The Bernie Walkout at the Convention Leads to “Our Revolution” (Chandra Paetsch — Part 2 of 2)

We walk out the door and there are hundreds of delegates streaming out through the hallways. It ends up we are part of the first delegate walkout in 48 years! And I turned to her when I saw people coming out from every door, I said, “I think we just became part of something.” [laughs]

That was the end of the roll call vote. So we exited the building and we’re, essentially, just all standing around looking at each other for ten minutes going, “What do we do now?!”

And how many people left?

 I’ve heard an estimate of about 700 delegates walked out. At that point someone said, “We’re going to occupy the media tent.” Which I thought was a brilliant idea cause where do you get media attention but among the media? So, about two or three hundred of us made it into the media tent before they closed off the doors and surrounded the media tent with police.

Many of us had signs. Many had gags over their mouths. The gags started a trend and so people started putting tape over their mouths. Personally, I had a bumper sticker in my bag so I ended up putting a bumper sticker over mine. But, essentially, it was because delegates felt like they were being silenced.

That was all over the media — photographs and video footage. It was very convincing and said a lot.

 Yes, I think the imagery was beautiful and I have to thank the Oregon delegates for that because they were the ones who originally thought of the black bands around their mouths. The image was so powerful and so true to what we were all feeling at that time. We ended up staying in the media tent for several hours. They tried to interview us, many times. Most of were taking part in the silent protest but several people around us were interviewed. And then the police let us out of the media tent.

Many of the minority delegates did not feel comfortable leaving because they saw the police presence out there and with recent events they didn’t want to go out among that strong of a police presence, so we ended up forming a protective ring around them, all of the Caucasian delegates, and exiting the building.

I would say at least a third of the Bernie delegates were non-white. There was a very strong Native American presence, a strong Latino/Latina presence. There were even quite a number of African-American delegates as well, from states where he did have a very good showing, Michigan and Illinois. So, after we left, several of us Oregonians had also brought banners so we were exiting with our banners and the media immediately surrounded us. [laughs]

Ryan Moore and I were carrying one banner. We looked at each other and even through our gags we sort of communicated. We communicated like, we should probably stay here because we’re the backdrop to all of these interviews happening right now. [laughs] Our personal banner was “B.S. 2016.” Which had double meanings. We were like, “Ok!! For sure.” So we ended up standing there until it had gotten dark.

We heard that Nina Turner [state senator and minority whip in the Ohio State Senate] had been asked to leave the convention and she was giving a talk on the other side of the convention center. Nina Turner was a Bernie surrogate. She was one of the early politicians to switch her endorsement from Hillary Clinton to Bernie Sanders. She’s really passionate and committed to social justice and she was going to be a speaker at the National Convention.

But she refused to give them a copy of her script to edit so she was asked not to speak and so she ended up leaving, from what I understand. I would have to, like, verify how it all went down with her but we heard that she was giving a speech on the other side of the convention center. And then down in a park nearby Jill Stein was speaking. And so a lot of delegates sort of scattered at that point. And we ended up staying as the backdrop for the media for quite a long time and then when we finally left, me and Ryan Moore, and Solea Kabakov, a delegate from the Dalles. She’s currently running for mayor there.

So the three of us left together and ended up becoming part of a Bernie Sanders rally. Bernie Sanders/Black Lives Matter rally that was going on in the middle of the streets of Philadelphia. So that was really exciting and we ended up being out until the wee, small hours. Got interviewed by NPR at one point that night and eventually made it back. That brings us through Day 2.

Days 3 and 4 I spent most of my time organizing instead of staying on the convention floor because I realized that we weren’t actually being allowed to do much of anything on the convention floor. So I felt it was more useful to be working with the Our Revolution folks to try and set up their launch parties. Things like that. I spent those two days with volunteers.

And that was already in the works? Our Revolution?

 Yes, it was. It was just starting out then and a lot of the people I coordinated with were among the staff who ended up leaving a few weeks later. A lot of it was from all of the online volunteer work I’d done. I was used to communicating with people like CeCe Hall and Kyle Machado on an almost daily basis.

I was a data pilot which is essentially someone who makes sure that calls are going through for all of these phone banks that are happening all over the country? So a data pilot would sit there at home, on the back end of the software, and I would make sure that call lists were being fed into the system. I would tell people when their calling hours were. I would make sure that they had what they needed. Essentially, it was kind of a go-between, coordinating, organizing job.

I would make sure that the calls kept going through. That if there were any technical difficulties or anything like that, that I would jump in and try and fix them.

Are you a techie?

 I’ve had to become one. [laughs] I’m not one naturally. I haven’t taken many tech classes or anything but it’s something we had to learn pretty fast. I worked a lot with a member of the local Bernie group who’d worked a lot on the Obama ’08 campaign. So, he had a lot of this background and knew the kind of stuff that goes on behind the scenes. He was really good at recruiting people for those kinds of jobs. We were so lucky here in Lane County to have such an amazing group of volunteers. I think that this was one of the best organized places in the country.

Do you have anything more to say about your experiences in Philadelphia?

 Well, just to mention what some of my fellow delegates went through in the last two days. I would come back to the hotel in the wee, small hours and hear about what they had been through. There was a time when a few different generals were asked to speak and the Oregon delegation started up a chant of “No more war.” Which is essentially what won Obama the ’08 campaign was the fact that he campaigned against the Iraq war.

 You would think that would be something the Democratic party would embrace. But, instead, they turned the lights off on the west coast delegations. Oregon, California, Washington. I think Alaska even? Who were chanting “No more war” — and they sent out a message to all of the Clinton delegates asking them to chant, “USA, USA” over the “No more war” chant. So, there were definitely some things that they went through, the way Bernie delegates were being treated, being ignored. We were called “losers.” [laugh]

 While I was holding up a “No TPP” sign an elected Oregon official called me, forgive the language, a “little shit.” I mean, I was trying to express an opinion that both candidates had expressed and so I was trying to say that we as a party should rally behind them and also oppose it. But. They didn’t see it that way.

This is something that just occurred to me, are you from a Mormon background? How did you get to be in Utah?

[laughs] I have a Mormon aunt, but no — I guess, originally we’re kind of keen, outdoorsy people. And then eventually that developed into being environmentalists.

Ski bums?

 A little bit of that.

Hikers, mountaineers?

 So, hikers, yeah. My brother loves mountain biking. We love the great outdoors. Yeah. So, we ended up in this area that’s right on the Colorado-Utah border and kind of in the middle of nowhere. It’s beautiful arches, red rock country, we have some mountains as well. Yeah. I still have family there. It’s always fun to go visit because it’s like a vacation every time. [laughs]

So, what are the most interesting, satisfying experiences you’ve had as an activist?

 Ooo. One of them is really kind of basic but it’s definitely the most satisfying experience I’ve ever had. As a union steward, two of my coworkers were fired unjustly. I mean, there was no reason behind it whatsoever.  So I at the time was a new steward. I had no experience doing any kind of grievance, let alone a dismissal. But all the other stewards were very busy at the time with families and their own lives and they essentially handed this to me. It took two years to get these two women back their jobs but we eventually got them with back pay. And I was so happy! Because I knew how much they depended on those incomes.

 One was a cook in a nursing home and the other was a certified nursing assistant and so, yeah. To be able to make that kind of an impact in their lives is something I never expected to do for anyone and it’s so rewarding. So I know that a lot of the stuff that I do otherwise, like getting paid sick days for people, I know that that has an impact on people’s lives but I don’t get to see it the way I did that particular case.

Now what was your actual job at that time so that you could be a steward?

 I was also a cook at the nursing home.

Did that take training or did they just say,“Hey you. Be a cook.”

 [laughs] They essentially said, “Hey you, be a dietary aide,” and then I had only worked there a short time when a couple of cooks left. So, I got thrown into it pretty quickly. This is down here in Cottage Grove. [Cottage Grove is a small community about twenty miles from Eugene.] Yeah. I still work there.

You’re a busy, busy person. So, you drive back and forth?

 Yeah, quite a bit. Or take the bus to school.

So you told us about your work as a shop steward for the SEIU, standing up for people working in nursing homes and elsewhere. And you worked for the Fair Shot Coalition. Have you been involved in any other campaigns?

 I’ve also occasionally done some environmental activism. I first started getting involved during the No Coal Trains campaign. Sierra Club informed me of some protests that were going on in Salem and then I got an email from the Sierra Club and it just asked, “Would you be willing to lobby your legislators for a particular environmental issue?” And I clicked “Yes” thinking that this email goes out to tens of thousands of people. I’ll just be in a database somewhere.

I ended up getting a call within about two hours, someone saying, “Are you really willing to come to D.C. and lobby?” [laughs] And I said, “Are you serious?” And she said, “Yes. You have some of the legislators that we really want to talk to. So, you’re in just the right place. And we want them to talk to one of their constituents.”

 We’re talking about [Representative] DeFazio, [Sen.] Wyden, and [Sen.] Merkley. I spoke to a couple of legislators from Washington State as well. A few Congresspeople from there. So, that was the first time I’d really become directly involved in politics. I had to keep reassuring my family. I’m like “I’m going to lobby, but not the bad kind.” [laughs uproariously] I’m just gonna talk to them about how important it is to protect this particular wilderness area.

Now, did the people on the other end of the phone know what you looked like and the way you behaved, and all of your track record? The ones who recruited you?

 No, We’d never met. It was just a matter of, “Hey you. You have the right legislators.”

That’s amazing. That’s really amazing. Because, I mean, I think you make a wonderful impression. [Chandra is a strikingly pretty, slim, self possessed young woman.]

 Thank you. No. It was a completely random selection of people. I think the one thing that was going in my favor was that I had turned up to several rallies. Trying to talk to people in Salem [Oregon’s state capital] about, you know, we need to not do all of this fossil fuel export. As soon as they heard I’d done that they’re like, “Yeah. OK. Great.”

They did pay my way. Which was very nice. It was better than the Democratic Party did for the convention. [laughs]

Guess the party establishment was not eager to have you there. What do you think you’ll be doing in the future?

 Well, I am quite passionate about education because I’ve seen the impact that can have on people, all throughout their lives. As a steward, I’ve watched people who couldn’t even fill out an unemployment form because they didn’t have the literacy to be able to read it. Which to me is heartbreaking, and mind boggling, at the same time. So, I’m really keen to get involved in education, get my teacher’s license at least, but possibly even go into some educational policy.

I also am keeping my options open as far as political activism goes, cause it’s something that I’ve really felt passionate about ever since I became involved in it. And I think that we still have so far to go. We have to keep fighting. We’ve come a long way but we still have a lot further to go.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About Sylvia

Sylvia Hart Wright, the interviewer and blogger, has combined efforts to help achieve a more peaceful world and social and economic justice, with a career as a librarian, author, and longtime college professor. For more about her, please visit her website at sylviahartwright.com There you can also find the first chapter of her memoir-in-progress, ACTIVIST: Adventures at the Cutting Edge of Social Change.
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