The DNC: Inside Looking Out

The 2016 DNC is the first national political party convention I’ve ever attended. It will probably be my last.

It’s not that I’m swearing off future conventions. I just doubt that I’ll be invited again. As a Black, dreadlocked, social justice community organizer and Movement for Black Lives warrior, I’m not exactly a party regular. In fact, part of my day job is fighting entrenched political machinery and I lead an organization that, among things, is building a decidedly non-electoral power base in Central Brooklyn.

Which is why it took a candidacy like Bernie Sanders’ and recruitment from the Working Families Party to get me to run for a New York State Sanders delegate seat.

I get it: National elections affect our lives in profound ways. Wars, the Supreme Court, economic policies — these things matter. Still, I entered Wells Fargo Arena with a healthy amount of skepticism. I have little faith in the impact that Clinton, or even Sanders for that matter, can otherwise have on a political culture so deeply rooted in white American exceptionalism, militarism and corporate dominance. Measured that way, I’ve usually found the notion of a “change” election absurd.

But in other ways, the DNC managed to live up to its promise as an once-in-a-lifetime experience. It wasn’t Clinton’s glass ceiling break that made this convention so compelling for me, but the close-up view of the convention’s Hollywood-grade stagecraft and party propaganda, accompanied by the instructive scene of a party struggling with its identity.

It’s hard to argue that the speeches by Barack and Michelle Obama, Joe Biden and Rev. William Barber, for instance, were not poetic, effective and morally clear. But more often, standing on the convention floor as a dutiful delegate demanded submission to an untactful and relentless messaging machine that began around each day around 4:30 pm and continued past 11.

Most speeches were strewn with slogans and buzzwords that were reinforced by thousands of placards being handed out to the crowd, moments before the speaker uttered those exact scripted words. It wasn’t fully evident to television viewers, but behind each speaker on stage was a lit sign that projected the chosen theme of the moment – “Keeping America Safe”, “Social Justice” “Fighting Gun Violence,” etc. It wasn’t enough to choreograph what we said, but what we thought as well.

And it was this tight script that the Bernie or Bust delegates were intent on disrupting, although they seemed to sometimes confuse this sophisticated act of theater with an actual vehicle for collective decision-making. This confusion reached its banal peak as Bernie and Hillary delegates openly fought each other on the convention floor. Like overly-caffeinated, opposing cheerleading sections at a high school basketball game, the two camps literally clawed and traded elbows with one another in an effort to place their competing signs in front of the other and drown out each other’s chants.

On the other hand, it certainly didn’t serve the narrative of free speech and democracy, when, in a style reminiscent of a Trump rally, Bernie delegates were set upon by party officials, security guards and Hillary loyalists alike whenever they dared to protest TPP, war mongering or Hillary herself. The DNC stripped uncooperative Bernie delegates of their credentials before handing out a list of dos and don’ts that essentially issued a gag order on any public displays of dissent. No one doubted that the Hillary/Wasserman Schultz fix was in, but the DNC was so inelegant about it.

Meanwhile, in Bernie delegation meetings and other back-room discussions, debates swirled around whether we would remain loyal to Bernie’s directive to get in line with the Hillary nomination or whether we would collectively reject convention discipline by protesting at will. The intensity of the antipathy towards Hillary Clinton was almost indistinguishable from what you would have expected from a Republican. And the Bernie or Busters clearly rejected the argument that a vote for anyone other than Clinton was a vote for Trump.

I certainly can’t speak for all the Black and Brown Bernie delegates, but the handful I were hanging out with felt very outside that debate. Members of the largely white Bernie delegation were reminiscent of white lefties we had encountered all our lives, people who were largely oblivious to the entitlement they projected, accountable to little else but their personal political utopia. I imagine there was a long-term strategy or endgame in their protests, but it wasn’t obvious.

I harbor no illusions about the inauthenticity that Clinton oozes and the destructive neo-liberal policies that she and her husband have championed. But I can also distinguish between the demon-seed Hillary caricature that political haters and conservatives have created, and the abuse of power and soft-core political corruption that filters through virtually all national politics.

Does this make me cynical? Yes and no. Because for the first time in my life, I believe that the stakes are actually very high in this election, that the choices are real, and that dramatic change can come to Washington — in the form of Donald Trump. White supremacy and the predatory nature of capitalism are interwoven into the fabric of U.S., but rarely have they been so emboldened and center stage.

As a New Yorker, my vote won’t have the same consequences as if I lived in Florida or Pennsylvania. But for the sake of my family and community, I feel as though I still don’t have the luxury of ignoring the real and present danger of Trump or encouraging others to bolt the Democratic party for the promise of farther-left pastures where white privilege is often no less present. In the end, the commitment towards building a Trump-free world was perhaps the most important uniquely American conviction I had in common with all the people who walked across the DNC stage.

 

 

4 comments

  1. Deanetta Barrow says:

    Hi Mark, Thank you for the commentary. First, I should tell you that I am white. Second, I should tell you that I feel the same as you. Huge disappointment in our electoral process. It simply appears to me that we have no choice but to do it their way. I hardly find this inspiring!!! However, I do feel that Bernie is right when he states that in order to change the dynamics of the situation we must start at home. If we vote in those locally that support the issues we support, eventually this will change the system, albeit, very slowly. I will likely not live to see it, but for my children and grandchildren it will certainly be worth it.

  2. Linda McDonald says:

    I agree with you on most points, that is until you start discussing skin color. Don’t get me wrong, I”m sure there’s lots of prejudice out there still, but more who arent, and to continually harp on “white privilege” does nothing to solve problems but merely annoys many whites, myself included, and I am definitely not prejudice. To suggest that Bernies campaign wasnt extremely pro-diversity is so far off the mark its not even worth pointing out. As he stated himself, repeatedly, we are ALL human beings, and what color, gender, or age we are means nothing, unless used to divide and conquer. I refuse to play into this never ending mind game. I believe, as does Bernie, that the true enemy are the 1%, and frankly, anybody can become part of that elite, regardless of ethnic background, as long as you’re born into it – unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, neither you nor I were, so we stand firmly behind the ideals of Bernie Sanders, together, united, and refuse to be divided anymore. We can’t move forward in other way! This is a Revolution against the OLIGARCHY, not against each other.

    We are all one.

  3. This is sad: I’m one of those white leftists that dreams of a political utopia, but I also see police brutality and institutional racism as my fifth topmost issue ~ only getting big money out of politics, remedying wealth inequality, forestalling global warming and blocking the TPP rank higher … I even made a Facebook channel dedicated to that end … https://www.facebook.com/pages/Cop-Block-5-Boroughs-of-New-York/797854870272785

    `I certainly can’t speak for all the Black and Brown Bernie delegates, but the handful I were hanging out with felt very outside that debate. Members of the largely white Bernie delegation were reminiscent of white lefties we had encountered all our lives, people who were largely oblivious to the entitlement they projected, accountable to little else but their personal political utopia. I imagine there was a long-term strategy or endgame in their protests, but it wasn’t obvious.`

  4. Kate says:

    Sorry, but you are clueless if you think the choices are real and that Trump is worse than Clinton. Unless you are another paid fear monger. You do know that same card is pulled out in every election, right? I have heard it for at least 30 years now. You would have to disregard at least the last 40 years of her corrupted behavior and project onto Trump all your fears in order for this to be real. Trump is unknown at worst. Hillary is the known evil. This election isn’t any more important than when Obama or GWB got elected, and in all cases, when you have a corporate candidate running against a corporate candidate, the American citizens lose.

    Oh, by the way, what is the tripe of entitlement you speak of? I am really interested in specifics, because we keep hearing this about white men but the date is increasingly not backing up the propaganda.

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