The Democratic Party Is Setting the Stage for a Letdown


During the week of August 17, thousands of Democrats elected to serve as delegates to their party’s national convention will log on to their computers to view the proceedings. They will cast electronic votes on the party platform and for their party’s nominee to challenge Donald Trump for the presidency.

About one-quarter of this year’s delegates are Bernie Sanders supporters. Most of them are progressive political activists—and many are first-time participants in a national convention. This virtual event will not be the experience they expected. And while all of those with whom I’ve spoken are supportive of the precautions being taken in this era of pandemic, most remain in the dark about the convention plans and whether their participation is valued.

Months ago, when the 2020 Summer Olympics and a host of professional sporting events were canceled, it should have been clear that we were going to have problems bringing tens of thousands of delegates, supporters, and press to Milwaukee. I fully recognize the political calculations that had to be made, the problems of disappointing the host city, the need to have an event that would serve as a launching pad for the presidential election season. And I have no doubt that the convention planning team and DNC staffers were working round the clock weighing all these problems and exploring options.

Nevertheless, what was missing was a recognition that the convention wasn’t just the concern of the planning staff or the Biden campaign. It was personal for the delegates—especially first-timers, many of whom worked hard to earn their posts, felt empowered when they won, and were looking forward to playing their part in this quadrennial drama.

Given this, it was troubling how little communication there was with prospective delegates and how little engagement there was with DNC members while deliberations were ongoing. I should be clear that I am not faulting the convention or DNC staff that delegates were left in the dark. This was a political call that should have come from the leadership of the party.

With this in mind, the Bernie Delegates Network (BDN) conducted a national survey of Sanders delegates. We wanted to get their assessment of the planning process, whether they felt respected as delegates, and ideas they might have shared had they been consulted.

Their responses should be seen as troubling both for the party and the Biden campaign. More than 80 percent of those who responded said they felt disrespected or ignored. And their comments made clear why.

Common refrains were that as delegates they “felt left out” and that the process was “lacking in transparency and input.” Some went further, cautioning that this year’s “organizing, like the 2016 DNC convention, seems to minimize participation by Sanders delegates.”


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