Dispatches from Philadelphia: Official Scalawag coverage of the DNC

Signage our correspondent discovered in Philadelphia.

From right in the thick of the action in Philadelphia to your screen, somewhere in the South: we're offering rolling updates on the Democratic Convention, Scalawag-style.

Thursday evening

by Sigrid von Wendel

In a matter of hours, Hillary Clinton will accept the Democratic nomination for president—making history and moving the country one step closer to its first female president. I've been in Philadelphia all week, traveling with the Massachusetts delegation (making me one of Scalawag's foreign correspondents). The party came in divided— many supporting Bernie Sanders—and deep divisions still exist. But tonight there is a hope for more unity going forward.

While Hillary's speech tonight is the headline act of the week, she has not been the sole star of this convention. Rather, the stars have seemed also to people that she has helped over the course of her remarkable career. Outside of the major speeches, it has mostly been these folks who've taken center stage. The most memorable and moving stories have been theirs—told firsthand. We've heard from folks who have been torn down and hurt by the likes of Donald Trump, and from those whom Hillary has worked to lift up.

There is a lot to be proud of here for a Democrat, or really for an American. The diversity and resilience of the individuals that have been celebrated at this convention is remarkable. If you missed hearing Leah Daughtry, Erica Smegielski, Felicia Sanders & Polly Sheppard, Christine Leinonen, Brandon Wolf and Jose Arraigada, Gabby Giffords & Mark Kelly, Jelani Freeman, Sybrina Fulton, Geneva Reed-Veal, Lucy McBath, Gwen Carr, Cleopatra Pendelton, Maria Hamilton, Lezley McSpadden, Wanda Johnson, Sean Patrick Maloney, and Sarah McBride—just to name a few—go learn about them. (And go talk to the Louisiana state official I met moments ago, who believes Hillary will help turn Louisiana blue.)

There's been fretting here about party unity. You've heard it on the news, surely. What you’re not hearing on CNN is the chatter between events, at the after gavel parties, and in the blissfully air conditioned subway and uber cars. There has been a lot of cooperation and respect. There has also been some nasty. I’ve had moments of feeling like a preschool teacher begging my class to play nice – 90% because we all need to work together to defeat Trump, and 10% because I’m sleep deprived and have an apparently unending hangover from the after, after, after party (Philadelphia has extended the hours of some bars to 4am to accommodate us debaucherous politicos. Blessing and a curse).

Hangovers aside, in these off-camera moments, this convention has been a reminder that change does not happen overnight or unilaterally. It is slow and frustrating. It must be talked out. That’s what happens when you have a country comprised of different backgrounds, beliefs, goals, groups, and individuals. That’s what happen when you empower them to speak. You have to sit there and listen. Even when it makes your blood boil. It's been a reminder that we can’t make change by blocking out the world or ignoring dissent. That unity does not mean assimilation.

It's in that spirit that I support Hillary. I don't support her every decision or policy. Having a place at the table does not mean that I will get everything I want every time. But compromise is how, as Obama reminded us last night, 20 million more Americans now have health care. As he said then, compromise is also not an end in itself: it’s an ongoing and ever-changing process—the process by which meaningful change happens, by which it lasts. For the sake of this country, we all need to opt in. (Which is also my way of saying: Bernie has brought a lot to the table. Now he and his supporters need to stay in the tent and help us in this terrifying fight.)

Donald Trump should remind us just how much is at stake. But he'll be there when this convention is over. For now, you can still listen to these stories: to people of all backgrounds who have found Hillary to be an ally in the fight for social justice.

Of course, this thing is stage-managed. It is scripted. Much is ommitted, and what is presented is calculated to persuade.

Yet for all that, the stories are no less real. They remind us that we, collectively, make up both the fighters and that which we are fighting for.


Thursday afternoon

by Hank Cherry

When you enter Wells Fargo media center on Thursday’s last day of the Democratic National Convention, it looks like a disaster area. A deluge of rain accompanies early arriving journalists and support staff. There’s a huge tent beside the Arena for filing purposes, but it’s the same white Tyvek of Hurricane Katrina. At one point a voluntary evacuation is set into effect. Outside Wells Fargo and the Convention hall, Sanders supporters identified themselves as protesters. Jill Stein stood on the back side of a dais and offered her point of view.

Inside, Senator Sanders’s flock were delegates. Some of them remained angry, one Latino representative offering condemnation of the only political party he’d ever joined. “I want to burn it down,” Miguel Zuniga said of the Democratic party and his perception of the betrayal it offered Senator Sanders. With the email scandal and the deliberations of Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s resignation, a few Sanders supporters dove headlong into conspiracy theories. At one morning breakfast, the Senator from Vermont told his delegates in no uncertain terms he would deliver their votes to Secretary Clinton. It was not a good moment. An hour later, walking from the Mariott hotel back to the Convention hall, the Senator stumbled into the street, his age immediately apparent.

After the Black Caucus ended, South Carolina State Senator Margie Bright Matthews offered a more conciliatory outlook. She said she felt the electricity of the fresh faces but saw the bigger picture. “When we saw Bernie cast those votes it was very touching.” Still, in the rain of Thursday, the doom of Donald Trump feels much closer than it did a week ago during the Republican Convention.

Perhaps Secretary Clinton's experience as a stateswoman predicts a triumphant oratorial moment. State Senator Matthews, who replaced Clementa Pinckney, among those slain at the AME Church in South Carolina, remained hopeful, likening the delegate battles of the past few days to sports practices. “It’s like a scrimmage. We can’t be good unless we have a good scrimmage.” Sanders supporters feel differently. While Matthews said she saw more Sanders delegates fall in line, “with unity,” Joseph Pinon, a California delegate put it succinctly, “expect more booing.”


Wednesday Morning

by Daniel Massoglia

In what people insisted was an unprecedented, unconventional, and generally “un-” event at a national Democratic Party convention, Tuesday night saw a state-by-state roll call vote on the nominees rather than a more traditional affirmation of the woman who has, for months, been the Democratic nominee. She won, but the 1,843 who cast votes pledged to Sanders during the process reflected, of course, the party's identity crisis.

The first state to tally votes in the roll call vote was Alabama, which should not surprise either elementary schoolers well-versed in the standard “50 Nifty United States (From Thirteen Original Colonies)” or the patrons at Bar-Ly in Chinatown, Philadelphia, who were treated to a mostly-complete version of same by enthusiastic journalists while the votes split state by state.

Alabama's delegation cast nine votes for Bernie Sanders, the same number he earned in the March 1 Primary. Four of these delegates were at an event later that night sponsored by the Democratish factional Working Families Party (WFP), and Scalawag talked with them about the challenges of working around the left edge of the Democratic Party in a very Red state, why the roll call was important, and making inroads for Sanders among Black voters.

Four of the bernie delegation from Alabama. From left: Marcellus Parker, of Mobile; Nayirah Muhammad, of Bessemer; Ashley Bryant, of Jasper; Patrick Doyle, of Huntsville

I met the delegates late in the night, coming across Marcellus Parker, of Mobile, in the crowd of a drag performance upstairs in the gorgeous event space WFP procured blocks from City Hall in downtown Philly.

After yelling over loud music as one often does at these sorts of things, we sat together downstairs, sharing space with a mostly-working button maker, long abandoned guestlist, and by now mostly empty photobooth, and small pockets of people in Working Families Party and Sanders Swag talking.

Parker explained what his vote in the roll call was about. “People elected me to vote for Bernie,” he said. “By default I have to vote for Bernie. This is not necessarily because I am anti-Hillary.... it's what the people wanted me to do.”

Parker, who is a Black, LGBTQ resident of Mobile, spoke of challenges making a Sanders sales pitch to Black voters and elected officials in his state, one that he said was related to the enmeshed existing relationships between Black communities in the state and the establishment of the Democratic party (and, by extension, with the Clintons).

“I was like the black sheep,” he said.

There were four Alabama delegates at the WFP party, and I asked delegates Ashley Bryant, of Jasper, and Nayirah Muhammad, of Bessemer, their challenges in organizing and rallying support for Sanders' efforts in the South.

Bryant makes home in what she calls “a very red county in a very red state,” and one where Hillary Clinton wing of the Party took 67% of votes in the state's March 1 primary. This result was lower by double digits than Clinton's totals in the state itself.

Bryant said carrying Sanders' banner was a challenge. “I experienced a lot of pushback.”

“It was harsh,” Muhammad, from Bessemer, agreed.

“Just being a liberal [in Jasper, Alabama] is hard enough,” Bryant said. “Being a Bernie supporter [there] is very isolating.”

She delighted, however, upon hearing that I'd met fellow Jasper resident Donna Smalley by chance on a train the day before, someone she seemed to know well. Even in a contest that is surely for many the kind of political disappointment that hits you in the gut and never leaves, it's not hopeless... we're still all over.


Tuesday evening

by Daniel Massoglia

A peculiarly short time after Scalawag co-founder and longtime soccer teammate Jesse Williams messaged me about coverage of the Democratic National Convention, the train attendant on my light rail from the Philadelphia suburbs reached “Alabama” in the list of places he had shouted out during a poll of hometowns and political affiliations in the train car.

Almost immediately, someone called back, “WE'RE BERNIE PEOPLE FROM ALABAMA!” Shortly after, she added, “We just want to make sure you know there's people from all over.”

It is a pleasure to offer this SCALAWAG NEWS EXCLUSIVE: Bernie people from Alabama exist (of course they do), and so once we got off the train in downtown Philly the woman and her companion spoke with Scalawag about the election, the South, and the media.

The first of the pair, Bernie supporter Donna Smalley, the one who spoke up on the train, mainly shared about the potential for unfairness in the electoral process as a whole. Smalley is concerned about covert efforts by the party bureaucracy to subvert the electoral process as well as other aspects of US elections.

An attorney in Jasper, Alabama, Smalley laments the lack of independent third party election observers in the United States. She pointed to a spate of lawsuits filed in recent years targeting perceived improprieties in election results and registration requirements in states including Ohio and New York.

Kim Lane, Smalley's companion, is a graduate student at University of Alabama at Florence and is also from Jasper. She is proudly and definitively Bernie or Bust.

”I will not vote for [Hillary] Clinton under any circumstances,” she told Scalawag.

As for why, Lane expressed the opinion by now widely held among both Sanders supporters and the general public, which is that that the former Secretary of State is not trustworthy. “Clinton says one thing to appease the people,” Lane said, “but I think she votes with the corporations.” Absent some truly next-dimensional shit, then, Lane's vote will go to Jill Stein. (Smalley is undecided on the Clinton question.)

Lane also had pained words for the media, which frustrates her in its coverage of elections, politics, and different regions of the US. “If you don't have a media that tells the truth,” she said, “how can people make the best choice?”

We discussed that Scalawag is a Southern progressive magazine based out of Durham, and she was simultaneously heartened at the prospect but visibly disappointed with the myopic frames the national media uses to portray the South.

And that was that. We split in the station and went our merry ways.

Stay tuned for more