PHILADELPHIA — The Convention-eve resignation of Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz Sunday evening emphasized that this week’s party conclave in Philadelphia may not be the seamless coronation that most Democratic operatives pined for.
Embarrassing emails showed that party leaders had conspired to short-circuit the maverick campaign of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. That led Schultz to announce, within just hours of the news breaking, that she would step down at week’s end, after more than a decade as Democratic Party chair.
Democrats now know they will not escape the kind of tendentious infighting that distracted Republicans last week in Cleveland as they nominated Donald Trump. Even before Schultz’s swift exit, thousands of Sanders supporters were ready to make sure of that. The pro-Sanders camp had planned a week of protests to guarantee that Democratic nominee-in-waiting Hillary Clinton had to at least share the stage with their anti-establishment agenda.
Even in a news environment chock-full of too much information, the Sanders protest message stands a better-than-average chance of penetrating the public consciousness, in no small measure because of the presence in Philadelphia this week of several of Hollywood’s most outspoken stars, who also happen to be major Sanders backers. The actors, including Shailene Woodley, Susan Sarandon, Danny Glover and Rosario Dawson, insist the Vermont senator is still the best person to lead America. They kicked off that message Sunday night at a rally in this city’s Germantown section.
Woodley, the 24-year-old star of the “Divergent” films, felt so strongly about Sanders and his populist crusade that she left Los Angeles nearly a week ago and caravanned across the country from Hollywood to join the other progressives, organizers said. Woodley and her confederates demanded swifter action to expand health care to all, to end America’s military adventures overseas and to hike the minimum wage from the current $7.50 an hour to $10 or more. The Woodley political caravan reportedly took six days to make the trek, before landing in Glover Park just hours before the start of Sunday’s pro-Sanders happening.
Some 2,000 Sanders true believers from around the U.S. filled the leafy park. It was just the beginning of what the protesters said they expect to be a week of loud and highly visible demonstrations. Many of the protesters will confine their rants and rallies to the designated “protest zone” adjacent to the Wells Fargo Center. But others will venture across Philadelphia and end the protests at the convention site.
The other Hollywood luminaries joining Woodley Sunday evening were Sarandon and Glover. The trio and several other speakers urged the Sanders acolytes to continue fighting for progressive imperatives, despite the fact that Sanders has no mathematical chance of overcoming Clinton, after the duo waged a tough, six-month primary election contest.
“This rally, the first of a series of rallies across the country, will address the intersectionality of climate, environmental, racial and economic justice issues,” said film director Josh Fox, creator of the climate documentary shown at the event and one of the organizers of the rally. Fox went on to praise “a dream team of organizers, celebrities, musicians, and environmental, economic and racial justice advocates” who put the show together, including Sarandon, Woodley, Glover, Nomiki Konst and Dr. Ben Jealous, former national chair of the NAACP.
Said Sarandon, in prepared remarks, said: “This is to show that we haven’t lost steam. The political establishment still has to deal with us. We need to make sure that the people have a voice in the debate going forward.” The Academy Award-winning actress created a furor weeks ago when she suggested that she would rather vote for Republican Donald Trump than Democratic heir apparent Clinton.
Woodley’s presence was especially noteworthy, in that she didn’t merely fly in for the event. Instead, she helped organize a caravan of buses and other vehicles, all filled with progressive activists who arrived in the City of Brotherly Love on Sunday, after driving all the way from Los Angeles and Portland. Woodley and the band of scruffy, committed young people pledged to camp out all this week outside the Wells Fargo Center to make abundantly clear their continuing support for Sanders, and their disdain for corporate power and Clinton, the former Secretary of State and First Lady.
Woodley, star of the George Clooney family drama “The Descendants,” has had an increasingly high profile as a political activist, particularly notable because she has emerged from a generation of young Hollywood luminaries who have mostly eschewed politics. The actress said in brief remarks in Vernon Park that she hoped her caravan and the presence of the peace protesters would remind older Democrats about their party’s firebrand roots.
Woodley named the “Up to Us” caravan after her fledgling group, saying it the group amounted to a “modern day peace train.” The actress waxed Utopian, calling for a crusade to keep young people away from “all the violence and heartbreak occurring in the streets of our nation.” Instead, she called on the young activists to “transmute” the violence of recent days in the U.S. and abroad “into hope, love, peace, and activated action.” According to a prepared statement, the actress added: “This is how we will truly make a difference. Love trumps hate, always. We now have an opportunity to show up with love, and demand systemic reform.”
Woodley’s message hung over the large crowd as heavy as the giant cloud of cannabis smoke. Dozens of joints, pipes and bongs sparked like fireflies around the park on a sultry Philadelphia evening. And Woodley’s words of encouragement ended to a huge ovation. The actress then left for a camp adjacent the convention center, where she planned to spend the night with other activists.
The Democratic Convention opens Monday afternoon and culminates Thursday evening, with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s speech accepting her party’s nomination. It will make her the first woman ever nominated for president on a major party’s political ticket.