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July 25, 2016

When Bernie Sanders spoke, they cried and rued what could have been

The Democratic primary runner-up issued a call to supporters during DNC speech: Don't sit this one out

You’re going to see some theatrics in there. You know what I’m saying. We’ll see if they pull it off.”

The long-simmering – but at-least-publicly placated – seeds of discontent waited all of a few minutes from the Monday afternoon start of the Democratic National Convention to burst though the surface.

Insulated from what was happening among the protesters outside, Bernie Sanders chants broke out during the opening prayer. Boos, then cheers to drown out the boos. Then cheers. Then boos.

From there, about four hours later, U.S. Sen. Al Franken noted that #ImWithHer and Sarah Silverman noted that she was feeling the Bern by way of a unified introduction of Paul Simon’s performance.

“Hillary is our nominee, and I will proudly vote for her. She’s, like, the only person to be overqualified for the job of president,” she said, later adding, when people started cheering Bernie, “Can I just say to the Bernie-or-Bust people, you’re being ridiculous.”

At least U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren beamed about the fact that Sanders would be following her to the stage before eviscerating Trump.

Nobody ever said politics was pretty. Nobody will ever need more than Monday’s experience at the DNC for proof. But, almost immediately, a plan to restore unity kicked into action.

Before we get to Bernie’s speech, let’s talk about the build up to it.

You had former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb evoking the image of Lebron James and Steph Curry shaking hands at the end of a hard-fought NBA Championship series as a parallel for a Democratic Primary that exposed some intraparty rifts.

“There’s no question that the country is better” because of Bernie Sanders’ efforts, he said. “We know the country is eager to watch these two giants move forward together. Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are our champions. They both deserve our cheers. They both deserve our cheers. They both deserve our cheers.”

“Bernie has asked us to chill. My grandmother has asked me not to have sex before marriage.” – Justin Baird, Washington State delegate

You had Diane Russell, a state representative from Maine and “proud delegate for Bernie Sanders” who proudly spoke of proposing reforms the super-delegate system.

“It takes even greater courage to stand up to your friends,” she said, but was quick to glide right into get-along mode while talking about the “unity compromise.”

“We’re all in this together and we will all have a voice in the Clinton administration,” she said. “I will always stand strong with Bernie Sanders, and I will do everything I can this fall to elect Hillary Clinton so we have a Democrat in the White House.”

It was this interplay that stuck in the donkey craw of Idaho’s Brian Ertz and Justin Baird of Washington State as they stood outside the southeast corner of the building, chatting with fellow delegates.

Forgive them if they seem exhausted with the political process to the point of questioning the very inspiration for the bridge-building message.

“The problem is you have an anti-establishment sentiment where we’re sick and tired of the insiders calling all the shots and what that commission represents is rather than a democratic rules committee putting it forth to a convention, you got another [case of] punting it to an inside group and then asking the DNC for permission,” said Ertz, sporting a green hat that evoked the image of Robin Hood. “So that’s why you heard subdued applause for the quote-unquote unity commission.”

Ertz broke down what he thought was going through the minds of fellow Bernie supporters.

“A lot of Bernie supporters showed up because they wanted to engage in a substantive, deliberative process, which is what these conventions are supposed to represent, and instead, it’s a pony show,” Ertz maintained. “We were there for the cameras and the cameras alone. There were a lot of people who put their heart out, they had really good ideas and there was no deliberation. They didn’t even give us each other’s amendments until they put it to a vote. … Those people earned the right to political agency, and they were deprived by that committee. They want the cameras. They want the show in front of the cameras.”

Baird looked at it through the lens of experience that a 53-year-old man can build up over time.

He said he worked for Clinton’s campaign in 2008, but didn’t quite like her model of leadership.

“It’s a long game,” he said by way of placating those who want to give up after seeing Sanders lose and then read the DNC-email leaks. “What we have now is a long-game trying to keep a lot of the followers who’ve come into this fold not doing virtual suicide and jumping off a roof because you’re not getting what you want right now.

While “you still have people who are ‘Bern-ing’ forward,” it’s become – on a grassroots level – a challenge to keep people engaged.

“Republicans fall in line,” he said, “but Democrats fall in love, which also means they get their hearts broken very hard."

Baird pointed to Russell’s speech as emblematic of a concerted effort to slyly turn frustration into begrudging support.

“She’s doing what they’ve decided is a great job. … She got the crowd chanting and then says ‘that we’ve got to make sure…’” she said. “That’s all part of the scripting of the convention: Bring in the people that are going to like and cheer for her, but make sure they sell [unity]. I can tell you from my local level that that unity is not actually in action. We don’t have anybody doing anything but trying to find out about us. Unity isn’t selling.”

As for what they expected to see from the man they’d hoped would receive the party nomination in three days, Ertz made that prediction in the quote atop this story. Then, Baird spoke up.

“Bernie has asked us to chill. My grandmother has asked me not to have sex before marriage,” he said. “He’s trying to keep us all together and people are going to take from it what they see: I think there are going to be some people who are grieving really hard.”

Sanders knew that when he headed out on stage before a sea of Bernie signs just after 10:45 p.m. He’d already tried to rein his folks in on a day that saw dozens require police intervention outside.

“Bernie sparked the beginning of a revolution, y’all,” said U.S. Rep Keith Ellison by way of an introduction that saw those signs waving when he shifted into elect-Hillary mode.

Tears welled in his eyes as he surveyed a room that welcomed him with a several-minute screaming ovation. He thanked Warren and first lady Michelle Obama. He thanked his voters and his delegates. Some yelled “thank you, Bernie” back at him, even before he said he “looks forward to your votes in the roll call vote tomorrow night.”

He shouted out his wife, kids and grandkids. And then, he got down to business. He said he knew there was disappointment in the room because of the primary results, but urged followers to take pride in their accomplishments.

“Our revolution continues,” he triumphantly declared.

The election, he said, wasn’t about candidates, gossip, polls, fundraising or media hot-button issues. It’s about the “grotesque income and wealth disparities in America today.” And leveling out an uneven playing field.

But this wasn’t a standard Sanders stump speech, at least not entirely.

As the big screens showed a supporter with tears running down her face, Sanders put out a call to push forward in the fight that the campaign embraced rather than falling into divisiveness.

Don't sit this one out, he implored.

He declared that because of he and his supporters, the most progressive platform the party has ever seen is in place.

"I am going to do all that I can to make that happen," he said of a Hillary Clinton presidency, not a trace of cynicism to be heard. "Hillary Clinton will make a fantastic president, and I'm proud to stand with her tonight."

Then, some 40 minutes after he began, with some delegates having already called it a night, Sanders ceded a stage that will see, for the first time in American history, a woman accept a major political party's presidential nomination. 

What earlier in the day seemed like a dicey proposition transformed into Sanders' crowning moment. He won a crowd that had been fractured just hours earlier, at least by the looks of things from afar, out of earshot of those who still wish he'd have won.

I saw a lot of things in the Wells Fargo Center on Monday, some of which could be chalked up to theatrics, but by the time Sanders got done speaking, his call for supporters to vote for Hillary rang out loudest of all.

Now, it’s up to those who still mourn the loss of his candidacy to make that happen in his honor or, in the words of a comedienne, cling to ridiculousness.