The first night of the Democratic National Convention began badly. The first speaker was a woman minister and all went very well until she mentioned the name of Hillary Rodham Clinton. And then the chanting began. “Bernie! Bernie!”
Now, I understand some of that anger. Hillary was not last night, and is still not this morning, the presidential candidate of the Democratic Party. She will become the party’s candidate only after a roll call vote of delegates is taken. Yes, she will win that vote. But declaring the race over now is insulting to the nearly 2,000 delegates who are pledged to Bernie Sanders. Speakers should have shown more respect to both candidates, and not ignored those delegates or the 13 million voters they represent.
But over the course of the evening, things began to change. Every time Clinton’s name was mentioned, there was chanting. Tim Kaine’s name also triggered this. And when the platform came up — a platform which disgracefully does not call for blocking the anti-worker trade agreement known as TPP — there was booing and chanting, with hundreds of delegates waving anti-TPP and Bernie placards. As they should have done.
By about 22:00, tiredness was starting to set in. And the point had been made. And then the Democratic party leadership finally showed it had some brains. It scheduled a series of speakers to wrap up the evening — Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, First Lady Michelle Obama, and Senator Elizabeth Warren who wowed the crowd, including the Sanders delegates.
Obama was especially powerful. Her message about what it feels like to raise two beautiful Black daughters in a house built by slaves — the White House — silenced everyone, and moved everyone. I was not alone to wipe tears from my eyes as I heard her speak.
Elizabeth Warren is an iconic figure for the American left. She was not booed, not interrupted, and was treated like Obama with great respect. Her support for Clinton was forceful and convincing. The cold, intellectual case for backing Clinton had been made.
So it was a much calmer hall, and people much more focussed on stopping Donald Trump, by the time Bernie Sanders was introduced at nearly 23:00.
And even though people were exhausted — for most, the day began with breakfast meetings at 07:00 — the crowd went absolutely wild, everyone on their feet, all chanting. If there were Clinton supporters in the hall, you wouldn’t have known it. Maybe they were chanting “Bernie! Bernie!” too. It took Sanders several minutes to calm everyone down.
And then he proceeded to talk about what has happened in the last year, where we stand now and what we must do next.
It was the speech of a lifetime.
It showed the greatness of this American politician because he is a man who is not only able to rally millions of people to social change, to feed off their anger and to be their voice. He also knows when to say: we have come this far, but no further tonight. This is where we stop, we pause, we think about what needs to be done next.
And what needs to be done right now, over the next hundred or so days, is to work day and night to ensure that Donald J. Trump is not elected the next President of the United States.
A lesser politician would not have been able to do this. To speak to a crowd which only an hour earlier roared with anger at the mention of Clinton’s name, and to tell them: we must vote for this person and we must campaign for her.
This is what leadership is all about. This was the most extraordinary example of leadership we saw last night, and maybe all year. This was a man telling a painful truth to his followers, talking straight, pulling no punches.
Not everyone will be convinced, of course. There are “Bernie or Bust” supporters who will no doubt be out in the streets today. But they are a small and dwindling minority. Most of us listened carefully to what Bernie had to say, and are convinced.
As the Clinton campaign slogan goes, “He’s with her”.
And I’m with him.