A protest of thousands of Bernie Sanders supporters involving two giant inflatable marijuana joints in Philadelphia on the first day of the Democratic National Convention showed that the rift among the party’s voters is deeper than ever. It followed the release of nearly 20,000 emails that revealed how top officials from the Democratic National Committee failed to remain neutral in the primary, hoping to undermine Sanders’ campaign.
“The emails proved to everyone what we knew all along: that the election was rigged against Bernie,” said Kylie Fitzsimmons, a 27-year-old server from Kalamazoo, Michigan.
A common slogan at the rally and march was “DemExit:” a threat that if the Democratic Party does not change its “corrupt” ways during the convention, people will start leaving the party in protest. “Because [the DNC] pushed out Bernie, the people’s choice, we will exit the party,” explained the term Anthony, a server from Denver, Colorado who didn’t want to give his last name. “It’s a reaction to betrayal,” added T.A. Wierschke, a union plumber from Chicago. A number of people said they were holding out to make their decision to leave Democratic ranks until Thursday, the last day of the convention.
Despite the nearly 100°F temperature, the crowd at Philadelphia’s City Hall kept swelling with people from all over the country. The protest then marched down Broad Street to a park near the Wells Fargo Center, where the convention is being held.
Among the “DemExiters” the hope was that the convention would still get contested, that superdelegates supporting Clinton would have a change of heart and vote for Sanders instead–or that Sanders would run as an independent.
Some had already left the party, disillusioned by its politics, the influence of money, and the US electoral system.”The more I saw this election unfold, I realized that I was an independent,” said Alayna Josz, 28, a manicurist. She changed her registration after she voted for Bernie Sanders in the New Hampshire primary.
Ryan Fowler, 26, who sells vegan soup in New Hampshire for a living, said he would like to see a multi-party system, as opposed to the “divisive and polarizing” one America has now. His own goal is to run for office in 2018 as a member of the Green Party.
Asked who they’d vote for in November if Sanders is out of the picture, the rejection of Clinton was resounding. Instead, many said they would opt for Jill Stein, the presumptive nominee of the Green Party, whose views, they emphasized, very closely aligned with the Vermont senator’s. “Jill, not Hill,” some chanted, while many others held up Sanders campaign signs with “Jill Stein” added on the bottom.
The complaints about Clinton herself were not new: that she supported fracking, that she’s a warmonger, that she was sponsored by Wall Street, that she’s a liar and a cheater. Echoing Trump supporters in Cleveland, people chanted “lock her up.” “I don’t want my 17-year-old son to be sent to war,” said Lory Lyon, 48, an artist from Vermont who has voted for Sanders since she was 18.
The demonstrators rejected the argument that a vote for a third-party candidate or a write-in is a vote for Donald Trump. “A choice between two evils is still an evil,” said Christina Donley, 34. Others said: “I will vote with my conscience,” “for whom I believe in,” “people should vote with their heart,” echoing an appeal made by Ted Cruz in Cleveland.
Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders spoke to the 1,900 delegates supporting his presidential run at an event in Philadelphia, and was booed when he called for Democrats to unite behind Clinton to defeat Trump. The party was hoping to present itself as a unified front, and instead it kicked off the convention divided, while Trump got a post-Cleveland bump in the polls.