless of that contingent of people, I think there’s going to be a lot of unrest inside the DNC. I don’t think it’s going to go through swiftly. I don’t think people are going to all get behind Clinton. That’s something I’m really interested in covering because as much as they want to show unity there isn’t unity. There is a fracture in the Democratic Party. It may not be as extreme as the Republicans, but it’s there. And I don’t think it’s going to go away.
GOSZTOLA: It does seem like there’s this overwhelming segment of people who supporters Sanders who are now open to third-party politics, who are now open to going outside the two parties. It’s definitely going to be a point of contention throughout the week, whether you continue to try and transform the Democratic Party. People will have their own righteous viewpoints about that, and then there are going to be people who have their own righteous viewpoints about working outside the Democratic Party.
When you look at what’s been happening in the last couple of weeks, what do you think about the interplay between the Jill Stein campaign and then the Bernie Sanders campaign and what potential it has? It does seem that nobody is satisfied with this endorsement that Bernie Sanders gave to Hillary Clinton.
KHALEK: Polls are showing that [the endorsement] didn’t make much difference among Sanders supporters, especially millennials. Fifty percent of millennials that supported Bernie Sanders are saying that they’re not going to vote for Hillary Clinton, and they’re totally open to a third party. That is huge. That is unprecedented. That is an entire generation that thinks completely differently about third-party politics.
I think there is a split among Sanders supporters when it comes to this issue that is going to play out. There is a certain generation of people, group of people, who are Bernie Sanders supporters who seem to have been—I guess you could say traumatized by the year 2000. They’ve really allowed the propaganda about [Ralph] Nader taking the vote from Gore. Which anybody who is watching who does think that’s what happened, there were more Democrats that voted for Republicans in that year than voted for Gore and a lot of people that did vote for Nader weren’t going to vote for Gore to begin with.
Regardless, that has really turned people off for the rest of their lives from even entertaining the idea of third parties. Instead of putting their efforts to building something independent and outside the Democratic Party, or at least supporting it and cheering it on, they spend their time deriding people who even dare to want to vote third party or even consider a third party as being spoilers who are going to get the other candidate elected. They’ve bought into this lesser evilism.
Then you have someone like Cornel West, who supported Sanders very strongly. Cornel West is a radical. We watched him at the platform hearings speaking up on behalf of Palestinians, on behalf of social justice issues from the TPP to the environment to labor. And the point is, after Bernie Sanders endorsed Hillary Clinton, he said you know what? I really still do support Bernie Sanders, but I don’t agree with him. I think Hillary Clinton will make this world more unsafe, and that’s why I’m supporting Jill Stein. And he endorsed Jill Stein. I think there’s a bigger split than ever on this issue.
If you’re going to build a third party or anything, there’s never been a better time because there’s so much support for it. At the same time, I don’t think Hillary Clinton is going to lose to Donald Trump. I think that there is a huge opportunity, and it’s interesting to watch some people among Sanders supporters really just not be able to entertain the idea of hey, maybe it’s time to build something outside.
I think it’s fine if people want to work inside the Democratic Party. I don’t necessarily agree with it completely. It’s not a bad thing to have people on the inside, but I also think it’s necessary to have people on the outside building something different that can at least pressure the Democratic Party like in decades past. So we need that.
I really think it’s going to be one of the biggest fault lines when it comes not just to the DNC but also moving beyond the DNC. It’s going to be over third-party candidates because there is so much interest for the first time in a long time.
GOSZTOLA: Thank you for talking to us. Everyone will be able to see your reporting next week. It will be up at Shadowproof.com. Yes, as you say, we will be very interested in the people that still have a stake in what happens in the DNC because they’re going to be delegates, because they’re going to be there either fighting for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, to have stronger language in the platform, or because they want to actually vote for Bernie Sanders on the floor and register that they were supporters of Bernie Sanders during the election, which I know the Democratic Party will not want to happen. Then, there’s going to be thousands of people in Philadelphia protesting, and so we look forward to all the coverage you will have.
Rania Khalek is on Twitter @raniakhalek, and we will be retweeting and sharing all her posts throughout the week.