I was watching a demonstration for Free Palestine outside the Pennsylvania Convention Center this week surrounded by police officers in shorts and on bicycles, the women officers’ ankle tattoos showing, when a delegate in a suit and tie came out and stood taking it in. I asked him what he thought of the demo and he said, “It’s a lot of noise, but we need to give them a space to be heard, and they’ll calm down. We are unified.” Then he set off smartly down the street.
I didn’t see the unity. The spirit of the Democratic convention was Soft Chicago 68. The forces that tore apart the Democrats in 1968 were arrayed in Philadelphia, but the party and the police (the establishment!) were determined to defuse the destructive energies this time round without riots or rage.
Whether or not they succeed we will know in November, of course, but I found it painful to be in Philadelphia, because of the psychic-spiritual chasm before me: two political realities that have very little intercourse with one another and both of which claim to represent the American liberal-left.
In fact the two sides seem to hate one another; they need couples counseling. They would then have to admit that even though one side is truly more popular (Hillary) than the other (Sanders), they need one another and so far the Hillary side has sold out the Sanders side on many issues of great importance to the Sanders side, leaving the Sanders people with the seething passive-aggressive belief that they can blow things up. Ala 1968.
This alienation was sadly visible throughout Philadelphia. The fence around the Wells Fargo Center, where the televised convention was taking place, was like a wall in an ancient city, though it was constructed out of the most modern materials. Outside it was a hazy torchlit under-civilization of hipsters, freelance internet journalists, Bernie bros, bikers, space travelers, pop-up-gas-grillers making Jiffy Pop, and buckskin Johnny-Appleseed types shouldering boxes of clementines. Inside was the scrubbed and adoring scripted public that you saw on television.
And never the twain shall meet. “At 6 we burn the flag,” a skateboarder/activist in dreads informed me and another web reporter.
I found this atmosphere painful because it produced in me (loosely affiliated with the Sanders camp) such an intense range of feelings of guilt and shame and alienation. “Tell the Bernie or Bust people to fuck themselves and the horse they rode in on,” a New York media friend wrote to me when he heard I was at the convention. My mother’s emails about the New York Times giving airtime to the “Hillary haters” and Ralph Nader starting the Iraq war were just as angry.
The people outside the convention feel all this hatred and return it. It’s not a happy vibe. Three engaged and attractive youngpeople demonstrated Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy in a way that I can only diminish by attempting to describe it. See picture below:
“Demexit,” a sign said, advising Bernie that his revolution would go on without him. T-shirts argued the interchangeability of Clinton and Donald Trump. The most creative poster was “White Lies Matter” with Clinton’s face.
My issue – Palestine – is now a big and organic part of this leftwing activity. Excluded from the convention, Palestine was alive in the Philadelphia streets. At a Black Lives Matter demonstration on the south side of City Hall, one speaker after another addressed Palestinian conditions with knowledge and eloquence. Susie Abulhawa explained that colonial expansion is conducted on a religious apartheid basis. Joe Catron read a letter from Mahmoud Kayed, the brother of hunger striker Bilal Kayed. Forgive me for believing that his writing is more important than my own:
My brother Bilal, as some of you know, spent 14 and a half years in Israeli jails, and when he was scheduled to be released on June 13 – on that date, instead, they sent him to jail for six months under the law of administrative detention. This criminal colonial law is used by the occupation state, “Israel,” in order to keep the Palestinian leaders and activists isolated from their families and their loved ones and the masses of their people. Today, there are more than 700 Palestinians in detention under this unjust law.
The kid at the top of this piece was on a lamppost at City Hall 10 feet up connecting Gaza and Ferguson. Code Pink was storming into the Marriott Hotel lobby chanting Not another Nickel Not Another Dime, We Won’t Pay for Israel’s Crimes.
The tragedy of Philadelphia, for me, is that these issues were utterly suppressed by the organizers of the convention with the complete confidence that it would not hurt the Democratic Party in the fall. Former under-secretary-of-state Wendy Sherman’s confession at a Jewish event that Hillary Clinton herself had directed her to stuff the “settlements” and “occupation” language in the platform was exactly analogous to former L.A. Mayor Anthony Villaraigosa’s confession in 2012 that President Obama was “absolutely livid” at the fact that the Jerusalem is Israel’s capital language had not been put in the platform, and the necessity of getting it in. The one achievement of our side from one cycle to the next is that the corruption that is at the root of that demand – Obama and Clinton’s need for Haim Saban’s millions – is now transparent to everyone.
And mainstream people do feel defensive about Palestine. Chris Matthews approached the Code Pink Palestine demonstration on Wednesday in Center City and got in an argument. “You think I’m pro-Israeli, you don’t watch me,” he said (according to songwriter Dave Lippman and another demonstrator who witnessed it). Geraldo Rivera passed a group of Jewish Voice for Peace demonstrators outside City Hall wearing Palestinians Should be Free t-shirts and said unprompted, “I agree with you” (according to Matt Berkman), right after someone had dunked him with a water bottle.
Palestine stands for the larger divide in the party. The Sanders folks have been railroaded. Many are angry. They feel that their issues will never be addressed by Clinton, and that she does not stand for anything, apart from a mix of diversity and corporatist neoliberalism and hawkish foreign policy and I’m-not-Trump-ism. That hollowness was surely evident to a lot of mainstream voters who watched the convention, and seems to be reflected in Clinton’s weak poll numbers.
While the folks outside feel that they are the soul of the progressive energetic movement in American political life, and the future of the party, the ones inside regard them as a force to be cabined off and suppressed. They tried to do the same thing with the counterculture 40 years ago, and everyone ended up losing.