PHILADELPHIA,, Pa. – Claire Merced couldn’t believe people walked out on the Democratic convention. Really. The California convention-goer assumed the media had made up or exaggerated the stories about a couple hundred left-wing activists leaving to stage a sit-in protest.
To some inside the convention, it’s inconceivable that the young, hipster-heavy contingent of leftists heckling the nominee and participating in sit-ins and so-called “fart-ins” hasn’t caught a whiff of what’s at stake for everyone else.
Patience with the diehard flank of Bernie Sanders protesters started wearing thin. Their heckles were greeted by shushes, chants of, “U-S-A!,” the waving of American flags, and had exasperated audience members asking, “What are they saying?”
What they’re saying, in a nutshell, is that they’re tired of the politics of the lesser-of-two-evils and won’t be badgered into voting Democrat by a big-money, biased party machine simply to stop Donald Trump.
But the party’s convention lineup sought to emphasize the idea that this election matters. That it matters to millions of people like 11-year-old Karla Ortiz, who spoke on stage about fearing her undocumented parents might be deported.
That it also matters to relatives of victims of the Sandy Hook massacre who brought crowd members to tears, fighting for some semblance of gun reform. And to the Muslim speakers who feel scapegoated in this election.
It matters to Merced’s students. She’s a high school teacher and lives in a heavily Latino neighbourhood of San Francisco. She’s frightened by Donald Trump’s promise to defund sanctuary programs for unlawful migrants, ramp up deportations and build a border wall.
“This election is very important to me,” Merced said.
“It’s extremely scary. I have a lot of friends, students… Many of my students are unaccompanied minors… It’s scary to think my students, my family members, might be rounded up to check if we have a birth certificate.”
Democrats sought to emphasize other stakes. The party played a video featuring Republicans like Sen. Marco Rubio questioning whether their nominee is stable enough to entrust with nuclear weapons.
One Michigan woman wearing Hillary Clinton buttons said she can’t imagine handing weapons of mass destruction to a man who gleefully escalates personal conflicts and never says sorry.
“It makes me feel extremely uncomfortable and very unsafe. Mr. Trump has a tendency to shoot from the hip,” said Chris Fonnesbeck. “If he has his finger on the button… my family could be wiped out.”
Protesters pointed to two inconsistencies to her line of reasoning.
First: Clinton advocated the Iraq war more vocally than Trump did; she advocated intervention in Libya. They suggest she’s the hawk in this race. Some interrupted former CIA director Leon Panetta with chants of, “No more war!”
Second: trade deals. Fonnesbeck admits her aversion to them — including NAFTA and the new Trans-Pacific Partnership. She says her husband used to travel to Mexico to train people in the auto sector — he eventually lost his job to them.
Clinton isn’t the most ardent anti-trade candidate in this election. That would be Trump and the Green party’s Jill Stein. Among protesters, there’s near-universal suspicion of her sincerity when she promises to change these deals.
One Kentucky protester explained why some Sanders supporters might vote Green, even if it means electing Trump: “To make a statement — that American democracy where people voted for the lesser of two evils is over,” Christian Duque said.
Another ongoing debate among Sanders’ supporters involves the value of electoral politics. Some withstood hassling by the more radical left for getting involved in a presidential campaign in the first place.
Now some are leaving the Democratic party as quickly as they arrived.
A paper by Michael Heaney of the University of Michigan published last month suggested a link between direct-democracy protests and the Sanders campaign.
It compiled data from 150 Twitter feeds behind the Occupy Wall Street protests a few years ago and found a spike in mainstream political chatter this year. Those accounts were almost 12 times more likely to tweet favourably about Sanders than Clinton.
At the convention, the Democratic party’s biggest star urged the discontented to stick around.
President Barack Obama said: “That’s right, feel the Bern!” He mentioned climate change, guns, and Clinton’s promise to appoint judges who will strike down decisions that opened the floodgates of corporate money into politics.
He also addressed ongoing skepticism about his preferred heir.
“Look, Hillary’s got her share of critics. She has been caricatured by the right, and by some on the left. She has been accused of everything you can imagine and some things that you cannot,” Obama said.
“If you’re serious about our democracy, you can’t afford to stay home just because she might not align with you on every issue. You’ve got to get in the arena with her, because democracy isn’t a spectator sport.
“America isn’t about, ‘Yes he will.’ It’s about, ‘Yes we can.'”
Nobody heckled him. But people did repeatedly jeer Clinton the next night. They also interrupted someone discussing Black Lives Matter, along with a retired general and a veteran who’d lost his leg while disposing of a suicide bomb.
One of the group’s popular chants was, “No more war!”