Analysis

Reporter’s Notebook: A Clinton rally, close up

Presidential contender Hillary Clinton campaigning in Oakland. (Photo: Jeff Chiu/Associated Press)

OAKLAND — After Hillary Clinton’s rally, Kayla, 17, had tears running down her cheeks.

She was upset.

Kayla, a student at MetWest High School, had walked to the rally site Friday with some classmates and at least one teacher. It wasn’t far: The event was held nearby at the La Escuelita Elementary School’s gymnasium — a facility shared by several schools.

It was clear that Woman in Yellow was part of a team whose job it was to ensure that the rally ran smoothly and looked good for the cameras.

Hillary, the leading Democratic presidential contender, addressed the crowd of several hundred people, who chanted, “HILL-UH-REE! HILL-UH-REE!”

Kayla and her friends — and a few others in the crowd — chanted “BER-NEE! BER-NEE!” in support of Clinton rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders.

But once they had chanted, Kayla said she and her friends were subjected to obscenities and verbal abuse. She said people tore signs out of their hands. They were asked to be quiet or leave by well-dressed operatives, presumably with the Clinton campaign.

Kayla said she was stunned: She was, after all, at her own school, and, ostensibly, among allies.

It was not an encouraging lesson in participatory democracy and civil discourse.

“It’s really hurtful,” she said, holding back tears, “when we share so many of the same views.”

Kayla, a student at Oakland's MetWest High. Photo: Sam-Omar Hall

Kayla, a student at Oakland’s MetWest High. Photo: Sam-Omar Hall

Kayla and her classmates said they weren’t being disruptive or disrespectful, that they weren’t trying to interrupt or shout down Clinton.

Indeed, the 25-minute speech went well, with Clinton hitting applause lines and the crowd feeding on the rhetoric.

The chants of Kayla and her friends were audible only a couple of times, as were a couple incoherent heckles. Hillary wasn’t fazed, if she was even aware. She continued easily through her own applause, as well as the occasionally audible dissenting notes.

However, there were some people in the crowd, presumably Clinton volunteers or staffers, who prowled for dissent, for any anomaly. Their eyes scanned the faces, their ears were perked.

These weren’t the Secret Service. They weren’t trying to protect anyone’s safety. They were protecting conformity, or at least the appearance of it.  Kayla and her friends called them the “Shush! Squad,” which moved quickly to confront people cheering the wrong things at the wrong times.

The “Shush Squad” included a tall woman dressed in yellow. If she wasn’t the squad’s leader, she certainly was the most visible, given her height and clothing.

The MetWest students were in the heart of the crowd, about four rows from the front. Once they were identified as Sanders supporters, they began to be harassed, students and a teacher said

When a man on his phone yelled out “What about NAFTA?” to Clinton, the Woman in Yellow pounced. She approached him, spoke to him. She began to lead him toward the exit, and he began to follow. He soon thought better of it, U-turned, and returned to his spot. He didn’t yell any more after that.

After the event, the Woman in Yellow refused to identify herself to a reporter.

An attendee at the rally who spoke to her said she told him her name was “Anne,” and that she was a volunteer with the Clinton campaign.

It was clear that she was part of a team whose job it was to ensure that the rally ran smoothly and looked good for the cameras. Virtually all political campaigns have similar workers, whether as paid staff or volunteers.

Along with the Woman in Yellow, there were two men and a woman dressed in suits. Some wore lapel pins with “S” on them, causing some attendees to assume they were Secret Service. At different times all these operatives confronted dissenting voices.

After the rally, Alondra, 15, another MetWest student, said she, her classmates and at least one teacher came to rally because they all wanted to hear Hillary speak.

“We wanted to make people know that there are Bernie supporters here, too. No matter what, we’re going to be here to support him,” she said.

She said the trouble began when some in the crowd heard that the students were chanting “BER-NEE!” not “HILL-UH-REE!”

The MetWest students were in the heart of the crowd, about four rows from the front. Once they were identified as Sanders supporters, they began to be harassed, students and a teacher said.

A woman with a banner criticizing Hillary on climate policies said she was told: “You have to leave. We rented this space, and you’re trespassing.” This woman, Carolyn North, said she assumed the Secret Service were speaking to her. In reality, it was a campaign operative.

In the end, neither North nor the MetWest students were ejected from the rally. But there were attempts to get them to leave, according to several students, North, and a teacher.

During the speech, MetWest special education teacher Kate Dunn was standing near the students.

She said the trouble began when some in the crowd heard that the students were chanting “BER-NEE!” not “HILL-UH-REE!”

“People around the crowd were telling them to “shhhh,” Dunn said. “And then the campaign organizers, the woman in the yellow sweater, and some other white dude, were telling them, students of color, to be quiet and stop chanting.”

“They said we were being really disrespectful, said Elizabeth,15, a freshman at MetWest, “and that we can’t be holding up signs, and we should be quiet. We were like ‘no, we have the right to talk.’”

After the Clinton rally, participants chat. Photo: Sam-Omar Hall

After the Clinton rally, participants chat. Photo: Sam-Omar Hall

Alondra: “There were older people over here telling us bad words and everything. We were not disrespecting them.”

Dunn said the students didn’t appreciate being told to shush. “The opposite happened,” she said. “They got angrier.” In addition, attempting to silence the students created a disruption in itself, she said.

“I was right there,” Dunn said, “and it seemed to be that the shushing and the suppressing was more disruptive than the initial protest, which wasn’t even a protest. It was like, chanting ‘Bernie.’”

Dunn said she couldn’t tell if Clinton was aware of the disturbance.

“I didn’t quite gauge that,” she said. “Most of my focus was on protecting the students because a lot of the audience members were getting physical with them.”

After the rally, a small group of MetWest students remained behind, seemingly dazed by the experience. The mood was sad, hurt, confused, and defiant.

On the other side of the gym, Arielle Goren, a Bay Area spokesperson for the Clinton campaign, said that disruptive audience members must be “addressed.” She said disruption, in her view, is interrupting the speaker.

“Being at a rally, people are here to hear the secretary speak, to hear (Senator) Barbara Boxer introduce her, to hear the speakers,” Goren said. “So someone being disruptive is going to be removed,” Goren said.

Goren said that at rallies, local police are responsible for determining who is disruptive and must be removed. “The police chief was actually stationed right back here,” she said.

A reporter approached, and asked the Woman in Yellow her name, and if she was with the Clinton campaign. She said she couldn’t talk, and left the area with her companions, chased by the reporter.

Indeed, there was a uniformed police officer standing in the back of the room, leaning against the press-area barricade. The officer looked on as a man with a pro-Bernie sign and Warriors hat was removed from the rally by a young man in a navy blue blazer, tan slacks, and leather shoes.

When asked who the Woman in Yellow was and whether she was a local police officer, Goren said, “I didn’t see that. I can’t speak to that. I’m not sure who you’re referring to, ‘cause I was backstage, so I’m not sure.”

Upon having the Woman in Yellow pointed out to her, Goren said, “I honestly don’t know who she is. I’m seeing her for the first time today.”

Oakland Police were not available for comment over the weekend.

Much later, the gym was nearly empty. A couple members of the press lingered as workmen disassembled the stage and a woman swept up discarded “Hillary” signs. The Woman in Yellow re-entered the gym. She went on the stage, took down a sign. Then, she was on the floor of the gym, pow-wowing with a campaign operative and a bearded man.

A reporter approached, and asked the Woman in Yellow her name, and if she was with the Clinton campaign. She said she couldn’t talk, and left the area with her companions, chased by the reporter.

The chase continued out of the gym and onto the sidewalk. The operative was asked if he was a member of the local police, as Goren had suggested. He declined to comment.

The three got to a car outside the gym. Bearded man got in the driver’s seat, the suited operative riding shotgun and the Woman in Yellow in the back. Silently, they got in, slammed the doors, and drove off.

Dunn, the special education teacher, said the campaign’s response to dissent “was super shocking to me.”

“I think it was that being told to shush, that really triggered a lot for them,” Dunn said, “because as students of color, they’re told to shush by the system, and when it plays out in real time, it would boil anyone’s blood.”

Ed’s Note: Corrects student’s age to 17 in lede. Sam-Omar Hall, a regular contributor to Capitol Weekly, is a student at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism.

 


  • Majgendude

    Obviously this student was desperate to find something to write about. This article was much a do about nothing.

  • carolina

    As someone present at the rally, I can say the vibe was truly creepy: authoritarian, repressive, and shallow. If you act disrespected by principled dissent, eventually you will be left with angry, unthinking dissent (aka, Donald Trump). Hillary proved herself to be a feminist in the way that a fracking tower painted pink is feminist.

  • jrw24

    With the lack of civility – all the way to outright rioting – that has marked this year’s campaign, it’s no wonder that event organizers were having none of it. Sounds like some attended the rally with the intent of being disruptive and they were dealt with accordingly. Nothing to see here.

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