The VICE Guide to the 2016 Election

Inside the Walkout That Ended Bernie Sanders's Revolution

As Hillary Clinton officially won the nomination, the Bernie Sanders movement fractured and made one last stand in front of the media at the Democratic National Convention.
July 27, 2016, 2:00pm

Bernie Sanders supporters stage a protest at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. Photos by Jason Bergman

If anyone ever told Bernie Sanders superfans that the revolution won't be televised, they clearly didn't take it to heart. Minutes after their nominal leader formally conceded the nomination to Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia exploded in cheers and G-rated pop hits, a flock of Sanderistas walked out of the Wells Fargo Center and marched directly on the press pavilion outside. Soon a crowd of maybe a few dozen silent demonstrators—some wearing Robin Hood–style hats and mouth coverings symbolizing their contention that they had been silenced by the Democratic Party—were assembled, fists raised in protest, while a scrum of national and international media roiled around them.

You couldn't have scripted a more allegorical end to the progressive crusade started by Sanders. For months, it's become increasingly obvious that the bitter primary campaign was essentially over. Sanders fell behind in pledged delegates, then was mathematically eliminated, then conceded, then fully endorsed Clinton. Most of his supporters have quietly followed his lead; the walkout was small enough that it wasn't immediately obvious on the convention floor that anything had happened. But the minority is angry, vocal, and hungry to publicize what they see as a rigging of the democratic process. They see Clinton as being cozy with the banks, in thrall to a corrupt system, and too willing to bend the truth.


"We've had it, we've just had it!" Pam Keeley, a Washington State Sanders delegate who was one of the organizers of the walkout, told VICE. "We've had it with the hypocrisy, the lies, the being used for votes and campaign funds and then just being thrown out like garbage. This is basically a peasant's uprising."

Keeley said that about 80 delegates walked off as Sanders conceded for the last time, but "several hundred" were prevented from leaving by police.

According to one delegate, Sanders himself sent out an email telling delegates not to walk—but some committed Sanderistas have grown disenchanted with their former icon and believe that the candidate has wandered off the trail he helped blaze.

"The reason that people got behind Bernie Sanders was that his message was a message of rebellion against a hated Establishment," Kshama Sawant, a socialist city council member from Seattle who supported the walkout, told VICE. "It was circular logic for Bernie to expect that his supporters would support his choice to turn around and say, 'All the political revolution was great for a few months while it lasted, now let's fold our movement behind the very epitome of the Establishment that we hate.'"

On Tuesday, Sanders made a formal request that Clinton be the nominee after the votes were tallied, a ceremonial detail that emphasized his reconciliation with mainstream Democrats. But that didn't make a difference to the delegates who walked out. Neither did the policy concessions Clinton has made to appease the left, like her progressive plan to make state college free to families that make under $125,000. They felt ignored and disrespected by an Establishment that has been out to crush Sanders from the start; Democratic National Committee emails revealed by Wikileaks last week just seemed to drive that point home.


Harlan Baker, a Sanders delegate who is also a former Maine state representative, was particularly angry about the way the DNC was biased in favor of Clinton. "A good chair… stays neutral for party unity," he told VICE after walking out. "They don't pick a side, mock the other side, and then say it's time for unity… It's that kind of condescension that's led a lot of people out here tonight."

Other, more personal indignities added to the Sanders delegates' sense of grievance. Keeley said that the chair would only turn on the microphones when they knew what individual delegates would say, and Sanders delegates were frequently threatened with having their credentials revoked. "That's not democracy," she said. And a Maine delegate who walked out complained that they were only allowed to wave pre-approved signs handed out by Democratic officials instead of their handmade pro-Sanders signs.

The walkout may have been the most dramatic and documented protest against Clinton's official ascension, but there were others. A demonstration outside the DNC security perimeter was reportedly broken up by pepper spray and Jill Stein, the Green Party's presidential candidate, was openly courting Sanders voters who feel ripped off by the Democrats at a rally after Clinton's nomination. For many left-wingers, Stein is the obvious choice—in an op-ed for the website CounterPunch, Sawant called Green's campaign "the clear continuation of our political revolution."


Many Sanders supporters weren't as confident about the direction they would take. Bob Canfield, an 18-year-old Sanders delegate from California, said by text that he was "frustrated with the direction the party seems to be going," but instead of quitting said he planned "on staying in the party and working on transforming it into a party that represents the progressive values of Senator Sanders."

Another Sanders delegate, who didn't want to be identified, cited the recent change in the rule on superdelegates as one concrete change Sanders won—in any case, he's not so upset that he's willing to take to the streets. "I wasn't a Hillary supporter," he told VICE, "but now I am."

The Sanders campaign, obviously, is over. What happens to the Sanders revolution is less clear. If the senator from Vermont ever represented a unified wing of progressives, that wing has now splintered, probably irrevocably. Some have abandoned the Democrats thanks to the bitterness of the primary, some were never Democrats to begin with, and some, Sanders himself included, will likely stay inside the Democratic tent, working on a stage of the revolution that is quieter and maybe less angry than the protests outside the DNC.

"This is a time of flux, and there aren't quick and easy answers about, 'If you're not here than you go there," Keeley said as she moved on to the next protest of the night. "It feels good to be outside."

Follow Harry Cheadle on Twitter.