The Contributor Goes to the Conventions

Aug 02 2016
Posted by: The Contributor
The Contributor Goes to the Conventions

By: Brady Banks

Philadelphia is jokingly referred to by locals as the “city of brotherly love… now go f*** yourself.” But while Philadelphians may be joking about the latter part, Sanders and Clinton supporters may feel exactly that way toward one another.

Heading into the Democratic National Convention, the burning question was whether or not the two camps can play nice. The chaos around the conventions, the distrust of the party’s nominee and the dissonance on issues can be disorienting and could derail Clinton’s second try for the presidency.

Will Clinton’s train get back on track with Bernie on board, or is there something more deeply troubling about Democratic politics?

In a dank, humid church basement, revolutions begin. At least that’s what a group of Democratic National Convention protesters waking up in the lower reaches of Arch Street United Methodist Church are hoping for this day. The church plays refuge for all who have come to Philadelphia for the convention. But its basement - littered with sleeping bags, blow-up mattresses, bulk food and supplies – is host to non-violent protesters angry with the electoral system that’s given the country two very unpopular presidential candidates.

“Hillary Clinton is a worse choice than Donald Trump,” says Jon Mann, 71, when asked why supporters of Bernie Sanders are so upset about this convention. A protester from Santa Monica, Calif., and current city council candidate, Mann is among the group of demonstrators staying the week at the church.

He’s more than happy to talk about the protests and their place in a larger movement for civil rights and social change. Mann, with shoulder length gray hair, rounded, black-rimmed spectacles, and a Captain America T-shirt, projects a gentlemanly kindness. He beams as he reminisces about his first experiences with civil protest.

He reaches down to show me his jean jacket vest, covered with buttons from previous protests. One aged button stands out.  He fingers the image of Martin Luther King, Jr. “I was in the Navy in DC and got away from the base. I wandered down to the Lincoln Memorial that day.” That day, of course, was Aug. 28, 1963, the day MLK delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington – a pivotal, almost-mythical moment in modern non-violent, civil rights movement lore.

His experience at the Lincoln Memorial led him to join other leftist movements in the 60s, like Students for a Democratic Society and its successor organization, the New American Movement.
Those movements are similar to today’s movements – like Black Lives Matter and “Bernie or Bust” – in solidarity for non-violent civil and social change, Mann thinks. “The greatest difference these days is the crowd is more diverse and there are more issues to cover. And there’s a lot less drugs,” he says with a chuckle.

“People are angry and suspicious of what’s happening. Look, I’m a cynical guy. Everyone is trying to engender fear of Trump, but Hillary really is worse than him. And our electoral system needs serious reform. [Our founders] didn’t want mob rule. Now things have changed. The popular vote is a good thing. Just look at Gore in 2000,” in reference to then-vice-president Al Gore’s  loss in the electoral college, even though he’d won the popular vote.

Mann’s cynicism about elections hasn’t caused him to abandon his involvement in the social movements he’s long supported. It’s still important to vote. But Mann says, with some resignation, that he’ll cast his vote in November for Dr. Jill Stein, the Green Party’s nominee.
Following our conversation, Mann heads off to a planning meeting with a small group to coordinate the day’s protests, where thousands will eventually gather across the street at Philadelphia’s City Hall.

‘They knew the rules’

In the Reading Terminal Market, a conglomeration of restaurants and shops outside the Pennsylvania Convention Center, I run into a couple of women decked out in patriotic garb, topped with red cowboy hats and blue shirts emblazoned with ‘Hillary for President’ insignia.
One of them, Dianne Krumel, 59, is a retired visual artist, social justice advocate, and a Clinton delegate from Pensacola, Fla. With ease, urgency and force, Krumel makes no bones about what she believes is at stake in this election.

Her state’s position as a key battleground state in the presidential general election gives her an air of authority as she makes her case for her candidate.
Almost as if she is reading directly from Clinton campaign communications memo, Krumel checks off a number of reasons the average American should proudly vote for the former Secretary of State. She describes Clinton as a “proven leader” who has “dedicated her life to public service.” With artful finesse, Krumel rattles off that there’s “never been a more qualified candidate, ready on day one, in my lifetime. That she’s a woman is a bonus!”

As she speaks, a young, bearded “Bernie or Bust” supporter interrupts our interview. “The system is rigged... In good faith, how can you believe voting for Hillary is going to change anything?” he asks politely, but with clear exasperation. I request that he ask Krumel his question once we’re finished with our interview. He respectfully recedes into a line for Carmen’s Famous Italian Hoagies and Cheesesteaks.
But Krumel is agitated. She doesn’t hesitate to respond to the question. “[The Sander’s campaign] knew the rules going into the primaries. The system isn’t rigged at all. Any vote against Hillary is a vote against America.”

She expresses a desire for unity within the Democratic Party, but also a deep suspicion that Sanders’ supporters have never really been a part of the established party order. She points to Sanders himself and his formal caucus with Senate Democrats, while maintaining his identity as an Independent or Democratic Socialist. To counter any suggestion that the Democratic Party is experiencing any slippage in solid front to fight Trump in the general election, she concludes, “Plenty of independents have come on board [with Clinton] lately. We want unity.”

‘Why isn’t she with us?’

Outright ire, suspicion and displeasure with those who openly support Clinton even makes riding the subway to the Wells Fargo Center action-packed. In a subway car stuffed with delegates, day commuters and even David Brooks, an interaction quickly turns heated. I watch as a young hipster dresses down a young Democrat delegate and his friends.

“They all say ‘I’m with her’ – a popular slogan for the Clinton campaign – ‘but why isn’t ‘she with us’?” the hipster asks indignantly. He moves forward with a rambling argument against Clinton and this young delegate whom he views as her proxy. The young Democrat disengages in the tense exchange, but not without dismissing the concerns and apparent anger of his verbal assailant.

Final destination

The subway reaches its last stop, the train’s final destination, just outside the Wells Fargo Center security apparatus. This is the place where the convention delegates slip away from the rest of the hoi polloi into a well-planned isolation.

I meet state Rep. JoCasta Zamarripa of Milwaukee, 40, one of four openly LGBT members of the Wisconsin legislature and a Clinton delegate. Accompanying her is her friend and state house colleague, state Rep. Eric Genrich of Green Bay, 36, a Sanders delegate.

The twosome’s affection for one another overrides their preferences when it comes to presidential candidates. It serves in stark contrast to the contentious atmosphere between Sanders and Clinton factions elsewhere in the city.

Zamarripa echoes familiar talking points about Clinton’s candidacy, saying she is “the most qualified, change-maker” in the race and expressing her excitement about Clinton’s trailblazing role as the first woman to be a major party nominee.

She explains that her support for the Democratic nominee comes primarily from a special and abiding sense of responsibility to the immigrant community. “Our opponent is [the immigrant community’s] worst nightmare,” revealing a master politician’s knack for refusing to say their opponent’s name.

The prospects of Sanders’ supporters leaving the party, staying home or joining Trump’s campaign doesn’t phase the pair of state representatives.

Genrich jumps in, claiming Sanders’ supporters aren’t leaving in a mass exodus from the party. “Public polling already shows a coalescing around our nominee,” he says with a quiet and convincing confidence, suggesting that the idea of Democrats defecting from the party in the face of Trump’s candidacy is ludicrous.

Acknowledging the difficulties with this primary season and the suspicion and distrust of the electoral system some Sanders’ delegates have derided, he concedes, “Democrats evaluate how we nominate our candidate through the Rules Committee and it can be fine-tuned.”

But the overarching goal shouldn’t be missed, Genrich clarifies. To make sure I haven’t missed the point, Zamarripa spells it out,  “[Trump] is a huge mistake that America can avoid.”


In a city where rivers burn, Republicans look to catch fire.

“What he did early on was he captured the pulse of people across this country. You know how the local meat and three’s usually have the same group of men who come in for lunch every day and  they solve all the world’s problems? It was like he was eavesdropping on what they were talking about.”

Beth Alexander lives in the Green Hills neighborhood of Nashville and like thousands of other Tennesseans she will be voting for Donald Trump this November. I met Beth, and many other political junkies, at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland earlier this month after I went to find out exactly why people subject themselves to the special kind of torture a love of politics requires. Here’s what I saw:

The anger in the Republican party is real and influential, but not cohesive.

To begin, it is hard to nail down exactly what most of the delegates agree on other than opposing Hillary Clinton. Each person I spoke with gave me totally different reasons as to why they were there, what motivated them, how they would fix things and how the process could be improved.

Trump supporters hail from all corners of the country and all different backgrounds. Many are intelligent and for the most part seemed to be good, honest people – rejecting a characterization of stupidity that Trump supporters blame primarily on the mainstream media. They truly believe what Trump says on stage will improve America – even if they don’t agree with all of it – and are passionate in their defense of the man they see as the sole answer to the Obama years. But that reverence for one man leveraging power from Washington DC concerns many of the GOP faithful Trump must capture if he intends to win.

The best example of this is the Cruz delegates who – although diehard Republicans – have refused to jump on the Trump train. “The more we are pushed against, the stronger we stand,” said Craig Licciardi, a Cruz delegate from Tyler, Texas. They represent a form of principled conservatism that rewards candidates who stand firm in their beliefs despite public opinion – and Trump’s candidacy has only strengthened their resolve.

“Listening to Donald’s speech on Thursday reinforced that he is only about himself. His view of the world is not Republican, it is not conservative,” said Mick Wright, a Cruz delegate from Shelby County, Tenn. “Our party has a noble past and now we’ve become everything we’ve argued against.”

Yet, Trump has made strides in convincing Republican Party loyalists. These campaign veterans have been coming to conventions for years and are the neighbors who make calls and knock on doors when elections are close. They give off a “not our first rodeo” sort of vibe that focuses less on the candidate at hand and more on the ideological battle at large. As one insider put it, her top three reasons for supporting Trump were: 1) The Supreme Court. 2) The Supreme Court. 3) The Supreme Court.

Is this the right way to decide presidential nominees? For a candidate who consistently cites a rigged system, his supporters were undeniably faithful to the rules. They won the primary fair and square but this convention was not an olive branch to people raising concerns about the system by which we choose our Representatives.
American democracy is alive and well.

On Tuesday afternoon I found myself in the middle of Public Square Park – the RNC’s designated free speech zone – and people were shouting. Police violence protesters, anti-abortion protestors and various other groups represented by sometimes as little as one or two people were mixed in with hundreds of reporters quick to respond to the loudest cheer at the moment.  A heated exchange between some Communists (red flag and everything) and Trump counter-protesters had just occurred, and a police force on edge responded.

Two columns of officers on bicycles rode into the middle of the protest, splitting it in half and creating a literal human barrier of officers in the park. This was effective for about 10 minutes until the crowd simply rotated and began a rowdy chant of “F*** the Pigs!” This elicited an additional line of bicycle officers to split the crowd once again, dividing hundreds into four quadrants and preventing no others from joining.
Then, just as things seemed to be escalating, the divided crowd lost its momentum. Putting a physical barrier between people had an incredible chilling effect on rowdiness and slowly the crowd quieted and thinned.
I tell this story to explain not only how many police officers and media were present at all points of the convention, but that outside of a few raucous moments, the entire event was tame.

Disagreements were settled with words, not punches, and despite an expectation of violence, no one I spoke with ever felt unsafe. You could not walk around without being spotted by a freelancer’s camera, and cops from all across the country were given the freedom to simply roam the city in large packs. Huge metal walls were constructed to insulate the properly credentialed from those who were not, and although most delegates took time to enjoy Cleveland, anyone who wanted to stay in a bubble could have.

Conventions attract characters and zealots.

Clevelanders who were enjoying beers alongside the hundreds who couldn’t get into the arena were some of the most gracious people I have ever met. They also proved good company in what can only be described as a human zoo.

I came across superheros with guitars, fan artists and easily the best corned beef sandwich of my life from a little shop called Jake’s. I met homeless folks and vendors trying to make a dollar selling Trump pins, hats and shirts that read, “Hillary For Prison” or “Hillary Sucks, But Not Like Monica”.

It was a place where people that often have to do much of the political work on a day-to-day basis with just a handful of people or all by themselves were given an opportunity to mingle and interact with like-minded people from all across the country.

In some ways it seemed like a farce, but a better assessment is that America was simply showing its true colors. Because to understand a convention goer’s motivations is to understand their little slice of the world.
We are all limited in our perspectives in the sense that we can only really comment on the things we have experienced firsthand. And the frustration that comes when trying to resolve that friction between truths you know and truths you believe, manifests itself in unique ways.

For those who are disillusioned I say this: The apathy of the reasonable empowers the extreme. The answer to absurdity or corruption is not to sit out, but to speak up. You may not win every time, but slowly you’ll make an impact.

Just heed the words of Mick Wright’s RNC experience: “It stripped away all the hope that I had in parties and in candidates. My only hope is in God and in trying to be a better person. And that’s what I’m going to try and do for the next four years. Is try to be a better Christian and try to improve myself. I don’t have any control over this process anymore. It’s out of my hands. But what I do have control over is being a better neighbor, and a better husband, and a better employee and a better friend.”

A street paper vendor reflects on Convention experience
One Step Away Vendor

There’s a lot of people here. There are a lot of people who support One Step Away, and there are a lot who don’t. I feel like the people who are voting for Bernie are more so lenient toward One Step Away, and they really want to help. A lot of people turn their nose toward what we have going on with One Step Away. It’s not a discouragement.

I’m starting to see more Hillary supporters now. I did see a lot of Bernie supporters yesterday and Monday, and I’m starting to see more Hillary supporters. When I was crossing the street, I saw a guy in a truck, and I guess he was supporting another candidate, and another guy flicked him off. Some people are nice about it and others are in an uproar.

I think the DNC being here is showing a lot of Philly’s true colors, the diversity of people. Some people are protesting and at the end of the day, I can’t wait to see how this will end, especially after the election. Today is Wednesday, and they’ve just been protesting all week and there’s been a lot of different things going on in the city. I can’t wait to see what it actually turns out to.

I’m hoping that a lot of people aren’t scared, especially if Donald Trump wins. I’m hoping that things will be the same and that there won’t be a drastic change. Hopefully all of this is for the better.

I think Philly made a good choice hosting the DNC here. Philly needed it, and it helps our city out more. We get a lot of recognition, and there’s a lot of things going on. It’s a big thing, and I think it’s good for the city. We’re just able to get a lot more exposure.

If we had people who were higher up who recognized what One Step Away is doing and wanted to help or saw one of us selling the paper or wanted to sponsor the program and help us out, that could help to give more clarity on what One Step Away is. That would help the whole program out a lot more. People in the public would know what we’re doing out here.

This week has been a good experience, overall. There’s been a lot of cops out and extra security, but it’s a good thing. There are a lot of powerful people coming into the city, so I guess all of that is needed. Like I said before, I think it’s just a good thing for Philly.

What don’t know what this could bring to Philadelphia. We don’t know what kind of change this could bring to our city, just from having the convention here. Now, it might look like we as vendors aren’t getting enough recognition or that we’re being swept under the rug, but a lot of stuff could really change, because there are a lot of people who aren’t from Philly who are here. I think something good will come out of it. We might not see it yet, but I think something good will happen.

I would hope to see more help with homelessness. I have talked to a lot of people who aren’t from Philly about homelessness and not having enough money for this or that. Someone from the convention said that the city put a lot of homeless people in hotels, about 80 homeless people, just so that Philly wouldn’t be looked at as a homeless place. But, I think in that situation, if they can put everyone in a hotel, then the city should be able to say, “We can do something else for these people and not just sweep it under the rug and hide it.” We should try to see some results.

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