When Tom Gallagher was a Massachusetts delegate for Senator George McGovern in 1984, Democratic National Conventions were a bit different.
“This was before it was just one big infomercial,” Gallagher, now 67 and living in San Francisco, said.
At the convention in 1984, McGovern had only 23 delegates to his name, and Gallagher was one of four who refused to switch his vote to former vice president Walter Mondale, the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee, despite McGovern’s urging his delegates to do so.
Similar to 1984, this time around California once again did not go to the insurgent candidate. And as a delegate for Bernie Sanders, Gallagher knew what was in store long before he arrived in Philadelphia in July.
“There wasn’t anything left to push for on the convention floor—a lot of people walked into this not realizing that this was the game,” said Gallagher, a substitute teacher and former member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives.
And so, the stage was set for the first Democratic convention in US history where a politician running on a democratic-socialist platform received 43 percent of the primary vote. As if the impending, and slightly preemptive, celebration of Hillary Clinton wasn’t enough to rattle Sanders delegates, the toxic triumvirate of the selection of Tim Kaine as Clinton’s vice-presidential nominee, the Democratic National Committee e-mail leak, and the timing of the Democratic convention on the heels of a particularly discordant Republican convention sealed the deal.
In the four days that followed, many media outlets portrayed the nearly 1,900 Sanders delegates as “mad as hell” and “ridiculous,” all while laying the responsibility of uniting the Democratic Party at their feet. As the election season heats up, Democratic Party stalwarts are concerned by the reluctance of some Sanders’s supporters to make the switch to enthusiastically backing Hillary Clinton. While the stakes in November are undeniably high, Democrats shouldn’t be quick to forget the acrimonious residue left by what many Sanders delegates experienced at the DNC. As Sanders mentioned in a recent interview with The Nation, “…The Democratic Party is going to have to adjust itself to their reality, rather than force young people to be adjusted to the Democratic leadership’s reality.”
Of the nearly 20 first-time Sanders delegates interviewed for this article—each of whom identifies as a socialist of one stripe or another—almost all either experienced or witnessed Sanders delegates being harassed in some way, and many felt excluded and unwanted. These incidents ranged from Democratic Party officials’ removing signs that weren’t approved and DNC operatives’ taking Sanders’s delegates seats, to bitter exchanges with Clinton delegates and even physical intimidation. While the overall experience of the DNC was not entirely pleasant or uplifting for this group of delegates, they all emerged from the convention with a renewed commitment to continuing Sanders’s political revolution, albeit in different ways. Many plan on working toward change within the Democratic Party, while others are looking to the Green Party or independent politics for a new home.