Left to Right: Chris Davis, Nita Ellenback Lynch, Drew Romano Colorado Bernie Delegates
Today as we decide who will lead our nation into the future, I wanted to reflect on some of the lessons I have learned over the course of this election cycle. I consistently went back to the events that happened on the third day of the Democratic National Convention. These events helped teach me about the importance of balancing ideology with pragmatism.
The third day of the Democratic National Convention was chaotic. Many of the Colorado Bernie delegates were pushing the line of what the DNC was comfortable with allowing. Most of us were holding up signs that read “ban fracking” or “100% renewable” but a good number of us were also holding no oligarchy signs and “Stronger Together” signs that had been manipulated to read “stop her” instead.
In response to the protests, the Louisiana delegation stood up with their pro-Hillary signs to block out what our delegation was doing. One of the regional whips gave them a large yellow banner to hold up in front of us as well. This only attracted more attention from the media (it was mostly the international media).
There was an attempt made by the Colorado Bernie delegates to reach a compromise with the Louisiana delegation. The agreement would have been, if the Louisiana delegation had agreed to hold the environmental signs, then the Colorado Bernie delegates would put down our “stop her” and “no oligarchy” signs. The chair of the Louisiana delegation said she would have to, “ask the campaign,” as to whether or not they would take the deal. The answer from the campaign was not to take the deal.
Shortly after these negotiations were attempted the Louisiana delegation sat down as the Colorado Bernie people kept standing. Our actions caught the attention of the Bernie Sanders campaign. They sent over State Representative David Bowen from Wisconsin to talk to our delegation about putting down the no oligarchy signs. (Rep. Bowen was one of the few superdelegates to hear the voice of the people and side with it in support of Sanders.) He explained that if the no oligarchy signs were not given to him, our protesters would have their credentials pulled.
After Rep. Bowen’s message was relayed to the protesters, confusion set in. The protesters had been told by the Colorado delegation leadership that the stop her signs were the real issue. After negations between the parties involved reached an end, the deal was that if the protesters gave up the no oligarchy signs, then they could keep their credentials and continue to protest (as long as it didn’t get too crazy). The majority of the protesters complied. However, there were a few who held onto their no oligarchy signs. At the end of the day, no one had their credentials pulled.
That was the short version of the story. Many of us Bernie delegates have shared stories like this about how the DNC or the Clinton campaigns tried to suppress our voices so I will not dwell on that at this point. What I want to highlight is the struggle between the Bernie campaign and the delegates within our delegation who held onto their signs even though their credentials were threatened.
I think I understand why the Bernie campaign took the stance that they did when it came to the no oligarchy signs. The signs could have easily been interpreted by the media and people who weren’t at the convention to imply that Hillary was running the oligarchy that people were protesting. (Whether or not that was the intended message behind the signs, only those who held them know for sure.) This put Bernie in a difficult position. He had to choose between holding onto an ideological stance which put him in jeopardy of losing influence that he had gained during this election or taking a pragmatic stance that sacrificed the voices of some of his supporters but would allow him to influence American politics in a huge way post-election. I’m sure it wasn’t easy for him to go the pragmatic route. I’m also sure that he would be proud to know that some of his supporters didn’t.
I can say that in the heat of the moment, I had a pragmatic mind set. I wanted our protesters to stay in the ring so that they could be seen on Thursday, the night of the convention that was likely to get the most views on TV. With this in mind, I acted alongside the Bernie campaign.
Now that time has allowed the dust to settle, I can see the value in pushing the limits of what was deemed acceptable by the powers that be. Those protesters who held onto their signs acted as a moral compasses. I believe that in the moment, they were doing what felt right to them. They were thinking with their hearts.
Meanwhile I was acting off what I thought was right, pragmatically speaking. While this can be a good thing, without people like our protesters, pragmatism can slowly move us away from what is morally right. I think too much pragmatism could be what got the Democratic Party into the situation it is currently in and I think many Hillary supporters could agree with this.
Over the course of the last two days of the DNC, I had multiple Hillary supports (on of which was Representative Ed Perlmuter from Colorado’s seventh congressional district) thank me and through me, my fellow Bernie people for reminding the party about what it truly means to be a Democrat. Although I was flattered by the many thanks, I have to give credit where credit is due. I fought to keep people in the ring but much of the heavy lifting was done by those who exercised their freedom of speech despite the attempts to silence them.
For the progressive movement to be successful, we need to learn to balance our guiding ideology and our pragmatism/willingness to compromise. Too much of either and we end up where we are today. If the establishment Democrats had had their way, the Colorado Bernie Delegation would not have protested, and they would not have heard our message. If we hadn’t kept ourselves reined in, we could have killed the momentum we have by burning too many bridges (resulting in missed opportunities to influence decision makers) and by making our movement look ridiculous in the media (we often forget that not only do we need to win over establishment Democrats, but we will also have to be allowed into the mainstream political discourse of the nation, looking ridiculous on national TV would not help that).
So, whether you’re #DemExit or #DemEnter, please remember that balance is necessary for the success of the progressive movement as a whole. Remember that your individual actions can end up representing the movement as a whole if they blow up on social media. But above all, please remember that #DemExit and #DemEnter are two sides of the same coin and after the election, we will need to work alongside each other to accomplish our goals. As a #DemEnter supporter, I will make an effort to attend more protests and rallies and I hope that my #DemExit friends will show up to committee hearings at the state capitol this upcoming legislative session.