Much has already been made of the dust-up at the Nevada state Democratic convention. Was Bernie robbed by corruption? Was an unruly mob turned back? Opinions run hot through both social media and legacy media as the fight for the nomination heats up into a rather physical confrontation. But one point has rarely been made in all the noise:
What was actually at stake were two national delegates of the 4,765 total, or 0.04%.
For all the fuss you’d naturally assume that there was more to it than this, but there wasn’t. And the noise becomes much more than a juicy news story or a call to arms for a disgruntled group who believe they were robbed. It comes down to a question of strategy or how actual change is made, whether by a democratic process, a revolution, or some combination of the two.
By that standard what happened was completely shameful for a number of reasons.
While there has been a lot of heat generated over the discourse of the convention, very little light has been shown. There are cell phone videos of people shouting and one scene where the paramedics were called for reasons that remain unclear. It seems unfair to characterize what happened as “violent”, but it certainly was nasty.
Politifact has their analysis, which is probably the clearest, coldest one I’ve seen. Sanders’ supporters certainly won’t like it one bit, but as a veteran of conventions I have to say that it is very reasonable. These things are governed by rules, which in this case were very tough, set up to verify that the overall rules for delegate selection are followed.
What it ultimately comes down to is that 58 Sanders delegates didn’t even show up that day, leaving their crew outnumbered. You can’t have a “revolution” if people don’t even show up when they are supposed to.
For all the noise generated we have to ask ourselves, “What did this accomplish?” At the best, on that day two more National Delegates would have gone to Sanders, again 0.04% of the total. That doesn’t get Sanders any closer to the nomination. What needs to happen for his campaign to win is that superdelegates, which is to say party insiders, need to change their mind. How did the performance in Las Vegas help the cause of turning the supers? How was that a way to make friends and influence people?
Compare and contrast this with the movement that carefully kept its eyes on the prize and eventually made a big difference – the Civil Rights movement. When attacked by dogs and firehoses they didn’t strike back. They didn’t flinch. They didn’t call in death threats to the officials involved. They sang, “We shall overcome” to keep up their spirits as the made it clear that they were there and weren’t going anywhere until justice was done.
Imagine if the Sanders delegates had held their seats and started singing, loudly, never letting up.
The Black Lives Matter movement has also done a great job of staying non-violent and making their case known. The response to it, which has sometimes been violent and has often threatened more violence, has made it clear to the white world which once denied racism was a problem – racism is indeed still a problem. The demeanor of those involved speaks more loudly than their words.
That is how you make real change. That is how a movement becomes a force for progress.
Whether the goal of the Sanders crew is nominating Sanders or creating a permanent movement for progressive change, the incident in Las Vegas was nothing but a setback. The stakes in place were minuscule, but the outrage large and unfocused. Their leadership utterly failed them in terms of getting people to turn out, explaining the rules they were operating under, and developing a coherent plan of action.
Lashing out might “feel good”, but real change comes from applying that energy into something much more positive. You don’t have to be Dr. Martin Luther King to understand that – Malcolm X never shied from threats but also stayed organized and kept his eyes on the prize. Saul Alinsky demanded as much, too.
In the end we have to ask ourselves, “What was accomplished at this convention?” The short version is that everyone lost. The stakes were far too low for any other result once it became nasty and divisive. The battleground was poorly chosen and the leadership was terrible. Everyone who favors progressive action should be ashamed of what happened there because it only fuels more nastiness – which, if we learned anything from 1968, only plays to the candidate who best represents order and calm.
What really happened in Las Vegas? Nothing good for anyone.