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June 20, 2016

Report: Sanders supporters practiced arrest scenario for DNC in Philly

As convention approaches, goals of Sanders base come into focus

With the 2016 Democratic National Convention just over a month away, a contingent of the diehard Bernie Sanders camp has reportedly been practicing for the scenario of mass arrests.

Over the weekend, BuzzFeed News reported on a series of exercises held at The People's Summit in Chicago, an activist event sponsored by the progressive National Nurses United. The organization has contributed a total of $10,250 to the Sanders campaign, the sixth-highest figure in a grassroots movement that has been credited for bucking the Super PAC-driven system with a viable new model of political participation.

Since Hillary Clinton claimed the requisite number of delegates to secure the Democratic nomination, one narrative suggests that Sanders supporters are wavering between attempting to leverage his accomplishments to influence the party platform and, at the other end of the spectrum, protesting in Philadelphia with a goal to undermine Clinton's legitimacy. 

Some of Sanders' supporters have migrated to the Clinton camp, while many others fall somewhere in a pragmatic middle ground that strives to continue Sanders' revolution and momentum in the realm of policy activism.

At the Chicago summit, BuzzFeed reported that a group of young supporters in the basement of the Lakeside Center were preparing for the law enforcement response to their "direct action," i.e. clamorous and sustained protests:

Several dozen of them attended a training on how to march, how to follow a chant, how to defy police orders to disperse by sitting and locking arms in what’s called a “human chain,” and how to conduct themselves when the police stepped in and physically removed them.

Trainers wearing fake badges waded among the chanting and human-chained “protesters,” pulling them apart, putting their hands behind their backs, and leading them away.

The scenario is far from unprecedented. More than 450 people were arrested amid demonstrations at the 2000 Republican National Convention in Philadelphia, though the vast majority of criminal charges were eventually dropped.

Nearly 30,000 Sanders supporters with the "Bernie or Bust" movement have signed a Facebook petition pledging to occupy the DNC from July 25-28. YahNé Ndgo, the Germantown resident who serves as the movement's spokesperson, told PhillyVoice in May that the groundswell is more about progressive political transformation than it is strictly a movement for a candidate. 

The City of Philadelphia has approved several permits for Sanders rallies during the DNC, including a March for Bernie at FDR Park and a series of demonstrations at Thomas Paine Plaza. Concerns about the largest protests, expected in the vicinity of the Wells Fargo Center, have been addressed by organizers with a public document on non-violent peacekeeping and self-policing

Lauren Hitt, spokesperson for Mayor Kenney, clarified for BuzzFeed that the article's mention of a Philly ban on mass protests is not true.

"In fact," Hitt said, "we recently decriminalized several demonstration-related infractions, including refusal to disperse.”

Earlier this month, City Council passed legislation seeking, at least in part, to avoid mass arrests by allowing police to issue $100 civil fines for nuisance crimes.

Sanders himself has been unwilling to formally end his campaign, although he has lately sought more to prevent Donald Trump from becoming the beneficiary of his movement's perseverance. Last week, Clinton and Sanders met privately for what the latter called a "positive discussion about how best to bring more people into the political process," adding that he will work with Clinton to transform the Democratic party.

"We have begun the long and arduous process of transforming America," Sanders said, "a fight that will continue tomorrow, next week, next year and into the future."