A Look Back at Day 1 of the DNC

Anna Benham, JHU:

Brimming with good cheer amid a sweltering and humid Philadelphia summer, the protesters surrounding City Hall seemed to be participants in a festival, rather than representatives of a sharp, self-destructive divide within the Democratic Party. One older woman, dressed in a tank and holding a DEMEXIT sign, described how she had survived “Eight years of W” and was ready to survive four years of Trump. Her support for Bernie Sanders, she said, was without compromise. Clinton was a dangerous, destructive and criminal force to the Democratic Party, while Trump was merely impotent.

It became clear that the protestors, torn between accepting Hillary Clinton as the party nominee, and acknowledging Trump as a valid contender to the Presidency, felt betrayed by the Democratic Party, particularly in the wake of Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s resignation. Protest signs vacillated between supporting Sanders and condemning the Democratic Party. Most notable were two hundred food long inflatable joints, one marked “Berned by the DNC” and “Deschedule Cannabis”, a nod to the party’s increasingly liberal platform that became extremely apparent that night.

The convention center, sandwiched between Lincoln Financial Field (Home of the Eagles!)  and Citizen’s Bank Park, was home to a series of calls of support for Clinton and attacks against Trump. Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake opened the convention, replacing Schulz, who was originally scheduled to gavel in. The beginning of the night was inauspicious, with boos in response to the mention of support of Senator Clinton.

Placards emblazoned with “Love Trumps Hate” waved in the crowd and seemed to echo the original aim of Monday night’s speakers—to address and support those groups that Trump has openly expressed disdain for and even mocked—primarily undocumented workers, the disabled, and women. This contrast was shown in sharp relief against clips of Trump bookmarking key speeches, and was particularly striking in the juxtaposition of Trump mocking New York Times reporter Serge Kovaleski and the quiet dignity and presence of Anastasia Somoza, who has palsy.

Speakers did not hide their distaste for Trump.  Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO  and an ex-miner, conducted a careful and vicious deconstruction of Trump’s business practices, and went so far as to say that Trump “is no tough guy, [he’s] a phony”. However, a sketch that followed with Hangover star Ken Jeong and Austin Goolsbee, the former Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors, attacked Trump’s business outsourcing practices with cringe-worthy humor. Al Franken, in true SNL form, demolished Trump’s claims with much more success, causing laughter that echoed throughout the convention center.  Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) further painted Trump as a con artist, attacking Trump University as an institution created on the principle of manipulating people’s fears in order to enrich Trump. She ended her speech with a simple and powerful declaration—Trump is not qualified to occupy the Oval Office.

As the press tents were battered by heavy wind and rain, a perfect storm of a different type was occurring in the center, one that centered around the divide between supporters of Sanders and Clinton. Speeches focused entirely on Trump’s faults and echoed Sander’s rhetoric, with speakers calling for a “reinvention of economic structure” and describing a middle class exploited by the rich. Sanders was originally selected to speak prior to Michelle Obama, but the schedule changed halfway through the convention, placing Sanders at the end to provide a capstone speech.  The night’s tone changed dramatically with Senator Jeff Merkley’s speech. Senator Merkley, one of Sander’s few supporters in the Senate, described Sanders’ contribution to the party’s new platform, the “most progressive one in history.” Indeed, when Cory Booker and Elizabeth Warren spoke, following an Al Franken and Sarah Silverman double act where Silverman called Sander’s supporters ridiculous as they booed her for supporting Clinton. Booker and Warren energetically attacked Trump and described a new future for the party, one that was more inclusive and progressive than ever before, a departure from Senator Clinton’s primary campaign platform.

Michelle Obama’s speech, in stark contrast to Melania Trump, who has been fighting accusations of plagiarism, was full of heart and received extremely well by the audience. Painting Senator Clinton as a supremely qualified individual that she trusts her daughter’s future to—Michelle Obama may have done something that has so far—been outside of Hillary Clinton’s grasp—provided a humanizing touch to a woman often perceived as cold and politically ambitious.

Keith Ellison gave a preview of the new platform that Sander’s spoke to—the closure of private prisons, free college and substantial student load debt reduction, free healthcare, and the raising of federal minimum wage—all which have been campaign promises that Sanders has articulated throughout his campaign.

When Sanders walked onto the stage, the atmosphere was electric, with over five minutes of cheers and applause that crescendoed with Sander’s expressions of gratitude for his supporters. Sanders wholeheartedly supported Clinton, dictating a new Democratic Platform that echoed his campaign ideals to much support from the audience, some of whom burst into tears upon hearing about immigration and college finance reform. Sanders promised the continuation of his political revolution.

It has yet to be seen if Clinton will continue to push for the dramatic promises that Sanders has made, but if so, it will be a risk for a candidate who has been so often accused of less than firm principles and who is attempting to reach out to conservative voters who feel alienated by Trump.

Tuesday night promises to talk about the vulnerable—with speakers addressing issues such as poverty, education, healthcare, police shootings, and victims of sex trafficking. Highlight speakers to look forward to are President Carter, Former Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senator Chuck Schumer, Former Attorney General Eric Holder, Senator Barbara Boxer, Former Secretary of State Madeline Albright, and President Bill Clinton.

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