PHILADELPHIA — As we arrived to the Wells Fargo Center, where Hillary Clinton officially accepted her party’s nomination Thursday night, it was immediately clear that not everyone was celebrating.
As speaker after speaker took the stage in support of Clinton throughout the week, hundreds of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ supporters occupied a temporary village of tents in Franklin Delano Roosevelt Park, a designated protest area. The protesters and their tents were separated from the Democratic National Convention by a forbidding array of metal fences.
The dismay, frustration and disillusionment in the park was palpable. The protesters were mostly young people in their 20s. The spirit of the sit-in and the group dynamics closely resembled the countless sit-ins I witnessed in Egypt during and after the popular uprising – the difference being a huge discrepancy in turnout.
Sanders has referred to his campaign as a “revolution” since its inception, which is arguably at odds with the actual influence a president could exercise in the United States. But the hopes and expectations of his supporters were visible throughout the campaign.
When Sanders officially endorsed Hillary Clinton on July 12 and asked his supporters to do the same, their expectations took a steep downturn. Only depression and disillusionment could ensue after that, worsened when Sanders spoke in support of Clinton at the convention.
The idealism and passion I heard while talking to the “Berners” was eerily similar to our feelings as young Egyptians on Jan. 25, 2011. As we pushed for a new, democratic leadership of Egypt, we thought we were “doing it” and that the world was ours. The sheer number of people on the streets made us believe that only justice and a bright future could follow.
A few years later in Egypt, there couldn’t be a bigger disappointment.
We went through a few years of gradual and dark downturns. Currently, Egypt is back to Square one. And the Square itself has been squashed.
For supporters of Bernie Sanders to go through this same emotional downturn is tough. I relate to them and I understand where they are coming from – even if some of their frustration was directed at me in Philadelphia.
Entering FDR Park, there was visible hostility to anyone belonging to a “big media” outlet. As soon as I set foot in the park on the first day, an angry Sanders supporter shouted profanities at me because I started live streaming from my iPhone. They also swore at a local TV reporter who was standing next to me. The middle finger was streamed straight to my friends in Egypt – clearly, a strong anti-media sentiment exists among some of Bernie’s supporters.
One interviewee wanted to make sure that I didn’t work for “any of those clowns back there.”
Tom Moore, a 24-year-old who came to the DNC to protest from Massachusetts, was more willing to talk.
“Do you believe that demonstrations and protests could result in change eventually?” I asked.
“That’s a hard question,” Moore said, looking away. “Protests out here feel pretty useless because they’re completely ignored by the establishment.”
He was shocked that only a small number of people showed up to protest Donald Trump in Cleveland.
“[There are] so many people who have been complaining all election cycle about how terrible their choices are. Everyone loves to trash Trump – and there is no one on the streets,” he said. “Compared to the kind of outrage that I was hearing all over social media, it was shocking.”
Another major sentiment outside the convention was the feeling that the presidential primary elections were “stolen” from Sanders, reinforced by Wikileaks’ release of thousands of private email communications by Democratic National Committee staff.
One sign at FDR Park read, “Count Our Votes. #ElectionFraud.” Many other signs expressed a strong anti-Hillary sentiment.
“We know what you did, Hillary. You’re finished,” one of them said.
A car nearby had bumper stickers in support of Sanders as well as a sign that read “Hillary for Prison 2016” – the same sentiment embraced by many of Trump’s supporters.
Many of Sanders’ remaining faithful equate Clinton with Trump. They are not so much troubled by Trump’s racial and religious incitement as they are comfortable with his relative, perceived anti-establishmentarianism versus Clinton. And Trump is doing what he can to woo them.
As progressive youth constitute an important bloc in America’s voter base, it remains to be seen whether Clinton can galvanize them as much as Sanders did. Those outside the convention wanted her to know that they are not “with her.”