PHILADELPHIA—It was hot yesterday, and across the street from the Wells Fargo Center, where hundreds of Bernie Sanders supporters had congregated to protest the Democratic National Convention happening inside, one could hear occasional horns and chanted slogans: “Bernie beats Trump,” “Bigots go home,” “Hell no, DNC/We won’t vote for Hillary.” One demonstrator’s sign depicted “Hillary Klingon, the neocon war candidate,” complete with photoshopped forehead ridges, and another had the phrase “BETRAYED US” scrawled under Sanders’s name, in reference to a speech he’d given in support of Clinton earlier in the day. We were not, in other words, in Clintonland.
Amid humidity and discontent, I spoke with Pam Alexander, an expat-slash-retiree who’d returned from her new home in Mexico to her old home in Pennsylvania, to protest what she called a corrupt political system. Would she, a diehard Bernie woman, sit out the upcoming general election? “I’ll probably do what I have to do,” she said. “If the only choices are Hillary or Trump, I’ll vote for her—kicking and screaming.”
Dissent is in the air at the DNC. Just one full day into the convention, the crowds of protesters have dwarfed their counterparts in Cleveland, the large majority of which are Sanders supporters there to attack the DNC from the left. Formerly private Democratic National Committee emails released by Wikileaks on Friday showed a party that unashamedly threw its weight behind the mainstream candidate and denigrated the socialist upstart. When Bernie himself said “We must elect Hillary” to a room full of supporters Monday morning, he was met with a chorus of boos. The biggest bogeyman in the room among Clinton supporters is that if these Bernie supporters and other leftists let their yearning for socialism obscure the pragmatic truth, that if they fail to fall in line with Hillary, they might inadvertently—or even intentionally—bring about a Trump presidency. The post-RNC bump in support for Trump exacerbated this fear.
This isn’t going to happen. Bernie supporters seem more likely to fall in line than not; a Pew poll, taken in June, shows that 90 percent of those voters who consistently backed Sanders—his most steadfast supporters—plan to go for Clinton in November. There’s no denying that Bernie fans are out in full force at the convention, but they represent a tiny, passionate fraction of the entire electorate. News outlets—including, yes, Gawker—will train their attention on the Sanders camp all week, but the cameras are likely to show the same small group of true believers over and over, requiring anecdotes to stand in for larger political truths.
And even among the Bernie or Bust crowd, I met plenty of people who talked about compromise, however reluctantly. A shirtless guy in aviators and a green bandana who’d traveled across the country from Washington told me that his politics are far to the left of Sanders’s. When I asked for his name, he told me to call him Kropotkin, referencing the Russian anarcho-communist thinker. Surely, a revolutionary like him would unequivocally swear off the Democratic candidate? Maybe he was an accelerationist, who would welcome Trump and the chaos he’d bring with open arms, in hopes of ushering in a workers’ revolution? But no. Kropotkin’s answer to the Hillary question sounded a lot like Alexander’s. “I’ll probably vote for Jill Stein if I vote at all,” he told me. “I live in a very liberal state—it will almost definitely go for Hillary. But if I lived in a swing state, I’d hold my nose and vote for her, because I don’t want to see a fascist come to power.”
I found a guy in a stars-and-stripes tank top, proudly displaying a sign that read “CAPITALISM STOLE MY GIRLFRIEND,” and thought he might be the mythical Bernie Bro archetype. He was a longtime Sanders supporter from Brooklyn named Steve Panovich, and he gave me a detailed spiel about how he used to work as an art handler—“literally catering to the whims of billionaires”—but his employer wasn’t so keen on his class consciousness—“I had to stop working, I wasn’t called back because I was so resentful”—and how his joblessness and the depression that ensued drove a wedge between him and his girlfriend—“She’s a member of the professional class...she broke up with me at the RNC.” Panovich disagrees with Hillary’s politics, but he had no personal venom for her. “I’m not a Jill Stein person. The collusion between the DNC and the Clinton campaign makes me wonder whether I should vote for her,” he said. “But I think the most important thing is to support the candidate who’s less likely to go to war, and I think that’s Hillary. So maybe I will vote for her.”
I asked Panovich whether he thought that his relationship would have fared better in an alternate universe where Bernie won the nomination. “I think the chances of us getting back together are about the same as the chances of Bernie winning,” he said with a laugh, and walked away.
Of course, I met plenty of firmly anti-Hillary people, too. There were Dixie Stephens and Donna Croney, two Tennesseans who’d driven 13 hours to be at the convention, holding “NEVER HILLARY” signs. “And never Hillary means never Hillary,” Stephens told me. “I’ll take four years of his buffoonery over eight years of her warmongering any day.” There was the guy from upstate New York who carried a full-sized cardboard cutout of Bernie and told me that there’s no appreciable difference between Hillary and Trump, and his companion, who told me Trump’s proposals for mass deportations and the banning of all Muslims from entering the U.S. were “just for effect, like a reality show.” There was the Trump supporter in a Make America Great Again hat, who attended because he believed he could attract Bernie fans via a mutual hatred of Hillary and the political status quo. One Sanders supporter gave him a high five.
The false equivalences these people draw between Clinton’s corporate liberalism and Trump’s platform of racial hatred are scary. Even if the accelerationists are right, and a Trump presidency were to bring about a glorious workers’ utopia, it would mean suffering through four or eight years of surveillance of Muslims and destruction of immigrant families to get there. They are right that the system is in dire need of change, that Clinton is not a perfect candidate, that America should have a leader who cares about working people. The Sanders phenomenon has brought about a Democratic party platform that includes $15-per-hour minimum wage, the abolishment of the death penalty, and a path toward pot legalization—among many other great ideas that probably wouldn’t be there if it weren’t for his candidacy. The way to make more of these changes is to continue voting for the candidates you support and protesting in the street when they don’t live up to your ideals; not to close your eyes, let Trump take the wheel, and hope for the best.
Fortunately, according to the numbers, nearly every single Sanders supporter plans to do the former, not the latter.