A fly (donkey?) on the wall: behind the scenes of the DNC

A fly (donkey?) on the wall: behind the scenes of the DNC

Bernie Sanders supporters gather outside Philadelphia’s City Hall on the first day of the Democratic National Convention.

Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
Bernie Sanders supporters gather outside Philadelphia’s City Hall on the first day of the Democratic National Convention. Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

PHILADELPHIA — As the Democratic National Convention opened, Democrats were certainly feeling the Bern — also the actual burn because it felt like 500 degrees and humid. (The temperature officially maxed out at 97 degrees, according to the National Weather Service.)

Despite the heat, delegates and attendees were exuberated for a day of Democratic bliss.

And really, that’s how it started out.

Beginning at the Pennsylvania Convention Center July 25, thousands of people were swarming in and out of 12th and Arch streets.

It resembled an airport: a lot of sweaty people running around, security guards searching bags and possessions.

Everyone looked lost and confused, unsure of where they were going or supposed to be. Hundreds of people were sitting on the floor charging their laptops and phones, decked out in their navy blue lanyards of every shape and size, all just waiting for something to happen.

But turning the corner within the Convention Center, dozens of Democratic booths as far as the eye could see lined the walls advertising their different organizations. It was a liberal’s dream.

But not as dreamy as the main event over at the Wells Fargo Center, where rows and rows of credentialed folk filled the perimeter — kind of like the controlled chaos at Disney World during Christmas.

But worth noting, on the way from City Hall to Wells Fargo, there were few Hillary Clinton supporters or pro-Clinton protesters. Many were wearing Bernie Sanders accoutrements — pins, T-shirts, signs, outrageous hats — screeching their support from the sidelines and begging delegates on their way in to “do what’s right.”

Once the early speakers took the stage, it was clear the Democratic audience had a voice — a pro-Sanders voice.

With every mention of Clinton, the then-presumptive nominee, the boos overshadowed the cheers, so much so that speakers had to wait for the crowd to die down.

The boos morphed into Bernie chants — you could feel the echoes reverberate in your own chest — truly illustrating the divide within the Democratic Party. But as the night commenced and the excitement stirred, the echoes from the audience seemed to come to a faint consensus: The people want a Sanders presidency, but they’ll settle for Clinton.

Down on the blue shag carpeted convention floor, Adrian Schanker believed just that.

A delegate for Sanders from Allentown and chair of the LGBT Caucus of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party, Schanker said Sanders inspired him to fight for a “strong, progressive, LGBT-inclusive party platform.”

“Bernie Sanders presented a vision for America that we can all get behind — by the way, it’s a very Jewish vision,” said Schanker, who is Reconstructionist. “It’s a vision that’s grounded in values that are very Jewish to begin with. It’s about economic opportunity, social equity, civil rights — those are things that overwhelmingly Jews agree with.”

But now, they’re getting ready to vote for Clinton.

“She’s going to be a president that helps carry out that vision,” he added.

Overall, Schanker reminded the Jewish community how crucial it is to vote in this election, adding to “look where Jewish values lie” in both party platforms.

“This is a really important election for Jews,” he said. “And I don’t think it’s lost on many of us that some of the things that Donald Trump has talked about are banning entry into a country based on religion — that’s something that Jews have some experience with.”

Other celebs and well-known advocates like Demi Lovato, Minnesota Sen. Al Franken, comedian Sarah Silverman, Paul Simon, Eva Longoria, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren graced the stage.

As the roar of Sanders supporters intensified, Silverman shut it down with one line: “Can I just say, to the Bernie or bust people, you’re being ridiculous.”

On the other side of the spectrum, Dan Gilman, a city councilman from Pittsburgh and a delegate for Clinton, has been a Clinton supporter from the beginning.

“Her record speaks for herself as a senator, as secretary of state, as all the work she did as first lady,” he said. “Her work as secretary of state and listening to her, she’ll be the type of champion I want to see for Israel — someone who recognizes the importance of the alliance we have from a national security standpoint, from a foreign policy standpoint, recognizes the social justice that occurs, but also will hold Israel accountable as a partner in the region to build peace throughout the Middle East.”

But with talk of many Jews shifting over to the GOP side, he’s hoping this election will produce different results.

“I actually believe Donald Trump that he’s a champion of the relationship with Israel,” Gilman said. “It’s his rhetoric and what he would do to provide unbalance not just in the Middle East but around the world — he would put us on the brink of wars that would endanger Israel as our ally.”

As for Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz stepping down as the DNC chair — due to hacked emails released illustrating her staff’s favoritism for the Clinton campaign over Sanders — Gilman believed it needed to happen, but it is a “distraction” from what’s really important this week.

“This has to be an election that takes the step in the other direction. The values that are Jewish values, the values we have learned as a Jewish people are violated every day by Donald Trump,” he said. “A vote for Donald Trump, to me, is a slap in the face to everything it means to me to be a Jewish American.”

First Lady Michelle Obama focused her speech on American children’s future, sending what many in the crowd called a stronger, more positive message than Trump’s speech at the Republican National Convention last week.

“I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves, and I watch my daughters, two beautiful, intelligent black young women, playing with their dogs on the White House lawn,” she said. “And because of Hillary Clinton, my daughters, and all our sons and daughters, now take for granted that a woman can be president of the United States.”

For his part, Trump, who seemed to receive a bump in post-convention polling as the Democrats opened theirs — a now five percentage point lead over Clinton, according to CNN — on Twitter, lambasted Clinton and her party for the email leak and the Wasserman Schultz fiasco.

Nearing the end of the evening, the people got what they wanted: Bernie Sanders. His entrance received the loudest cheers of the night, lasting several minutes.

But for those still holding out for a Sanders presidency, he made the message loud and clear: “Hillary Clinton must become the next president of the United States,” he said. “The choice is not even close.”

Rachel Kurland writes for the Jewish Exponent, an affiliated publication of The Jewish Chronicle.