Bernie Sanders' Possibly Impossible Task

The Vermont Senator Is Set to Help Open -- and Heal -- the Democratic National Convention

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T-shirts on sale at a protest march near Philadelphia's City Hall on Sunday, July 24, 2016.
T-shirts on sale at a protest march near Philadelphia's City Hall on Sunday, July 24, 2016. Credit: Simon Dumenco

A deafening, whooping alarm went off in my Philadelphia hotel room and a recorded message crackled from a speaker: "Attention! Attention! An emergency has been reported in the building. Please cease all activity and proceed to the nearest exit..."

I'd actually ceased all activity already because when the alarm sounded it was 5:44 a.m. and I was dead asleep. I spent a groggy couple of minutes: 1) trying to figure out where the hell I was and what was going on; 2) pulling on my shirt and pants and socks and shoes; and 3) thinking Wait, do I have time to pee? I have to pee! What if I'm stuck outside for hours while the bomb squad looks around?! And then a non-recorded human came on the speaker and said that we should remain in place while they investigate. Another minute or two and she told us they had an "all-clear" -- the alarm was sounded in error.

Heart racing, it took me half an hour or so to fall back asleep -- only to be woken up again by a repetitive thumping sound outside. I looked out my window and saw workers sliding Porta-Potties off a flatbed truck and into a neat row on the sidewalk directly across the street from my hotel. I involuntarily said "Gross!" out loud and thought about the early morning's unfortunate mix of metaphors: an emergency non-emergency and a visual reminder that tens of thousands of visitors here for the Democratic National Convention are quite literally pissing and shitting all over Philadelphia.

That said, Philadelphians, as a whole, seem considerably more nonchalant about the circus in their midst than Clevelanders were, last week, when the Republican National Convention put a good chunk of their city center on lockdown because of the downtown location of the Quicken Loans Arena. My Uber driver from the Philadelphia International Airport the night before wasn't quite sure when the DNC even starts (Monday, I told him). And my fellow Philadelphia-resident passenger (I took an UberPool -- a shared ride) didn't even know where it was happening (primarily at the Wells Fargo Arena in South Philly, I explained, which means it's not interfering with this city in quite the same way the RNC did Cleveland).

A Bernie Sanders supporter's signs at a protest march at Philadelphia's City Hall, Sunday, July 24, 2016.
A Bernie Sanders supporter's signs at a protest march at Philadelphia's City Hall, Sunday, July 24, 2016. Credit: Simon Dumenco

And when I picked up my press credentials, the DNC had a little welcoming gift bag for me that mostly consisted of brochures, but also, I'm not kidding, a bag of Hippeas -- organic chickpea puffs in (I'm still not kidding) vegan white cheddar flavor -- along with a tiny box of Mike & Ike candies, which are made in nearby Bethlehem, Pa. (Now I'm wondering if Mike and Ike are lovers and/or gay-married or something. Is a box of Mike & Ikes a statement of some sort? Because vegan organic chickpea puffs sure are.)

But back to the operative metaphors of my trip so far...

Maybe we have an actual-emergency emergency after all, given the surprise resignation of Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz (as the bosslady of this freakshow, her name is printed on my press badge -- which makes it an instant collector's item, right?) over those anti-Bernie Sanders DNC emails.

The front-page banner headline of the Philadelphia Inquirer story this morning about Wasserman Schultz's exit is "TURMOIL AT THE TOP."

And the possibility/likelihood that the anti-Bernie emails were leaked by the Russians? Oh Lordy. Speaking of the Russians, so far two DNC attendees (including one guy in a #nursesforBernie T-shirt) have asked me if I've read that Talking Points Memo post about the Trump-Putin bromance yet. (I have and it's really something: "Trump & Putin. Yes, It's Really a Thing.")

Bernie Sanders is scheduled to take the stage at the Wells Fargo Center tonight. So he's the designated healer of the disunified Democratic party, I suppose.

Except that pro-Bernie forces, from what I've seen so far, aren't in the most conciliatory mood. At a protest march at City Hall Sunday afternoon, I met lots of angry Bernie Sanders supporters. I asked one guy in a Bernie T-shirt sitting on City Hall's steps if I could take a photo of the signs he was taking a break from holding (he said sure, which I knew he would, but since I was imposing on his break I thought it best to be polite). The signs, resting on the sidewalk, read "NO WE WILL NOT YIELD" and "I WAS TOLD THERE WOULD BE CAKE." While I was shooting, he said to me, with a weary tone of gallows humor, "They lied. There's no cake."

As USA Today reports,

The city of Philadelphia is projecting 35,000 to 50,000 demonstrators will gather at a half dozen sanctioned protest sites near the Wells Fargo Center each day of the convention, which opens Monday. A bulk of the permits issued by the city are to groups that indicated they are inspired by the Vermont senator.

So... good luck tonight, Bernie!

Simon Dumenco, aka Media Guy, is an Ad Age editor-at-large. You can follow him on Twitter @simondumenco.

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