Shelby Gittens traveled with a group of 200 people to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. She worked on Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign for about a year and expected to work at the convention as a floor volunteer. However, personnel overseeing the convention revoked access for over 800 Sanders volunteers, including Gittens, and basically told them to go enjoy Philadelphia.
Part of why Sanders volunteers experienced this treatment may relate to the fact that the convention trained volunteers to target Sanders delegates and threaten anyone holding signs against the Trans-Pacific Partnership, natural gas fracking, or for Palestinian human rights with ejection from the Wells Fargo Arena. Volunteers were part of a deliberate strategy to make it appear there was unity at the convention, and they may have believed Sanders volunteers would not go along with the suppression of Sanders delegates.
The Democratic National Convention Committee displayed absolutely no concern for the working people, who traveled to participate in the convention. Gittens likely spent $400-500 on airfare. She “sacrificed a week’s pay” to come and help out at the convention. She stayed in a dormitory on the Rutgers University campus in Camden, New Jersey. Police were constantly nearby, and at one point, someone said there were a couple walking the tracks and one of them had a gun. She did not feel safe.
On the first night she was there, she went to the desk because the bathroom had no toilet paper. She was informed she was supposed to have her own toilet paper. The person at the desk suggested she go to 7-Eleven. She refused to go out in the middle of the night, and luckily, someone in the dormitory gave her some toilet paper to use.
Gittens had training on Sunday, however, no volunteer credential was given. She was instructed to return on July 25, the first day of the convention. Yet, when she did, she and other volunteers were given the “runaround” for at least five to eight hours.
“Nobody from the DNC was giving Bernie’s campaign volunteer coordinators any information at all,” Gittens told Shadowproof.
Eventually, the volunteers received “guest passes,” not credentials. They were basically hall passes.
“That meant we were just relegated up into the nosebleeds, and we had to sit around a bunch of other Hillary people and listen to basically an infomercial for three and a half hours on how great Hillary is and how awful Trump is,” Gittens said.
But they were unable to work as floor volunteers. “We weren’t allowed to do anything. We just sat up there.”
Gittens and others asked when they left if it would be like this every day. The person they asked replied, “Well, it depends on how you behave.”
“It was awful,” Gittens declared. “It was like the worst experience. I’ve never felt so much contempt. It just was terrible.”
The next day, July 26, when the roll call vote was scheduled, Gittens and others went to pick up a small stipend they were promised. They were informed the DNC had pulled their “credentials for the rest of the week.”
“I’m the main breadwinner in my household, and I came here knowing that I was going to probably have to deal with talking to my boss when I get back about getting an advance on my wages because I don’t know how I am going to be able to pay my rent when I get back,” Gittens shared. “But I thought it was worth the risk. It was worth this.”
Gittens admitted, deep in her heart, she knew Sanders would probably not get the nomination. However, she believed something unexpected might occur, especially after WikiLeaks released emails from the Democratic National Committee. She did not want to miss history and was willing to take a risk financially in order to participate in democracy. Then, she was treated worse than a second-class citizen.
During the night Sanders gave his speech, Gittens noticed signs for him by a stairwell. They were not passed out. She asked a woman, who was working, whether she could have some to hand out. The woman said she would pass them out soon. Gittens insisted she would help by handing them out. The woman responded by requesting she not wave the signs while any of the other speakers were speaking. Only wave them when Sanders speaks.
Gittens was even more irritated and was prepared to wave the signs when she felt like waving them.
Asked about unity, Gittens said the personnel working the convention, as well as Clinton delegates, had “nothing but contempt for us.”
When it was finally time for Sanders to give his speech, Gittens was returning to her seat with signs. She noticed the Clinton supporters were leaving.
“I said to somebody, this is your version of unity? You can’t even stay and give this man some respect and listen to what he has to say? They just were walking out. They wouldn’t even stay and listen to him talk,” Gittens said.
After being made to feel as if she was irrelevant and invisible, she and other volunteers spent the final portion of the convention protesting outside the convention.
When asked if she would tell anyone to get involved and participate in the Democratic National Convention ever again, Gittens replied, “Never. No, no, no.”
*Rania Khalek contributed reporting.