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Walkout Led by Sanders Delegates Represented Deep Frustration With Democrats

Several hundred Bernie Sanders delegates staged a walkout after Hillary Clinton was officially nominated during the roll call vote at the Democratic National Convention on July 26.

The delegates filed out of the arena chanting, “Walkout! Walkout!” and marched over to the media pavilion. They made their way through the doors before it was blocked off by a line of police, who would not allow anyone else to enter.

Those who made it inside the media pavilion staged a sit-in to demonstrate their outrage at the corporate media’s distortion and disinformation throughout the Democratic primary process and to show their dissatisfaction with Clinton as a nominee.

Meanwhile, a few media personnel appeared to be annoyed by the action. A couple of personnel were overheard complaining that they weren’t able to cover the speeches inside of the convention hall that were being aired live on every major media network, as though this sit-in was an affront to their ability to actually do journalism—even though the story had, in fact, come to them.

Doors to the media pavilion were blocked for about an hour. No one was allowed to leave or enter, as hundreds of Sanders supporters stood outside and chanted in solidarity with the sit-in unfolding in the pavilion.

The demonstration was completely peaceful, and at first, entirely silent. Delegates from Oregon wore black gags to represent how they were silenced. There was no threat to any person’s safety, and it was unclear whether the Democratic National Committee or some member of the press inside the media pavilion was responsible for calling police.

Bizarrely, DNC officials met inside the Buzzfeed media booth, which they cordoned off and guarded with security, for at least 45 minutes. Officials spent the time discussing what to do with the protesting delegates.

Norman Solomon, co-chair of the Bernie Delegates Network, did not know a walkout was planned. He addressed the DNC’s efforts to “constrain the free movement of delegates” and limit visual expression of support for Sanders, including by prohibiting signs without DNC-approved messaging.

“The way in which the DNC responds to nonviolent legitimate challenges at the convention is both literally a problem and an embodiment, a representation, a metaphor for the way in which the electoral system is dominated by big money, by corporations,” Solomon stated. He also mentioned the emails released by WikiLeaks, which confirmed the DNC’s “eagerness to not be evenhanded.”

Some of the delegates who walked out of the arena eventually became aware that Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein was inside the convention. Outraged by the conduct of the DNC, they tried to find her and indicated they were now interested in possibly supporting a third-party candidate.

Sign held by Sanders supporters during 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. Photo by becker271 on Flickr.

Sign held by Sanders supporters during 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. Photo by becker271 on Flickr.

The interest in Stein’s campaign seemed to grow exponentially. Stein suddenly was a celebrity. So many people surrounded her inside the convention that the Secret Service had to give her a temporary detail while she moved through and talked to media and delegates.

Delegates marched with Stein and hundreds of others to FDR Park just outside the security barrier for the convention. They chanted, “Jill, Not Hill!”

Recent polls from the Los Angeles Times/USC, CNN/ORC, and CBS News show Clinton has fallen behind Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. What the Democrats do not seem to grasp is that, as they continue to deride Sanders supporters and control their freedom of expression, they are chasing away voters they need in November to beat Trump.

One Kansas delegate, a young black woman, told the press as she sat on the floor of the media pavilion, “I refuse to play defense any longer. I am from a place, where we need to stand up and rise and stop getting beat down by the Republicans.” She was not about to let the Democrats wield the fear of Trump to discourage her from engaging in protest.

While the roll call vote was unfolding, multiple nurses from the major labor union National Nurses United, who were part of the California delegation, expressed support for protests inside the DNC. Katy Roemer of NNU said, “How often do we get face to face with this many politicians? They need to hear what the real American people are saying and talking about.”

The same nurse also stated, referring to the DNC, “They are trying to say to us that this is reality. This isn’t reality. This is a bubble.”

Martha Kuhl of NNU said, “No matter who is elected, we have to make sure that his movement holds them accountable. That’s the only way we’re going to achieve change.” She said we need to continue the movement for healthcare as a guaranteed human right, racial justice, free college tuition, and to ensure that the climate crisis is addressed by keeping fossil fuels in the ground.

There are those who agree with the protesters and said they will not vote Hillary Clinton. They are afraid to express their opposition because of fear of reprisal and intimidation.

Despite the narrative fueled by the corporate media about Sanders delegates, there were hundreds of delegates involved in this walkout. They not only represent the hardcore factions of Sanders supporters but all ordinary working Americans.

Sanders inspired all kinds of everyday people to get involved in the political process. Many people, for the first time, came to the convention while Clinton delegates, for the most part, are very well-off professionals.

Unlike the more upper class Clinton delegates, working class Sanders delegates had to fundraise to get to the DNC because they did not have the funds to participate. These delegates are people struggling with student debt. They are teachers, whose benefits face the daily threat of being cut, or nurses, who are very concerned about the for-profit healthcare system.

The people suppressing protests, including those from the Sanders campaign and the DNC, are people, who will be fine no matter who wins the election in November. On the other hand, those engaged in the walkout and other displays of protest understand that they will have to continue the struggle no matter who wins. They are the people on the margins of society, who are neglected or ignored by the Democratic Party establishment. They are concerned things will not necessarily change with Hillary Clinton.

Rania Khalek recaps day 2 of the 2016 Democratic National Convention.
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Rania Khalek

Rania Khalek

Rania Khalek is an associate editor at the Electronic Intifada and co-host of the weekly podcast Unauthorized Disclosure. Her work has appeared at Al Jazeera, The Nation, Salon, Truthout, FAIR, Vice, AlterNet, and more.