Sanders Delegates: We Can’t Walk Away From the Fight Within the Democratic Party
Charles Lenchner and Jonathan Tasini defend Sanders’s decision to call for unanimous support Clinton, and say the campaign showed it’s possible for the people to take over the Democratic Party – From TRNN’s Livestream of the DNC
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome back into the studio. We’re just outside the convention center, the Wells Fargo Center where the Democratic Party convention is being held. The roll call vote took place. Hillary Clinton is now the nominee.
But a lot of Sanders delegates weren’t very happy about this, and a lot of other people who apparently had floor passes–not floor passes, I’m sorry, hall passes. These are like guests who can’t get into the main assembly area but can in the circular, concession stand area are populating. But whatever, they were mostly Sanders supporters, it seems, and a lot of them have now moved into the media center, we were, media pavilion we were just sending you pictures of.
Now, in our studio joining us, first of all, Charles Lenchner for People for Bernie. And Jonathan Tasini rejoins us. He’s the author of the book “The Essential Bernie Sanders.”
Charles, we talked just a few days ago on the Real News Network and you were part of a call for essentially civil disobedience by both delegates and people in the streets. So what has happened in that regard?
Why don’t you start with the convention? The convention itself seems not to have had as, perhaps as much disruption as some people thought might. Bernie Sanders apparently texted his delegates and asked them not to. What is the status of that?
CHARLES LENCHNER: Well, I think there’s just a teeny bit of confusion. What we were referring to was the Democracy Spring effort that resulted in, I think, about 40 arrests yesterday when they were doing an action calling for more democracy against money in politics.
JAY: This was out on the streets?
LENCHNER: Yes, out on the streets. And I think that in many ways the issue of money in politics has been one of the dominant themes in the entire election campaign. So my hat goes off to all the good folks who helped put those actions together, and if I understand correctly–I’m not involved in the details–there’s going to be more of that as the convention goes on.
In terms of the convention itself, with full recognition of all the flaws, not to say corruption and collusion that the DNC has been responsible for over the last year in supporting Clinton and not being neutral, this is a very democratic event. You have thousands of people who were elected by millions of people coming together to do democratic business together.
And I think there’s a–We have to find a good middle ground between being open and welcoming and even participating in expressions of opinion and even protest, and recognizing that this is actually where people are getting together to decide the future of their party and possibly the country, and that deserves a little bit of respect and gravitas.
JAY: Well a lot of people had, as they marched into the pavilion, tape over their mouths, there was a lot of feeling that, other than Monday night, we’re hearing from a lot of Sanders delegates that from there on [they’re] not going to hear very much from the Sanders camp and that this convention is, you know, the delegate count was actually much closer if you take out the superdelegates.
Sanders had something like 46 percent of the delegates. That would mean, without superdelegates, a far more equal role, a bigger presence here. What do you make of that? Because a lot of people we’re talking to who are more–Frankly, I’m finding it hard to find a Sanders delegate that feels that they have a place in the Democratic Party.
JONATHAN TASINI: Well, I think it breaks down into sort of three camps. People who, like me and perhaps Charles, who want to try to figure out whether we can move the Democratic Party, and I think that there’s been some success at that. There’s a lot of work still to be done. We’ve just started this political revolution.
Then there’s a segment of people, I think, who aren’t sure. Who perhaps got involved in this campaign, in Bernie’s campaign, for the first time, in terms of being involved in politics.
And then there’s a smaller, if I can say, in my view, smaller group of people who are angry, period, at the system. And I get that. I understand why people are angry. There’s no question we have to fight that. There’s no question the Democratic Party has a system in which it favors incumbents, and we saw with the Democratic National Committee that, as we talked just before, the clear evidence that Debbie Wasserman Schultz and a few other high people were, had their fingers on the scale, wanted Hillary Clinton to be the nominee, and did things to the detriment of the Sanders campaign.
That said, I sort of want to put all that in one basket and say that there’s a lot of rules that we have to change that are not about the system being rigged, meaning corrupt, there’s somebody behind the scenes doing it. We have to have more open primaries. We have to encourage people to vote. We have to make it easier for people to register. That’s something that’s–the rules are bad. It’s not that the system is rigged.
And I’m trying to make a slight differentiation, meaning, it’s not rigged in the sense of, somebody’s behind a screen. They’ve changed the rules in the middle of the game. They’ve hidden votes. Example: In Brooklyn, 126,000 votes disappeared like that on election day. In my view, that was a F-up, if I can say. All the computer system, it’s terrible. It’s awful that it happened. But that did not bias, in my view, the Bernie Sanders campaign disproportionately. That’s a terrible thing that happens, and we have a broken system. It was not anti-Bernie Sanders.
JAY: Well, certainly some people think there’s a pattern of this electoral stuff that is deliberate, and that–
JAY: –American, it seems to me that rigging and cheating is what’s called a good ground game. This is American politics.
TASINI: That’s true. And the thing about this, and this is why I’m one person that came to this convention extremely positive. We had one year of a campaign. We just about came close to taking down the most powerful political machine in my lifetime. So, something, there’s parts of the system that’s rigged, but clearly millions of people got to vote.
People contributed–Literally, the Clinton campaign, there was a moment in the campaign where people inside the Clinton campaign thought they might lose. We took down–[it was] a campaign of one year. I’m astonished [crosstalk] at what we’ve accomplished.
LENCHNER: I want to respond to that. There’s an argument taking place between people who think that because the system is so corrupt and rigged we have no choice but to protest, walk out, and then, you know, think very long-term about how to transform this anger, this outrage into something that someday might result in different leaders being elected, different policies being enacted. I’m not really in that camp, and I don’t think you are either.
The other camp says, yes, it’s rigged, it’s corrupt, but it’s not black and white. There’s room. And the enemy is perhaps a paper tiger. They can be overcome. WE can defeat them in 22 states out of 50. There’s enormous possibility. Let’s get to work. Let’s use what we can and win.
TASINI: I agree with that.
JAY: I think you’ve got to put this in class terms, because I had a really interesting conversation once with the president of a major international union. We were having breakfast in DC. He has his political adviser there. And I said, you know, the Democratic Party is really a united front of various classes and stratum of the society. You have whole sections of Wall Street and hedge fund guys who are very much in the background as supporters–
LENCHNER: –We need bonds versus stock prices.
JAY: Yeah. And they’re part of the Democratic Party machine. They could be Republicans, but for various reasons they choose to do it through the Democratic Party. You have ordinary workers, mostly urban, that are in it. You have, very importantly, you guys. I’m talking to the trade union guy. The trade unions.
What I don’t understand is, if it’s a united front of classes and stratum, you never contend for the leadership of this. You always cede it to the billionaire class, if you want to use Bernie’s terminology. And the answer was, well, because they’ve got the money. Because if you want to defeat the Republicans, the only way you’re going to defeat it is with their cash. So, that will never change.
And there’s another side of this, which I can’t believe the billionaire class will ever give up this machine, the control of the Democratic Party machine. Now, in no way am I suggesting you don’t continue to fight inside, because I think the rules were made assuming no one ever would use them. There would never be a people’s movement that could contend in the Democratic Party at a level that was actually threatening to the control of that machine. So, like, I’m not giving an argument here not to pursue this fight.
But it seems to me, if this fight really plays itself out and you get a candidate, who knows, is it Nina Turner in the next, 2020, which would be very threatening to Hillary Clinton because she would take away Hillary’s Black vote, and you could see a threat far beyond what we saw with Sanders, and I’m not–whether it’s her or someone like her.
Then there’s going to be this, this really is a civil war. And one needs to be thinking, because does this not lead to a split in the Democratic Party? And in no way is that necessarily a bad thing.
LENCHNER: I like what you’re saying, because you’re suggesting that if we continue fighting and if we continue winning that this might lead to a split. That’s a great idea. Let’s make it a split where the people who can’t stand what we’re doing leave, and not the kind of split where we give up, go and retreat and walk away. That’s the thing that they would want most of all is that we–
JAY: –I wouldn’t think that they’d leave. I think they’d find a way to purge. But, again, the rules are there until they don’t serve them. Then let’s see how long they respect those rules. Because you can see what was happening behind the scenes, you know. They certainly didn’t respect the rules already at the DNC.
TASINI: But in some way, I guess, I totally agree with that, but I also look at the other half, which is not to disempower people. I had the privilege of traveling for Bernie over the last year in 14 states, I think, in small communities, and the energy there was just kind of incredible. I remember one woman named Heidi Harmon who stood up in San Luis Obispo, a local person who said, I’m going to run for mayor. You know, somebody who decided that they wanted to take on the power structure there, and they wanted to mobilize people.
That’s happening lots of places. I think it’s up to us to figure out strategies to make that happen at the local level. I’m not saying it’s going to happen tomorrow, and I’m not sure when we’re going to win. But I, maybe I’m the eternal optimist. I’m extremely optimistic that we can do this. We can overturn the system because of the energy. And I don’t think that the protests that we saw just now here are helpful. I don’t think that advances our strategy. [crosstalk] I understand why–
JAY: [interceding]–You’re talking about the people that went into the media pavilion.
Why not? I mean, they’re saying to the media that you were part of this kind of rigging. Because we know, for the longest time corporate media did not give Sanders anywhere near the kind of coverage that they would have given any normal presidential candidate with those kinds of numbers.
TASINI: And here’s why. Because what happened was, in my view a small group of people were there, relatively speaking, with tons of cameras. And what’s going to be the message? We got F’ed. We have no power. Whereas, what I want this message to be is that from 1900 delegates we won 46 percent of the pledged delegates. That’s, again, I know I’m sounding broken record. In one year we almost took down the most powerful political machine. It’s like, incredible. I’m almost amazed sometimes.
I’m not saying–I don’t want to delegitimize that anger.
JAY: [laughs] Yeah.
TASINI: But the larger message that I’m concerned to get out to the broader public, who are getting their messages from social media, independent media, is that we have in our hands an incredibly powerful tool, that it isn’t just disempowered–
JAY: –But they’re sending a message–I mean, I can’t argue for them because I haven’t talked to them, but I think they would say something like, that the statement needs to be made that this isn’t just two camps with the same objective and different ways to get there, that there’s a fundamental split here between, if you want, the billionaire class and most people, that Hillary represents that.
TASINI: But Paul, people know that. The public, given the results of the elections. If we had another year, we would have defeated Hillary Clinton. I’m convinced of that. If we had another year to [organize]. The calendar just did not favor us. And I was out on the trail with Bernie all the time. We were trying to, you know, Super Tuesday’s a good example. Bernie’s trying to compete in 11 or 12 states on one day, and just does not have that background and that time to build the organization. And all I’m trying to say is that–
JAY: –But what they’re–But the people in the pavilion are trying to say that not everyone here is united behind Hillary Clinton and what that section of the party represents, and there’s no way to express this if we don’t march into your pavilion [crosstalk] because nobody’s listening.
LENCHNER: Hold on, hold on. There is a way to express it. They can organize for other political parties and candidates and do a show of force at the ballot box and create lots of organizations and create lots of organizations and have [crosstalk] members–
JAY: [interceding]–But you were calling for civil disobedience. What happened at the media pavilion is kind of that.
LENCHNER: I absolutely support the full spectrum of things, including civil disobedience. But in my head there’s this question: Are you doing civil disobedience against the one percent or are you doing civil disobedience against a bunch of people who were elected for really low-level positions like delegate in order to–
JAY: –No, but they’re saying Hillary represents the one percent. That would be their answer, I assume.
TASINI: I want to push back [in another way]. Yes, you can express that there’s parts of the system that’s rigged, but the parallel companion–[inaud.], these are not mutually exclusive ideas–We have an enormous amount of power.
TASINI: All I’m–Maybe I didn’t say [inaud.]. I don’t want the millions of people out there who are watching this to think that the system’s so rigged it’s disempowering. They’re going to say, it’s rigged. I’m going home, not participating anymore.
JAY: But why can’t you be doing both, like, fighting inside the party and going into the media pavilion? Why? They’re not incompatible things.
LENCHNER: I’ll tell you why. Because I think the optics [crosstalk] of this being a small group of people–
TASINI: [crosstalk]–Yes. That’s exactly right.
LENCHNER:–Having to do this kind of protest is the opposite of saying, look how powerful we are.
TASINI: That’s exactly right.
LENCHNER: And I’m not saying that in principle I’m opposed to this sort of thing. I’m saying, I want folks who agree with my opinions to look powerful and strong and attractive and growing. I don’t want us to look like, you know, a little bit lost in the crowd or a little bit of a sideshow or a little bit of a last, angry, you know, fist in the air. I want us to win.
JAY: Okay. Thanks very much for joining us.
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