The proper question of the week is not why Bernie Sanders supporters—delegates gathered in Philadelphia and the millions backing him across the nation—are so angry with the Democratic National Committee this week.
The contents of internal party emails published by WikiLeaks last Friday, now known as the #DNCLeak, only confirmed what most Sanders supporters knew or assumed to be true all along: that the DNC had put its thumb on the scale in favor of Hillary Clinton throughout the primary season. For many, the leaked emails—though affirming—simply offered more concrete evidence and credence to an already established fact.
"And if they didn't believe [Sanders could actually beat Clinton], none of this would have been done."
So what's the real question regarding how the leaks fit into the political tensions playing out this week at the national convention?
According to RoseAnn DeMoro, executive director of National Nurses United which endorsed Sanders and campaigned aggressively on his behalf, the point isn't to locate the source of the anger (that's obvious), but instead to ask this: Why did the Democratic Party decide to operate so aggressively to undermine the Sanders campaign in the first place?
Despite the intensely competitive contest between Clinton and an insurgent Barack Obama in 2008, says DeMoro, the DNC was far more neutral, or at least appeared to be, during that campaign.
But the reason for this year's behavior, she explained in a phone interview with Common Dreams, is that the DNC and the Clinton campaign—and more importantly their joint backers on Wall Street—realized something altogether too terrifying: "that Bernie Sanders could, in fact, defeat Hillary Clinton. And if they didn't believe that, none of this would have been done."
That answer, though obvious on the one hand, has not been widely discussed even as examples of how the DNC acted to undermine the Sanders campaign are well-documented. They include:
- the decision to sanction so few televised Democratic debates—and scheduling the few that did occur on nights almost guaranteed to have low viewership—a curious choice if you believe in the potency of the party's ideas and vision;
- the decision to suspend the Sanders campaign's access to the DNC voter database ahead of the first crucial contest in Iowa;
- myriad examples of restricted voter access in Arizona, New York, and elsewhere;
- the serious questions of party rule-breaking in Nevada;
- use of state-level committees to get around the campaign's limitations on receiving large-donor gifts; and
- the way pledges of support by superdelegates were exploited early and often (and right to the end) as they fed a media narrative that Sanders was always much further behind than he actually was.
"What this whole corruption in the DNC during this election has done is essentially sabotaged people's hopes and beliefs and the love that they felt by coming back into political life."
On that last point, said DeMoro, "with some unabashed help from many in the media, the DNC just ran that and ran that and ran that narrative. We met so many people who said, 'Oh, I love Bernie but he can't win.' And the Clinton campaign pushed that because they knew that what he was saying would resonate with America."
And yes, DeMoro says, she and other supporters of Sanders are angry and rightly so. But that's not really the story either. Having been with Sanders at his home in Vermont several weeks ago with other close advisers and supporters, DeMoro identified something deeply personal and more emotive than anger when it comes to what this campaign represented—both for Sanders himself and those inspired by his message.
"The saddest part of this," she said, "is how many people spent everything they could and how much it touched Bernie's heart that people who were living in poverty would try to give him $10 or $27 and that they had so much belief. I saw personally how much that aspect of the campaign impacted him. And on the other side, what this whole corruption in the DNC during this election has done is essentially sabotaged people's hopes and beliefs and the love that they felt by coming back into political life."
Still—beyond despair, anger, and feelings about the DNC—DeMoro sees much reason for optimism.
"This whole cynical manipulation of this process could easily have destroyed what was being built," she said, "But it hasn't." Despite the expressive boos at the convention or the hand-wringing over how Sanders supporters will now vote in the general election, DeMoro says the focus must be on what comes next.
"We are in the moment to build maybe the greatest social movement in history," said DeMoro, "and we are connected like never before. People are angry, but they still believe that we have to do something. The economic condition of the country is deteriorating and people's lives are not going to get better because Wall Street's going to keep on doing what they do. People understand that, but they are not going to stand for it any longer—regardless of who the next president is."
But here's the problem with Clinton: "She's with them."
And by 'them' she means Wall Street, the corporate power brokers, and the elite clinging to a status quo so beneficial to their interests. Despite what many are hailing as the "most progressive" party platform ever, DeMoro argues that Clinton's pick of Sen. Tim Kaine as vice president shows that the party establishment has returned to feeling sufficiently insulated from the threat created by the 'political revolution' which grew up around Sanders' presidential run.
"People have fallen pretty far and pretty deeply," she says, "and both Washington, D.C. and the DNC are out of touch with what that means economically and what that means politically. But we've got millions and millions of people—whether in the movement or who the movement has inspired. And this campaign season has allowed us to better recognize, basically, the people who are not really our friends—but who pretended to be our friends—in these fights. So there were was an enormous exposé during this period."
"Debbie Wasserman Schultz is minor compared to what we're really up against."
This is also why the post-#DNCLeak "downfall" of DNC chairperson Debbie Wasserman Schultz—criticized throughout the primary season for being the embodiment of the party's impartial behavior against Sanders—actually means so little to DeMoro and many other Sanders delegates and supporters.
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"Debbie Wasserman Schultz is minor compared to what we're really up against," DeMoro explained.
The real enemy, she clarifies, is international finance and the neoliberal order their influence controls. That greater and more powerful foe, which has done such a superb job of managing electoral ambitions and diminishing what's politically possible over the last four decades, is alive and well, says DeMoro. And because of that, much of the coalescing movement into which Sanders helped breathe life is already looking beyond what transpires in Philadelphia.
In June, National Nurses United helped organize a three-day 'People's Summit' in Chicago where an array of social justice, labor, environmental, and grassroots political organizations came together to discuss how to keep the energy and focus on key issues—including climate change, corporate power, economic inequality, Medicare for all, free higher education, and criminal justice reform—throughout and then beyond this year's election cycle.
"So what we're doing now," she explained, "is looking forward to the year 2020 and with the vision of 20/20. On the electoral front in the years to come we have to build the right structures, create the right infrastructures, and find candidates of the people. And we've already got really wonderful people with us—highly intelligent and passionate people."
She highlighted how the young people attracted to Sanders' movement are ready to build something much bigger and longer lasting. "The millennials are probably the most phenomenal generation that I've seen in my time in terms of intelligence," said DeMoro. "They read, they communicate, and they act collectively. It's pretty amazing."
And when it comes to the looming presence of the Republican Party's nominee Donald Trump, for DeMoro it goes without saying what "an enormous threat" he poses to the nation and the world. But, she adds, "Bernie was our best hope in terms of beating Trump. And so now we're in this double-bind, because we've been betrayed—because in the world of the DNC, Sanders was never allowed to be a viable candidate—and now the only thing that's left is fear of Trump."
"Now we're in this double-bind, because we've been betrayed—because in the world of the DNC, Sanders was never allowed to be a viable candidate—and now the only thing that's left is fear of Trump."
"But that's the moment we're in and it's sad—it's very sad," lamented DeMoro. "It could have been a joyous time in history in the Democratic Party but instead they really diminished the credibility of the Democratic Party phenomenally."
For her part, DeMoro argues the Wall Street bankers and the corporate interests spending so lavishly this week, along with the DNC itself, should be the ones to pony up and reimburse those Sanders delegates who scrimped and saved to attend this week's convention. "They really should," she said. "Those delegates—just like so many voters—thought they were participating in an election this year, only to find it was just rigged. And many of them spent up to $7,000—they saved, they went into debt, they fund-raised—to get to Philadelphia because they thought that it would matter. But basically the deals are already done. And though Bernie did they best he could, the Democrats don't really believe in what they used to believe in."
And the fights over the party platform prove that. "We had to fight them on everything," DeMoro said of the Clinton- and DNC-appointed delegates on the committee. "They means-tested the higher-education reform, they rejected single-payer, they wouldn't oppose the TPP, they wouldn't oppose fracking, and they wouldn't expand Social Security."
The reluctance of the Democratic Party to embrace those more transformative and egalitarian policy positions, she explained, is perhaps the fundamental issue underlying the distress of Sanders supporters who pinned their support on his call to push beyond what the current system says is permissible.
"It's very sad. It could have been a joyous time in history in the Democratic Party but instead they really diminished the credibility of the Democratic Party phenomenally."
During the primaries, for example, Clinton tried to convince voters the single-payer healthcare system advocated by Sanders—one she pronounced will "never ever come to pass"—would actually make people worse off and said things like: "If we broke up the big banks tomorrow, would that end racism? Would that end sexism?"
Explained DeMoro: "What the Democrats like to do is deflect with social issues. They care about all social issues and that way they don't have to address economic issues or disobey their financial backers on Wall Street."
But, she concluded, the Sanders campaigned has exposed the fault lines in a way that is very helpful to those clamoring for a deeper transformation. As a person who has spent her life organizing for labor rights and operating within social movements, what she recognized on the faces of her fellow nurses as many of them marched during a demonstration on Sunday in Philadelphia was just how beautiful, and not terrifying, this current moment has become.
"I realized how much Bernie has transformed America—that there is a revolution here. There's a revolution of consciousness and there's a different paradigm now in America. We have changed this country. And that they can't steal from us."
As she looked on, she said, "I realized how much Bernie has transformed America—that there is a revolution here. There's a revolution of consciousness and there's a different paradigm now in America. We have changed this country. And that they can't steal from us."
And when it comes to Clinton—or any other lawmaker for that matter unwilling at this point to submit to the full set of demands which fueled Sanders rise—DeMoro conjured an old saying she often uses when the nurses are in a particularly stubborn fight.
"Heroes aren't made," she tells them. "They're cornered."