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Democratic National Convention Hall

DNC Protests More Relevant Than Ever

If you only watched last month's Democratic National Convention on television and witnessed the current battle to keep Donald Trump from the White House, you might think a unified Democratic Party is ready to elect Hillary Clinton.

But the reality on the ground in Philadelphia tells a different story. Thousands of protesters from all over the country demonstrated outside the convention hall. Some of these protesters drove up to 16 hours in buses or cars, bringing their tents, enduring the heat and the rain. Their voices were hardly covered by the mass media; only thanks to the internet could you hear them at all.

Democratic National Convention Hall

What brought them all that way then—and what keeps them fighting even now?

Day 1: The Storm Approaches

For me, the trip to Philadelphia is Berniepalooza even if Bernie has already endorsed Hillary Clinton. Coming out of the AT&T metro station—right in front of the Well Fargo Convention Center where the Democratic convention is taking place—we see double rows of fences just like the ones the Republicans have in their wish list.

As the protesters chant “Bernie beats Trump, Bernie beats Trump,” an immediate chill comes over me. I unload on my camera and begin filming the protesters. Standing next to their bicycles in shorts and light uniforms, the police look relaxed in the humid 90-degree weather. Media vans and vehicles are parked nearby, but no one seems to be covering the protesters. Overhead, helicopters circle as they will throughout the week.

Marchers arrive from City Hall chanting “End Big Money Corruption” and wearing Bernie shirts, pins, signs, Bernie body suits with large versions of Bernie’s many facial expressions—the whole catalog. As the march spreads around the park, the customary religious groups protected by police chant about homosexual sex being a sin—something we'll see for the next few days.

Rumors of a contested convention have drawn many of the protesters, who are pushing progressive agenda and expressing their overall unhappiness with the Democratic Party. Doing the rounds, a little kid wearing a three-piece suit with a Bernie pin in the lapel parades around like he is the candidate running for president.

Democratic National Convention Hall

What Happened Outside the Hall in Philadelphia—Paloma Nafarrate

After passing the “Food Not Bombs” table in the tent town outside the convention hall, I stumble upon the Dr. Jill Stein campaign's tent. There at the end of the park, one speaker after another proclaims that this is the time for her. She's the strongest candidate, they say—against climate change, for free education and wiping away student loans, not bought by corporations. A storm coming is coming; proceedings are rushed. Cornell West quickly introduces Stein, who outlines her platform and tells how Bernie supporters have been wronged by the DNC and should not take it. Then the furious storm hits.

Through the rain, the revolution continues as a man wearing a Bernie shirt plays Irish pipes. Under the bridge at South Broad Street, hundreds gather to enjoy a honk and wave celebration with passing motorists, booing a truck sporting a big Hillary sign that's leaving the convention center. Later, under that same bridge, Dr. West and Dr. Stein hold part two of her speech that was interrupted by the summer downpour.

Inside the convention hall, Bernie holds one of his biggest unofficial rallies ever. But it's another early sign that there will not be a contested convention. The crowd chants “Bernie” for three minutes before Sanders can say a word. Many delegates are crying. Bernie talks mostly about stopping the Trans Pacific Partnership trade bill and pushing forward the progressive agenda even after the convention.

Democratic National Convention Hall

Day 2: Disillusion Ripples

The rain is coming down and the heat is back. During an early breakfast vote, delegates see Bernie speak. Booing erupts. There is confusion about whether the booing is for Bernie or Hillary. Throughout the protests—especially during the viewing party in FDR Park outside of the convention center—protesters sit on the grass, booing when Hillary’s name is called at roll call. Entire families of protesters watch the convention on the large screens placed outside for that purpose. The boos seem to be the only moments when the few media photographers present snap pictures of the crowd.

Disillusion ripples through the onlookers outside as superdelegates run the roll call—no questions asked. After hearing that Hillary has indeed become the nominee, much sadness envelopes the protesters. Unlike with Donald Trump winning the Republican nomination, many of the protesters feel this candidacy was won unfairly. And as we learned from Wikileaks just out this week, it's clear that the DNC favored Hillary’s candidacy from the start, confirming what the protesters in Philadelphia knew in their hearts.

Democratic National Convention Hall

The general sense among the protesters is that millions of Americans spent a lot of time and money to support Bernie's campaign. His supporters complain that voters all around the country have been disenfranchised at the polls and that the DNC has largely disregarded the voice of the people. An older white woman hands out black ribbons symbolizing the death of the Democratic Party. A coffin sits on a stage as protests continue nonstop by the double fence.


As night arrives, a big march comes forward with much music and chanting. The marchers are singing “we are in this together” and passing out roses. It is as if a time machine has brought back the peace and love movement of the 60s.

In one special moment, Black Lives Matter demonstrators make their grand entrance from the opposite side, merging with the marchers. Together the two groups journey down South Broad Street back to FDR Park. The approach of police cars quickly shifts the energy and for a second, it appears the protesters will be in a lock down. One car breaks through the police line, but the police stay calm.

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BLM members hand water bottles to the protesters from their trucks. Their signs read “Stop the War on Black & Brown People,” “We Are Not Starting a Race War, We Are Trying to End One,” “Justice for Sandra Bland,” “#SayHerName,” and “Justice for Alton Sterling.” While black mothers of shooting victims are inside speaking to the convention crowd, BLM members are marching outside speaking to power. The two groups of protesters blended into one for awhile, but then the cops form a blockade to separate them into two large groups..

Later, Jill Stein makes an appearance by the double gate outside of the convention hall with some media coverage and protesters chanting all around. I have never experienced a such a potentially tense protest that does not involve at least some pepper spray. There is some sense of progress.

Democratic National Convention Hall

Day 3: Waiting for Nina

Early on the third day, protestors gather on JFK Plaza at City Hall in an event hosted by Black Men for Bernie. Delegates speak and for the first time we are visited by Hillary supporters—two to be exact, a white man and woman in their twenties. At first, the two meet with rejection, which turns into a discussion among Bernie supporters and the Hillary supporters. Eventually some Bernie supporters offer hugs. A few members of the media capture the moment. In time, Jill Stein takes the podium.

By now, the fences and some trees at FDR Park are a museum of all the different signs the protesters have made. Many wait to hear from Nina Turner, the Bernie surrogate who has not been allowed to speak at the convention. Instead, she is set to give a press conference outside.

Onstage, a series of speakers—mostly women from different parts of the country—talk about the damage the Democratic Party is doing to the environment and ways to fight back. The crowd feasts on watermelons and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Kids run around playing dolls or doing cartwheels. Young-looking eighteen-year-olds sit in the shade with their Bernie shirts and signs.

At night, Greg Palast screens his “The Best Democracy Money Can Buy.” At the end of the film, protesters carrying the DNC coffin walk towards the convention hall entrance with lit candles to symbolize the DNC's funeral. Among the chants are “Who Do You Serve, Who Do You Protect?” “Fraud, Fraud,” “Dem Exit Now,” and “We Are Not Violent.” Others signs are “America Is a Cancer” and “Don’t Be a Dick.”

This is the day when the fence is pushed down and the police arrest some protesters—perhaps the week's most agitated and rowdy moment. Infiltrating the crowd, a few people wear all black covering their entire bodies and faces—agitators leaning towards violence. They're not Bernie supporters and their presence doesn't have much effect. Also more visible is an array of groups—ranging from anarchists and communists, to religious folk and people wearing fantasy symbolism, from love and peace agitators, to an emerging "Jill Not Hill" contingent.

Democratic National Convention Hall

Final Day: Coming Full Circle

Another rainy day. Today, I enter the convention. There I encounter Bernie delegates wearing fluorescent shirts; Hillary supporters tend to be more dressed up and formal. I end up working and shooting at the convention, covering the diversity within. I see Anthony Weiner and Elizabeth Warren (twice!), experiencing a true humbleness and warm from both, which gives me hope for the party.

In the biggest irony of the night, I watch Hillary Clinton’s acceptance speech from the Fox News booth as I have ended my assignment and accompany my colleagues there. From the grandiose view, I hear "Jill Not Hill" chants transform into "Hill-A-Ry" washed out by white noise machines and see signs like “Never Hillary” as well as “Fraud” signs. Other protests interrupt the middle of her speech and are washed out by chants favoring her. I see clearly how Bernie gets a big ovation when Hillary thanks him, and witness his serious reaction.

In talks with two men in the news hallway, both say her speech was better than expected but still just okay. Women respond more favorably to her speech.

As I leave the convention hall, I come full circle, filming some delegates marching out the exits while others are still partying inside. An older woman delegate tells me how she will work within the Democratic Party, trying to fix the party and push a progressive agenda. But she's half broken-hearted because she feels many people will leave the party and she will not find enough support to fix what needs fixing.


And in the best moment of the night, delegates and protesters come together in the middle of South Broad Street, halfway to FDR Park. The light rain adds to their warm hugs and embraces. Both walk together for the last protest of the night before the rain comes full force, their walk together ending at the meadow. On their way, many thank the police for their service.

All week, the protesters’ presence has been mostly invisible to the larger public. But their broken dreams of Bernie’s presidency transcending into powerful action has provided fuel to continue the fight—not just band-aid fixes, but deeply rooted change.

For both younger protesters and season activists, there is a newfound sense of community. The fight is alive and kicking. Philadelphia's true unity is outside the convention hall, in the chaos that comes with connecting with people all around the country, developing stronger networks in the spirit of Bernie, and creating third-party systems—the Green Party, Brand New Congress, Our Revolution, and on and on.

The diverse crowds I saw in Philadelphia are realizing their strength as people of all ages, backgrounds, professions, and colors come together, creating the faces of the present and the future. The protesters outside the convention hall will provide springboards for a progressive agenda, igniting the fights to come.


Paloma Nafarrate