Philly or bust: Fresno activists go to the DNC

 

By Emily Cameron

In the weeks since my return to Fresno after attending the Democratic National Convention with my friend Jill Cisneros, people have been eager to hear a firsthand account. Was it a symbolic unification of diverse perspectives with the common goal of defeating Donald Trump? Or was it a glitzy political pageant rooted in establishment politics?

In truth, the 2016 DNC was so multifaceted and expansive that one cannot truly pass a final judgment upon the affair without having seen it from all its varying angles. Social media played a massive role in broadcasting the inner workings of the DNC to numerous eyeballs across the country when TV cameras were absent; as events unfolded, I determined my role as an activist and former Bernie Sanders volunteer was best served by showing others outside of the convention what it is really like to walk alongside the delegates.

Each morning of the DNC, the California delegation had breakfast over at the Philadelphia Marriott Downtown. Our delegate friend ordered guest tickets for us so we could dine with them all four days. Additionally, Cisneros and I received entry to the California and Florida delegation’s party on Wednesday night, also located at the Marriott where the aforementioned delegations were required to stay.

The breakfast was your generic hotel buffet of scrambled eggs with bacon, sausage, and potatoes. But for $50 a day, I made sure to get my money’s worth, even if that meant shoving breakfast pastries into my purse for snacks later on. After showing our tickets to security, we went to sit down and discovered the breakfast was in a ballroom, complete with a stage and two giant projector screens on either side of the podium. The circular tables and fancy chairs reminded me a bit of the Golden Globes – except instead of Ricky Gervais, we had Nancy Pelosi. In a pile in the middle of each table, Nancy’s team left a handful of rainbow sweatbands emblazoned with her signature in white. As an extra treat, we were given four or five Nancy Pelosi posters with her face Photoshopped over Rosie the Riveter. At least Nancy Pelosi was polite enough to give us stuff for free. Barbara Boxer’s speech was essentially a promotion for us to purchase copies of her new book at a table outside the ballroom.

Throughout the week, the California delegation heard from various speakers during our morning meals, including Secretary of State Alex Padilla, Congresswoman Barbara Lee, Congressman Mike Honda, and even Congressman John Lewis from Georgia. Almost every speech was laden with pleas for unity, praise for Hillary Clinton, or boasts about the progressive platform without directly mentioning Bernie Sanders. Most of the Bernie supporters booed and chanted whenever Clinton’s name was mentioned, especially on that first breakfast.

Bernie and Jane Sanders showed up to our breakfast on Tuesday in an attempt to calm tensions down. I suppose the anti-Hillary Bernie supporters from California were so rowdy that somebody told Bernie he needed to smooth things over. Bernie didn’t necessarily scold us but instead doubled down on his insistence that Hillary Clinton must become the next president. That just made people angrier; several men began shouting that “they stole it from you, Bernie” or “they cheated.” Ultimately Bernie Sanders made the choice to forego anger at the DNC staff and instead focus his efforts on stitching together the Democratic Party delegates to the best of his ability.

Throughout the week, delegates met at caucuses held north of the Wells Fargo Center, over at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. Cisneros and I were given entry despite not being delegates because we volunteered with Progressive Democrats of America. We helped PDA with some workshops about the TPP and universal healthcare co-hosted by the Bernie Sanders campaign. The Convention Center was truly one of the most bizarre things I have ever experienced, and I have been to two Japanese anime conventions.

On our trek through the various corridors and hallways of the Pennsylvania Convention Center, we walked past Rev. Jesse Jackson, a fact that was made even weirder when we ran into Jackson again the following day at a different event.

We stumbled upon one particular region of the convention center flooded with tables from various organizations and charities. We found the jackpot – every table gave something away for free or asked us to join an email list in return for taking a giveaway item. By Wednesday afternoon, I amassed a collection of a few dozen buttons and stickers, not to mention the bizarre miscellaneous goodies like anti-Trump condoms, pro-immigration phone chargers, and Planned Parenthood sunglasses.

On Wednesday, Cisneros attended the March on the DNC protest that began at City Hall and continued down to FDR Park, which is located next to the Wells Fargo Center where the main DNC events took place. While I drove the rental car and met up with the protesters at the end of the march, Cisneros was able to get an up-close-and-personal view of the protesters.

“The Black Lives Matter protesters joined the [DNC] protest. The truth of the matter is that there were Trump supporters out there cheering us on. The socialists were out there; all types of people were out there,” Cisneros said.

A group of protesters brought a casket that was painted to represent the death of democracy and the Democratic Party and then had ‘pallbearers’ carry the casket through the streets.

Protests on Broad Street generally went smoothly, but the closer the protests got in proximity to the Wells Fargo Center or the streets blocked off surrounding the Wells Fargo Center, the more likely protesters were to get arrested. Both Cisneros and I marched with around ten thousand people in support of environmental justice on the Sunday before the DNC, and we did not see any arrests, even when the pro-Bernie Sanders/anti-Hillary Clinton march scheduled around the same time intertwined with the environmental march.

Wednesday night’s California and Florida delegation bash was a stark contrast to the protests earlier that day. The party lasted until two or three in the morning, intended as a celebration because Hillary Clinton was formally nominated. From what I could tell, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz was not in attendance. Governor Jerry Brown arrived at the party around one o’clock in the morning. I can’t recall if he was the one to introduce Estelle, the Grammy-nominated British pop singer, before her performance.

By the time we left on Friday, July 29, we had spent eight days in The City of Brotherly Love. Cisneros’ arm was bruised from an assault by a Hillary supporter on Thursday’s breakfast and my feet were blistered so badly I could barely walk, but we came out of the DNC in one piece. On the plane ride home, I scrolled through the six hundred photos in my Philly album and found a Snapchat I’d taken of Dr. Jill Stein with a quote from her speech on July 23 typed over the image.

“Politics, as usual, is over and done,” Stein said.

*****

Emily N. Cameron is a freelance journalist based out of Fresno/Clovis. Her work has been featured in The Fresno Bee, The Clovis Independent, North Fresno Neighbors and Central Valley Magazine. Cameron was a campaign volunteer for Senator Bernie Sanders and a candidate for CD-22 pledged delegate.

 

 

  • The Community Alliance is a monthly newspaper that has been published in Fresno, California, since 1996. The purpose of the newspaper is to help build a progressive movement for social and economic justice.

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