Guest Post: Feeling the Bern – Pt. 1

Photo by Gage Skidmore

This is part 1 of a 2-part personal account of the events leading up to, and following, the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination of Hillary Clinton.

For years, I admired Bernie Sanders’ progressive ideals and his fearlessness in fighting for them.  Then came the exciting day of July 26, 2015, when Bernie and Jane Sanders came to my home.  My husband, Sam, and I met them on the front sidewalk and Bernie held my hand in both of his in greeting.  Waiting inside the house were 70 guests, most excited, some simply curious. Bernie threaded his way through the standing-room-only crowd shaking hands and then returned to stand in the center of the living room where I introduced him as the next president of the United States.  He questioned the crowd to get their views.  He spoke and listened with the same enthusiasm and care as if they numbered in the thousands—like they were somebodies and just as important as citizens of any other state.  No one had to pay a dime to see him –donations were never even mentioned.

Once I met Bernie in person, I knew he was the genuine article, the real deal, and from then on I supported him hook, line, and sinker. He and Jane were the most unpretentious, down-to-earth, awesome people.  Sam and I could hardly believe such a presidential candidate came to our house.  Phenomenal!  Surreal.

Bernie stayed for 50 minutes before leaving for The Pontchartrain Center where an excited throng of thousands awaited. The exuberance was mind-blowing for a last minute event in a deep-red state. Bernie’s campaign staff saved parking spots for us and the Facebook friend who had arranged the use of our house and escorted us to front row seats next to Jane Sanders.  There were cute signs like “PoBoys for Bernie” and “Berniegator” with an alligator sporting a shock of white hair on either side plus glasses.  The wild crowd was pumped.  The scene was electric.  Bernie thought Louisiana was important enough to visit.

Bernie had a vision for the country that was most in line with mine–money out of elections, single payer healthcare for all not based on profit, a livable wage, free public college, rebuilding infrastructure.  I agreed with him on his objections to NAFTA, TPP, fracking, dependence on fossil fuels, charter schools, tax havens, corporate welfare, the death penalty, and mass incarceration. He was a true broker of civil rights who cared for all–the peace candidate who truly saw war as the very last resort. He railed against the Iraq War, regime change, no-fly-zone over Syria, and recognized the plight of both the Palestinians and Israelis. Bernie’s simple solution for keeping Social Security healthy and solvent for decades was logical and doable. His embrace of science and determination to nip away at climate change was impressive. His undying devotion to military veterans and his ability to pass much needed legislation to support them was unmatched.

Bernie was different—a breath of fresh air—proof that citizens did not have to settle for the way governing had always been done. He demonstrated how to refuse big money and still survive.  He was a good and honest, though not perfect, man who did not see-saw and sway depending on what the audience wanted to hear.  Leaders like him did not come around often.  When a small finch landed on his lectern in Portland, Oregon, Bernie laughed and told the crowd that the bird symbolized a dove advocating world peace. “No more wars!”, he shouted.

In April 2016, I was elected as a Bernie Sanders delegate from LA-01 to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. By the time of the July convention, the die had been cast. There were countless voting irregularities and suppression.  The DNC put its fist on the scale in blatant favoritism for Clinton: Debates were few and scheduled when viewership would be reduced; party offices were given to HRC for her field offices; DNC removed life-force access of voter data to Bernie because a fired staff member breached voter files for 40 minutes; DNC finance chair Munoz raised money for Hillary against strict rules and was not punished; super delegate commitments were secured before the debates and primaries. The expectancy effect was fed by corporate media with constant commentary that extolled HRC’s inevitability and painted Bernie as a certain loser. Had the DNC had any inkling that Bernie would engender much excitement and support, it would not have allowed him to run as a Democrat though he caucused with Dems and promoted more democratic ideology than those who claimed to be party leaders.

Louisiana, which in 2012 allowed Independents to vote in the Democratic presidential primary, banned them from the 2016 race. This move irritated Bernie supporters who knew how entrenched the chair of the state party and chair of the DNC were in Clinton’s camp. It threw salt in the wounds following the clandestine meeting when John Bel Edwards was asked by party leaders to quit the governor’s race in favor of a Republican considered less despicable than Vitter. Lies about impartiality fooled no one. On primary election night, the LA Dem Party Chair was televised at the Clinton victory party before polls had even closed.

Bernie was often falsely accused of getting nothing done in Congress. Yet he passed more amendments on the floor of the right-wing House from 1995 to 2005 than anyone else. Included were the prevention of slashing the pensions of older workers; funding for tens of thousands of homes to become more energy efficient; keeping fixed income seniors warm through the LIHEAP program; lowering prescription drug costs; eliminating corporate welfare, and protecting military veterans. His 1992 bill established the National Program of Cancer Registries. In 2003, he was responsible for getting free credit reports for consumers. In 2009, he secured funding for 10,000 community health centers and worked with Grassley to prevent bailed-out banks from hiring low-paid guest workers. In 2013, he stopped the closing of 15,000 post offices and protected 6-day delivery.  In the Senate in 2014, he worked with McCain to pass much needed help for veterans for more VA clinics, doctors and nurses. Also in 2014, he stopped cuts to Social Security and veterans’ benefits by stopping the chained-CPI.

Bernie was also accused of promoting pie-in-the-sky, unattainable promises. Yet, he outlined how he specifically would fund each. Public college would be made free by imposing a tax on Wall Street speculators. Social Security would be made solvent by lifting the cap on taxable income. Infrastructure would be rebuilt and jobs created by closing corporate loopholes allowing offshore havens to evade taxes. His jobs program for disadvantaged youth would be paid for by requiring hedge fund managers to pay a tax rate that was not lower than what nurses and truck drivers paid.  12 weeks of paid family and medical leave would be funded by a payroll tax of $1.61 per week. Pension cuts would be prevented by requiring taxes on inheritance and expensive artwork. Investment in clean alternative energy would be funded by stopping giveaways to oil, gas and coal companies.  Health care for all would be paid for by a 6.2% income-based premium by employers, a 2.2% income-based premium by households, and other things like progressive rather than regressive taxes, and capital gains and dividends taxed the same as income from work.  A veteran of DC politics, Bernie knew all could not be accomplished but planned to fight for as much as possible rather than cave to defeatism.

Arrogant premature predictions and commands to concede saddened and angered me. Nonetheless, I joined a 1900 strong delegation for Bernie and vowed to fight anyway at the July convention.  The Philly convention was an orchestrated extravaganza for the pre-selected candidate who began putting her coronation ducks in a row after her 2008 loss to Obama. She hadn’t done anything unexpected of a politician who wanted to win. It had been done this way forever. The convention was a public relations event to showcase victory and fake “unity”. The convention was manipulated to give maximum favorable media coverage— a rah-rah Hillary show. It was a lot of things, but in no way, shape or form could the convention I observed be called democracy. Unfavorable signs were confiscated; empty seats were filled with non-elected attendees. Opponents were blocked and their chants drowned out.

No attempt was made to heal the gaping wounds left open by Debbie Wasserman Schultz.  Leaked emails informed the world of what Bernie supporters knew all along. Yet no mention was made nor was any apology attempted. Instead, DWS was rewarded for a job well done and given a campaign position to replace the DNC chairmanship.  Kaine, a conservative, was chosen as VP and a fracking proponent led HRC’s transition team.

Bernie folks were ordered to get in line and behave to allow the convention to proceed seamlessly.  California, Colorado, and Washington state had other ideas. Though coverage included the “walkout” of Bernie delegates after roll call on Tuesday, no mention was made of the Clinton delegates who walked out when Bernie came on stage to speak on Monday. There were instances of spitting, ill-will, seat-stealing, threats, and sign removals all week. Elected delegates were told if they held a non-approved sign up, that they would lose their credentials. To entice millennials (mostly Bernie people) away so that their seats could be filled with unelected Clinton fans, free Lady Gaga tickets were given for a New Jersey venue. This insured that some elected young delegates would not make it back before gavel time.

Most of the Louisiana Bernie delegates stayed loyal. A few too easily jumped ship, proof that they just wanted to go to the convention and the Clinton route was too competitive. I could not feign enthusiasm. I was not a party purist and resented those who placed party over country and profit over people.

None of the trolley ramps worked for transportation to the Convention Center.  To get to the Wells Fargo Center on Monday, Sam and I traversed 2 miles in searing heat, unsuccessfully searching for a wheelchair accessible subway elevator on the correct track.  Finally boarding an ADA bus, we arrived too late to continue looking for food.  Gavel time was imminent and scant open concessions had huge lines. The powdered eggs at breakfast had to sustain until the wee hours of the next morn.  And that was just the beginning.

There were no arrangements for seating wheelchair-bound elected delegates. Sam, my navigator, was refused admittance on the floor to help me snake through the impenetrable throngs to find Louisiana’s delegation. On the first night, I sat next to an Americans Abroad delegate in a wheelchair.  We sat in the aisle near Louisiana’s group and lost count of how many reporters with massive teetering equipment almost landed in our laps.  My ‘No TPP’ sign was perched passively aggressively on my knees so as not to provoke the rabid Hillary folks behind me. Maybe it was the sign, maybe it was my Bernie buttons, or maybe it was easy pickings because of location, but news people flocked to get a vitriolic statement from an assumed peeved loser. I remained polite and insisted there was no winner yet.

The aisle crowd was in constant flux and stayed thick—like a New Orleans Mardi Gras parade—but swelled stationary once the major speakers of the night began, blocking even the huge TV screens.  After earlier enduring the endless drone of legislators and wondering how there could possibly be any more, I and the wheelchair delegate next to me saw very little.  On the 3 subsequent nights, I searched for other seating myself though it segregated me from my state delegation. ADA alcoves were located on higher levels where wheelchairs were sandwiched together. Sam was not allowed in with me and sat very, very, very far away. When my phone battery threatened to die, the added panic of lost communication in a frenzied arena loomed.

Once at the Wells Fargo Arena, I was stuck until buses began boarding at 11 PM. (Taxis and Ubers did not transport electric wheelchairs.) But the most glaring problem of all, was the total mayhem on the concourses—a crazy bustle of humanity. There should have been a wheelchair lane instead of every person for self. Navigation through impassable mobs moving in all directions was untenable. Even with Sam in the lead to attempt a path, it was scary and dangerous. We saw one blind man who was in an even more precarious position, as were the unobservant convention-goers who almost fell over his white-tipped cane.  On the last night, a young mom in a wheelchair arrived in tears at my alcove. She explained how she had searched and found 2 disability alcoves totally full before locating an empty one. Then after the usher allowed her in, a crazed woman threw her out claiming the alcove was reserved for expected VIP Hillary guests.  Though people with exceptionalities were marched across the convention stage to proclaim the Democratic Party as an ADA champion, pitiful actions spoke louder than words.

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