You may not know her name, but you've probably seen Angie Aker's face by now. The pro Bernie Sanders delegate from Kenosha, Wisconsin has stirred up controversy by walking around the Democratic National Convention floor with a piece of duct tape over her mouth that reads: "SILENCED."
Since arriving in Philadelphia this week, Aker has angered operatives from both the Clinton and Sanders camps. In the media, Aker's duct tape protest has come to symbolize both the staunch idealism and, perhaps also, the petulance of Sanders supporters at the DNC.
On Monday, she made what she describes as a last-minute decision to cover her mouth in duct tape after the chants that she and her fellow delegates made for Bernie were drowned out by Clinton's delegates yelling for Hillary.
"I realized the only thing that's going to work here is something strikingly visual," Aker tells Broadly. What upsets Aker the most is the message top Democrats are pushing about party unity.
"We're here to make sure people know that there's not this magical sudden unity behind Hillary that the DNC wants everyone to think there is." Aker says she doesn't begrudge Sanders for encouraging unity within the party but believes the issue is bigger than him. "We don't think it's proper to keep moving forward with a convention when the primary has been revealed to be so biased," Aker says, in reference to the Wikileaks publication of DNC emails that showed top democratic officials heavily favoring Clinton.
Aker's duct tape protest is so contentious on the floor that she has both left and right wing camps attacking her publicly and questioning her motives. According to a report published yesterday by Raw Story, Aker is simply trying to generate traffic for her employer, Upworthy, a progressive news site that specializes in viral stories. "The theory that I'm doing it to drum up some kind of traffic or sales for Upworthy doesn't hold water, because the only time that Upworthy got brought into this is when Raw Story brought it up," Aker scoffs.
We're here to make sure people know that there's not this magical sudden unity behind Hillary that the DNC wants everyone to think there is.
It's hardly the most damaging accusation that has been thrown at Aker. On Monday, conservative author James O'Keefe shared a video with his 78,000 followers showing a woman stealing a man's sign at the DNC, and other users who shared the video claimed the footage was of Aker. "Officer, she has my sign," a man tells police in the video as a woman storms off with his Clinton sign. Only, the woman in the video isn't actually Aker, but another caucasian woman with brown hair who bears a slight resemblance to her. "It's pretty laughable," Aker says.
Peter Rickman, the leader for Sanders' Wisconsin delegates, says he rejects Aker's protest, believing it runs counter to her duties as an elected delegate. Specifically, "when it's about someone engaging in self-promotion versus transforming the country and aligning with our leader in a political revolution," Rickman tells Broadly. He further characterizes Aker's protest as a "vanity project."
On Tuesday, the DNC started to distribute "I'm With Her" signs. Aker scrawled on the sign: "I'm silenced by her." Back on the floor, a circle of people began forming around Aker. Criticizing her for holding the sign, Aker used Facebook Live to help defend herself. "If you don't put down the sign then you will be kicked out," a man recorded in the video tells Aker. He tells Aker that if she gets rid of the sign she altered she can get a new one and stay in the convention. "I don't know why you're making Bernie look bad like this but it doesn't look good," he adds during the video.
People were doing "anything they could possibly do to squelch any dissenting opinion— which is what our democracy was founded on," Aker says.
Long before becoming involved in politics and her job at Upworthy, Aker describes life as if she was constantly running on a treadmill, working as a manager in retail while scrambling to support herself and the two children she raised as a single mother. Aker recalls spending $11,000 on childcare alone in one year while earning a $30,000 salary. After getting out of an abusive relationship with the father of her second child, Aker says she faced a lengthy custody battle. The experiences, she says, opened her eyes to the struggles that other poor, working parents faced. Seeking something more meaningful than her day job, she decided to volunteer as a writer for MoveOn.org when she wasn't working. Aker eventually became editor-in-chief at MoveOn.org, and later moved to Upworthy, where Aker has worked since, most recently in a position handling video licensing. Aker says her children, now both teenagers, are proud to see her photograph in the papers. "My kids are passionate progressives too, they are really wonderful students of life and of politics."