by Ariety Fried
We flashed our new credentials at the same gap in the fence where we’d stood with protesters the night before and walked into the convention complex. We joined the flow of people in suits through security where they checked our badges again, x-rayed and opened our bags, and took my water bottle. Convinced that at any moment someone was going to yell “Stop, imposters!” we made our way past more badge checks and through the convention hall doors into the air conditioning. Volunteers who guarded the doorways onto the convention floor told us it was full and we couldn’t go inside, so we wandered the circular hallway. A man picked us out of the throng of suits, whispered “Do you guys hate fracking?” and stuffed a “BAN FRACKING” sign into our hands before disappearing. It was easy to pick out Bernie people on the inside. They were the colorfully or under-dressed.
It came time for Obama’s speech, the last one of the night, and we were able to enter the hall floor, only to be ushered out again by impatient staff because there was no space. We were told by several people that we couldn’t stand in the doorway or the aisle. Where were we supposed to go? They didn’t know. After being turned away at several entrances for different reasons, I realized how a true delegate would feel in there, brushed aside to make way for the VIPs and guests who packed the floor for Obama’s speech. Finally we were allowed to make our way to two seats off to the far left of the stage. The people beside us welcomed us warmly, mistaking us for delegates who had participated in the walk-out, and said they hadn’t thought we would come back.
Volunteers handed “OBAMA” signs down the rows and in an instant, they were waving from almost every seat in the hall. A small bloc of people behind us continued to hold up signs that read “NO TPP.” As Obama neared the end of his speech, signs that read “Thank You” came down the rows and were held up as dutifully as all the other signs that now littered the convention hall floor. Discarded “OBAMA” signs were underfoot, along with signs that read “Scranton” and “Joe.” Removed from their specific and choreographed appearances throughout the speeches, they made no sense. They were not political signs, like the ones left behind by the protest outside, but the backdrop of a spectacular TV event with a studio audience. So it came as no surprise that the volunteer at the end of our row suggested gently when and what to chant and guided us to stand so discreetly and in flow with the spirit of the event that I almost forgot to notice she was doing it.
by Joseph Bullington
When we left the convention center in the outflow of people after Obama’s speech, we were split off from those who had arrived by car and herded toward the subway station inside the convention compound. We realized what was happening and tried to go back but were told by police that, for security reasons, we could not, and we were forced to get on the train toward downtown. It turned out that it was impossible—or at least very difficult—to leave the convention center on foot. As we got off the train at the first stop and walked the half mile back to the protests at the convention fence, the reason for this Byzantine design dawned on me: the two conventions, the official one happening inside and the unofficial one happening outside, were never meant to meet. The stalwart Bernie delegates were not meant to mingle with the thousands of supporters rallying outside the walls, and vice versa.
The Party has learned how to deal with a divisive convention in the years since 1968. That year in Chicago, Norman Mailer writes, most of the delegates were staying at the Hilton Hotel, across the street from where the protesters had gathered in Grant Park. Once, the police misjudged the wind and the tear gas they deployed was sucked into the Hilton’s a/c ducts. Another night, the protesters called to the delegates in the hotel that those who were on their side should flash their hotel room lights and then watched as about 50 rooms began to blink. And then of course there is the part where the police and National Guard were sent in to beat the hell out of the protesters and drive them from the park.
In Philadelphia 2016, none of these things happened. In fact the whole thing was engineered to make such events nearly impossible.
Except for a few marches that made the grueling 4-mile slog in the heat from City Hall downtown to the convention center on the outskirts of south Philly, most of the demonstrations took place around FDR Park—a pleasant, wooded area completely out of the way of anyone who wasn’t trying to get there. Activists secured permits for the park months in advance, and when it was convention time police fenced in the subway station that accesses the area and closed the streets so that people trying to get to the protest area had to walk at least a half mile. All areas from which protesters might have mounted a disruption to the convention’s flow—hotels, bars, restaurants, media centers, freeway exits, the entrance for VIP motorcades—were safe inside a heavily guarded green zone. In there, a delegate or party insider could have lived the whole week without seeing a protest. In there, in every practical sense, the protests did not exist.
By entering the convention we had crossed the line that separated two worlds. As we rejoined the demonstrators by FDR Park, I realized that this separation was not just image-control—this was reality control. Here were all these hundreds of people still hammering on the fences and chanting their threat to the Democratic Party—“Hell No DNC, We Won’t Vote for Hillary!”—unaware that their screams were not even falling on deaf ears; they were falling on no ears at all.