As I sat down in the media tent across from the Wells Fargo Center to write this post, there were 40 or so Bernie Sanders delegates and other supporters in here with me, milling around and talking to the press, and a couple hundred more just outside. They had just staged a walkout from the Democratic National Convention, when Hillary Clinton was formally named the party’s nominee, and made their way here to demonstrate. But if you’ve been following the news from the DNC, you probably don’t need me to tell you that.
You don’t need me to tell you because you’ve likely already heard about the demonstration on Twitter, seen it on TV, and read about it on websites like Gawker. Bernie supporters are a media-savvy bunch, and the walkout was one of their savvier performances at this convention. It’s hard to overstate how many reporters are here in Philly, and how hungry for a good story each of those reporters is. That’s why you’ve seen so much coverage of the Sanders camp’s dissension so far: It’s the only available bit of drama at an event whose primary outcome was predetermined nearly two months ago.
Immediately after Sanders took the mic this evening, calling for an early end to the roll call vote of delegates and accelerating the formal nomination process for Hillary—the very same symbolic courtesy that Hillary herself extended to Barack Obama in 2008, it should be noted—Sanders delegates began marching out of the arena, chanting “Walk out!” I was eating a sandwich at the time, and I threw it away so I could follow them. It was a good story.
Some of the marchers entered the the media tent, a large enclosed space that the convention staff sets up as a temporary office for journalists, whereupon dozens of reporters literally ran over to talk to them, as camera operators began standing on chairs to get anything close to a good angle on the smallish scrum. The rest of the marchers planted themselves in front of tent. They chanted for a while, until an organizer asked them to stop, and then they just sort of stood there as cops and reporters gathered around them. TV newsmen watched them with their cameras; new media types strode around with iPhones, broadcasting the scene live to Facebook. What better way to attract the attention of the media than by putting yourself right at the media’s doorstep?
(Inside the tent, for what it’s worth, I didn’t have much luck with demonstrators. A gentleman with a rainbow scarf tied around his mouth silently pointed to a message on his iPhone when I asked him if he wanted to talk—“RURAL GAY VOICES ARE SILENCED BY THE POLITICAL ESTABLISHMENT/BY THE AMERICAN RELIGIOUS ESTABLISHMENT”—and another man politely declined to be interviewed when I told him I worked for Gawker.)
The demonstration, I’m sure, had the same amplifying and distorting effect that coverage of the anti-Hillary “Bernie or Bust” movement has had, frightening observers into believing that Democratic voters are flocking away from Clinton en masse, ushering in a Donald Trump presidency. Hearing an apparently untrue rumor that some delegates had been arrested inside the arena during the demonstration, I poked my head inside and found business as usual, with Hillary supporters chatting and eating hot dogs in the concourse. The protesters’ qualms—with the Democratic party, and the state of the nation as a whole—should not be delegitimized, though the suspension of a largely meaningless procedural vote was a strange occasion for such a dramatic protest. But as you follow the news from back home, remember that this was a relatively small slice of the Democratic delegation, which itself is an exceedingly small slice of the nationwide Democratic electorate, making its voice heard very, very loudly.