July 7, 2016
By Neil Cosgrove
While Democrats settled on a presidential nominee following the June 7 primaries, their convention in Philadelphia from July 25 to 28 promises to be anything but a self-congratulating coronation of Hillary Clinton.
Thousands of activists and over 1800 delegates pledged to support the nomination of Senator Bernie Sanders will be showing up, seeking to ensure that Clinton’s core of late-1980s New Democrats don’t ignore the message 12 million Sanders voters (nearly as many as Republican nominee Donald Trump received) sent to the party over the course of this past winter and spring.
As Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi has pointed out, “Beltway Dems … ought to be horrified to their marrow that the all-powerful Democratic Party ended up having to dig in for a furious rally to stave off a quirky Vermont socialist almost completely lacking big-dollar donors or institutional support.” If the Democrats choose to run primarily on the failings of Donald Trump, without appearing to seriously care about income inequality, underfunded education, crumbling infrastructure, reactionary courts, and misguided militarism, they could fail to make the down-ballot gains they are anticipating, and may even lose the presidency itself. The off-year elections in 2010 and 2014 starkly demonstrated that people are motivated to vote when there is something to vote for, rather than just something to vote against.
The tensions the Democratic Convention will manifest are graphically illustrated by the way in which party insiders and outsiders travel to and stay over in Philadelphia. Journalist Chris Hedges reports that $100,000, or “empire” donors to the party will receive “VIP credentials for all convention proceedings,” tickets to corporate and official party receptions, four rooms at the Loew’s Philadelphia Hotel, and a suite at a baseball game. $50,000 “gold” donors, $25,000 “silver” donors, and $10,000 “bronze” donors may not be so lavishly entertained but Hedges suggests the incentives are attractive enough to warrant the price of a business-class air ticket to Philly.
For activists and many Sanders delegates, on the other hand, attending the convention is a financial challenge. A story on NBC10.com of Philadelphia tells of Sanders delegates using the GoFundMe web site to raise money for a trip that will cost them from $4,000 to $8,000, including airfare from locations around the country and a five-night hotel stay “in an expensive East Coast city.” Some Minnesota delegates are staying at a Radisson in Valley Forge, 30 miles from the Wells Fargo Center where the convention will take place. The hotel assigned to Wisconsin delegates costs $369 a night. “We are not required to stay at the Hilton,” said one Sanders delegate from Wisconsin. “So if fundraising doesn’t work out, there are AirBnBs and other hotels a little further away.”
An AirBnB might be the height of luxury for most activists. The largest demonstrations will most likely occur under the aegis of the Occupy DNC Convention movement, which has been placed by the city in FDR Park in South Philadelphia, not far from the convention site, from Sunday, July 24th to Thursday, July 28th. Demonstrations and marches expected to draw more than 30,000 people are planned for each of those days. However, the city’s permit only sanctions gatherings from 8 a.m. to 6pm, suggesting that camping out in the city’s parks is being strongly discouraged.
Organizers are attempting to arrange housing and ride shares by state. For example, a Rally Bus is scheduled to leave Station Square, Pittsburgh, at 2.23 a.m. on Monday, July 25, depart Philly at 10 p.m. that day and arrive back in Pittsburgh at 4:36 a.m. on the 26th. The price is $75. A group calling itself the DNC Action Committee (dncactioncommittee.com) is offering “neutral support–information on legal, medical, housing, press, transportation and other resources–for all those participating in actions in dissent from the Democratic Party” at the Philadelphia convention.
Other events include:
- Food and Water Watch, an anti-fracking organization, will march from City Hall to Independence Mall on Sunday, July 24th. More than 5,000 are expected to participate.
- The Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign plans to rally at 3 p.m. on Monday, July 25th at City Hall, followed by a march up Broad Street to the Wells Fargo Center. This march has been denied a permit by the city, so there could be police interference, rather than protection. Its principal organizer is Cheri Honkala, a long-time activist and 2012 Green Party vice-presidential candidate whose protest at the 2000 Republican National Convention in Philadelphia drew a reported 30,000 people.
- The “We the People Restoration Rally,” sponsored by Black Men for Bernie, will take place on July 27th and 28th from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. at Thomas Paine Plaza, across from City Hall.
Neil Cosgrove is a member of The NewPeople editorial collective and of the Merton Center Board.