Protests and Pot Smoking in the City of Brotherly Love
Bernie Sanders supporters and the Pro-Hillary camp struggle to unite outside the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.
PHILADELPHIA — Across from City Hall in downtown Philadelphia, Mississippi Democratic delegate Kelly Jacobs stood alone on a street corner surveying the scene in front of her. Jacobs had a Hillary Clinton sticker stuck to her arm and a jeweled “President Hillary” pin on her handmade dress depicting President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama.
A massive inflatable joint floated its way around the block while Bernie Sanders supporters chanted, “Feel the Bern!” Jacobs was confused. “I don’t understand the opposition [to Hillary],” she said.
Passing supporters of the Vermont senator yelled pro-Sanders and anti-Clinton lines at Jacobs. “I walked through the crowd, and I’ve been called a lot of names since I got here. It’s been brutal. I was called a ‘sheep.’ I was called a ‘bitch.’ Their team lost,” she said. “They need to let it go.”
With a peaceful end to the 2016 Republican National Convention on July 21, the election focus has shifted to the Democratic National Convention now in its third day at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. The convention’s kickoff was marred by scandal after WikiLeaks began releasing Democratic National Committee emails on July 22. The first two days inside the convention hall were marked by the tears Sanders supporters shed as he gave his endorsement to Clinton and during Michelle Obama’s prime-time address on Monday.
The scene in Philadelphia stands in stark contrast to that of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. Though thousands of protestors are filling Philadelphia’s streets, it appears that far fewer police officers are patrolling the crowds, and heavily armed riot police are nowhere to be seen. And where many who came to stand outside Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena exercised their right to carry handguns, many of the protesters in Philadelphia seem to be more interested in smoking pot and pitching tents in Franklin Delano Roosevelt Park. (Though according to a press release put out by the Philadelphia Police Department, some 60 violations for disorderly conduct have been issued, carrying a $50 fine.)
On Monday morning, Paula Gandolfo, a white female Navy veteran, stood under the southern archway of City Hall in downtown Philadelphia. Gandolfo couch-surfed from her home in San Diego to Philadelphia to show her support for Sanders. She’s most upset by what she describes as voter fraud in California and the possible uncounted votes for Sanders. “Democracy only works when it’s one person, one vote,” she said. She was hoping that the Democrats inside the Wells Fargo Center would choose to nominate Sanders regardless. But, Gandolfo said, “I am not going to support Donald [Trump].”
A few feet away, Phil Sander, a 66-year-old self-described “Bernie or Bust” die-hard, leaned against a wall sporting a black Bernie Sanders T-shirt, jean shorts, and a Marlboro fanny pack. Sander traveled to Philadelphia from Indianapolis prepared to support the Vermont senator until he’s elected. He thinks a Green Party ticket with Sanders and Jill Stein could win the presidency, but the longer change takes, he says, the more uncertain about the future he becomes. Sander looked out at a crowd of young Bernie supporters. “I’m not sure the movement is going to survive, because I don’t think we’re going to survive climate change,” he said.
Marching down Broad Street, Scott Warner, a 27-year-old white Philadelphia native, carried a sign reading: “Syrian Children.” Warner says he’s fed up with the wars his government is involved in. “There’s a video of U.S.-backed moderate Syrian rebels beheading a child. That, for me, is an example of U.S. foreign policy. We create problems, and then we fix them. It goes down to the root problem: We support these wars,” he said. Warner doesn’t think the election is going to change anything and doesn’t have faith in the electoral process. “It’s an utterly flawed system. Hillary Clinton? She’s going to be president because it’s rigged. It’s all rigged,” he said.
The next morning, nearly six miles from the Wells Fargo Center, Brandon Pelzer sat on a stool at the West Philadelphia bar on the corner of 49th and Catharine Street where he’s a chef. Pelzer, a 29-year-old African-American, was born and raised in Philadelphia and says he loves his city and its atmosphere. He thinks having the Democratic National Convention in town is a good thing because it’s bringing money into the city. When thinking about the issues surrounding the presidential election, Pelzer has decided to vote for Clinton. “I’m alright with her,” he said. “I’d rather Bernie Sanders would’ve won, but anyone is better than Trump.”
A few blocks away, Ainyé Clarke, an African-American college student and Philadelphia native, walked down Baltimore Avenue toward downtown. Clarke, who is 19 years old, says she’s not going to vote. “I really don’t want to be a part of it,” she said firmly. A half-mile closer to downtown, Jean-Jacques Gabribel, a 33-year-old originally from Haiti, had just finished teaching a yoga class. Gabribel thinks the conventions are part of the big show of American politics, but the issues they bring up are what people will talk about. However, he’s put off by how much money is spent on them. “These big events cost a lot of money, and that money doesn’t serve the city widely,” he said. Still, Gabribel continued, as he threw a leg over his bike, “It’ll be interesting to see where this nation will go when you can’t ignore its racist, capitalist tendencies.”
Closer to the commotion downtown, Nick Carroll, a white 26-year-old insurance adjuster, made his way quickly through the University of Pennsylvania’s campus to pick up tickets for The Daily Show. Carroll says he’s going to vote for Clinton but that he would’ve voted for Sanders if he had won. He says he wouldn’t be comfortable with Trump as president, though it wasn’t something he was concerned about until he saw the bump in Trump’s polling numbers after the Republican National Convention. “As a country, the fact we’re even considering electing a reality TV star, someone who has only ever promoted himself.… I think we’d be crazy not to be worried,” he said.
In the Poplar neighborhood of North Philadelphia, Mina Maysonet, 25, and Tyrell Walker, 26, walked with their son, Tyrell Jr., 3, back to the homeless shelter where they have lived for the past two months. Maysonet and Walker, both African-American, are worried that the growing tensions in the United States are going to turn into riots similar to the 1965 Watts riots in Los Angeles. “I think it’s all fucked,” Walker said, as he kept a hand on his smiling son’s head. But he’ll “take another Clinton in office. Trump shouldn’t be the guy in office and running the country. It could be Manny Pacquiao,” he said, referring to the Filipino former professional boxer-turned-politician. “I’m voting for anyone besides Trump.”
A mile away, a few hundred people continued their protest march down Broad Street toward City Hall. Compared to the streets of Cleveland, where masses of police, including out-of-state units, blocked and corralled marches, the Philadelphia protests have been ushered through the city by local bike patrol units.
As these protestors, organized by the Philly Coalition for Real Justice, continued their march toward City Hall, they were met and joined by actress Ashley Judd, who had been on her way to an event but said, “This is the most perfect and poetic diversion.”
After walking a few blocks further, some protesters were met by Fox News correspondent Geraldo Rivera and his body guards. The exchanged ended when a protestor emptied a bottle of water on Rivera’s head.