The one year anniversary of the Democratic Convention is upon us. It surprises me that so much time has passed and yet the convention remains such a pivotal moment in history. People are still asking themselves, “What if?” They run over the course of events again and again with one purpose in mind – to figure out the one thing that could have changed the outcome of a Trump presidency. It’s easy to pass the blame. To point the finger. In fact, many have pointed the finger at me and my fellow Berniecrats. Honestly, serving as a delegate for Bernie was one of the most difficult things I have ever done. That might sound crazy for some. I mean, it’s just politics right? But for several months after Philadelphia, I could barely talk about everything that went on without getting emotional. But know this, I do not regret one second of it and I would do it all again tomorrow (or hopefully in three years!). It was an extreme privilege to represent the people of Vermont and one of the highest honors to nominate our senator, Bernie Sanders, to be the next president of the United States.
Originally, I intended to draft a letter to the DNC describing the problems I experienced from the perspective of a delegate in a wheelchair and offer solutions that would hopefully make the next convention go more smoothly for the disabled. When I began writing, I found myself detailing other aspects of my experience as a Vermont pledged delegate. Little by little, my letter turned into a long journal that I hope many of you will take the time to read and share with others. Hopefully it will help you gain insight on the delegation process and the obstacles that grassroots delegates faced going up against the establishment.
In March 2016, I began warning people in the Democratic party and the people around me that they should not underestimate Trump. I was laughed at and quickly dismissed by many who said there was no way he would ever be president. Their rush to dismiss a probable truth is the reason that I and so many others across the country pushed ourselves to do whatever we possibly could to secure the nomination for Bernie. We were 100% committed to his campaign – the campaign of “Not Me, Us.” We still are. But unless we analyze what actually happened and admit the wrongdoing, we are bound to repeat our mistakes.
Electing the Remainder of Vermont’s Delegation
|After the State Convention in Barre ended in May 2016, I was honored to have been elected as one of 11 district-level delegates. Soon after, I learned that it was the responsibility of the 11 district-level delegates to elect the remaining 5 delegates and 2 alternates who would complete the delegation going to Philadelphia. Two of those five delegates had to be elected officials, such as a legislator or a justice of the peace. The rest were called “At-Large” and could be anyone who had voted in the Democratic primary.
Bernie won 86% of the vote in Vermont’s March primary. He won by such a large margin that Hillary Clinton was made non-viable, which meant she was not eligible for ANY of Vermont’s 16 pledged delegates. Sadly, we had Democratic leaders in Vermont who still “pledged” to vote for Hillary – Gov. Peter Shumlin, Sen. Patrick Leahy, former Gov. and DNC Chairman Howard Dean, and Committeewoman Billi Gosh. These superdelegates (aka unpledged delegates) ignored the will of the people and are an example of why the superdelegate system must be eliminated.
The 16 pledged delegates were obligated to vote for Bernie in the first round of ballots at the convention. However, if Bernie or Hillary did not receive the majority of the vote after the first ballot, then all pledged delegates were free to vote for whomever they wanted on the second ballot. Although it was unlikely that a second ballot would come to pass, there were rumors that superdelegates might sit out the first round in response to negative feedback against the system. There were also legal challenges taking place in multiple states to force superdelegates to vote proportionally to the outcome of the vote in their state. Anything was possible in my mind.
“Unpledged delegates exist really to make sure that party leaders and elected officials don’t have to be in a position where they are running against grassroots activists.”
– Debbie Wasserman Schultz
Although Hillary was non-viable in Vermont, it was still possible for Hillary supporters to be elected to the VT delegation. Grassroots from other states were reporting that Hillary supporters were infiltrating the delegations and taking Bernie pledged seats by either filling remaining seats not taken by Bernie supporters (sometimes there was not a big enough turnout of Bernie supporters because they did not understand the delegate process) or they simply lied and pretended to be a Bernie supporter.
Knowing that Vermont was susceptible to the same shenanigans, my main objective was to fill the remaining slots on the delegation with true-blue Bernie supporters. Obviously, no one will come out and directly tell you that they support Hillary Clinton, so much of the selection process involved asking folks very pointed questions that could potentially let me know which way they were leaning. For example, I asked each candidate two questions:
1. “Do you support the superdelegate system?”
2. “If there is a second ballot at the convention, at which time all pledged delegates are released from their obligation to vote for Bernie, how would you vote?”
A Bernie supporter would immediately answer “no” to the first question and then explain that they would vote for Bernie every single time. While others, more inclined to Hillary and/or the Democratic Party, would hem and haw their way through a response that in the end left you wondering where they actually stood on their decision.
Through the process, I discovered other like-minded Vermont delegates who also wanted to make sure the remaining delegates we were electing were pro-Bernie. With over 50 candidates to choose from, we decided to hold two meet-and-greet receptions which allowed us to make contact with a majority of the candidates at one time. Otherwise, we would have been overwhelmed with individual phone calls and requests to meet one-on-one with each candidate. Some candidates still campaigned us hard outside of the receptions, but the events helped decrease this considerably.
After the receptions, several of us discussed who we would like to elect to the delegation. We all seemed to gravitate toward the same people with a minor conflict here or there. However, we came to a consensus because the more unified our votes, the better the chances our picks would get elected.
Interview with ORCA Media – June 6th
Shortly before the delegate election, I was interviewed by Ken Dean at ORCA media in Montpelier. I was nervous but he did a wonderful job making me feel comfortable. We discussed how social justice has been a part of my life for longer than I realized — from my dad who spent one summer tutoring black students in Elizabeth City during the civil rights movement, to professor Marta Umanzor who taught me about the struggle in Latin America for democracy, and to my own experiences as a disabled person and how that has shaped me. Listening to it now, I recognize that my thoughts on the upcoming convention were quite naive. I really thought we were going to change the world!
California Primary and Voter Suppression
As Ken mentions in the interview, at the same moment we are speaking, Bernie is meeting with President Obama in the White House. Presumably they are discussing what Bernie will do the next day after the California primary. The President was most likely pressuring Bernie to concede the race. The media had already announced that Hillary Clinton would be the nominee following the California primary. They could only make this claim by including the superdelegates in the final tally. However, this was extremely misleading because those superdelegates would not be voting until the convention and although many had pledged their vote to Hillary, many could switch their mind depending on the outcome of the California primary and the current political climate at the time of the convention.
Although Bernie is currently the most popular politician in the country, during the primary campaign, his biggest challenge was that many Americans did not know who he was. However, as people came to know him and the policies he supported, his poll numbers went up and up. Each and every primary felt like a race against the clock. Bernie worked tirelessly to reach as many people as he could. I remember for one primary out West, Bernie visited something like 5 states in one day. Reporters following him marveled at his stamina which was considerably better than their own even though he was decades older. No one could accuse him of giving less than 110%.
California is the largest state by far with 475 delegates up for grabs. It would be the deciding race in terms of pledged delegates. Polling just days before the primary showed the candidates neck and neck – separated by only 1 to 2 percentage points. Hillary needed to slow down Bernie’s momentum. Typically, Hillary’s largest vote numbers came from early/absentee votes, while Bernie’s votes came more from people who stood in line on primary day. The media intentionally announced Hillary as the nominee the day before the California election took place. You may be asking yourself why would the media want to help Hillary. Her relationship with the corporate media makes a lot more sense when you take a look at her list of major donors. Time Warner, which owns CNN, and Comcast, which owns MSNBC, are among her top 20 donors. By telling voters that Hillary had won the nomination, it made people think Bernie had no chance, which consequently discouraged them from getting out to vote.
Democrats like to associate voter suppression with Republicans all the time, but the truth is they are guilty of it themselves, especially during a primary against a grassroots candidate that is gaining in popularity. 3 million New Yorkers were disenfranchised due to an extremely early voter registration date and a closed primary that prevented independents from voting. It is no coincidence that 120,000 people were dropped from the voter rolls in Bernie’s hometown of Brooklyn and reinstated by the presidential election. It was also not a coincidence that Arizona had only 60 polling stations open for the primary while intending to have 724 polling stations open for the general election. The massive reduction in Arizona’s polling locations caused long lines, resulting in thousands having to wait 5-8 hours in line to vote. Many stood in line until midnight, even after the media declared Hillary the winner much earlier in the evening BEFORE all the votes were counted (another example of the media trying to discourage folks from standing in line to make their vote count).
Californians also faced incredible voter suppression tactics which are detailed in the video “UNCOUNTED: The True Story of the California Primary.” You will hear about the millions of votes never counted because of a sneaky little caveat that forced Independent voters to fill out a provisional ballot if they did not specifically request a “Cross-Over Democratic Ballot.” A provisional ballot is essentially an uncounted ballot. And when the media declared Hillary the winner in California, millions of more votes had yet to be counted. Several counties actually flipped for Bernie as more votes were recorded. In the end, Bernie lost by just under 390,000 votes or 7 percent of the vote (closer than Clinton and Obama’s race in 2008). Imagine what the result might have been without Independents being forced to fill out provisional ballots?
The pledged delegate count after the California Primary was 2206 for Hillary Clinton and 1827 for Bernie Sanders. To win the nomination, one of them needed to reach 2383. In other words, neither candidate had secured the nomination. California made up a great deal of those pledged delegates. The California exit polls heavily favored Bernie, yet Hillary mysteriously came away with the win. This was not the first time exit polls did not match actual voting results. At the time, we knew something was very wrong with the counting, but the media and the Democrats quickly moved ahead and named Hillary the nominee.
Bernie Continues the Fight
With everything against him, I worried that Bernie would throw in the towel on the night of June 7th. There was no reason for him to do so. There were millions of uncounted votes in California AND the superdelegates did not actually vote until July at the Convention. I remember waking up just before 2:00 a.m. to see Bernie approach the podium while throngs of people cheered for him. He looked shocked. Before he spoke into the microphone, Jane leaned towards him and whispered, “They’re still with you.” The look on her face was loving but concerned. We had no idea what Bernie would say. My stomach was in knots. For the first 11 minutes, he droned on with the same stump speech that most of us had memorized at this point. The crowd was quiet, anticipating what might come next. And then he said exactly what we were all hoping to hear…that we would take our fight all the way to the convention in Philadelphia! The crowd roared! The rest of his speech was fiery and unrelenting. I woke Mike up with my cheering and excitedly told him, “He’s still in it!”
June 11th Meeting in Montpelier to Elect the Seven Remaining Members to the Vermont Delegation
LAST MINUTE AGENDA SURPRISE
On June 11th, the entire Vermont delegation (all available pledged, superdelegates and Vermont Democratic Party Staff) met in Montpelier to elect the rest of the team. For several weeks, we had asked the VDP who would be present at this meeting and what the agenda would be. We had been told that the meeting would consist of district-level delegates and a handful of VDP staff. They did not anticipate many superdelegates joining us although they were not prohibited. We were also told that the main agenda for the day was for the district-level delegates (me and the other 10 elected in Barre) to elect the remaining delegates. However, at 5:00 p.m. the night before the meeting, we were sent an agenda that was a bit surprising. The election of the Delegation Chair was listed as the first item on the agenda and anyone in the delegation could vote for this position, including superdelegates. This was troubling for three reasons:
- I and many others were not aware that the Chair would be elected at this meeting. The Chair could be any member of the delegation, including myself. With such short notice, none of us were able to prepare to campaign for the position.
- The election of the Chair was being held before the election of the 5 pledged delegates. This meant the 5 new pledged delegates would have no say in who their Chair would be.
- With the vote open to the entire delegation, including superdelegates, it was almost certain that an “establishment” delegate would be elected Chair.
At 11:00 p.m. of that same night we received an e-mail from the Chair of the Vermont Democratic Party, Dottie Deans, asking for our vote to elect her Chair of the Vermont delegation. A flurry of phone calls to other delegates to hear their thoughts on this resulted in a last minute panic about what it means to be the Chair, do we want a grassroots delegate to throw their name in for consideration, and is there a way to rearrange the agenda so that the vote for Chair could come at the end which would allow more delegates to participate in the vote. We learned that the Chair controls the microphone at the convention, so it was definitely something worth fighting for.
THE DAY OF THE VOTE
When we arrived in Montpelier the next morning, it was unclear to me how the day would unfold. But what should have taken a couple of hours, ended up taking all day. The day began very rocky. Claudia Pringles had been asked to speak to represent those of us who wanted to change the agenda schedule, as well as stipulate how we would like the election to be run. However, the tension in the room was palpable. Neither the establishment party people nor the new grassroots delegates felt like they could fully trust one other. It was evident that Democratic parties in other states were trying to control the process within their delegations and although Vermont was Bernie country, it felt like the VDP was hesitant to allow us to interject our influence into the proceedings. In addition to this, the surrogate for Bernie Sanders who attended the meeting, Nick Carter, did not behave like any Bernie surrogate I would have ever imagined. When I think of Bernie, I think humble, thoughtful and inclusive. Nick on the other hand took a very stand offish approach that came across more pro-establishment. This was so unexpected that it threw me and the other grassroots delegates in the room. We did not know who to look to for guidance. Of anyone in that room we should have felt the closest to, it is the person who is representing the man we are working so hard to elect as our nominee and hopefully the future President of the United States. Instead, it felt like the complete opposite.
We had been told that the district-level delegates were the ones who controlled the meeting. As such, Claudia tried to take control right away and lay out our plans for that day by introducing a new agenda. This came out of left field for many in the room which was similar to how we felt about the last minute agenda proposed the night before. Needless to say, it rubbed some people the wrong way. Our first objective was to push the election of the Chair to the end of the meeting so that all pledged delegates could participate. Secondly, we wanted to hold the election for each delegate slot individually to ensure that each candidate won with a majority vote. We wanted to avoid a situation where a candidate could win with only two votes. Once our reasoning was explained in a thoughtful way, I think the majority of the room could see we had good points and agreed to the new agenda and the voting process. Before starting, there was a major discussion on whether people could call in to vote. Two of the pledged delegates could not be present at the meeting but wanted to participate. The VDP attained permission from the DNC to allow this. However, many of us were concerned this would also open the door to allowing superdelegates to call in to vote. There was a lot of gray area around whether the people calling in had to stay on the phone throughout the entire meeting from start to finish or could be called just when their vote was needed.
GENDER BALANCE OF DELEGATION
Another point of contention that day centered around the gender balance of the delegation. The DNC has a rule that the delegations must be gender balanced. Because the superdelegates are automatic and not elected, the pledged delegates must be elected in such a way that it balances the gender for the entire delegation. In Vermont, we have 10 superdelegates – 8 of them were male and 2 of them were female. In May, I was elected one of the delegates at the district level which had a gender split of 6 women to 5 men. That totals 13 men and 8 women. We needed to elect 5 more delegates and 2 alternates bringing the total number of delegates to 28 (10 super delegates + 11 district-level delegates + 2 elected official delegates + 3 at-large delegates + 2 alternates). To balance the gender on the delegation, there needed to be 14 men and 14 women. This meant all 5 of the remaining delegates to be elected had to be female and the alternates could be split with one man and one woman. This all makes sense now, but at the time we were extremely frustrated because the VDP did not make this clear to us nor were the candidates vying for the positions aware of the specifics. Yes, it is written in the rules, but being new to the process I thought we only had to balance the gender of the 16 pledged delegates and not worry about the gender imbalance of the superdelegates.
Going into the election on June 11th, I thought I needed to elect 2 women and 3 men, and then the alternates. This would give us 8 male and 8 female pledged delegates. We learned the morning of the election that this was not the case. I felt sick to my stomach. We had asked both genders to come out to the meet and greets and we were ready to elect some really terrific guys who had made a lot of effort to campaign for these slots. The VDP knew about our meet and greets AND kept lists of those running to be delegates. They should have told all the men that their election was virtually impossible because the only slot available to them was that of alternate. Bernie himself had personally recommended Tim Ashe for the elected official slot. Even HE did not know that an elected official slot was closed to male candidates.
In the moment, we still felt very strongly for the men we had chosen prior to the meeting. So, we only let one of those men go for a woman, which left our delegation with 16 men and 12 women. The VDP said they would apply for a waiver from the DNC for the gender imbalance, but they could not guarantee it would be approved. We chose to go ahead with that option, hoping we would not have to break more hearts. Sadly, a few weeks down the road we learned our waiver had been denied and Bernie’s camp was tasked with choosing two new female delegates with our input. Tim Ashe and Ken Dean had to be dropped. It was devastating for them and us.
Although no one is to blame for the situation, the problem could have been handled better in one of two ways. During the election in Barre where I was chosen as a pledged delegate, the gender slots should have been open to 8 women and 3 men instead of 6 women and 5 men. This would have allowed for the election of 3 women and 2 men at the June 11th meeting. The other option would have been to make it crystal clear to all candidates and district-level delegates that the 5 slots available on June 11th were only open to women. It would have decreased the confusion and the hurt feelings experienced by candidates.
ELECTING THE DELEGATION CHAIR
After the delegate election process, it was time to elect the Chair of our delegation. One of the newly elected male delegates, Ken Dean, from the grassroots side decided to throw his hat in the ring for consideration. We felt comfortable with Ken because he had attended several conventions in the past and knew the ways in which we might get tripped up as newcomers to this situation. He also was a strong Bernie supporter which was important to us. Dottie and Ken both spoke to the group and expressed why they would like to be chosen. It was pretty clear from the vibe in the room that the majority wanted to quickly elect Dottie. Nick chimed in as Bernie’s surrogate and said that Bernie supported Dottie for the Chair. The delegates asked for a moment to speak to each other before the vote. We walked outside and most of the pledged delegates followed. Nick also came out with us. There was a lot of pressure from the Party to not take long. I was completely unsure what to do. From what I knew so far, Dottie was a good person. However, I wanted to be sure our voices would be heard over the next six weeks.
Outside we discussed the pros and cons. One delegate remarked that they had spoken with Dottie while campaigning and had heard her express that she supported Hillary Clinton even though she had pledged to vote for Bernie as a superdelegate. Others argued that she was Bernie’s choice (based on Nick’s comments) and we should do what Bernie wants. When we got back to the room, I still did not know what to do. We asked if Dottie would be willing to have a co-chair and she said no. We then asked if the group would be willing to have a vice-chair who would be purely symbolic in nature. I explained how this would greatly serve to unify the delegation. Nick jumped in and said he had called or texted Bernie this idea and that Bernie had said no to it. This stuck me as very odd because Bernie was always encouraging the Democratic party to be more open and inclusive of the grassroots voice. To top it off, while we were out of the room, the party called other Vermont superdelegates and newly elected pledged delegates to vote on the Chair position. (Remember my concern of delegates being allowed to call in to vote?) In the end, Dottie was elected Chair of the delegation and the proposal to create a vice-chair position was voted down. I appreciated Dottie’s words following the vote in which she said we could trust her and that she planned to follow Bernie’s lead. It was clear that she was well-intentioned. Still, we could not help feeling like the party had closed ranks that day and did not want to include our voices. Sadly, we left the meeting feeling more divided than united.
David Curtis Awards – June 17th
It was clear from the way things ended at the meeting in Montpelier, that we needed to do some fun activities to unify the delegation. The Vermont Democratic Party holds an awards ceremony each year in memory of David W. Curtis — a lawyer, one-term state legislator, defender general and Vermont Democratic Party chair — who was widely revered as a champion of the disadvantaged. I thought it would be great for the delegates to attend and sit together. When I suggested it Dottie, she was totally on board. It was great to see all my new friends at such a positive event. I did have several candidates for the delegation come up to me and tell me how upset they were not to be elected. It was difficult to hear their sadness but I tried to reassure them that we had done our best under difficult circumstances.
The guest speaker that evening was R.T. Rybak who served as Vice-Chair for the DNC. Vice-Chair Rybak was one of only two vice-chairs who spoke out publicly against the Chair of the Democratic National Committee, Debbie Wasserman Shultz, for limiting the number of debates and sanctioning candidates who participated in any debates outside of the six set forth by the DNC. The limited debate schedule and sanctions were implemented to hurt lesser known presidential candidates like Martin O’Malley and Bernie Sanders. Unfortunately, the DNC Chair refused to let her vice-chairs have any input or influence on the matter.
|Although Vice-Chair Rybak was the spotlight speaker for the night, he was handily upstaged by the incomparable Nina Turner. I had hoped to have the opportunity to see Bernie at the event, but he was busy campaigning. However, my entire night was made when I had the chance to meet his stand in – the fabulous and inspirational Senator from the State of Ohio and Bernie surrogate, Nina Turner! What an amazing woman. What an amazing speaker. And what an amazing leader. She talks about Bernie’s courage, but this woman had the pressure of the Clintons and the Democratic Party on her back since the day she decided to leave Hillary’s campaign and endorse Bernie Sanders, traveling the country and speaking on his behalf. It was Nina’s husband who encouraged her to check out Bernie. She described having an immediate heart-soul agreement with him. When she endorsed Bernie to be President, she received a lot of backlash. She was told that she had betrayed Hillary Clinton and that her political career was over. Nice, huh? Well, her dedication to Bernie made her a rock star in the progressive grassroots movement. I was beyond thrilled to meet her and tell her how much I appreciated all she had done for Bernie. She literally could run for anything at this point and we would all have her back.||
“When I juxtapositioned my life story to what this man was fighting for there was no doubt in my mind who I had to stand with and that was Senator Bernie Sanders, and I have never regretted it a day.”
– Nina Turner
Invitation to Meet with Robby Mook – June 24th
Just when you think things have smoothed themselves out, the roller coaster takes you down fast and knocks the wind right out of you. Only a few days after the healing of the delegation had begun, Dottie sent out an e-mail to the entire delegation telling us that Robby Mook had asked to meet personally with Bernie’s Vermont delegates. We had only 48 hours to let her know if we would attend. Who is Robby Mook you might ask? Robby was Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager. It was clear from Dottie’s communication that she was extremely excited about the invite. My immediate gut reaction was the exact opposite: Why does Robby Mook want to meet with Bernie delegates before a nominee has been chosen or one of the candidates has conceded?” “Is Bernie aware of this meeting?” “Does he approve of this meeting?” “Why are others in support of this if we are all pledged to Bernie?” I knew in my heart that Robby was coming for one reason only and it is something that folks liked to refer to as “unifying the party.” The mere optics of meeting with Bernie pledged delegates in Bernie’s home state would have many silent implications, one of which I believe was to put pressure on the Vermont delegation to behave a certain way at the convention. The way Dottie and many other long-term Democrats reacted favorably to this meeting was a clear example to me of why a grassroots co-chair or vice-chair for the delegation would have been a meaningful move for everyone involved. I felt like someone who represented my viewpoint could have helped ease the voiceless sentiment the progressives were feeling by explaining how we felt better than we could do ourselves.
I was confused. I did not feel comfortable meeting with Robby but I did not want to miss an opportunity to avail myself of all the information I could learn about the upcoming convention. I would have much preferred meeting with Jeff Weaver who was Bernie’s campaign manager.
At the same time, I was getting frustrated with Bernie’s camp. If you think we had special perks because we were delegates from Vermont, it’s not true. We received no guidance from Bernie or anyone representing him. I kept telling myself that Bernie could not say anything to us because he could not risk upsetting the Democratic Party. As an Independent running as a Democrat, Bernie was not welcomed by many from the Democratic leadership. Although he voted with the Democrats 98% of the time, they would never consider him one of their own. Case in point, only 1 U.S. senator, 9 U.S. Representatives and 0 State Governors endorsed Bernie to be President. He certainly had the establishment working against him every step of the way. In early July, he was literally booed by House Democrats for continuing to run as a contender.
The night before the meeting with Robby Mook was scheduled to take place, I attended an event at Higher Ground hosted by Rights and Democracy – a Vermont progressive grassroots political action group – where they announced their endorsements for the upcoming Vermont elections in November. As fate would have it, Phil Fiermonte was also attending the same event. As Bernie Sander’s State Director for over a decade, Phil knew Bernie very well. He also was a Bernie loyalist, someone we could trust. I was not the only delegate present that night who was questioning what to do the next day. Crazy enough, we asked Phil to step inside the kitchen of Higher Ground so we could bend his ear. This was the first time we had the opportunity to speak with anyone from Bernie’s camp who we implicitly trusted. Phil was extremely kind, patient and listened to our concerns. He said that Bernie was aware of the meeting request. However, he was very noncommittal on whether or not we should attend. He told us that we should do whatever we felt most comfortable doing.
The other delegates made great arguments for and against attending the meeting. In the end, I decided to go with my heart and not meet with Robby Mook. I felt like there was nothing good that could come out it for me except frustration. Several of the grassroots delegates felt the same and so we issued a public statement:
We are aware that Senator Sanders has been meeting with Secretary Clinton to determine whether an agreement on key platform issues between the two could be achieved prior to the convention. As members of Bernie’s delegation from Vermont, we stand in 100% support of his negotiations with Clinton. Upon completion of those negotiations, we look forward to his clear direction for us and the other nearly 2000 delegates he will bring to the convention in Philadelphia.
We believe it is best to allow that dialogue its full process before engaging with any representative of the Clinton campaign. We therefore respectfully decline Robby Mook’s invitation to meet today.
Ashley Andreas, Noah Detzer, Matt Kiley, Shyla Nelson, Maria Rinaldi, Laura Simon
Terri Hallenbeck from Seven Days reported on the meeting in an article titled, “Clinton Campaign Manager Meets with Vermont Delegates.” Attendees confirmed exactly what I had anticipated:
Robby Mook…was asking Sanders’ delegates to get behind Clinton for a peaceful convention in Philadelphia in July, several delegates said afterward. It appeared no promises were made.
I am glad I did not attend.
DEVELOPING THE PARTY PLATFORM – July 10-11th
For the next month, the Democratic Platform Committee authors met to put together one of the most progressive platforms ever. However, if you paid close attention, Hillary always had the upper hand in shaping this platform because she was allotted more representatives than Bernie. On the weekend of July 10th, the state platform committee members met in Florida to make final amendments to the platform. They worked tirelessly for two days. It was a frustrating process because the Hillary reps formed a bloc on much of the important amendment changes that progressives wanted. However, we still felt good about the final product….that is until the Hillary campaign tried to sabotage the process by introducing a “Unity Amendment” at the end. Supposedly this amendment was agreed to by both teams but I have a difficult time believing that. The amendment instructed the committee to insert text into the written platform that essentially thanked Bernie Sanders for his help, like a pat on the head, and put Hillary’s name everywhere throughout the document with language which implied she inspired the document and was the nominee and future President of the United States. It was an insult to all Bernie supporters — those who has worked hard to put together the document and those who still believed we were going into a contested convention. In the back of the room, public observers were allowed to fill the gallery. It was primarily filled with Bernie supporters and they loudly voiced their discontent.
Lena Danger, a platform committee member from Michigan, shares her reaction to the “Unity Amendment”
The Berniecrats pushed back so effectively that the amendment item was withdrawn. When I watched this moment live on C-SPAN, I was incredibly inspired by how well the Bernie observers were able to flip the script. It gave me hope for the convention where tens of thousands were planning to stand outside the convention center. I thought if we could influence the outcome during the platform amendment process with only a hundred people, imagine what we could do in Philadelphia with thousands more!
Bernie Endorses Hillary But Does Not Concede
On high from the passage of the most progressive platform in the history of the Democratic Party, it was an emotional blow the following day when Bernie endorsed Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire on July 12th. The speech that Bernie gave was very interesting as it included a lot of new points that he must have negotiated will Hillary in order to agree to endorse her. We all learned from his speech that Hillary was now in favor of a public option for health insurance, expansion of community health centers, lowering prescription drugs, Medicare for All for people over 55, increasing the minimum wage to a living wage and free college tuition for middle income families. We would have loved to hear Hillary speak as passionately as Bernie about these policies. But like the Democratic Platform, these felt more like empty promises meant to satisfy the progressive wing of the party. Actions speak louder than words. This seemed especially true when Hillary went ahead the next week and chose Tim Kaine as her VP, a moderate Senator from Virginia, who supported the Trans Pacific Partnership (a trade deal that will move more jobs outside of the United States) and had recently signed legislation to deregulate the big banks. One other piece that the Democratic Party was holding over Bernie’s head until he endorsed Hillary Clinton, was the opportunity to speak at the Democratic National Convention. Bernie’s 1900 delegates would have stood in the middle of the Wells Fargo parking lot in Philadelphia to hear him speak! So we did not feel all these items promised by Hillary (and the Democratic Party) were enough to warrant Bernie’s endorsement. Only one month prior, he was promising his supporters a contested convention! However, although Bernie endorsed Hillary, he did not concede the race and release his 1900 delegates. What did this mean?
National delegates were invited to a phone conference with Bernie that evening. This is the first time Bernie had ever spoken to us. Up until this point, any action we took was decided by asking ourselves, “What would Bernie do?” He never gave us any direction and it was quite honestly, very perplexing. So we were relieved to finally have the chance to ask him what he wanted us to do and what his endorsement meant for all of us going to Philadelphia. We were all raising significant money from family, friends and neighbors to be able to attend the convention. Many delegates were having trouble raising the funds and were putting themselves into debt to make the trip. So we wanted to know if there was anything left for us to do in Philly or was it going to be a waste of time. Bernie was asked if there would be a roll call at the convention. (A roll call means each delegate will be able to vote individually for the candidate he/she is pledged to.) He exclaimed positively, yes, and went on to say that it will be recorded in the history books that he won 1900 delegates.
Even if our hopes for Bernie becoming the nominee were a long shot, in that same phone call, he also laid out his plan for us in Philadelphia in which he thought we would be able to bring several fights to the Rules Committee and to the floor. These included: stopping TPP, pushing for a Medicare for All system, abolishing the Superdelegates, opening Closed Primaries and converting the Democratic party from spending all their time raising money to instead developing a grassroots organizational system to Get Out the Vote. You can listen to this portion of his call with us from 17:23-23:30.
And just like that, our hopes were high again! From my point of view, we were going into a contested convention. There was still an opportunity to influence the superdelegate vote. Hillary’s unfavorability ratings were through the roof. Polling between Hillary and Trump was neck and neck in battlegrounds, while Bernie often beat Trump by double digits. Days before the convention, Wikileaks released DNC emails proving that it was not just conspiracy theories on the part of Bernie supporters. The emails clearly showed that the DNC was intentionally working against the Sander’s campaign and was colluding with the Clinton campaign. The head of the DNC, Debbie Wasserman Shultz, was asked to step down from her seat as Chair. We thought the stars were aligning for superdelegates to jump ship and vote for Bernie!
The most important thing to a delegate is their credentials. Having credentials means you are in good standing with the Democratic Party and in so doing, will be able to participate at the convention and vote for your candidate. Throughout the process, there was constant worry that our credentials would be stripped if we did not behave a certain way. Rumors abounded that the Democratic National Committee would use their power to strip credentials from Bernie delegates wherever possible in order to control what goes on at the convention and decrease the amount of votes for Bernie. We were not making these things up out of thin air. In the 2008 primary between Barrack Obama and Hillary Clinton, the DNC stripped Florida and Michigan of all their delegates because they moved up the date of their primary. However, stripping these states of their delegates served to benefit Hillary Clinton more, so accusations began flying that there was a conflict of interest. We were worried the same thing could happen to us.
The Vermont Democratic Party did not threaten our credentials; however, we were told that if we did not balance the gender on our delegation as requested by the DNC, that members of the delegation were at risk of losing their credentials. This is why we had to replace the two men on our delegation with two women. However, Ken, one of the male delegates who was removed from the delegation, wanted to make the argument to the DNC that he and the other male delegate should still have the opportunity to participate as delegates at the convention. He suggested that if the two males delegates and three female delegates each had a half-vote, the gender balance and the total vote count would remain the same. I felt like it was an effective argument that deserved a chance, so days before leaving for Philadelphia, I and several other delegates signed onto his appeal to the DNC’s credential committee. I had asked a current legislator on the delegation, Kevin Christie, if I would be jeopardizing my credentials if I supported Ken’s appeal and I was told that I would not.
That night, I received a call from Nick Carter (Bernie’s surrogate) asking me why I signed the appeal and warning me that I was putting mine and the rest of the delegation’s credentials in jeopardy. I’m not sure how he had heard that I had signed the appeal just that afternoon. After the June 11th meeting, I had seen Nick at the David Curtis Awards and at Montpelier’s 4th of July Parade. Both times he had been cordial. But a call from him out of the blue was very disconcerting. After getting off the phone, I had a panic attack. I thought my credentials were in peril. I called other delegates who signed the appeal to see if Nick had also called them, but none had heard from him. I could not understand why it felt like I was being singled out. I called Nick back and asked if there was any way to retract my signature. He could tell I was upset and softened his tone, telling me he would look into it, but thought everything would be ok. In the end, my credentials were never threatened. I share this story only to illustrate how much pressure the Bernie delegates felt when it came to keeping our credentials.
Preparation for Philadelphia
Delegates from across the country recorded video messages to let Bernie know we were still with him.
Mike spent months getting the RV up to snuff for the trip. After 17 years of use (7 years by us), he had to replace lots of little things that were dying or disintegrating. Most importantly we needed to install a new air conditioning system because ours was old and would never keep up with the brutal heat forecasted for our week in Philadelphia. Arranging parking accommodations at the hotel proved more difficult than expected. The Wyndham manager did not want us to park there. He felt that we should stay at a local campground rather than their parking lot. As we needed to be at the hotel for breakfast at 7:00 a.m. each morning, it would be impossible for me to get ready in the morning and drive across town to get to the hotel. Christina Amestoy, the Communications Director for the VDP, advocated for me. Michael also called the home office for Wyndham and they were very helpful and said they would contact the manager. The next day I received a phone call from the hotel manager telling me that I have a lot of people who care about me because he apparently received multiple phone calls. He was very helpful after that, agreeing to set aside the back portion of the parking lot for us and provide us with a key to access the hotel. They would not let us plug in the motor home though, which would make it difficult to keep it cool between uses.
We packed the RV and got ourselves on the road with our new car trailer to haul my van. (Our original tow dolly destroyed my van’s steering system the year before.) We were told there would be accessible buses for transportation to and from the convention centers, but I was skeptical that they would always be available when needed and accessible. It turns out that there were many problems with timing for the buses. I also read stories from delegates in wheelchairs who had to be lifted in and out of the buses because the drivers were not trained how to use the lifts and/or equipment broke down. I also read horror stories from delegates trying to use the subway system which did not have ramps or elevators at important stops. Delegates had to carry them up and down the stairs. I was extremely thankful to have my van with me in Philadelphia.
At the beginning of July, we were called by the Director of Disability and Community Engagement for the DNC, Ted Jackson, who wanted to discuss my needs for the convention. I had made two requests to the Vermont Democratic Party and these were brought to his attention. I had requested that I be able to access my RV at both convention centers in Philadelphia for personal care needs that are difficult to accommodate. And I requested that Michael be able to have floor access like other national delegates at the convention, in order to help me with whatever I needed.
In that first phone call, Ted said parking for the RV would not be possible for security reasons. He explained we would have to park far from the building, that it would take a very long time to sweep the vehicle each time we entered the parking lot and that secret service would have to occupy the RV the entire time we were in the convention hall. I could understand the long security check but the idea of a secret service officer occupying our vehicle seemed a little ridiculous. I’m sure they did not occupy every car after they went though the security check! However, Ted, offered an alternative and I was willing to accept it (even though it was not ideal).
Delegates were supposed to attend one convention center during the day and another at night. To accommodate me, Ted offered to setup a room at each location to use for my care. I was quite surprised that they would want to spend the money and effort to put such a thing together but he told me to send him a list of what I needed and I did. His initial reaction to my list was what I expected, “All of this?!” I told him yes and explained that I would need to have access to the room the day before the convention begins to bring my own supplies. Over the next month, I checked-in by e-mail and phone with Ted to make sure everything was progressing okay. I was surprised that no one had contacted me with questions, as the list was quite extensive and I’m sure confusing for someone not in my situation. But every time I made contact, I was either brushed off quickly with a one line e-mail saying everything was fine or the phone messages I left were unreturned.
Apparently I was luckier than most. There were delegates from other states complaining that no one had contacted them about their accommodation requirements. I could not understand why there was no division of power. From what I could tell, Ted Jackson was the Director and the only contact person for those with disabilities. It would have been more helpful to have disability specialist liaisons from the DNC assigned to each state. That way the delegates could get the attention they needed and Ted could focus on the accessibility of the convention experience. Given the state of things when we departed Vermont for Philadelphia, I had a feeling everything was about to implode…and I was right.
Another “Unity” Amendment at the Rules Committee Meeting
Before we arrived in Philadelphia, the Rules Committee met. While on the road, I watched C-SPAN closely from my laptop because it was in this meeting where discussion would take place on superdelegates and amendments offered to eliminate the system altogether.
The DNC had learned from their mistakes at the Platform Committe Meeting in Florida. They did not want vocal Bernie supporters in the back of the room causing a ruckus. So they decided to hold the Rules Committee Meeting in a much smaller room to limit the number of observers, i.e. the Bernie supporters. When I listened closely to the live coverage of the meeting, I could hear the muffled chanting of activists yelling, “Open the doors! Open the doors!” I searched social media to find out what was happening outside the meeting room:
Again, Hillary had more committee members than Bernie, so they were able to block all amendments brought forward by the Bernie side. I want to share with you just one example of how democracy did not prevail at the DNC. This information has come from delegate stories I have read and personal conversations with Vermont’s Platform and Rules Committee representatives. Committee members representing Bernie were told from the beginning to vote their conscience at these meetings. The Hillary members, however, were told by text how to vote for every proposal or amendment. At one point, an amendment was brought forward by a Bernie committee member to remove the word “God” from the Rules document. A Hillary member wanted to support the amendment because she was an atheist. Moments later she received a text telling her to vote against the amendment. The Bernie member sitting next to her encouraged her to vote for the amendment if that is what she wanted to do and a look of dismay crossed the woman’s face. She explained that she could not vote her conscience because her name was associated with her voting device’s number and the Hillary campaign would immediately know that she broke ranks and there would be consequences. How’s that for democracy?!
Rules Committee members for Bernie brought up multiple solutions/suggestions on how to diminish the power of the superdelegate vote but every item they offered was blocked by the other side. In the end, the Hillary side offered another “unity” amendment that called for a commission to look into the superdelegate issue over the next several years and provide a recommendation at the end of it. The only way the Clinton side would agree to this amendment was for the Bernie folks to withdraw all other superdelegate amendments and not allow any of them to be brought as a minority report to the floor for the national delegates to vote on. Sadly, Bernie committee members agreed to it. So again, to recap, the Democratic Party passed one of the most progressive party platforms ever that will potentially never be implemented and called for a superdelegate commission that will most likely never resolve the superdelegate problem. Our Vermont representative on the Rules Committee told me that no other minority reports would be brought to the convention floor — nothing on the TPP, Medicare for All, getting Money out of Politics, etc. This was not going to be a convention where the grassroots voices would be heard. In fact, it was going to be the opposite.
Arriving in Philadelphia
While all of this was taking place, we were on the road to Philly in our RV. Bernie delegates and activists from across the nation were posting pictures of their travels to the City of Brotherly Love. It felt like the tribe was coming together, that we were united in our cause, that this was truly a movement and that anything was possible.
We pulled into the parking lot of the Wyndham Hotel late Sunday afternoon. A few seconds after we parked, a picture of our RV was posted to Facebook with the caption, “You made it!” It was from my fellow delegate and longtime friend and former voice teacher, Shyla Nelson. She and her fiance (now husband), Andy, ran down to meet us and it was pure excitement. Even Buttons was happy the time had finally come!
The DNC Drops the Ball on Disability Accommodations
|Our positive energy was quickly zapped when I received an e-mail from Ted Jackson with only one line of text, “What are the dimensions of your RV?” Yep, I guessed right. The DNC had completely dropped the ball and never put together rooms to accommodate me at the convention centers. I assumed from this cryptic message, that they now were going to try to make arrangements for my RV. Unfortunately, I had learned when planning our trip, that the Secret Service had closed several roads to large vehicles over 5 tons, so we were not sure if it was even possible for the motor home to be allowed near the convention centers. That night I attended the Vermont/New Hampshire/Maine delegation party at our hotel and spent much of the night talking with our Chair, Dottie Deans, about what to do. Meanwhile, Shyla reached out to a friend in the Secret Service and Mike was on the phone all of Monday morning talking to the police commissioner’s office.||
Articles Written About My DNC Experience:
Bernie’s Speech to His Delegates
Without any clear answers by Monday noon, we rushed around like chickens with our heads cut off to get to the downtown convention center in the afternoon to make it to Bernie’s private speech to his delegates. I knew it was something that should not be missed. But first we had to drop the dog off at a nearby kennel to board for the week. With the oppressive heat, it was not safe to leave him in the RV even with the A/C running powered by the generator. It was so hot that the new air conditioner still could not keep up. I don’t think our thermostat ever went below 80 degrees the whole time we were there. Plus, now that we were using the RV at the convention center, the dog would only complicate things. Thinking back, Buttons got the better end of the deal. The kennel was air conditioned, he had his own comfy bed to himself, and the owners were huge Bernie supporters who doted on him. Lucky dog!
Getting downtown to the convention center was crazy. The city streets were narrow and the only place Mike could drop me off was in the bus area at the convention hall. Immediately, security approached us and told us we could not be there. We pleaded with them and they let Mike drop me off, but they would not allow him to leave the motor home there. Did I mention it was 95 degrees with 100% humidity?! With the heat off the buses and the pavement it was unbearable to stand for one minute inside the terminal. So I told Mike to go and that I would figure out a way to get to Bernie. Thankfully, there were volunteers at the front desk and I asked one of them to take me to the ballroom where Bernie was speaking. We had to run because the place is gigantic (covering two blocks) and there were elevators to maneuver along the way. I made it just in time to the wheelchair section up front to watch Bernie take the stage. The energy in the room was electric as we all waited on pins and needles to hear what our leader would say. He spent 15 minutes giving his fiery stump speech and going over the successes of the campaign. And then this happened:
What I believe Bernie does not understand nor does the media in this moment, at least from my point of view, is that we are confused with Bernie’s call to fall in line with the Democratic Party and we are frustrated with the process. Of course we love Bernie for everything he has done to inspire us and get the country talking about the real issues, so the jeering has nothing to do with him. However, he spends several minutes detailing how terrible Donald Trump is and saying that we must do everything we can to defeat him. He clearly gets loud cheers of agreement from the crowd. But then he says the only solution is for us to elect Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine. That is where he is wrong. The polls clearly show that Hillary Clinton ties or sometimes loses to Donald Trump. But when they do a poll between Bernie and Trump, Bernie consistently beats him by double digits. If Bernie and the Democrats truly wanted to beat Trump, they would have elected Bernie Sanders. That is why we start chanting, “We want Bernie! We want Bernie!” This is Monday afternoon. The roll call is not until Tuesday. Even if Bernie is not going to win, why throw in the towel before the end? Why did he ask us to come to Philadelphia? He said we were going to take the fight to the convention. Where is the fight for change? Where is the contested convention? Instead, he is telling us to unite. No, this is not what we worked so hard for over the last 18 months. This is not why we made thousands of phone calls and volunteered countless hours. This is not why we raised thousands of dollars so we could attend the convention. I looked to my right and saw Bernie’s celebrity surrogates in tears. Bernie left the stage to chants of “Thank you Bernie!” while other angry delegates got in the campaign manager’s face and tried to plead with him. It was a difficult scene.
Portia Boulger, a delegate from Ohio, explains her thought process at that moment which coincided with mine.
Deficient System to Retrieve Caregiver Floor Credentials
We left the room pretty dejected but I could not process it yet because I had more stressful things to deal with. I had to figure out how to get Michael’s credentials to stay with me on the Wells Fargo convention floor in just a couple hours. All national delegates are given their credentials each morning at the hotel. Not the caregivers. They require that caregivers pick up their credentials from the downtown convention center in the morning. What a terrible idea, especially when our delegation is staying outside the city near the airport. The credentials for caregivers should be delivered each morning to the hotel like is done for the other delegates.
Because our entire morning was taken up with contacting the Secret Service and the Police, we could not get to the location to pick up the credentials. After several unanswered messages left for Ted Jackson, he finally called me after Bernie’s speech and told me that I could pick up the credentials at the designated table in the downtown convention center where I currently was at. I had no idea where this table was and like I said, the building was two blocks long. I finally asked a security guard to call and confirm the location of the table, which of course was on the opposite end of the building from me. I could not cut straight across the bottom floor because there were stairs halfway between. I had to take an elevator up one side, cross over to the other end of the building, and then take another elevator down. I again had to recruit a volunteer to help me. Mike was parked in the drop off zone waiting for me but security would not let him leave the vehicle. I finally got to the disability table and the woman at the table said, “Oh, Mike is not with you?” These credentials are like gold and must be picked up by the person they are intended for. There was a strong possibility they might not give them to me. I told them he was right outside but could not come in. Thankfully the ladies understood my dilemma and gave me the ticket. I took the elevator back up, crossed over the building and back down to find Michael drenched in sweat. He had the engine air conditioning running as well as the overhead A/C unit and the RV still felt like a hot sauna. I don’t know how he did not have a heart attack.
While Mike was waiting for me, some kind angel delivered him a parking pass for the RV at the Wells Fargo arena and Mike was told which roads to take to avoid the weight limit to get to the parking lot. We had to rush because they had already gaveled in at Wells Fargo. I wanted to be there because this was “Bernie’s night”. Bernie was to speak in prime time and many of his surrogates before him. We got on the road and were about to take the turn to get on the main street that runs north to south which would take us straight to the arena, when police blocked it off to allow protestors to march from City Hall to the convention center. I was happy that they were practicing their first amendment right for Bernie but discouraged we would not make it in time! (On a side note, an officer from the police commissioner’s office called us a few weeks after the convention to make sure we were happy with the help they provided us. We thanked him for the prompt attention during such an intense period for them. He said they were used to big crowds of protestors, but this was one of the largest they had to handle. He referred to the massive crowds of Bernie supporters in the streets and I couldn’t help but smile when he said, “So what I want to know is how the hell did Hillary get the nomination?!”
We ended up taking a side street that was way too narrow for the RV and everyone else was taking it too because of the march, so it took us over an hour to go less than 2 miles. And when we came to the end of the street, there were multiple but very narrow turning lanes. We pulled up to the light and watched in horror as the RV proceeded to twist the mirror back of the tractor trailer truck’s cab next to us. We were in our lane but his mirror extended way out. Rather than let it go, the driver got extremely upset and forced us to the side of the road. He got out of his vehicle, got in Mike’s face and was swearing with such intensity that I was scared for Mike’s life. Mike stood with his hands behind his back. The man was so angry that if he had a gun, I think he would have shot him. I am so thankful that the corner was loaded with cops directing traffic. I am especially grateful for the one who came over to diffuse the situation. The cop said it seemed like a no-fault case and the driver ended up not pursuing it because of insurance or something to that effect. We got on the road and were relieved that our turn to the secure parking lot was just before us and the other truck was not going our way.
We pulled into the gigantic lot and were told to park in the farthest lot from the convention center because of the RV. We obliged and setup to do my care while I streamed the convention proceedings on my laptop. Halfway through, Mike took a look at the credentials I picked up for him and realized they said “Guest” instead of “Floor” access. After all we had been put through, they gave me the wrong credentials! These would not allow Michael to stay with me. What were we to do? Conor Casey, the Executive Director for the Vermont party, gave us his number that morning. Thankfully, he heard our call over the cacophony of voices in the convention hall. We told him the problem and he sought out Ted Jackson at the disability table which was now at Wells Fargo and not downtown. (Just a suggestion, if they cannot hand out the caregiver credentials at the hotel, could they hand them out outside the arena?!) Luckily Mike’s credentials could get him inside the building and then Conor figured out that we could trade them for Floor credentials at the table. Phew!
Separate But Equal for the Disabled at the Convention
We went through the outdoor secret service check line. The bomb sniffing dog refused to sniff me which was kind of funny. I think he might need more training! We made our way inside the building and found Conor, the disability table, and Ted. I don’t think Ted was very happy with us at this point. The feeling was mutual. Conor said he would show me to the Vermont section but was pretty sure it would not work for me.
Although we heard continual talk about delegates having floor seat credentials, the majority of the delegations do not fit on the floor. Special priority is usually made for the nominee’s home state. With Hillary the presumptive winner, New York had a prime spot on the floor. Not Vermont. Vermont was located on the next section up which is stadium seating. Around the arena, there are special wheelchair sections that you can come out on and you will find a flat open area for wheelchairs which spans maybe 20 seats. There was enough room to locate two state delegations in front of the wheelchair section and two behind. Ted had told me they were planning to seat all wheelchair delegates with their delegation. With a little forethought and an Excel spreadsheet, one should have been able to figure out which states have delegates in wheelchairs and arrange those states to be located near the wheelchair section. Did they do this? No. To say this was a huge disappointment would be an understatement. Vermont was seated one section over from a wheelchair section, with several stairs to get to them.
When I realized this, I was very upset. I could do nothing about it. I was not able to sit with my delegates — my family. I campaigned hard to be a delegate to represent the State of Vermont. Being that Bernie was from Vermont also meant that our delegation got a little more attention from the people and the media. All I could do was watch them from afar. Worse yet, I ended up sitting between two huge Hillary supporters who were career convention attendees. If you can find any pictures of the convention stadium seating from Monday night, I am seated behind Washington state, a state which I believe had no one in a wheelchair!
When a young girl came out on the stage in a wheelchair and spoke highly of her friend, Hillary Clinton, I wish I had a sign that the cameras could have zoomed in on that read, “This is supposed to be the most accessible convention ever and I cannot sit with my delegation.” I don’t think you can fit that many words on a sign, but you get the point.
I do have to say that the delegates from Vermont were wonderful. Several took the time to come visit me. The section manager did not like it but they stayed with me just a few minutes, so I felt like part of the team. No other delegation visited their counterparts in the wheelchair section, which made me appreciate my delegation even more. The only plus to not sitting with my delegation is that I was not held to the higher standard that was asked of Vermont delegates from Bernie’s home state. So Michael and I felt free to boo or chant along with the other people in the hall.
Scenes from the Convention Monday Night
The Standing Ovation We Did Not Want to End
It was an interesting night. I was surprised by how “staged” everything felt. Although this was supposed to be a night all about Bernie and the progressive wing of the party, it felt more like the Hillary show. Remember, no vote had taken place yet. The superdelegates had 24 hours to finalize their decision. Every speaker who got on stage referred to Hillary as the next President of the United States and paid no compliments to Bernie Sanders and all he had done to win 46% of the vote. The DNC chose not to acknowledge the significant issues raised by Bernie whose delegates wanted incorporated into the presidential campaign. Instead we felt ignored and silenced. Such behavior implied they did not need us to win the election. This would prove to be a strategic mistake on their part.
I did enjoy hearing Michelle Obama speak. But Michelle did scold Bernie supporters at one point, telling us that Hillary did not pout when she lost to Barack Obama in 2008. Well, that’s because he promised her the position of Secretary of State and to support her nomination 8 years later!
Some delegates snuck in signs like “No TPP” but for the most part it was a very controlled situation. The DNC distributed signs for us to hold when they wanted us to hold them. Homemade Bernie signs were not allowed and if you did have one, it was either confiscated or Hillary supporters were instructed to stand in front to block the signs from the cameras. Many Bernie supporters smuggled in pens that they used to mark up their bodies with messages or redesign the signs to say “Stop Her,” “Love Bernie or Trump Wins,” or “At a Contested Convention We Rise Together After the Vote.”
When Bernie finally appeared on stage, it was so emotional. The crowd chanted “Bernie! Bernie!” over and over. It seemed like hours before we let him speak. I would have chanted all night if it would have prevented the inevitable. Each time I yelled his name, I hoped he would hear our passionate cries and it would convince him to stay in the race. We’ve got your back! If he wanted to fight for every superdelegate vote the next day, we would fight with him. If he wanted to walk out of the convention, march to Independence Hall and form a new party, we would march behind him. At the very least, we did not want him to start talking because we knew what he would say. This moment will forever live in my memory as the highlight of my experience at the Democratic Convention. No other candidate has ever inspired me more and I fear no other candidate ever will. I chanted and cried along with everyone else in the room. We wanted Bernie to know just how much we love him and how much he did for us. I thank him for starting something I hope has no end.
What you might not know, is that when Bernie began speaking, almost the entire top tier of folks sitting in the convention center stood up and left. Holes in the crowd on the floor became apparent as well. This was the only time during which the convention was centered around Bernie and the Hillary folks did not care to stay and listen. Unity was not felt that day.
Tuesday Morning Delegate Breakfast: HRC Appoints DWS to Head Campaign, Superdelegates, Out of Touch Democrats and more
The long days and late nights during the convention are grueling. Starting Sunday night, we did not return to our RV until 1:00 a.m. each night and we had to be in the hotel for breakfast every morning at 7:00 a.m. to get our credentials. With the time it takes for me to get ready to go to bed and get up every morning, I’d say we averaged 3-4 hours of sleep each night. This mixed with the very emotional nature of everything going on with Bernie and the stress of everything accessibility wise was very exhausting. Tuesday morning I woke up with one goal in mind, I needed to figure out a way to sit with my delegation during the roll call vote. I would be devastated to sit by myself and watch from afar as my delegation and my presidential candidate announced their vote.
That morning at breakfast, several political figures joined us. The first was Brian Fallon, Hillary’s press secretary. It was at this breakfast that I learned Hillary had appointed Debbie Wasserman Schultz to be her honorary chair for her presidential election campaign. Now come on, the DNC emails released by Wikileaks only days before showed the DNC colluding with Hillary’s campaign to make her the nominee of the party. As a result, Debbie was forced to step down as Chair of the DNC. And now, during the Democratic Convention, Hillary appoints her to chair her presidential campaign?! Is she serious?! Needless to say, this was a slap in the face to all Bernie supporters and a brazen act of corruption. This outrageous move by Hillary only alienated the progressive wing of the party even more.
Next up to speak was Governor Jeanne Shaheen from the State of New Hampshire to tell us all how important our activism and vote will be in November. She referenced the polls which showed a very close race between Hillary and Donald Trump and expressed how the Democratic Party will need all the help we can give to secure the election for her. In my head, I was screaming, “You are a superdelegate! The polls show Bernie beating Trump by double digits! You can stop a Trump presidency by voting for Bernie Sanders! If Hillary loses in November, it will not be my fault…it will be yours!”
The final speaker for that morning was Howard Dean, former Governor of Vermont and former Chair of the Democratic Party. Most Vermonters loved Howard Dean when he was governor and when he ran as a presidential candidate in 2004. But now many wished to revoke his Vermont card given the fact that he has become a lobbyist for the healthcare industry and is suddenly against a single payer healthcare system. He refused to use his superdelegate vote in support of Bernie Sanders, telling Vermonters that he knew better than the 86% of them who voted for him. It was clear how out of touch he was with the people when a delegate asked him what he felt was the most important issue facing Americans currently. For the life of me, I cannot remember his weak response, but a delegate in the room yelled out the most important issue was healthcare and the room erupted in agreement.
Submitting Our Vote for Bernie
After the speeches, the Vermont delegation huddled in the corner to go over the process of submitting our vote for Bernie. I had always thought that the votes were submitted on the floor at the convention. In actuality, you sign and mark your candidate of choice on a piece of paper the morning of the roll call. Dottie Dean announced that Aster O’Leary, the youngest delegate from Vermont at 17-years-old would be the one to speak for Vermont on the microphone when the votes were announced live for the nation. I spoke up and let the delegation know that I would like to join them for the roll call vote and I hoped they would support me. I was very emotional about the whole thing. You can tell from my red eyes that I had been crying when April McCullum from the Burlington Free Press interviewed me about my reaction to Bernie’s speech the night before.
Rumors that Bernie Will Suspend the Roll Call
That afternoon I called home while in the RV to check on my family. The day before had been my mother’s birthday and with all the commotion, I did not have a chance to wish her happy birthday. My brother got on the phone and asked me, “Hey Maria, is it true what they’re reporting on MSNBC? Bernie is going to suspend the roll call and give his votes to Hillary?” My heart sunk. I realized in that moment that we never discussed what Vermont would say at the roll call that night. Prior to the convention, a fellow delegate who had attended a convention once before, Arshad Hasan, had explained to me that the state delegation usually votes on what they want to say on the microphone the morning of the role call. It was then that I realized Dottie announced Aster would be speaking for us but she never told us what would be said.
About 30 minutes later, I received a phone call from CNN with a reporter asking me if I knew about Bernie’s plan to have Vermont go last during the roll call so that he could give all of Vermont’s votes to Hillary Clinton in a show of unity. I said all I knew is what my brother told me. I had no information about this from the Vermont Democratic Party. The reporter told me that it was true and asked me if I was in agreement with Bernie’s move. I told them absolutely not. I came to Philadelphia to represent the 115,000 Vermonters who voted for Bernie Sanders and they would not want their votes to be cast for Hillary Clinton.
I got off the phone and I could not catch my breath. My body felt numb. I called Shyla to see what she knew. She told me that rumors were flying and they were not sure what Bernie was going to do but that he was planning something. She told me to get to Wells Fargo as soon as possible because the time of the roll call had been moved up. Unbeknownst to me, Shyla was in the middle of her own pandemonium. She was asked to replace Nina Turner on the stage to formally nominate Bernie for the roll call. Nina Turner, Bernie Sander’s most vocal surrogate, was told at the last minute that she would not be allowed to stand on the convention stage and nominate Bernie Sanders because she refused to formally endorse Hillary Clinton. The snub of Berniecrats’ most beloved surrogate led to immediate protests by delegates and Bernie’s celebrity surrogates (Susan Sarandon, Danny Glover, Rosario Dawson, and more).
Vermont Section Locked Down
Meanwhile, Mike and I raced to the Wells Fargo to be present for the roll call. We rushed to the Vermont section in the convention center. My plan was to sit at the top of the steps behind the Vermont delegation. Fire code could be ignored for one hour to allow me this historical moment. When we got to the outside entrance leading to the Vermont area, we were abruptly stopped by convention staff from going any further. I couldn’t understand why this section was the only one closed in the entire convention hall. I pleaded with the girl, telling her I was a Vermont delegate and I wanted to sit with my delegation for the roll call. I could hear over the loud speaker that the vote count had already begun. Christina Amestoy, Vermont’s Communication Director, came out with a very pissed look on her face and she told me she couldn’t believe this was happening. Still clueless, it finally hit me, the section was on lock down because Bernie would be arriving to make his announcement from Vermont’s microphone! Nick Carter appeared behind me and tried to advocate for me. Conor Casey was walking in and out of the section, clearly upset about the situation. We sat there for maybe 20 minutes and then just like that, there was a communication from Bernie’s campaign telling the attendants to let Michael and I in.
They had Mike sit halfway up a flight of stairs while I moved to the edge of the stairs and between two very nice secret service officers. I have no idea what state they were on for the roll call. Everything was a blur. I was still very anxious about what Bernie might do. I looked down into the Vermont section and my delegate family waved happily back to me. Vermont’s leadership were also seated there. One by one, they climbed the stairs to shake my hand and welcome me — Gov. Peter Shumlin, Rep. Peter Welch, and Sen. Patrick Leahy and his wife Marcelle. I shared with Sen. Leahy that I was a fellow alumna of Saint Michael’s College and that he spoke at my college graduation. He seemed to appreciate that very much.
They returned to their seats and not long after I heard the secret service say Bernie was coming. In one seamless move, a seat filler ascended the steps and Bernie entered the section with Jane and all his family and staff. Reporters were hanging over the railing with microphones trying to get a last minute quote. Bernie’s team descended the steps to sit near Dottie and the microphone. There was a sea of media with bright lights just below him. It felt like a movie set.
The time came for Vermont to announce their vote. Aster spoke two words, “Vermont passes.” It looked like CNN was correct. The last states announced their vote totals and the camera came back to Vermont. And here’s what happened:
First off, I have to say that Dottie did a terrific job with her speech and you can sense from her and all the delegates around her, how proud we were of our Senator from Vermont. Bernie stayed true to his promise for the most part. He moved that all votes from the delegates be reflected in the official record. It will be recorded in the history books that the grassroots candidate earned almost 1900 delegates. That is an amazing feat! In the spirit of unity, Bernie then moved that the rules be suspended and that Hillary Clinton be nominated as the Democratic Nominee for the President of the United States. Shortly after Bernie made his announcement, he made his way back up the steps and I was thrilled to shake his hand and thank him for all he had done.
Bernie Delegates Stage a Mass Walk Out
Once his team exited the section, I joined my fellow delegates, Shyla Nelson, Laura Simon, Ashley Andreas, Noah Detzer, Sherry Merrick and Kit Andrews in a walk out with hundreds of other Bernie delegates. Our protest was, “No voice, no unity.” Shyla was chosen to speak for the hundreds of delegates who occupied the media tent and just outside that area.
The major television stations did not cover the protest nor did they show all the empty seats within the Wells Fargo, but Josh Fox was able to capture the room just after the walk out. It appears that almost half the delegates in the stands walked out.
After maybe an hour of the protest, we had been asked by the protest leaders to return to our seats so as not to disrespect the Black Lives Matter portion of the convention on stage. Mike and I did return to the wheelchair section. We stayed for the presentation by the “Mothers of the Movement” whose children were victims of police shootings. I was drained from everything that happened that day. Sitting in the convention hall among Hillary supporters, people I did not know, I felt out of place. I spoke with the wheelchair section manager who turned out to be a Bernie supporter. He had on his “Enough is Enough” glow in the dark shirt that Bernie delegates had organized and ordered. His voice broke as he told me he could never vote for Hillary. He had served in the military and his son had followed in his footsteps. He said it has ruined him and his son for life and he could never vote for Hillary because of her reckless war-mongering rhetoric. I cried with him and told him I would never forget him and that moment we shared together. I turned to Michael and told him it was time for us to go.
We returned to our car and called Shyla. We made plans to meet up with she and Andy at the diner near our hotel to decompress and go over the happenings from the day. It felt good to have a moment to relax and reflect, although my head was still spinning. There were multiple televisions in the diner showing the live coverage of the convention. It was surreal to have been in the convention hall only moments before and now looking at the media’s perspective of the event shown to those sitting at home. We discussed many things that night. We discussed the high probability that Bernie had to sign a loyalty pledge as most candidates do and that this was most likely why he had to endorse Hillary Clinton. We also talked about the fraud perpetrated by the DNC to swing the primary in favor of Hillary Clinton and whether this might be grounds for a lawsuit. Hundreds of thousands had given Bernie money in an effort to support his campaign to be the Democratic Nominee for the presidential election. If there was no possibility of him winning the nomination, then that was an act of fraud on the DNC’s part. (Funny enough, other delegates felt the same and there is a lawsuit now pending against the DNC.)
Finally, we discussed our plans for the next few days. We both felt like we had accomplished what we had come do, which is represent the 115,000 Vermonters who voted for Bernie Sanders. The next two days would be all about Hillary Clinton and I was not sure if I could take it emotionally and physically. It felt like a year had passed in the last 72 hours. It was late. I would make a decision in the morning.
Bernie Thanks the People of Vermont
The next morning at our delegate breakfast, we were joined by Vermont’s finest: Gov. Madeleine Kunin, Rep. Peter Welch, Sen. Patrick Leahy, and the man who inspired us all, Sen. Bernie Sanders. I had a seat right up front. He was very sincere when he said, “Thank you, Vermont, and thank you for your love and your support for so many years. You have sustained me in this campaign and I’ve done my best to try to represent the values of our state.” True to form, he went through the litany of policy issues we must continue to fight for — declaring that President Obama was dead wrong when it came to the TPP. Although Bernie’s bid for the presidency had come to an end, he made sure to let us know that this is just the beginning for the revolution.
Dottie gave us all a t-shirt with words that embody everything Bernie stands for in the shape of a dove. We enjoyed taking photos and spending a bit of time together before we had to run off to the next thing. It was a heart warming moment for me and a sign that this was the way I wanted to end my time at the convention. I hoped my decision to leave would not upset the leadership of the Vermont Democratic Party or my fellow delegates. It was a decision I thought a lot about. My decision may have been different if I knew I had my Vermont delegation to sit with and lean on during those final two days, but as it was, I would have had to work through those emotions alone surrounded by people I did not know. I was interviewed by WCAX and the Burlington Free Press about my decision to leave. I think both reporters framed my leaving as an act of protest against the nomination of Hillary Clinton. It was not that at all. It was purely a personal decision based on what was best for me at that moment.
Kevin Christie leads the delegation in singing “These Green Mountains”
Exploring the City of Brotherly Love
Before we left Philadelphia, we decided to take the day and explore the city. I had visited once before with my family when I was around 8 years old, but this was Michael’s first time. As we both appreciate history, we thought it would be fun to visit Benjamin Franklin’s Printing Press, the Liberty Bell, and Independence Hall.
We also experienced our first official Philly Cheese Steak and Water Ice. They were delicious!
It was not possible to completely avoid the convention. MSNBC had their large outdoor newsroom setup on the main green. At one point a motorcade with flashing lights went by and inside the limo was President Clinton. However, the most meaningful interaction I had was with the people. Having been inside the convention hall all this time, we had been living in a bubble. I did not realize how many people had descended upon the city to show their support for Bernie – tens of thousands. Everywhere we walked, we ran into people wearing Bernie shirts or pins. We stopped to talk with some of them. As we had not watched any television coverage, it was great to hear their perspective. It was extremely inspiring to meet a complete stranger and have an intelligent conversation about the issues that matter to us. I can only imagine this is the feeling Bernie described when referring to the truly remarkable people he met while he campaigned across the country. I met a senior couple who had traveled all the way from California by train because they needed to be there at the front lines to support Bernie. I told the wife that it was possible to hear the crowds chanting at the fences outside the Wells Fargo. She told me how proud the people were when they saw us walk out in protest the night before. Like every conversation I had that afternoon, we thanked each other for what the other was doing and we pledged to stay committed to the cause. It is something I will never forget.
That night as I drove back to the hotel, we noticed there was no traffic on the main highway going the opposite direction. It made no sense. We looked up and could see that lines of cars were stopped for miles on the entrance ramps. Then I remembered our hotel is near the airport. Only one person is important enough to halt this much traffic. The President and Vice President were speaking at the convention that night. I was a little disappointed that I would not see them speak but this was a nice alternative. As I approached our exit, I tried to slow down in order to get a glimpse of the impending motorcade.
Final Thoughts and Where We Go From Here
I sit here one year from the day that I cast my vote for the man who inspired me and a whole nation. Sadly, the outcome we all feared has come true, Donald Trump is President of the United States. I was present at Vermont’s Democratic Party election night and could feel the shock spread across the room when the numbers coming in began to indicate the eventual conclusion. For days to come, the Hillary supporters went into mourning. I could relate to the pain they were feeling but I cannot say I was surprised by the outcome.
The Democrats thought they could win a race based solely on the argument that their candidate was not as bad as the other guy. Some of Trump’s base were drawn in by his divisive rhetoric. But many people who voted for Trump were working-class Americans, many of them Democrats and Independents, who have lost their jobs and can’t afford their healthcare. Hillary was not promising them change, so they decided to take a chance on someone who was promising them a better future. Unfortunately, Donald Trump turned out to be a liar. He had no intention of making the lives of the working-class better. What we must learn is that it was not Trump who appealed to the people. It was his message. It was a message very similar to the one Bernie Sanders was making…except Bernie meant every word. It was a message Bernie would have won with.
People in the Democratic party have told me that we need to stop living in the past and move forward. I completely agree that our focus should be on winning seats in 2018 and ultimately using that momentum to win the presidency in 2020. However, the reason I am still making the point for what could have been is because it provides the blueprint for how to win in the future. Democrats must admit to themselves that Bernie would have been elected over Trump. Understanding that fully, provides the formula for the kind of candidate and policies Democrats should be pushing now and in the future. That candidate does not have to be Bernie. BUT that candidate has to be a lot more like him and less like Hillary Clinton. The winning formula is pretty simple to recognize once you know what to look for. Yet the leadership of the Democratic Party refuses to change its ways.
I know that if Hillary had become president, change for the Democratic Party would have been slower to come. I truly thought that such a devastating loss would force the party to reflect on what they did wrong. Sadly, only a couple months after the election, they dug their heels in more. When given a chance to elect a progressive to lead the party, they sided with an establishment corporatist. Even after Bernie showed them that they could win by leading with their policies instead of depending on their big donors, they voted to keep taking corporate money. While the Affordable Care Act is imploding and the Republicans are trying to throw 22 million off of health care, many Democrats refuse to support Single Payer – something that can dramatically change the lives of millions of people. We do need to get more people to vote. But Democrats MUST give them something to vote for.
Now for the good news. The American populace has been awakened. We know we deserve better and we are fighting for it. Bernie told us that change only comes from the ground up and hundreds are heeding his call –they are running at the local level all the way up to the very top, challenging incumbent Senators. Groups like Our Revolution, Brand New Congress, and Justice Democrats have spawned from this to support amazing candidates who refuse PAC money and stand for bold progressive policies like Medicare for All, $15 living wage, free college tuition, etc.
Some may say it is too early to talk about 2020, but I for one believe hindsight is 2020 and Bernie will run and win. The only argument that can be made against him is his age. But as I said before, he has incredible stamina. We have to stop thinking that a 79-year-old Bernie Sanders is too old for the presidency. I don’t think he feels that way and neither should we. Bernie is now THE most popular politician in the country with a 60% approval rating. Elizabeth Warren is 22 points behind that. Among certain demographics, his ratings are even higher: 80% of Democratic voters, 73% of registered black voters, and 68% of registered Hispanic voters. While Democrats promise a 50-state strategy, he is the only Senator in Congress currently going around the country, in particular to what are normally considered Republican states, to reach out to the American people and give them hope for a better future.
The disastrous ramifications of the Republican healthcare bill and the failing ACA healthcare system is setting up a perfect scenario for Bernie to run on a Medicare for All campaign that will unite Democrats, Independents, and many Republican voters behind him. Bernie is acting like a Presidential candidate and unless he has some terrible health issue god forbid before then, he is the best candidate this country has for President in 2020. And when he runs, I want to be there again on the convention floor to cast my vote on behalf of Vermont. At the very least, I want to be involved in some meaningful way to make the next convention truly the most accessible ever.
To conclude, the impact Bernie’s campaign has had on this nation is immeasurable. We will never be the same. I will never be the same and I thank him for that. I also want to thank everyone in Vermont and across this beautiful country who worked so hard to support Bernie Sanders. I especially want to thank the 1900 who fought the good fight with me in Philadelphia. Our revolution has only just begun. The struggle continues…