At a park this week just steps from the Liberty Bell, the cracked symbol of American independence, Walter Rhoads stood near a large papier-mache Mahatma Gandhi while anti-fracking protesters rallied in the sweltering conditions.
When he began his figurative journey campaigning for Bernie Sanders last fall, Rhoads pitched a table at the Sunday farmers market under the freeway in Sacramento to spread the word and recruit new supporters. He and his buddies brought Gandhi’s likeness on their 3,000-mile trip to the Democratic National Convention to “continue the movement.”
“Bernie Sanders has energetic supporters and we are not ready to roll over,” Rhoads, 62, of Oak Park, said as the convention opened. “We have to stay with it no matter what. We can’t give up.”
Thousands of demonstrators, most for Sanders, participated in marches, rallies and sit-ins during convention week in Philadelphia. The activities far surpassed anything seen the previous week in Cleveland, where Donald Trump accepted the Republican party’s nomination.
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Both cities were on high alert for the events. Police lined the blocks leading to the arenas and marked cars appeared along freeways.
In Philadelphia, which last year hosted a visit from Pope Francis, large yet peaceful environmental, union and anti-war demonstrations that marked the week carried over to inside the security perimeter. Sanders loyalists upset about the process leading into Clinton’s formal nomination put tape over their mouths and sat silently inside a media tent near Wells Fargo Center.
A large banner read, “We the people.” “The world is watching,” some activists chanted.
The city played host to demonstrations against the media, and for legal marijuana, Black Lives Matter and Green Party candidate Jill Stein.
I have seen old friends who are activists for a long time who are now delegates.
Medea Benjamin, co-founder of Code Pink
Regardless of the subject, they evolved into events for Sanders. Medea Benjamin, political activist and co-founder of Code Pink, said she was surprised and pleased by the high levels of activity compared with Cleveland.
“I have seen old friends who are activists for a long time who are now delegates,” she said.
Through Wednesday, 11 people were charged with allegedly breaking through the security perimeter. More than 100 citations were issued. Aside from a pepper-spray incident, Benjamin said officers were more restrained and better prepared than at past national conventions.
“It’s been remarkable how low-key the police presence has been and how much they support our First Amendment right,” Benjamin said.
In Cleveland, she was questioned by authorities after cameras captured her disrupting Trump’s acceptance speech. Benjamin said she was asked questions to ensure she wasn’t out to harm anyone. She happily conceded that the officers were “nice about everything.”
Throughout the week, small groups gathered for what at times bore a stronger resemblance to a block party than an outpouring of political angst. More than 3,000 officers, including some from California, patrolled the region. Often more journalists were present than demonstrators.
Officials made just 24 convention-related arrests in Cleveland, with most coming during a flag-burning demonstration. Cleveland officers stationed around the Quicken Loans Arena were outfitted in heavy gear. Police Chief Calvin Williams rode in patrols and joined a prayer circle. At a briefing as the convention wrapped up, Cleveland officials said the overwhelming police presence helped retain order.
“There are a lot of people that doubted us,” Williams said proudly before declaring: “Don’t doubt Cleveland ... Never doubt Cleveland.”
One of the things we know about activism (is) people participate because somebody asked them to.
Michael Heaney, professor at University of Michigan
Michael Heaney, a political sociologist at the University of Michigan, went to Cleveland and Philadelphia to study the demonstrations.
Heaney said he didn’t see posters or signs advertising rallies in Cleveland, and attributed the lack of activity to poor coordination and the city’s isolation from large population centers.
“Local and national organizers never really connected with one another,” Heaney said. “One of the things we know about activism (is) people participate because somebody asked them to. If people don’t do that, then people don’t come.”
While in Philadelphia, Heaney said he observed a city more willing to facilitate the work of protesters by granting more permits.
Philadelphia is much larger than Cleveland and is accessible to New York City, Washington and Boston. Participants also did a better job of organizing and advertising their events, Heaney said. People turned out because they were inspired by Sanders, he said.
“The spirit of Bernie Sanders has taken over the protests at the convention,” he said.
At the demonstration in the media center, Jonathan Holt, a Sanders delegate from California, arrived after walking out of the convention hall. He accused the party of truncating the roll call. He wanted the votes to be counted and tabulated without including superdelegates.
“We feel this has been rigged from the beginning, Holt, a 53-year-old teacher’s aide from Lake County, said over breakfast Thursday. “Many of us put tape over our mouths to show our voices were taken.”
Holt and the others were soon surrounded by police. The doors were temporarily locked. He walked out with no ill feelings for the officers.
“The police have been absolutely phenomenal to us,” Holt said. “Even after that there weren’t any grudges.”
Blocks from City Hall, a hub for demonstrators where the city screened an outdoor showing of “All the President’s Men,” Sanders backers gathered on another morning to instruct participants about nonviolent civil disobedience.
A group from Connecticut relaxed in front of plates of Middle Eastern food at the Reading Terminal Market. Those who completed the training were given paper “Bernie Peacekeepers” credentials to hang on their necks.
“Standing up together for Bernie’s platform,” the credential read. “I support his progressive ideas and ethics in a peaceful and positive way. Absolutely. #BeLikeBernie. I do not support violence of any kind.”
One of the peacekeepers in the class said he was told to inform people smoking marijuana to cease their public indulgence.
Another man sitting with the group, David Stevenson, who hosts a local show called “Progressive Soup,” said the goal was to prevent Sanders from being cast in an unfairly negative light. He said the protests were an encouraging sign the movement will live on.
“It’s a good starting point to accomplish some of the goals,” Stevenson said, listing Wall Street reform, a ban on fracking and not signing trade deals that harm American workers.
(In California) it’s safe to write in Bernie, or vote for Jill Stein.
Walter Rhoads, Bernie Sanders supporter from Sacramento
Rhoads and his friends from Marin County, Gene Kelley and Jes Richardson, drove to the convention as part of a large caravan and were camping at Parvin State Park in Elmer, N.J.
When it comes to the general election, Rhoads said his instructions for fellow Sanders admirers varies based on whether they live in a swing state, such as Pennsylvania and Ohio, or safely in Democratic areas like his native California.
“At home,” he explained, “it’s safe to write in Bernie, or vote for Jill Stein.”