On Monday, Sen. Bernie Sanders reiterated his endorsement of Hillary Clinton, the Democratic Party nominee. On Tuesday, it was made official during the roll call vote, when Sanders himself stood among his Vermont delegation and moved that Clinton be nominated by acclamation.
But on Wednesday, some delegates in the Sanders camp complained that Democratic Party officials who manage the convention had treated them as something less than their Clinton-pledged counterparts.
Michael Wilson, a Sanders-pledged delegate from California, told me that floor officials attempted to confiscate his delegation’s anti-TPP signs, and that he returned from a walkout by Sanders supporters on Tuesday evening to find that his seat had been taken by a nondelegate who refused to give it up.
“It’s a disrespect not to us, but to the people who voted for us, and that we’re representing. They want to have their voices heard. But apparently there are certain subjects that are not palatable to the party authorities.”
“I have no knowledge of those specific situations,” Lee Whack, the press secretary for the Democratic National Convention, told me on Wednesday evening, in response to complaints of disrespect from Sanders delegates. He declined to comment further. Repeated phone calls and emails to the Clinton and Sanders campaigns were not returned.
The Sanders campaign brought many newcomers into the political process and onto the convention floor. Some amount of controlling signs and chants is a normal part of the convention process, as the party attempts to unify behind one candidate and pivot to the general election.
But the complaints of disrespect were not limited to starry-eyed political rookies. Pete Gertonson is an Idaho superdelegate who sits on the Democratic National Committee. He said that Monday night’s program was “soured” by the invocation by Rev. Cynthia Hale, which he said was too focused on Clinton.
“Her speech was wonderful,” until she mentioned Clinton, Gertonson said. “I was sitting there in awe. To politicize an invocation, it’s like inserting Hillary Clinton into the Pledge of Allegiance. We should have spent Monday night focusing on unity, going through our history from F.D.R. to John F. Kennedy and further focused on the idea of unity, and of coming together. I feel my values had been disrespected by whoever choreographed Monday night. I’ve been with the DNC for quite some time. I know they’re smarter than that. Monday night should have been about unity, Tuesday night is the roll call vote, Wednesday is about the nominee, and Thursday, here she comes.”
He described the walkout, which he did not participate in, as “grief time … you hope for something all your life, and then it’s gone.” Idaho delegates, he said, had no problems being reseated.
Some Sanders delegates said that the convention had given them a warm welcome. Jenise Porter and Eve Shapiro, two Sanders delegates from Arizona, complimented their state party chair on her neutrality. “She’s been very respectful,” Porter said, adding that she knew of no problems with seating or signs among her delegation.
Ali Kurnaz, a Sanders-pledged delegate from Orlando, Florida, echoed some of Gertonson’s views on Monday’s program. “Speaker after speaker was shoving Hillary Clinton down our throats. We had not even voted and it seemed that she was being anointed the Democratic nominee for president. And in between each of these speakers, they would insert a video of Donald Trump to instill fear.”
Kurnaz said that Florida’s Clinton-pledged delegates had taken it upon themselves to assign seats and prevented him from sitting near other Sanders delegates. “We weren’t able to whisper or talk or coordinate possible actions that we wanted to take on the floor,” he said.
“I held up a Palestinian flag on the floor. The minute I did, Clinton delegates from Florida started pushing and shoving me and pulling it out of my hands. They told me that I don’t belong there. They told me that I don’t belong there. They questioned whether I was even from Florida, whether I was a delegate. One of them pointed at me and said, ‘He is a Palestinian,’ as if that were some sort of slur. I’m a party leader, an elected official.” Kurnaz handles communications for Florida Young Democrats and has managed a campaign for Florida’s House of Representatives.
Erika Onsrud, an at-large Minnesota delegate, called Monday’s program “divisive and offensive. Every single speaker referred to Hillary as the nominee.” She had heard stories of Sanders-pledged delegates losing their seats but had not witnessed it herself. “I’m not ready to support Hillary. Not today,” she said. “Come November, I will vote my conscience.”