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Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton addressed the annual progressive Netroots Nation Conference via video on Saturday. (Screenshot: Netroots Nation)

Democratic "Unity" on Edge as Progressives Await Clinton's VP Pick

After presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton said she would work to overturn Citizens United during first 30 days, activist declares, 'They are feeling the heat.'

Lauren McCauley

The notion of "Democratic unity" remains tenuous at best as many progressives are holding out support for presumptive presidential nominee Hillary Clinton until her chosen running mate is announced.

Meanwhile, many attendees of the Netroots Nation Conference in St. Louis, Missouri held a series of unexpected protests at the annual convention this weekend, underscoring how divided and skeptical members of the Left remain despite declarations to the contrary.

"For many progressives, and Democrats in general, it's a wait-and-see moment around [Clinton's] vice presidential pick," Stephanie Taylor of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC) told the Guardian in an interview during the conference.

Calling the decision "a proxy for what we can expect from her administration," Taylor added: "If she picks someone like Elizabeth Warren who has this track record of fighting for the issues that people care about ... that will be a signal that will energize greatly the Democratic base."

Alternately, Taylor warned that a more moderate pick would "do the opposite."

Indeed, 70.6 percent of delegates representing Clinton's challenger, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), said that the choice of vice president was "very important" or "important," according to a survey released on Sunday, with many "expressing their willingness to publicly denounce prospective running-mates and even protest on the convention floor," noted the progressive action group RootsAction.org.

The survey asked delegates to rate six individuals who have been widely rumored to be potential VP picks—Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Housing and Urban Development secretary Julian Castro, Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), as well as retired military leaders Adm. James Stavridis and Adm. Mike Mullen.

Each of those men was declared "Not Acceptable" by the vast majority of respondents, with Warner winning the least support (91.6 percent deemed him unacceptable), while Kaine and the military brass were close behind with 88.5 percent.

Many progressives say that Clinton's choice of running mate will reflect how serious she is about party "unity."

In an op-ed on Monday, Jeff Cohen, director of the Park Center for Independent Media at Ithaca College and founder of the media watch group FAIR, warned that Clinton's rumored strategy of "ignoring her party’s progressive base" could potentially "open the door to a Trump presidency."

"The best way for Hillary Clinton to give momentum to 'Bernie or Bust' activists would be to choose from her reportedly short list of corporate Democratic politicians," Cohen stated.

"On the other hand," Cohen continued, "one way Clinton could build an energized center-left alliance able to overwhelm Trump in November would be to choose a running-mate from the Democrat’s progressive wing—someone like Elizabeth Warren or Keith Ellison or perhaps Sherrod Brown. Such a choice would also assure a less unruly Democratic convention in Philadelphia."

Cohen compared this tactic to that of the likely Republican nominee, whose chosen running-mate, Indiana Governor Mike Pence, had endorsed rival Ted Cruz.

Karen Bernal, a delegate from Sacramento who was elected as co-representative of the Sanders delegation from California, agreed, stating: "Can any Democratic presidential candidate afford to do without solid support from this base in a general election? That is the question Secretary Clinton and her advisers should think long and hard about."

Clinton did win praise from the Left when she pledged in a video played at Netroots on Saturday that, during her first 30 days as president, she would call for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United.

"I will also appoint Supreme Court justices who understand that this decision was a disaster for our democracy," she stated. "I will fight for other progressive reforms, including small-dollar matching and disclosure requirements. I hope some of the brilliant minds in this room will seek out cases to challenge Citizens United in the courts," she added, addressing the progressive gathering.

Following her announcement, Kai Newkirk, campaign director of Democracy Spring, told activists at Netroots, "We can feel that they are feeling the heat."

"These are all good steps," Newkirk added, "but we are pushing for something more: to get party leaders as well as her to give up superdelegates as a sign of good faith."

Democracy Spring was one of the groups that during the weekend conference was boldly challenging the call for unity. The group is planning daily non-violent civil disobedience actions, including sit-ins and mass arrests, during next week's Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, until the party promises to scrap the super-delegate system.

Anti-police violence group Hands Up United and other racial justice groups also staged a dramatic conference walk-out and demonstration at St. Louis' Old Courthouse on Saturday to call attention to ongoing issues of racial inequality and violence.


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