Before the DNC, a ‘people’s convention’ sets its own, progressive agenda

Voters unsatisfied with the Democratic Party Platform filled the Arch Street Meeting House for the People's Convention

Voters unsatisfied with the Democratic Party Platform filled the Arch Street Meeting House for the People's Convention

Bernie Sanders supporters know their candidate won’t get the Democratic party nod Thursday, but they’d like to convert the burst of enthusiasm for his campaign into sustained political activism.

To that end, a group called People’s Revolution held an alternative convention this weekend, aimed at “crowdsourcing” an alternative platform and keeping progressives engaged. 

“A lot of us started organizing with Bernie Sanders over a year ago and we don’t want people to become inactive just because their candidate didn’t get the nomination or they aren’t interested in the rest of this election cycle,” said Shana East, a member of the Sanders campaign team in Illinois and one of the leaders of the convention.

 

Endorsed by a cohort of Philadelphia-area progressive groups, the convention centered around ratifying five platform “planks” selected through an online voting process: “getting big money out of politics, racial justice, income and wealth inequality, climate change and healthcare for all.”

Held in the unairconditioned Arch Street Meeting House, hundreds of attendees, some toting handheld fans, drifted between small workshops and big discussions of the planks. After each issue was introduced, leaders solicited public comment and then put the planks up for ratification — via text message.

After each comment, the predominantly white audience clapped politely, even in response to challenges from competing ideologies.

“Both the Democrats and the Republicans, the Greens, Bernie Sanders of course, are enemies of the working class and of the oppressed,” said a woman who identified herself as Monica, a New Yorker from the Spartacist League, a Marxist group. “Instead of clapping and singing, let’s get serious. Let’s have a program.”

Philly Coalition for R.E.A.L. Justice, a local activist group premised on “eliminating the system of white supremacy and police terror,” endorsed the meeting and organizer Erica Mines spoke during the racial justice platform, but also took Sanders supports to task during the public comment portion.

“It is very difficult for me as a black woman to talk about racial justice when I don’t see people that look like me as a majority being represented in this room,” said Mines. “The same way that I’m angry, you need to be angry. Stop this peaceful bullshit. I’m tired of all this Quaker shit.”

Fitting these comments and a rangy set of policy aims — from reparations to ending fracking for natural gas — into a workable activism agenda is still far off, according to East.

“This is work in progress, this is an experiment in democracy…there can be amendments to these planks, it’s a living document so to speak,” she said.

Green party presidential candidate Jill Stein and former Ohio Senator Nina Turner spoke at the keynote session. East said the group cannot endorse any particular political candidate.

After calling the official DNC platform “absolutely ridiculous” and “shameful,” Turner listed off the people’s platform goals, from universal healthcare to stopping the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

“All of this is so important, so I don’t want you to be discouraged,” she said.

The next People’s Revolution platform discussion is slated for mid-August.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.