It was around dinner time at the Democratic National Convention in Philly. The party was in the process of nominating Hillary Clinton, its first female standard-bearer for president. Cameras swung from one delegation to the next as states shouted out the votes for Clinton and her onetime rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders.
When the cameras panned to Colorado, the state’s party chairman, Rick Palacio, read the results: 41 for Sanders to 36 for Hillary with one abstention.*
It wasn’t long after the final vote when the phones of Sanders delegates started buzzing with text messages. Something was happening. There was talk of a possible walkout among Sanders delegates. Or maybe a sit-in.
“We knew we wanted to do something, we weren’t sure what it was,” says Nita Lynch, 74, who cast her Colorado vote as a delegate for Sanders. “The word got out. Now it’s time to go.”
Sanders delegates from around the country began making their way out of the convention into the hallway. Some wore black bandanas or tape over their mouths as symbolic gags. With the train of delegates growing longer, they made their way toward the media tables outside.
Lynch was one of them.
“They talk about loyalty, I’ve been a Democrat. I’m 74 years old. I’ve been a Democrat for a long time. My loyalty is not to the Democratic Party, it’s to this progressive movement,” she told The Colorado Independent Wednesday from Philly. “But we’re not being heard, even by our own Hillary delegates.”
No one should be surprised some Sanders delegates feel this way, especially in Colorado.
During the record-breaking March 1 caucuses here, Colorado’s Democrats went for Sanders over Clinton by 19 points. That was despite the backing of Clinton by the Democratic Party elite and its superdelegates — from the entire Democratic congressional delegation to Gov. John Hickenlooper.
But, by the time of the convention, Sanders had suspended his campaign and endorsed Clinton for president. He expected, and urged, his nearly 1,900 delegates to vote for him in Philly during their respective roll calls — a symbolic act. On Wednesday, Sanders moved to nominate Clinton by acclamation, drawing an emotional response from his followers in the convention hall.
Some of his supporters wanted more. An estimated 15 to 20 of Colorado’s 41 delegates took part in the protest, multiple delegates told The Independent.
Joe Salazar, a Colorado Democratic House member from Thornton, and a Sanders delegate, was outside the convention center getting a Polish sausage when the sit-in started.
“When I came back they were pretty much all gone,” he said the following the day by phone.
Salazar missed the sit-in because he was seeing what Green Party nominee Jill Stein was doing at a Democratic Party convention. She quickly gathered an entourage, he said.
For his part, Salazar says he is following Sanders’ lead in supporting Clinton — as difficult as he finds that. “Bernie’s been my general,” he said. “I was [one of] the original Bernie eight [of lawmakers who supported him early] … And I followed this guy. He asked us to do this. He asked us to vote for her. So, I am going to follow him. He’s a visionary leader.”
Still, Salazar said, switching gears won’t be easy before Election Day. He is still hoping to see an end to the superdelegate system and a full rejection by the party of the Trans-Pacific Partnership global trade agreement. Not helping matters: Hacked emails released by WikiLeaks during the convention reveal an effort by the Democratic National Committee to undermine Sanders.
“This walkout started because we’re trying to spotlight the fraud that has been committed by the DNC and how Bernie and his supporters have been consistently marginalized and really just rejected by the party and really ignored,” said delegate Sarah Moore, 30, from a restaurant in Philly Wednesday morning. Moore, who lives in Broomfield and works in IT, took part in the sit-in.
“We had to do something to show the world and all those who voted for us and donated to us that the Colorado Bernie delegates are not just rolling over and letting them portray us as a Hillary state,” said delegate Kona Morris, another protest participant.
Not all of Colorado’s Sanders delegation took part in the protest even though they knew it was happening.
JoyAnn Keener-Ruscha, another Sanders delegate, had earlier told The Independent she felt the Democratic Party’s unity message was a bit heavy-handed. She wasn’t sure what to expect in Philly, but gives the DNC props for focusing on issues.
“I went from crying when Sanders moved to nominate Clinton by acclamation to crying because we just nominated a woman to be president,” she says. “It was very emotional. But myself and three other delegates got up to get sandwiches, not because we were going to go protest. And judging by the lines at the bathrooms and the food stands, we were not the only ones.”
Keener-Ruscha posed for a photo holding a Clinton sign, while her Clinton-supporting friend Evie Hudak held a sign for Sanders.
“Some of us delegates are really trying,” she says. “Moving forward, finding things [in] common, and being a good steward of the campaign. All of us were in tears when Sanders moved to nominate Clinton by acclamation … but not everyone wanted to burn the house down.”
Too much focus on protests at the convention is something Mike Maday, a Sanders delegate from Colorado Springs, was hoping wouldn’t materialize. He has memories from the 2008 convention of reporters looking for conflict.
“The media is always trying to find a problem,” he said by phone Wednesday morning.
Maday didn’t notice his fellow Coloradans had taken part in a Tuesday evening sit-in.
Maday is wearing an Obama button and a Joe Biden button today because they’ll be speaking. Tomorrow, he’ll keep his Sanders button on, but he’ll add another.
“I’ll be wearing a Hillary button and a Bernie button,” he said. “That’s where our country’s going. I hope.”
*CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misstated the delegate tally between Sanders and Clinton in Colorado.[Photo credit: Cortland Coffey]