June 3, 2016
Call them Hillary’s home-state haters.
A group of rabble-rousing Bernie Sanders supporters from New York is headed for the Democratic National Convention next month as hand-picked, at-large delegates — and they’re threatening to make trouble for Hillary Clinton at the very moment she hopes to make history as the first female nominee of either party and unite Democrats for the coming battle with Donald Trump.
The disgruntled Sanders delegation, heading to Philadelphia with deep reservations about Clinton’s brand of center-left pragmatism, serves as a reminder of how contentious the four-day meeting could become, and a warning to Democrats of the importance of bringing Sanders happily into the fold.
Some 20,000 protesters are reportedly planning anti-Clinton protests outside of the convention hall. But interviews with members of Sanders’ New York delegation reveal that supporters of the Vermont senator are also considering bringing some of those protests inside the Wells Fargo Center itself — raising the prospect of an embarrassing spectacle on prime-time TV.
These are not the kind of people who just fall in line.
One Sanders delegate, a longtime LGBT activist named Allen Roskoff, is known in New York City for taking on quixotic causes against Democratic politicians — like the morning of the New York City Democratic mayoral primary in 2013, when he stood outside Council Speaker Christine Quinn’s apartment building in Chelsea with signs protesting her candidacy, even after it was clear she would not win. Roskoff, president of the local Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club, was charged last year with criminal trespassing and disorderly conduct for protesting an awards dinner attended by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo — he dressed up in prison stripes to rage against the governor’s refusal to grant clemency to convicts.
“If the Barney Franks and the Wassermans are going to have their way at the convention and degrade activists, it may be a serious problem,” Roskoff warned, referring to DNC chairwoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz and the former Massachusetts Representative, who the Sanders campaign has tried to remove as co-chair of the convention’s rules committee.
Linda Sarsour, executive director of the Arab-American Association of New York, posted on Facebook that she was going to the convention as one of Sanders’ 23 at-large delegates from New York and had to “decide if I’m going to behave or not.”
In an interview, Sarsour said she plans to act out if she feels excluded from the process. “Not behaving is protesting,” she explained of her cryptic post. “I’m not expecting violence or assaults, but chanting, doing mass walk-outs. It depends on what happens there. What you’re going to watch unfold is democracy. The onus is on the party to make sure our voices are heard.”
Sarsour said she wants concessions in the party platform on a $15 minimum wage, an acknowledgement of Sanders’ plan for a single-payer health-care system, “super robust language prioritizing immigration reform,” and a discussion of the Israel-Palestine conflict in which she said America “has not been an honest broker in the conflict.”
If she doesn’t feel there was movement on her issues, Sarsour said she will have a hard time encouraging voters to support Clinton. “You cannot win without the Bernie revolution,” she said. “I’ve visited 20 cities over the past five months [for Sanders], and the Bernie or Bust movement is real.”
The Sanders campaign has already made clear its priority is not easy unity with the appointment of the radical philosopher Cornel West — who has called President Barack Obama “the first niggerized president” — to the convention platform committee. West previewed a contentious intra-party foreign policy debate when he denounced Israel’s occupation of the West Bank last month and said those views needed to be incorporated into the party platform.
Other Sanders delegates are not just hoping for concessions or negotiations, but are actively rooting for Clinton’s downfall. Dave Handy, a 27-year-old progressive activist from New York who will go to Philadelphia as an at-large Sanders delegate, wrote on Twitter last week: “It’s going to be funny to watch when Hillary gets indicted, and all her supporters are like — #FeelTheBern,” with a GIF of someone’s head exploding attached to his tweet.
“Of course it will be contentious,” said Sanders New York delegate Eddie Kay, a former union organizer for 1199-SEIU. “This is a battle and we’re not going to give in. Clinton’s tactic so far is to move five inches when she’s forced to. Five inches will not solve it. We will not stop yelling about what we think the people need.” Kay is no shrinking violet — — at the New York State convention, where he felt too many speakers were pro-Clinton, he raised his voice to shout, “I want to hear a pro-Bernie speaker!”
Chaos at the Nevada state Democratic convention — where Sanders supporters reporters threw chairs, booed and shouted over speakers — has worried Democrats about potential violent outbursts at the convention next month. And DNC officials are planning an inclusive process to avoid a repeat scenario. “As Democrats, we embrace the idea of the peaceful exchange of differing views and opinions,” said DNC spokeswoman April Mellody. “Diversity makes us strong, as a party and as nation. We have procedures in place for every eventuality as well as a platform process intended to ensure that every voice is heard.”
After the Nevada convention, Sanders rejected accusations that his supporters or his campaign were violent.
But members of the New York delegation said they hope to keep their protests peaceful. “Most people who support Bernie Sanders are pretty reasonable people and are not going to be hurling bricks through windows,” said Handy, who defended his provocative anti-Clinton tweet. “If everyone wants to take everything I say at face value, so be it. I would hope that people have a sense of humor. The [State Department inspector general] report was scathing. If Clinton were to be indicted, people’s heads would explode.”
Handy said he expected the convention to be potentially “uncomfortable” but in the end he hoped “people would vote for Hillary over Trump” if she became the nominee. But even with Clinton on track to clinch the nomination on Tuesday after New Jersey and California vote, other Sanders delegates said they still do not believe she will lead the party into the fall.
“Decisions have to be made about who is the best candidate to come out of the convention,” said Roscoff. “I’m not convinced that Clinton has it, with the polls the way they are. I really believe anything can happen between now and then.” He described Clinton as “what a Republican should be” and Sanders, who only joined the party in order to contest the primary, “what a Democrat should be.”
A Clinton official acknowledged there is work to do to bring Sanders’ stalwarts into the fold.
“Once the primaries are concluded, uniting the party will require effort from both Secretary Clinton and Senator Sanders,” said Clinton spokesman Brian Fallon. “We intend to do our part, and we are confident in the end he will do his.” The Clinton campaign pointed to its support of a more inclusive platform committee as a sign of its early efforts to unify the party.
A Sanders spokesman did not respond to multiple requests for comment.