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DNC Achieved Unity Through Forced Conformity And Manufactured Consent

After returning home from the Democratic convention, I was shocked to learn that friends and family who followed the extravaganza had no idea that there were protests on the inside.

How was this possible? I was there. I witnessed the tension. Each day of the convention was marred by protests, with hundreds of Sanders delegates chanting, booing, walking out, and waving signs in defiance of Hillary Clinton’s coronation.

I reviewed the media coverage I missed while I was in the convention bubble.

After “a bruising primary season,” the Clinton and Sanders camps “pulled together and orchestrated a week relatively free of public controversy,” reported the Washington Post.

“It looks like a mess, but the Democratic Party is more unified than it seems,” blared Vox.

“[W]hat had been a raging boil on Monday was by Thursday morning just a simmer,” observed Politico, marveling at the DNC for “creating opportunities to publicly make peace between the party’s rival factions.”

The corporate media’s adulatory coverage of the carefully choreographed pageantry at the Democratic convention couldn’t be further from the truth.

There was no unity, only the illusion of it made possible by manufactured consent, forced conformity, and exhaustion on the part of Sanders delegates.

The DNC, with help and approval from both the Clinton and Sanders campaigns, confiscated signs, drowned out protest chants with counter-chants, locked down the arena during certain speeches to deter walkouts, and stationed party-appointed whips in the aisles to monitor rowdy Sanders delegates and signal to Clinton supporters when to chant and hold up pro-Clinton signs.

In other words, if the protests seemed non-existent to television audiences, it was because the DNC suppressed them and the media played along with the suppression.

Angered by the dirty tactics employed by the Clinton campaign and the DNC throughout the primary process, many Sanders delegates doubled down on their refusal to support Clinton. They declared their intention to throw their weight behind Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein, who has received unprecedented interest in her campaign following Sanders’ endorsement of Clinton.

The DNC’s authoritarian conduct toward Sanders delegates at the convention chased some lifelong Democrats, who would have held their noses and voted for Clinton, out of the party.

The Washington state delegation is a case-in-point.

With 76 delegates for Sanders compared to just 24 for Clinton, the Washington delegation was a hotbed for Sanders support. Yet during the roll call vote, Sanders delegates found themselves pushed to the back of the delegation, tucked behind a giant “Hillary for America” banner unfurled just in time for the cameras to zoom in on their state. It was then that Majid Al-Bahadli, chair of the Sanders delegation, held up an “I support Palestinian human rights” sign, which was quickly yanked out of his hand by Washington superdelegate Lona Wilbur.

Al-Bahadli told me that Wilbur initially denied snatching his sign, only to be contradicted by video evidence the next day. “She’s been to my house,” said Al-Bahadli. “I’ve known her for years. I feel like she stabbed me in the back.”

Al-Bahadli, who campaigned for Obama in both 2008 and 2012, will likely leave the Democratic Party, which he feels doesn’t represent him.

As of this writing, Wilbur has not returned a request for comment.

DNC compliance director Alan Reed, who appears in the DNC emails leaked to WikiLeaks, declined to comment on the conduct of the DNC. Reed played a role in “vetting” Sanders supporters when they sought to attend Democratic Party events during the primary.

Convention personnel went beyond snatching signs from delegates and stripped Sanders delegates of credentials for merely holding up signs that expressed opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement.

I ran into one Sanders delegate, 61-year-old Frank Klein, at a bar in Center city during Clinton’s acceptance speech on Thursday night. Asked why he was at the convention, Klein explained the DNC had refused to issue him credentials that morning because he held up an anti-TPP sign during Barack Obama’s speech the night before.

Klein drove 22 hours to get to Philly. He also raised money so he could afford the trip. None of that mattered to the DNC.

Despite there being no known provisions that prohibit delegates from holding up signs or that empower party leaders to strip delegates of their credentials, the state party’s attorney Chris Burks insisted that Klein violated the convention rules.

Most of the Sanders delegates I spoke with were ordinary working people who, like Klein, had taken time off work, unpaid, and raised money to travel to Philadelphia to represent their state. Meanwhile, the party’s corporate donors were wined and dined in executive suites across the city, making the convention a giant contradiction.

There was no better example of the illusion of unity than the story of North Carolina delegate Nida Allam.

Earlier in the week, the Clinton campaign tweeted out a photo of Allam weeping at the moment Bernie Sanders conceded. The photo misrepresented Allam as a Clinton supporter, excited to tears for the first female nominee of a major party.

Despite apologizing for the mix-up, the Clinton campaign refused to delete the tweet.

“It would not have affected me so negatively if [Clinton] actually stood up for what the majority of Muslim Americans want,” said Allam, pointing to overwhelming Muslim support for Palestinian rights, to which Clinton is fanatically opposed.

“Right now Muslim Americans are going to be voting for her out of fear for Donald Trump, not out of support for her,” she said, adding, Clinton “hasn’t earned our vote, she’s just lucky [to be running against Trump].”

Allam got the word out about the Clinton campaign’s tweet during a press conference for Ohio state senator Nina Turner, one of Sanders’ most powerful surrogates. Sanders’ A-list supporters turned up for the presser to condemn the DNC for barring Turner from speaking during Ohio’s roll call vote.

Sanders, for his part, all but disappeared as the patience of his delegates was exhausted by the DNC’s draconian antics.

By the time Clinton gave her acceptance speech on Thursday, Sanders delegates were either purged from the convention, coerced into silence, or drowned out by awkwardly timed chants of “Hillary, Hillary!” at the command of party whips.

Meanwhile, seat-fillers helped occupy empty chairs left by Sanders supporters who weren’t present. I met one named Ryan Frank, who identified himself as an alternate delegate from Iowa.

“Alternate delegate means if a delegate couldn’t make it then I would be stepping in. I was called to come,” said Frank.

Asked why he wasn’t sitting with the California delegation, which had been a major source of protests and walkouts, Frank responded combatively: “Iowa was filled up by the time I got here. We just found seats where we could and tried to make friends.”

Frank did not have delegate credentials. His convention pass simply said “guest.” Meanwhile, a young woman sitting three seats down from him confirmed that she was indeed a seat-filler, though she declined to give her name or speak with reporters.

The end of the convention went smoothly because of well-practiced censorship, suppression, and genuine fear of Trump on the part of Sanders delegates—even as dozens of Sanders delegates joined Jill Stein outside the convention, chanting “Jill not Hill.”

Establishment press, which displayed contempt for Sanders and his supporters throughout the primary, mocked delegates at their evening parties. They had no interest in understanding their outrage and were perfectly okay with the party’s authoritarian attempts to make Democrats stronger together.

The false narrative of unity that emanated from the convention’s scripted theatrics has not changed the fact that the Democratic Party faces a significant ideological fracture. No matter who wins in November, that division will not go away.

Hillary Clinton at the post-DNC rally in Philadelphia. Photo by neverbutterfly on Flickr.
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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.