People for Bernie Call For Civil Disobedience at the DNC
Charles Lenchner co-founder of People for Bernie tells Paul Jay that Sanders delegates understand the threat of the Republican party, but people should assert their democratic will and fight for the values they believe in
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore.
People For Bernie, which is one of the main organizations that helped support the Bernie campaign online, and helped raise lots of money, and got lots of people out campaigning and working for Sanders, and really became one of the more prominent places for Sanders people to gather under that roof. People For Bernie have called for mass civil disobedience at the Democratic Party Convention in Philadelphia if–I’ll read from their press release–if the DNC doesn’t publicly commit to pass sweeping democracy reforms within the first 100 days of a new administration, and at the convention itself, if the party does not vote to abolish superdelegates and commit to real democratic reforms in the party.
Now joining us to discuss that call for civil disobedience is Charles Lenchner. He’s co-founder of People For Bernie, and part of the online video startup Hack.tv. This week he’ll be in Philadelphia as a Sanders delegate. Thanks for joining us, Charles.
CHARLES LENCHNER: Thank you, Paul.
JAY: So what exactly are you calling for? If all your dreams come true, what will we see?
LENCHNER: We will see the abolition of a particular clause for the DNC going forward that simply gets rid of the institution of superdelegates. It’s actually a relatively simple, simple procedural change. You just delete this one section, and there’s no more superdelgates.
JAY: Now, I’m assuming there’s more elected delegates than superdelegates. I don’t know how many superdelegates will support this. But this might cross camps, might it? In other words, there might be some Clinton delegates that might support such a reform. I assume all the Sanders mostly would.
LENCHNER: Well, yes. You’re totally right. There’s a coalition that is involved in this effort. We worked with a group called Democracy Spring on this. But there’s a lot of different organizations that support this because of the very close race between Sanders and Clinton. People really have time to think about whether they wanted a situation where superdelegates either do sway the election, or even the fact that they could sway the election opens up the Democratic Party to a kind of tension that is unnecessary.
The Democratic Party, which has been, at least for the last few decades at the forefront of expanding American democracy, making sure that we include African-Americans, helping, helping the cause of immigrants and undocumented immigrants, making sure that women have equal rights, we Democrats should see abolishing superdelegates as another step forward in, you know, promoting the rule of one person, one vote.
JAY: Okay. So if it looks like you can’t win this–or in fact, I’m not sure how this unfolds. The rules committee, I guess, meets on Monday, does it? And does–.
LENCHNER: I think they’re meeting Saturday, and I’m actually heaading to Philadelphia tonight so that I can be there in person tomorrow.
JAY: And if you’re not successful with the rules committee, I’m assuming you’re going to attempt to force a vote on the floor. And if that vote’s not allowed–because we saw something similar at the Republican convention, where the rules committee voted against an attempt to change the rules that would allow free delegates up to vote against Trump. And when they tried to force a floor vote on this, the chair more or less just steamrolled over them. I mean, are we likely to see something similar, and then what happens? You’ve called for civil disobedience. What does that mean?
LENCHNER: Well, first of all, we are likely to see something similar. My friends hate it when I’m just super-realistic, but yeah, the way conventions are set up, they’re extended television commercials for the nominee. And the establishment views any undisciplined, any outburst of people’s energy as problematic unless they’re waving the right signs and chanting the right slogans.
And that’s something I have a lot of sympathy for, both the Republican and Democratic officials in charge of these conventions. We need to work on our culture a bit to make it that when people have vigorous debate, when we are arguing about the rules or about, you know, that minorities or majorities are demanding something different than hte leadership, that we should see that as a celebration of democracy.
Can you imagine if the founding fathers, when they were putting the Constituiton or the Declaration of Independence together, if someone had said, no dissent, look good for the cameras? That’s not how it’s supposed to work. I look at the range of Democratic participation, from following the rules and voting the way you want to all the way to civil disobedience, as long as it’s done smartly and strategically, as being part of this mass of celebration of democracy. And something, ultimately, that not just Bernie delegates can feel proud of in the end, but something that all Democrats can feel proud of.
The Democratic Party isn’t necessarily a home to every progressive, but I’d like to think that it’s more of a home to people who want to advance democracy than any of the other parties.
JAY: Now, you also call for, if the DNC–and that means Hillary Clinton as president–in the first 100 days of the administration doesn’t pursue real democracy reforms, and later in the piece that went out, it talks about, and I guess these are the democracy reforms you’re talking about, free and fair elections, because there’s been a lot of allegations about the primaries themselves being rigged. But you’re saying it’s not just about that. It’s also about climate change and single-payer healthcare. It’s about racial justice and a living wage.
But that’s connected to civil disobedience in the convention. So one, this means really waging a fight on the platform level. Two, we kind of know what Hillary thinks on these issues, and you’re talking to people who supported Sanders. And you know, it’s not likely in the first 100 days of Hillary Clinton’s administration she’s going to become Bernie Sanders, which is a little bit what’s being, might be suggested here.
So what’s planned in terms of these content issues, and how big a fight are you calling on people to wage at the convention? Because if I understand it correctly, Sanders has asked delegates, or at least said he, himself, and his campaign will fight on platform issues. I’m not sure he’s ever told delegates not to.
LENCHNER: Right. This is such a–this is such an amazing moment. Bernie Sanders ran this campaign across the country with millions of people supporting him, and he was very careful to emphasize that this movement was about all of us, not just about him as a candidate.
Now, in some ways, that was a dodge, because he was the candidate and it’s his campaign, and the tension between the grassroots or his base and what he chooses to do as a politician didn’t really surface. But now that we’re getting ready to be in Philadelphia, there is a possibility that some of his supporters will do things that are not what he wants to do, or maybe they’ll take the initiative in ways that is not sort of in close collaboration with his remaining staff and his particular strategy and tactics.
This is unusual. I don’t know what’s going to happen. What I do know is that almost all the delegates that I speak to are caught between wanting to be loyal to the voices that htey’re hearing in our communities, and wanting to be respectful of Bernie Sanders and the kinds of agreements that he’s making with the Hillary Clinton campaign.
And honestly, I feel like I’m going to learn the most when I finally get there on Monday and I sit with my fellow New York delegates in a room, and we finally have a chance to look each other in the eye and say, what do we think is possible? And do the folks who know the rules and have more experience at the DNC have advice to give us?
I do feel that some of the talk about floor fights and issue fights don’t quite factor in exactly how conventions are run, in terms of the rules and how many votes you need to secure to get certain things done. So probably the most protesting that you see is, in fact, going to be outside the hall, not inside the hall.
And I do think that the vast majority of Bernie delegates, they want to leave the convention without having their credentials yanked for violating too many rules. And they want to leave the convention feeling that the Democratic Party is a home to them as well, and that it’s not going to end with some sort of a mass exodus where our opponents in the establishment can finally wash their hands and say, we really dodged a close one but at least those hippies are gone. Those hippies need to stay.
JAY: Because we’re talking to young Sanders supporters, and a lot of them are saying that’s exactly what they want, is a walkout. But what–in terms of calling for civil disobedience in the convention, which you’ve called for over the superdelegate issue and the other things I mentioned. I have no idea–first of all let me ask you, quickly, we’ve read that there is going to be a delegate-only meeting prior to the opening of the convention with Sanders.
JAY: Yes. So if he in that meeting says, look, we all watched the convention, and we saw a real neofascist party, and this is really dangerous. And even though we all share a critique of Clinton, this really is the greater danger, and now’s not the time to have a big split in the party in front of all these television cameras. What do you say to that?
LENCHNER: Well, my starting point is that I think that Bernie has done such amazing service to the movement and to the causes tha I believe in, so my first inclination is really to respect what he’s doing, to see how I can be supportive. But the second, the second sort of mandate that I have is to listen to my community back here in Brooklyn, where there are groups that I’m part of, and hear what they’re saying.
And I am hearing a lot of people that are incredibly frustrated with voter fraud, or the way that the establishment sort of rode roughshod over Bernie and his supporters. And frankly, I think the best attitude to take is that the future is unwritten. We need to get to Philly, we need to have those meetings, we need to see what’s going to happen.
Also in my mind is the fact that if Trump is elected president, the people who bear the brunt of that are not going to be people like me. The folks who are weakest in the society, that have the most to lose, are also people we should listen to, perhaps with a higher volume, when they tell us how they feel about the possibility of a Trump presidency.
JAY: And just finally, what’s your attitude to third-party candidacy, Green Party? Particularly, Norman Solomon and others have been talking about this swing state strategy, that in swing states, hold your nose and vote for Hillary, and in other states vote whoever you please, whether it’s Green or Libertarians or someone else.
LENCHNER: Well, I applaud Norman Solomon and others, both this year and in the past, who’ve advocated a swing state strategy in order to prevent a Republican from winning the White House.
But I also feel like there’s something that gets missed that actually Dan Savage did a good job of covering in a recent column. I love third parties. I wish we had more of them. But I wish they would start by running for local office and winning. I wish they would accumulate a handful of governors or federal candidates for Congress before going on to the presidency, before trying to compete in that way, to avoid the problem of being a spoiler.
I think one lesson of this entire effort we’ve been part of for a year is that Americans are more progressive than our two main parties, and there’s absolutely room to push things more to the left or for a more progressive direction. But it has to be done in a smart way. Bernie was very smart to run as a Democrat in this primary, and I would advise people that want at least my support for their third-party efforts to start in Brooklyn, and to start with things that they can actually win, and to build [inaud.].
JAY: That said, there may be a kind of unique window here. The Libertarians are polling, what 10-11 percent. Jill Stein is, I’m not sure. Last I saw was somewhere between 3-5 and growing. If outside swing states, number one, and two, even in swing states we may be in an election that this isn’t even–it may not be that close an election. Why not try to really push for a national presence, say for the Green Party? What’s–I mean, why not take advantage of what seems like a unique convergence of opportunity here? Although frankly, personally, I agree with you. I think the real long-term fight is local.
LENCHNER: I mean, I respect you for asking that question. It’s an important one. It’s being asked everywhere. But my answer, which is I know a little bit of a dodge, is I don’t want to talk about the Green Party running for president. I want to talk about their party running for offices where they have a chance at winning. And I think that discussing it in the context of a presidential election is sort of not–that’s not a conversation I want to be part of. I don’t think it makes sense. I don’t think there’s–I’m not persuaded by this strategy of looking at Jill Stein getting five or six or seven percent as any kind of a meaningful victory for the future.
JAY: All right. Thanks very much for joining us, Charles. We’ll see you in Philly.
LENCHNER: Thank you.
JAY: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.
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