PHILADELPHIA – A march three city blocks in length is headed to Franklin Delano Roosevelt park in South Philadelphia, where the city has allowed protesters to gather. People in the crowd are angry, but not all on the same page. There are those wearing Bernie Sanders shirts and those waving red flags. Sometimes people do both. Some say they are angry, some say they feel betrayed. Others express hope. They say they understand that Bernie has to do what he has to do to stay inside the system.
An organizer skirts the perimeter of the march, leading chants of “Bernie or Bust” — what does he mean, exactly?
“I’m a grassroots organizer for Bernie, for the last year out of Denver, Colorado, and I think especially after last week’s endorsement of his rival, Bernie Sanders really needs to know that the people of this country support his quote-unquote political revolution, and they are a lot more serious about it than he actually is. So we’re here to remind Bernie that this past year wasn’t a joke for us. That our kids actually need a future to believe in. And that means acting now, not waiting four or eight years for the party to hopefully reform itself.”
Suddenly, we are cut off. Between Passyunk and Mifflin streets, someone in the crowd spots a confederate flag. It’s part of the Mississippi state flag. An immediate chant goes up: “Take it down! Take it down!”
Two young black women sit down in front of the streetlamp where the City of Brotherly Love has hung a Mississippi state flag. A handful of others sit down with the two women. The impromptu contingent decides they will sit until the flag comes down.
“Join us! Join us!”
There is confusion.
Organizers of the march shout, “Go to the DNC!”
The sitting people shout back, “Black Lives Matter!”
The organizers try and start a chant: “We’ll be back!”– but it doesn’t catch on. After a momentary pause, the rest of the march, including the man I was speaking with, moves on.
“This isn’t Brotherly Love!” someone cries.
“Whoever’s OK with that flag clearly has something to compensate for!”
But the march leaves, onwards towards the convention site, where they will attempt to petition their grievances to a government that has put them behind a perimeter fence.
Many of the police on bicycles in Philadelphia are flying flags, tiny American flags that are black and white except for one of the stripes, which is blue. They say they all decided to fly them on their own, no coordination, pressure or union support needed. “It was off some website,” a cop says. “Move back!”
The cops with their flags follow the march down the road away from the people who refuse to move until the flag comes down. Others take their place – in cars, in busses, in vans and in helicopters. The street becomes quiet. People take up chants among themselves: “Black lives matter!” and “Bring a ladder!”
A guitarist stays, strumming and singing to keep morale up. His voice never gives out. “All we are saying, is take down that flag!”
There is a protest permit system in place. If someone wants to join the scheduled marches, they have to make their way through the hellish snarl of downtown traffic or find parking elsewhere and then commute via public transportation. The city expects more than 50,000 protesters during each day of the DNC, and most of the marches originate an hour’s walk away from the convention, at City Hall. The weather is hot, in the 90’s. The sun is strong. Volunteers pass out water, but by the time the marches reach FDR park people sprawl on the uncomfortable crab grass in the shade. People are dehydrated and exhausted.
So the police have closed off the streets around this impromptu sit-in, but they are not quick to arrest anyone. There is a stand-off. Activists sit cross-legged on the ground, blocking the road but hardly causing any more trouble than shouting.
How does one of the young women who started the action feel about how everyone else marched off?
“I don’t feel no type of way. They on a mission, too. This just puts certain type of people, who feel a certain way about this flag, and that means a lot to me. Because they don’t got the same color skin as me but they care about others.”
She lives in this area, and says she didn’t even realize the flag was up. “But this is a very prejudiced part of Philadelphia. Very prejudiced part of Philadelphia. But Frank Rizzo made that happen.”
Does she think it’s the same struggle, what they’re marching for and taking the confederate flag down?
“Yeah. It is the same struggle. Maybe they just didn’t want to sit. I don’t know. I can’t feel. I can’t worry about them. I worry about me, and I’m a-sit here. They care about me, that’s why they still here.” She gestures down the street where the other marchers went. “I can’t talk about them. They care, but they probably just trying to get to the DNC to get their parts out. But I ain’t mad at them at all. We all doing the same thing. They walking for peace, we sitting here. So it’s like they didn’t really leave us.” She pauses. “They left us here to make something happen about these flags. And we know they’re on a mission to do what we asked them to do. So we still working together, we’re one, we’re here for this and they there for that. And we’re all going to link back up again, believe it. So I’m not mad at all. I’m not mad.”
Does she have anything to say about the flag?
“I want it the fuck down.” she laughs. “I want them to take it down, but I don’t want nobody to get locked up, because that can happen. And I don’t want to see that. But… I can’t climb that pole!”
The owner of the flower business nearby is angry. He walks through his store. “Mary!” he says. “I need that computer to write a letter to the mayor.”
He sits writes a letter demanding the city and parks service remove the flag in front of his business. He says it’s causing him a whole lot of trouble, and, besides, he doesn’t endorse the flag. “The letter’s going to be copied to the Parks Commission, that’s who put that up, and Street Commission.We’re going to ask them to please take it down since that is disruptive to us, we don’t endorse it, we pay our taxes, we shouldn’t have to be inconvenienced because of that flag.“
Who paid for the flag?
“The DNC. It hadn’t been up for a couple of years, but the DNC gave the city money. There’s flags all the way up Broad Street.”
“We’re going to hand deliver it to the Mayor’s office tomorrow. We’re not going to wait for the mail.”
Outside, the other young woman who started the action is speaking with a group of citizen journalists.
“It’s a racist flag from a racist state.” she says. “There’s more than one fight going on here.”
Does she think the fight from the march and the fight to take down the confederate flag are one in the same?
“Well, sort of. But I think we have to attack it from different angles.”
“Yeah,” says a white man standing next to her.
“And this is my angle for now, their angle is getting to the park. We all believe the same thing, that’s clear.”
“Brilliant,” says the man.
The dozen or so people out front sit and speak with each other. Sometimes, they argue. It’s a diverse crew. There are people there who are anarchists, Jill Stein supporters, socialists, communists and Bernie Sanders supporters as well.
It seems to be a power play, a game of chicken with the police. The police don’t want to arrest anyone for demanding the confederate flag be taken down. Though the media is not present, word would get out somehow. It would look bad for a state that offered up more than 360,000 soldiers to fight the confederacy during the Civil War.
But the activists aren’t going anywhere. A few people try and argue they should leave, that this is pointless, that the police have promised them someone is coming to take down the flag. But the group tells them to go ahead, they can leave, but they’re going to stay there until the flag comes down. People gather shoelaces, computer cables, something to make a lasso and try to bring it down themselves, but it’s too high up and there’s nothing to stand on. The police shoo away a man who arrives with a ladder.
Another march arrives. The police stand with bikes to block off the sit-in from the other march.The group stands up, thrilled, shouting “Join us! Take it down!” pointing at the flag. A young blonde woman in a Bernie t-shirt pushes herself between the police bicycles to make space for people to come through if they want. Dr. Cornell West, honorary chair of the Democratic Socialists of America, is there near the front. He smiles at the sit-in, but keeps moving. While some people break off and sit down, the group overall keeps walking. It’s okay, the people tell each other. Another march is coming.
By now, the sit-in has grown enough to spread itself out to block the road. It’s more difficult to walk around. When the greens arrive, the group does not seem so desperate. There are more people shouting slogans and telling the march to join them. The police say they’re going to send someone out to take down the flag. They’ve been saying the same thing since the first people sat down — this is why some people wanted to leave. But the answer is the same as before, a new chant: “I’ll believe it when I see it!”
There are now hundreds of people in front of the confederate flag on Broad Street, blocking the way for other marchers, finally creating that critical mass. Mothers with their children are sitting in now. The city brings in a man in a cherry picker. A giant cheer goes up.
This week, there are tens of thousands of people in Philadelphia protesting something that they are unable to change. People walk around speaking of a greater plan, of a last minute win for Sanders, of voting for Jill Stein and helping her get 5% of the popular vote. But here, at Passyunk and Broad, is a real victory. The flag comes down. What was at first just a dozen people has swelled into a city block’s worth, and the flag comes down.
It becomes clear as the march moves onward down Broad Street that there were some in the crowd who consider themselves wronged by the sit-in. A couple of men crack jokes. Some people can’t see the point in so much trouble for just a confederate flag. “That’s not why we’re here,” a pro-Bernie Sanders protester says hours afterwards. He was one of the ones who saw the sit-in, but kept walking. “Of course everyone has a problem with the confederate flag. But that’s not why we’re here.”
One of the issues that followed the Sanders campaign was the Black Lives Matter movement. He called reparations “divisive“. Now, he attempts to build “unity” on the floor of the convention by endorsing the very person his supporters are on the street protesting against.
It is no secret that Hillary Clinton and I disagree on a number of issues. That’s what this campaign has been about. That’s what democracy is about. But I am happy to tell you that at the Democratic Platform Committee there was a significant coming together between the two campaigns and we produced, by far, the most progressive platform in the history of the Democratic Party. […]
Our job now is to see that platform implemented by a Democratic Senate, a Democratic House and a Hillary Clinton presidency – and I am going to do everything I can to make that happen.
I have known Hillary Clinton for 25 years. I remember her as a great first lady who broke precedent in terms of the role that a first lady was supposed to play as she helped lead the fight for universal health care. I served with her in the United States Senate and know her as a fierce advocate for the rights of children.
Hillary Clinton will make an outstanding president and I am proud to stand with her here tonight.
It remains to be seen how things will develop in Philadelphia today after Sanders’s speech last night. Who will be unified, who will converge, and who will be out sitting on the hot Philadelphia pavement?