Reporter’s Notebook: The search for unity

A delegate at the Democratic National Convention passes by a group of pro-Bernie Sanders protesters. (Photo: Brad Bailey)

PHILADELPHIA — Hillary Clinton accepted the Democratic nomination for president Thursday as the nation’s first female nominee of a major party, a historic moment captured in a blaze of pomp and color. It was the culmination of four days of speeches that targeted the national convention’s fundamental theme — unity.

But in the California delegation — the largest of the 50 states — unity at times was a rare commodity.

California Sen. Barbara Boxer at the convention. (Brad Bailey)

California Sen. Barbara Boxer at the convention. (Brad Bailey)

The California delegation was stationed at the Philadelphia Marriott downtown at 12th and Market.  Every morning, the delegates convened on the fifth floor to set an agenda for the upcoming day and hear speeches by major political figures. On Monday morning, Nancy Pelosi spoke to the group, but was greeted by jeers from several delegates for Bernie Sanders. On Tuesday, Bernie Sanders spoke directly to them and stressed his call for unity. “It’s easy to boo, but it is harder to look your kids in the face who will be living under a Donald Trump presidency,” he told the delegates said.

On Wednesday, Sen. Barbara Boxer of California spoke to the crowd to reiterate her calls for unity and signed her books outside the meeting room. But an argument arose between a Bernie Sanders supporter and others  over controversial comments Boxer made in Nevada earlier in the spring, when the senator said she felt threatened by raucous Sanders’ supporters.

“I don’t care about Barbara Boxer,” one woman shouted as Boxer signed her books steps away.

Tyler Morrison, a delegate from Los Angeles County, District 44, was also present at the event. The night before, after the dramatic roll call the states that sealed the nomination, Morrison joined other pro-Sanders protesters in a mass walkout, stormed into the media center and put tape on their mouths.

In the end, Democrats was largely unified, although with pockets of resistance.

Bernie Sanders supporters.

Bernie Sanders supporters. (Brad Bailey)

“Whoever we have in office, at any level, we need to keep them accountable,” he said,  “Unfortunately,  I can’t support our nominee, but I can keep her accountable.”

When he returns to LA, Morrison says he will keep working for progressive issues. “I’m going to work for what I believe in,” he said, “When I go back I promised my district i’m going to help elect as many ‘Berniecrats’ to local, state, and federal level as I could.”

“Bernie is going to be endorsing about 100 candidates in those types of elections, and i’m going to get  behind them to make our Congress more progressive,” he said.

Former California Gov. Gray Davis.

Former California Gov. Gray Davis. (Brad Bailey)

Tensions had been bubbling under the surface since Monday.

On Monday night, moments after Bernie Sanders called for unity, several of his supporters fanned out into the foyer of Wells Fargo arena and began chanting. One of those delegates was Shawnee Badger from Valencia.  “We’re here because we were selected to be here,” she said, “and our communities want us to fight for collective values.”

“We’re here to fight for the nomination and we’re here to protest,” she added.

But others are using the moment to find common ground ahead of the brutal general election battle in the coming months.

Brent Page is a Hillary Clinton delegate and Dallas Fowler is a Sanders delegate, both from L.A. County.  “People feel disenfranchised, and rightfully so,” Fowler said, “However, we still need to move forward and be strong in November.”

Her friend Paige agreed, “It’s basically showing we’re one and I don’t give a side eye to the Bernie delegates,” he said, “The only way  they’re going to change their vote is if they meet someone on the other side who they relate to and make them realize it’s not so bad.”

Bernie Sanders' supporters off the convention floor.

Bernie Sanders’ supporters off the convention floor. (Brad Bailey)

Mark Gonzalez, the vice chair of the Los Angeles Democratic Party,  also voiced his support for unity. “For us, we have no choice but to unify,” he said, “It’s not about Bernie vs. Hillary anymore, it’s about how we’re going to defeat Trump.”

Gonzalez remarked upon the historic nature of selecting the first female nominee in American history. “I think we’re headed in the right direction,” he said “This is amazing and need for the party and the nation, and the world.”

Mark McKibbin, a delegate from Sacramento, is one of the youngest delegates at 18 years old. He was inspired to become a delegate after he went to the California Democratic Convention in February, representing Congressman Ami Berra, who is facing a tough reelection fight.

Democratic delegate Shawnee Badger of Valencia.

Democratic delegate Shawnee Badger of Valencia. (Brad Bailey)

“It’s been absolutely  amazing,” he said, “I’ve been brought to tears with hearing just inspiring speeches from Cory Booker and Michelle Obama, and John Lewis.

When asked about party unity, McKibbin believed that the dissension was part of the political process. “Certainly there are a lot of passionate people for Bernie Sanders,” he said, “Their enthusiasm shows that democracy is still alive.”

After the nomination on Tuesday, the crowd roared to mark the historic nature of the moment. Robin Tyler and wife Diane Olson were also in attendance with the California delegation. The two were in the forefront of the gay rights movement, and they were the first lesbian plaintiffs in a California Supreme Court lawsuit that challenged the ban on same-sex marriage (Tyler et al v County of LA).

“I think it’s wonderful she was nominated,” Tyler said, “Now we have to work to elect for the next two years a progressive congress.”

Tyler believes that whoever is nominated is still a win for Democrats nationwide. “This isn’t a loss for Bernie Sanders,” she said,  “this is pushing the Democratic party finally to a more progressive position.You don’t get anywhere unless you make noise.”

More pro-Sanders protesters, in the convention hall lobby.

More pro-Sanders protesters, this time n the convention hall lobby.

She says she has tried to reach ouch to Sanders supporters to ease the tension. After four decades of fighting for equality she had some perspective to give a young supporter who she saw crying right after the nomination.  “I told her that I wished it happened all at once, but it happens incrementally,” she said,  “I feel tremendous joy about electing Hillary as the nominee.”

She was much more direct, however, with regard to Donald Trump’s record on LGBTQ issues. “Any LGBT person that supports DT is like a turkey supporting Thanksgiving,” she said.

Her wife, Olson, was a few feet away, was equally thrilled. “I think it’s absolutely fantastic,” she said, “The old consciousness is going to die off and we’re going to take this country back because we have heart.”

When asked if she ever thought she would see a female nominee for President, she quickly responded “Yes, right wins out. Every time.”

Ed’s Note: Brad Bailey is a student at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.


Want to see more stories like this? Sign up for The Roundup, the free daily newsletter about California politics from the editors of Capitol Weekly. Stay up to date on the news you need to know.

Sign up below, then look for a confirmation email in your inbox.


Support for Capitol Weekly is Provided by: