At convention, SLO delegate still fighting for Bernie Sanders’ cause

Delegate Heidi Harmon of San Luis Obispo wore blue coveralls with a “Bernie” name tag and a patch opposing the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a pending Pacific Rim trade deal opposed by both Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton.
Delegate Heidi Harmon of San Luis Obispo wore blue coveralls with a “Bernie” name tag and a patch opposing the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a pending Pacific Rim trade deal opposed by both Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. Special to The Tribune

As the Democratic National Convention began Monday in Philadelphia, tensions were high among delegates who came to support candidate Bernie Sanders, including San Luis Obispo resident Heidi Harmon, one of seven delegates representing California’s 24th Congressional District.

After the first delegation breakfast at the Marriott Hotel Philadelphia Downtown, Harmon said she thought the momentum behind the Sanders movement was far from over.

“It seems to me from this morning’s delegation breakfast that the Democratic Party is uniquely unprepared for the passion and dedication from the Bernie Sanders movement,” Harmon said. “It will be interesting to see what happens over the course of this week.”

Although Hillary Clinton won the Democratic primary vote in California, Sanders was the winner in the 24th District, which covers San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties and a portion of Ventura County. Four of the district’s seven delegates are pledged to Sanders, Harmon among them.

Harmon said she always felt the Democratic Party was unfairly favoring Clinton, and leaked emails over the weekend showing party leaders hostile to the Sanders campaign only solidified that feeling.

Though Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the party chairwoman, has resigned her post effective after the convention, that did little to assuage delegates such as Harmon, who remained angry and disenchanted with the party leadership. How widespread that feeling is among the 24th District delegation was unclear Monday as the delegates attended various caucuses and events at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.

“When people try and tell folks like me, ‘Hillary won fair and square,’ and, ‘It’s time to get on board,’ that is just a flat-out lie,” Harmon said. “How much more unfair and ridiculous does the system have to get? I think we’re answering that question right now. The Bernie people came here to fight for a better, more fair, more just and more sustainable future.”

Harmon attended a caucus opposing the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a pending trade agreement among Pacific Rim countries opposed by both Sanders and Clinton, though Clinton had initially supported the deal.

“If the TPP is passed, we’re doomed,” Harmon said. “Every piece of climate regulation will be able to be destroyed –– from the tiniest city to the national level. What will happen then? I can tell you it’s not going to be anything good.”

At the conclusion of that caucus, delegates were asked to leave the main ballroom so convention officials could prepare for a speech from Sanders himself.

Waiting in line to re-enter the ballroom, crowds of delegates chanted “Bernie!” and “No TPP!”

As Sanders gave his speech, he urged his delegates to get behind Clinton but was met by boos from the majority of the crowd.

“There are a lot of people having a really tough conversation about who to vote for,” Harmon said. “I’m not saying people are going to vote for Donald Trump, but I am saying a lot of people are not going to vote for Hillary.”

Harmon said she fears that a Clinton victory will result in a lack of participation in government by many American citizens.

“Even if Hillary wins, these people are not going to be engaged in the political system –– and that is really scary, too,” Harmon said. “It’s so obvious that the system is set up against the people, and we’ve had it. It’s no more Mrs. Nice Guy. I’m not going to sit in my chair and do what I’m told, and honestly, I don’t care who’s telling me.”

She said she hopes the protests at the convention will bring about change within the Democratic Party, but that the Sanders movement is bigger than the candidate himself.

“No matter what happens with him specifically, the people here in this room and the people here in this country are done being treated unfairly,” Harmon continued. “We’re ready to do something about it.”

With the ongoing protests among Sanders supporters on Monday, Sanders’ speech to the full convention that evening was widely viewed as critical to trying to bring some unity to the party. Also scheduled to speak Monday night were first lady Michelle Obama and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

Taylor Carson is a journalist and a student at Temple University in Philadelphia. She will be reporting on the Democratic National Convention from Philadelphia as part of a project allowing students to cover the event for local newspapers, TV stations and digital outlets.