Last week, I made a bet with three different Sandernistas, each for $25, that Bernie Sanders would take the usual Washington route of cowardice, hypocrisy, and co-option by handing an endorsement to Hillary Clinton. Never bet against politics as usual: After Sanders's capitulation on Tuesday, I am $75 richer and the staunchest of his supporters are stunned, disbelieving, irate.
It would have been an extraordinary move for him not to endorse, given the primary results and the delegate count. But the Sandernistas, bravely idealistic or perhaps merely deluded, thought they had an extraordinary candidate.
Polls generally show most Sanders supporters are willing to back Clinton over Donald Trump—if only to keep the Trump monster out of office—even if they consider Clinton a dishonest agent of elites.
Funny thing is, I can't find these willing Clintonites, certainly not here in Idaho where I've been traveling and living in recent months and where Sanders won the Democratic caucus with nearly 80 percent of the vote.
Instead I find delegates for Sanders like Naomi Johnson, a 35-year-old social worker who at the news of the endorsement climbed to a rooftop in downtown Boise with five other delegates to howl "fuck" like a pack of baying animals. "We flew off the hinges, we cursed, we cried," said Johnson.
Before Tuesday's announcement, the hope among the Sandernistas was that the convention in Philadelphia would be contested, that a rule change could unbind the Clinton-supporting superdelegates, that a revolt could be fomented and spread, that Sanders's rebels in the scrum on the convention floor could secure, with audacious and impassioned argument, the nomination for their man.
"We don't need Clinton, we don't need the establishment," said Johnson. "Fewer people will come to the convention to support the values we fought for because we are now being asked to vote for the establishment. This is 100-percent due to Bernie's endorsement. I wanted the amazing amount of support for Bernie to be seen and recorded and to potentially sway the contested convention. I pictured this convention being crazy. I envisioned us all arguing about the important shit, people's voices being heard, people arguing back and forth. I envisioned it getting crazy in the streets. I wanted that. I wanted my voice to be part of that." What she wanted was the unruliness of democracy in action.
But the convention, she said, "just had the rug pulled out from under it. His endorsement tells me: 'You know how hard you have worked five to seven nights a week for the past so many months you've lost track? Well, you are now being asked to take all that work and direct it toward something we never agreed on.' I do not and will not follow any leader blindly. I refuse to vote for Hillary Clinton, and fuck the establishment. Some people think that going into it and becoming part of the Democratic Party is the thing to do now, but that is not attractive to me." (Johnson, like many other Sandernistas I spoke with, only signed on as a Democrat because Sanders was running on that ticket.)
"He fucked us. We were used and discarded like rag dolls." –Brian Ertz
Another Idaho delegate, Yara Slaton, 33, an ex-Army soldier of Middle Eastern descent, said: "You tell me to vote for her? It's deeply personally insulting. My people's blood is on her hands.
"It's a huge letdown. Earth-shattering and heartbreaking. I'm full of rage. I'm disillusioned. Demoralized. Just… yeah. Lots of feeling," Slaton went on. "I'm not naïve. But we thought he had integrity. He made a promise to millions of Americans and we poured our heart and soul and time and money and effort into his campaign, we sacrificed, because we believed in his vision, we believed he was unwavering in it, and this country, now at the boiling point, needs an honorable leader. We need change, and now. Not in four years, not in eight years. Drastic change, not incremental change."
Other Sandernistas were less measured in their response. "He fucked us. We were used and discarded like rag dolls," said Brian Ertz, a 32-year-old environmental activist in Boise and a Sanders delegate who, a believer to the end, took my bet. "We were used to bring disaffected voters back into the corrupt Democratic Party. Bernie was the sheepdog. Thank you Bernie for bringing so many people into the process to carry Hillary's corporate water. Thank you for reinvigorating a moribund husk of corruption, corruption that had turned so many people off."
When I called him up on Tuesday, a few minutes after the speech in New Hampshire that featured Sanders and Clinton hugging, Ertz was sputtering with rage. "Fuck you too, Bernie," he said. "His whole campaign was, 'Here's the root of the evil, Hillary, the exemplar of a corrupt system.' And now it's, 'Oh by the way, I want you to vote for that root, the one I've been spending the past year condemning.'"
Ertz called Clinton a "pathological liar" and didn't trust her or the party platform, which Sanders has praised. He called the platform a "frivolous proclamation, an exercise to pacify progressives with the illusion of hard-won progress."
"By endorsing, he made it about him, because his reputation will be glorified by the powers that be."
Obama had similarly stabbed progressives in the back during his administration, Ertz went on, and lots of lefties had given up hope in the Democrats. "And here comes Bernie, breathing oxygen onto the streets once again, galvanizing the grassroots with condemnation of politics as usual and promises of something different. Then he turns his back and plays the very same game. That kind of move subdues and fractures the grassroots.
"He didn't have to endorse her, dude. By endorsing, he made it about him, because his reputation will be glorified by the powers that be. If he abstained from endorsing, he could have continued to fan the flames of a citizen-led outrage. He opted for reputation, for reprieve from the criticisms and pressures of the establishment. In doing so, he has deflated the movement, which—unless something changes—will be mired in infighting about whether to follow Bernie or build toward a third party. Ultimately what he's saying is, I don't believe in you, Bernie Sanders followers. I don't believe in you one bit. God, Christ, I don't know what to say except fuck you, Bernie. Fuck you, fuck you, fuck you."
Ertz is serving on the Democratic Convention's Rules Committee, a powerful post, and has promised during his upcoming week in Philadelphia to "advance measures aimed at structurally democratizing the Democratic Party, the establishment's greatest fear. Let them shut such efforts down, and do so explicitly." Some Sanders delegates I spoke with said they plan to disrupt the proceedings using all legal means available, under the cover of propriety and process.
But first they have to get there. Delegates often have to pay their own way to the conventions, and many are trying to crowdfund the money for their trips—a task that Sandernistas say is harder now that their candidate isn't going to fight for the nomination.
"We have a delegate with a brain condition," said Johnson. "She can't function without her husband attending to her, and she is struggling. She pulled her kid out of day care to save money to go to the convention. She has a GoFundMe account. She's using $500 in savings in emergency funds."
Slaton, a single mom with a 13-year-old daughter, has borrowed money from friends and family. One wheelchair-bound delegate is trying to auction off handmade wooden bowls to get to Philly.
Johnson herself sold hummus—"120 containers, eight ounces each," a total of 60 pounds. "I made a thousand bucks. And I had my flight donated to me. I'm the lucky one. I don't have kids. I have a good job. Many folks are going into debt."
On the night following the endorsement, Johnson got together for a travel fund-raiser with other delegates in Boise. "But it was just sad," she said. "We were drained. It wasn't the same. Everything has changed."