Bernie Won, I Won, We All Won
Mary Ellyn Cain
Here's my story about attending the 2016 Democratic National Convention.
First, the human story. It was about finding the right bus, standing in line for the bus, waiting for the bus, riding the bus for anywhere from forty-five minutes to two hours, getting to the Convention Center in downtown Philadelphia (which is NOT where the convention was held, but WAS where caucus meetings were held, and a huge rally with Bernie Sanders was held, and lots and lots of smaller meetings,) or to the Wells Fargo Arena somewhere on the river off to the side from downtown Philadelphia where the actual convention was held. At both the Convention Center, and at the Arena, there were security lines to go through. We had to remove all campaign pins to go through metal detectors in the security lines. Everybody learned pretty quickly to pin the buttons to the lanyard that held the credentials so that it could be whipped over the head and into the security baskets. There were usually lines at the security stations, though I have to say they moved along rather well. After the meeting and getting some lunch in downtown, we had to go through the whole bus thing again, this time in 99 degree heat, to get to the Arena. Gavel time at the convention was 4:00 pm, and the final benediction was supposed to be around 11:30, except when Bill Clinton was speaking. Afterwards, finding the right bus, standing in line for the bus, waiting for the bus to fill, and riding the bus back to the hotel, which in the case of the Michigan Delegation was forty miles away from downtown Philadelphia, would get us back to the hotel as early as 12:30 am or as late as 1:30 am. Breakfast, and getting the credentials needed to do anything all day, especially enter the Arena, began at 7:00 am and ended at 9:00 am. It was rare to get as much as 4 hours of sleep at night.
I have to admit, going in to this adventure I was terrified. I have been retired and pretty lazy for the last six years, I was afraid I wouldn't be able to keep up. (flash: I wasn't). I didn't know many of my co-adventurers. Carol Heron and Emily Reinhardt, the two Bay County delegate and stand-by delegate, I had met for our fundraisers and liked a lot. The woman I had agreed to share a room with I had only met on the telephone. Who would I hang out with? How would I figure out where to go? What about meals? What if I get tired and have to leave? What if I disappoint everybody who supported me?
I had to get to Philadelphia a day early on Saturday in order to fulfill my responsibilities as a member of the Credentials Committee on Sunday at noon. I had a room in the hotel, but I didn't know if the Convention buses had started running as early as Saturday. I drove to the airport in Flint, a wonderful manageable human sized airport, with tickets that would take me first to Chicago Midway, and then after a change of planes, to Philadelphia. I didn't even know if I could do THAT (I did). I arrived in Philadelphia all in one piece, negotiating TSA and a long walk across Midway, and managed to walk away from the gate in Philly. As I was wondering where to go to find out if there were special shuttles to the hotels, looking around for someone to ask, wondering if I should get some food, wondering if there was any place to sit down and rest for a minute while I celebrated my success so far and contemplated the next move, I found "A virtual library presented by the Free Public Library of Philadelphia" It was an alcove in the hallway with comfortable chairs and WI-fi. So I sat and tried to gather my thoughts, and contact someone using my tablet. The doors to "ground transportation and baggage return" had a sign saying "Stop. If you pass this point, you cannot return to the terminal." So I sat and thought and read Facebook for about an hour before I gathered my courage and walked through the doors.
On the other side were the most welcome four young people I have ever seen. They were wearing navy blue tee shirts with the DNC 2016 Philadelphia logo on the front and "Ask Me" on the back. They directed me to the lower level where there were dozens more volunteers and a big table with computers, and the huge sign with "Welcome to Philadelphia." They got me on the right bus, and within two hours I was in Valley Forge in my hotel room. Success #2.
Now, where is the Credentials Committee meeting, and is there a shuttle bus that will take me there, even though it would be on Sunday?
From the day I agreed to be appointed to the Credentials Committee, I wondered just what it is that a Credentials Committee does. I tried googling it. I tried asking someone who might know (but who?). I didn't find out much. So, I was curious and slightly anxious when I walked into the large meeting room in the Philadelphia Convention Center for the meeting. There were long tables with signs for the state or territory represented. There seemed to be no order to the seating. Michigan was right next to U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam and Marianas Islands were just in front of them. This is ultimately a boring story, but suffice it to say that we voted on three items, listened to one man with a complaint about the seating of one delegate from Maine, which was settled by staffers during a recession, and withing two hours, the work of the Credentials Committee was finished. From that moment I was an observer at the convention.
On Monday, our gang of three took the bus to the Convention Center, had lunch at a Panera across the street, met a young man on his way to Ireland to work for a year in the West, and returned to the Convention Center in time to catch the bus to the Arena. Bus line, bus trip, security line, long walk into the arena, we found the gate to the Michigan delegation area, and Carol and Donna walked in, had their credentials checked and were waved in. I was stopped. It was the first time I noticed that their credentials were red, and marked "Floor" and mine were green and marked "Hall" I asked what that meant, was told that they were voting delegates while I was merely a standing committee member. I would have to take the 4-story high escalator to the upper deck and find a seat all on my own and sit by myself for the duration. Near tears, I explained to the young man in the yellow tee-shirt that these were my crew, the only people I knew in the whole place; this was my delegation, where I belonged. The young man said, "Sorry, these are the rules, there's nothing I can do." I went through my whole sad story again and was told, "Nothing we can do. But you could go talk to those men in suits over there," pointing across the hall. So, I went across the hall, retold my sad story and was told, "Sorry. These are the rules..." So I went back across the hall and said to the kids in the yellow tee-shirts, "They said it was OK." and walked into the arena floor with my gang.
The Monday highlight for me was Bernie Sanders' speech, after all, he was the reason we were there. Michelle Obama also spoke on Monday. She is wonderful, gave a most brilliant speech, as you already know. Speeches started shortly after 4:00 pm and continued until around 11:00 pm. They were all brilliant. and exciting. Didn't Elizabeth Warren speak on Monday, too? I can't remember. I have the links saved on You Tube and plan to see everything again.
On Tuesday, Bernie Sanders supporters filled (and overfilled) the auditorium at the Philadelphia Convention Center, just for a chance to hear him after his stirring speech Monday night. There is a huge open space, a kind of lobby-balcony outside the auditorium. It is fed by a long escalator and a pair of stairways. So many people were waiting in the space that the escalator was pouring people into an already-full crowd. For awhile it looked like a disaster about to happen, but people were alerted, and pushed and moved out of the way before anything terrible could occur. The auditorium was full, the acoustics were terrible, the flat floor made seeing the stage difficult but everyone stayed to hear Bernie Sanders, and to make sure he knew they were behind him all the way.
When we got to the arena on Tuesday, I resolved to walk around sight-seeing, and wandering through the media area to see if there was anybody I know, which I did and had a good time for several hours. When it was time for the roll-call, I took the thousand-foot-high escalator to the upper reaches of the universe and went looking for my "area." What I found was no seats to be found. I stood and watched the roll-call as long as the keepers would let me: "You can't stand here, fire regulations." Wandered from alley to alley looking for seats and watching the goings on below. I was able to catch Larry Sanders of the Americans Abroad delegation casting his vote for his brother, a touching moment. A kindly watcher let me stay in his area long enough to see the Michigan delegation cast their votes, astonishingly for a state that went solidly for Bernie Sanders, the vote did not reflect that, since Super Delegates' votes were folded in before the roll call.
I missed the call for acclamation, and had no interest in hearing Bill Clinton speak, and so weary of foot and bone, I made my way outta there.
On Thursday, the last day of the convention, Bernie Sanders joined the Michigan delegation, with our friends from the Wisconsin, Tennessee and Oregon delegations at breakfast. It was moving to me personally, and to most of the others as well, as you can hear in this clip.
We were so far out in the boonies that it took him awhile to arrive at our hotel. In the meantime, the Minnesota delegation brought up another of my heroes: Walter "Fritz" Mondale. He is a sweet and charming man who said, "They told me Bernie is on his way, just keep talking. I said I know how to do that. All my life they told me Herbert will be here soon, just keep talking." And Fritz did.
In the Arena, the big show was amazing, but if you were watching it at home, you probably heard more of the speeches and saw the spectacle the way it was designed to be seen. I saw a lot of the chaos that made up the hallways and the parking lots and the security tents. You probably saw more of the protests and hullabaloo that were going on in the streets. We in the delegation were too consumed with finding the right bus, and then riding that bus to spend much time away from the official venues.
Why do I say Bernie Won? When I started my little part of the Bernie Sanders revolution we didn't know if he would manage to be a viable candidate through Super Tuesday. We didn't know if he would still be a candidate in the Michigan Primaries. The issues Bernie was talking about from the very beginning, however, were so compelling, and so important to the country at this moment, that I felt, along with the rest of the Bay County for Bernie members, that we would stay with the campaign and talk about the issues as long as he did.
Bernie Sanders was the only candidate talking about climate change and the need to take action to do something about it, NOW. He brought the enormous disparity in income and wealth to the national attention and proposed what to do about it. He began speaking about the incredible burden student loans were putting on any young person brave enough to go into debt in order to get an education. He spoke up against the racial injustices that are still going on in this country fifty years after the enactment of the Civil Rights Act. He railed against the injustice of for-profit prisons. At the very beginning Bernie Sanders asked the American people to make a fundamental decision: "Do we continue the 40-year decline of our middle class and the growing gap between the very rich and everyone else, or do we fight for a progressive economic agenda that creates jobs, raises wages, protects the environment and provides health care for all? Are we prepared to take on the enormous economic and political power of the billionaire class, or do we continue to slide into economic and political oligarchy?" We all, along with Bernie Sanders, understand that "these are the most important questions of our time, and how we answer them will determine the future of our country."
To my amazement, and probably even his, Bernie Sanders prevailed, and won 22 primaries outright. He garnered up to 20,000 primary votes, and earned 1900 delegates to the 2016 convention, just short of actual victory, but an amazing feat all the same. In the months and weeks leading up to the convention, Bernie Sanders negotiated with the Democratic Party. The party of the people, the party that welcomes all races, all economic classes, all genders, as they told us time and time again during the convention, said that Bernie Sanders wasn't really a Democrat. Bernie Sanders committee members fought in the platform committees and the rules committees for progressive changes. By the time the convention started, the hard-won platform contained every Bernie Sanders issue...except the Trans- Pacific Partnership. The rules of the Party have been changed to severely alter the use of Super Delegates so that grassroots campaigns in the future will have something of a fighting chance.
Bernie Sanders himself has said this is not about one person or one office, it is about equality and hope and progressive change. He may not be about to be President of the United States, but he may have moved us forward more than any single person in American history since Abraham Lincoln.
Mary Ellyn Cain worked for many years in radio, and was active in Bay County for Bernie since 2015. Photos © Mary Ellyn Cain.