Protestors often prefer a brilliant defeat to a drab victory. That’s what happened Tuesday night when Bernie Sanders moved to endorse Hillary Clinton as the Democratic Party nominee by acclamation. Many of his delegates in the WFC walked out. A few blocks away those of his supporters who were watching the proceedings on a screen set up in neighboring FDR park exploded in anger.
Earlier in the day I heard the head of the Bernie or Bust movement tell a crowd of 500 across from City Hall that Hillary was more dangerous than The Donald. He said he had a 50 state strategy to attack Hillary. People in that crowd carried signs that said “Bernie or Jill (Stein), but never Hill” and accused her of election fraud.
In reality, Bernie Sanders and his movement won a tremendous victory. They turned a drab primary season into an exciting race, raising consciousness about economic inequality and the 1 percent that would otherwise have lain dormant. Bernie got into the race to push Hillary to the left, and he succeeded. This is reflected in the Platform that was voted on Monday night as well as in Hillary’s speeches.
But the Berniers I listened to in the downtown rallies and in FDR park were more sad than celebratory, more angry than uplifted. They wanted red meat, not tofurky. This went beyond what I saw in 2008, when Hillary’s dedicated supporters were disappointed that she wasn’t heading the Democratic ticket, or even in the second spot. The latter were in mourning, not out for revenge.
Watching that anger at less than total victory reminded me of the 1964 Democratic Convention where the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party demanded that Mississippi’s delegate seats be given to its integrated delegation rather than the all-white delegation of the state Democratic Party. President Johnson offered the MFPD two at-large votes, leaving Mississippi’s 24 votes with its chosen delegates who would sign a statement of loyalty to the national Party ticket (only four did).
It was rejected by the MFDP as an insult. I was standing on the boardwalk in Atlantic City with the other MFDP supporters who had spent days vigiling outside, after hitchhiking from Berkeley, CA to join them. I felt a wave of anger wash over the crowd as the proposal was announced. For a brief moment I thought that crowd was going to break out in a riot. The leaders started marching them up and down the boardwalk chanting until they were worn out enough to calm down. See Photos of the civil rights vigil at the 1964 Democratic Convention by Jo Freeman.
For the next 50 years I listened to civil rights supporters talk about the sense of betrayal they felt when the MFDP was offered two seats rather than all 24. They saw it as a slap in the face. Yet, that too was a victory, not a defeat. It just took a few years to see how tremendous a victory it was.
That MFDP challenge led to a revolution within the Democratic Party. Within a few years it wrote national rules to require that delegations reflect the age and race composition of their own populations, and that women get 50 percent of the votes. The Supreme Court ruled that national party rules supplanted state law. The MFDP eventually integrated the Mississippi Democratic Party, and the Solid South changed from Democratic Blue to Republican Red.
We don’t yet know what the Bernie movement will lead to, but it will lead to something if those lists of supporters and contributors are used to organize within the Democratic Party rather than attack it from without. If Hillary becomes President, Bernie will be an important political leader with major influence on her administration. If The Donald becomes President, Bernie will only be the Senator from Vermont. If the Senate goes Democratic, Bernie will be a leader within it; if it stays Republican, he will only be an irritant.
Berniers should follow Joe Hill’s advice: Don’t mourn, Organize.
Jo Freeman covered the conventions for SeniorWomen Web. Her stories were initially posted at www.seniorwomen.com.