- Photo by Jeffrey C. Billman
- The scene outside of the Wells Fargo Center yesterday.
“Philadelphia—it’s like New Orleans. Something’s always fucked up.”
I was with a small gaggle of reporters crammed into a light-night subway last night, talking through some of the logistic hurdles we’d encountered. The concession lines at the Wells Fargo Center were, in some cases, more than an hour long. The arena floor was so crowded that you couldn’t walk from one side to the other—as I had to do to reach the North Carolina delegation from the media section—without shoving your way through. (I ended the night with the more accessible Florida delegation, where Susan Sarandon and Danny Glover were sitting a few rows in front of me.) The buses leaving the Wells Fargo were off schedule. It took convention goers an hour to summon an Uber. To make matters worse, while the convention was happening, an apparently spectacular thunderstorm outside, loud enough to be heard inside the arena, led to a flash flood warning.
Everything was a mess.
The first night of the Democratic National Convention let out a little after eleven, following Senator Bernie Sanders’s rousing call to action, one of the evening’s two highlights (the other: Michelle Obama, duh). I had eschewed joining the Tar Heel delegation at a “Taste of the South” party hosted by the Tennessee delegation and held inside a museum. As it turns out, there was nothing Southern to taste—“cheese, vegetables, and something they called a pretzel,” one delegate told me this morning—and getting all the delegates from the museum back to their hotel in Lansdale proved difficult. (State party communications director Dave Miranda is operating off two hours’ sleep. “You made a good call,” he told me.)
Instead, I and a few hundred new friends—a sweaty mass of exhausted human beings—boarded the express line to Center City. One of the journalists said she needed to catch a commuter train out to the western suburbs. And this brought us to the biggest logistical nightmare of them all: earlier this summer, more than one hundred Silverliner V train cars were recalled because of a welding problem. So SEPTA, the regional transit agency, had to dramatically reduce commuter rail schedules, just in time for tens of thousands of tourists to converge on the city. (Also from the Department of Bad Timing, Philly’s iconic LOVE Park is closed for renovations.)
- Photo by Jeffrey C. Billman
- Bernie backers inside the convention.
This was Philly, one journalist joked. Of course things went sideways.
Well, yeah. I lived in Philadelphia for three years, from 2009–2012, when the city was resurging after decades of decline. There was new construction, new investments, new energy, a rising population after generations of depletion. It was exciting, exhilarating, at times overwhelming; there was so much more that I wanted to do than I ever actually did. But Philly, especially if you’re living off a journalist’s salary, can also be a hard city. There are taxes on everything (earlier this year, Philly became the first major city in the country to pass a soda tax) and fines for things you didn’t know existed (on the other hand, the city recently decriminalized marijuana). The bureaucracy is a maddening source of slam-head-into-wall aggravation. Parking—managed by the famously evil Philadelphia Parking Authority—is often impossible. And Philadelphia is also an old city, full of blacktop and with a limited tree canopy, miserable during summer heat waves (which, of course, we’re having now), not built for modern convenience.
So the fact that Philly’s DNC is something of a cluster doesn’t surprise me at all.
Inside and out, the Wells Fargo Center was something of a cluster, too, at least early in the evening. Outside were hundreds upon hundreds of screaming pro-Bernie protesters—“Hell no, DNC, we won’t vote for Hillary!” they chanted at the delegates and journalists shuffling from the subway to the arena—along with a weird amalgamation of very loud street preachers, a metric ton of law enforcement, and a guy playing the bagpipes.
Later that evening, a reporter told me that, after I’d gone inside, protesters started climbing the eight-foot fence that demarcated the event perimeter, obviously not the kind of thing the cops take kindly to. “Look,” the cops supposedly told the protesters, “we’re just gonna arrest you anyway. So we’re gonna open the door. If you want to get arrested, walk through.”
Apparently, a handful of protesters did just that.
Inside, as has been well documented, the Sanders contingent—which, it’s worth noting, comprises nearly 45 percent of delegates, which is a lot of loud, die-hard supporters—was, well, obnoxious, booing any and every mention of Hillary Clinton’s name, which then loud to a louder, if annoyed, roar of “Hillary! Hillary!” to drown it out. This happened over and over again—and dominated the morning’s headlines—and reached a crescendo when comedian Sarah Silverman lectured the Bernie or Busters from the stage: “You are being ridiculous.”
Things got so bad that Bernie sent a message to his delegates begging them not to make a scene.
Hours earlier they booed ousted DNC chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz off a stage, and then, to the surprise of the socialist who led their “revolution,” they hooted and howled their disapproval at him. It got so bad Sanders had to send out a last-minute text message to his delegates instructing them to “not engage in any kind of protest on the floor,” begging them not to turn their backs or heckle pro-Clinton speakers. “Our credibility as a movement will be damaged,” he wrote.
The monster that Bernie created wasn’t so easy to tame.
That isn’t to say the first night wasn’t successful. Bernie’s text did the job; by the time Michelle Obama spoke, a little after nine, the dissent had noticeably quieted. (Not even the most hard-core Bernie bro dared heckle the beloved first lady.) There were some boos later when Bernie endorsed Hillary, but not nearly as pronounced as they were earlier.
“Everybody heard the people who booed,” Jake Quinn, an Asheville super delegate backing Hillary, told me this morning. “As the session went on, that diminished. When you heard what the speakers were talking about, how could you boo?”
Indeed, as the night wore on, the programming hit its stride. There were the implicit and explicit attacks on Trump’s mendacity and meanness: a military widow who Trump allegedly swindled via Trump University, the young daughter of undocumented immigrants who live under threat of deportation, a disabled girl who highlighted Trump’s bullying of a disabled reporter. Demi Lovato sang and spoke about mental illness. Paul Simon, his voice ever-so-slightly showing its age, performed “Bridge over Troubled Waters.” U.S. Senator Cory Booker’s speech landed with aplomb, the kind of thing that had people around me whispering, “Booker 2024.” U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren was less rousing, but her dissection of Trump’s flaws was razor-sharp. Raleigh entrepreneur Jesse Lipson, the founder of the company that is now Citrix, blasted HB 2. “Nothing scares away investment like hate,” he said, using North Carolina’s loss of the All Star Game as a prime example. (His wife, fellow tech entrepreneur Brooks Bell, is scheduled to speak tonight.)
Unlike the meandering first night of the GOP convention—which featured lots of talk about Benghazi and Rudy Giuliani raging about “Islamic terrorists” and “open borders”—there was a clear, consistent focus inside the Wells Fargo: a contrast to a Trumpism defined by anger and fear, a welcome mat rolled out to minorities, immigrants, the marginalized, LGBTQ individuals, people with disabilities. The message: Trump is not your voice. We are.
No one drove that message home better than Michelle Obama, who was greeted by deafening cheers and a sea of placards that read “Michelle.”
It’s Hillary Clinton’s convention, and it was Mr. Sanders’s big night. But the unquestioned star of the program on Monday was Mrs. Obama, who used her prime-time speech to describe an optimistic, confident view of American social progress, and to embrace Mrs. Clinton as the natural heir to the Obama presidency.
She praised Mrs. Clinton as a big-hearted public servant and as a political survivor, and rebuked Donald J. Trump as a bully without mentioning his name. Most important, Mrs. Obama wrapped her speech in a sunny narrative about what the country has accomplished during her husband’s presidency, celebrating the image of a black family in the White House and casting Mrs. Clinton’s election as a similar milestone.
“Don’t let anyone ever tell you that this country isn’t great,” Mrs. Obama said. “This, right now, is the greatest country on earth.”
However the speech looked like on TV, inside the arena, it was positively electric and invigorating.
But Bernie’s speech was by far the most important.
- Photo by Jeffrey C. Billman
- Alternate delegate Wendy May
As reporters are often reminded here, 90 percent of Bernie supporters say they’ll back Hillary. But that 10 percent is so vocal that it can’t go unnoticed, and it has sucked all the attention from the room and instilled a sense of unwelcome drama in the proceedings. More important, it has drawn attention to the divisions riveting the Democratic Party at a fundamental level, just in time for the party’s four-day showcase to the world.
On some level, the loudest of the Sanders dead-enders struck me (and some eye-rolling Hillary and some Bernie supporters around me) as petulant children, willing to burn the house down if they don’t get what they demand and shrug their shoulders at the consequences. On the other hand, though, they have some legitimate grievances—especially in light of the DNC email scandal—and Bernie’s movement has successfully moved the party to the left, as the platform demonstrates.
Sanders’s speech set out to mollify their sense of aggrievement. He vouched for Hillary as a twenty-five-year friend who has committed to a higher minimum wage and debt-free college, and who will say no to the Trans-Pacific Partnership. (At which chants of “No TPP!” reverberated across the room.) And he also put Donald Trump on blast, castigating him for the by-now-familiar reasons.
Hillary Clinton understands that if someone in America works 40 hours a week, that person should not be living in poverty. She understands that we must raise the minimum wage to a living wage. And she is determined to create millions of new jobs by rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure—our roads, bridges, water systems, and wastewater plants.
But her opponent—Donald Trump—well, he has a very different view. He does not support raising the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour—a starvation wage. While Donald Trump believes in huge tax breaks for billionaires, he believes that states should actually have the right to lower the minimum wage below $7.25. What an outrage!
This election is about overturning Citizens United, one of the worst Supreme Court decisions in the history of our country. That decision allows the wealthiest people in America, like the billionaire Koch brothers, to spend hundreds of millions of dollars buying elections and, in the process, undermine American democracy.
Hillary Clinton will nominate justices to the Supreme Court who are prepared to overturn Citizens United and end the movement toward oligarchy in this country. Her Supreme Court appointments will also defend a woman’s right to choose, workers’ rights, the rights of the LGBT community, the needs of minorities and immigrants, and the government’s ability to protect the environment.
If you don’t believe this election is important, if you think you can sit it out, take a moment to think about the Supreme Court justices that Donald Trump would nominate and what that would mean to civil liberties, equal rights and the future of our country.
That last sentence is probably Sanders’s strongest case for his die-hards. Implied here is this: There are only two people in the world who could become president. One of them is Donald Trump. Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face.
This morning, he made that message more explicit, telling die-hards that it’s “easy to boo, but harder to look your kids in the face if they live under a Trump presidency.” Now there’s talk that, this afternoon, Bernie will formally enter Hillary’s name into nomination, just like Hillary did for Barack Obama eight years ago.
The unity offensive presses on.
“I’ve been covering these events professionally for thirty years,” alternate North Carolina delegate and Johnston County Board of Commissioners candidate Wendy May told me this morning. “This is how it starts. By day three, people have calmed down.”
Perhaps she’s right—but that still leaves tonight, night two of the convention, where Hillary Clinton will formally be nominated for president and Bill Clinton will give the keynote speech, both prime opportunities for very public dissent.