Is the Democratic Party ready to unite?

    Kat Richter

    Kat Richter

    Kat Richter is showing off her “Bernie crowns” — headbands decorated with colored tissue paper and “Bernie” spelled out in sparkly, gold block letters.

    Aside from her penchant for crafting, Richter is a delegate for Bernie Sanders at next week’s Democratic National Convention, which will take place just a few blocks from her house in South Philadelphia.

    She’s still planning to wear her “Bernie crown” to the convention, even though her candidate recently endorsed his rival, presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton.

    Next week, all eyes are going to be on Sanders’ supporters such as Richter to see whether they’re ready to toe the party line or if they’ll challenge the nominee just as some Republicans did at their convention in Cleveland this week.

    In fact, Richter has gotten a couple of phone calls from Clinton delegates asking where she stands.

    “They all sound really nervous when they’re calling us — I think the campaign has asked them to do this,” she said. “So I think there’s some fear still on her campaign’s part and rightly so.”

    So what does she say to them?

    “Well, I’m definitely not running for Trump, I know that much,” Richter says with a laugh. She’s not planning to skip the ballot box either, but is not sure yet whether she can vote for Clinton.

    For many other Sanders delegates, it’s a no-brainer.

    Bill Leopold, a Sanders supporter from Montgomery County, said he’s ready to stand behind Clinton in part because of his experience as a young, liberal activist.

    bill leopold 00Sanders supporter Bill Leopold says he’s ready to stand behind Clinton. (Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY)

    “I was, I guess, what one might call a long-haired hippie back in the ’60s,” he said.

    Sporting that hairdo, Leopold periodically cut class in high school to protest the Vietnam War and campaign for anti-war candidate Eugene McCarthy — even though he was not yet old enough to vote. 

    Many compare Sanders to McCarthy, focusing on their “outsider” status, appeal to young progressives and ability to draw large crowds. But unlike Sanders, McCarthy refused to endorse his opponent Hubert Humphrey before the Democratic National Convention, and the 1968 DNC in Chicago was marked by violent clashes between police and anti-war protesters who chanted, “The whole world is watching.”

    Indeed, the whole world was watching.

    Today, Leopold blames a divided Democratic Party for putting Republican Richard Nixon in the White House, and he said the stakes are just as high in 2016.

    “We can’t afford to be the laughingstock,” he said. “We can’t afford to have retrogression of the rights everyone’s pushed for for so long, so we have to unify.”

    But he acknowledges some of his counterparts have a different idea of what “unity” means, especially younger delegates such as Amanda McIllmurray.

    Like Leopold was in the 1960s, McIllmurray is an activist — she was one of six people arrested this week during a rally calling on the DNC host committee to release donor information.

    Amanda McIllmurrayDelegate Amanda McIllmurray. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

    “I believe in people unity, not party unity,” she said. “I think that people in themselves should unify for a common good so that everybody has a decent quality of life.”

    While she has accepted that Sanders won’t be on the ballot in November, McIllmurray does have a plan to take action on issues she cares about, such as raising the minimum wage, although she won’t say exactly how she’s planning to make her voice heard on the convention floor.

    McIllmurray said she is not looking to stir up chaos; she just wants to get her message across while Democratic Party elites are watching. 

    “I think that it takes all of us working from the outside, knocking on the doors and people from the inside opening up those small windows,” she said.

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