Politics

Bernie Supporters Practice Getting Arrested At The Democratic Convention

In the basement of The People's Summit, progressives simulated protests and arrests. Update: A spokesperson for Philadelphia's mayor says peaceful protesters have nothing to be worried about.

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CHICAGO — The big question this weekend in Chicago is how to turn the Bernie Sanders movement into a lasting element of Democratic politics.

For some of the Sanders faithful on Saturday afternoon, the answer was locking arms on a civic center floor and struggling as "police officers" pulled them apart and "arrested" them.

The People's Summit conference, sponsored by the National Nurses United — a progressive union that backed Sanders to the hilt during his run for president — is aimed at uniting all elements of progressivism into a single effort that exerts pressure on the Democratic Party and its presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton. Mourning Sanders' loss and imagining what might have been was one part of the conversation.

Another saw older, established progressive leaders urging Sanders' youth legion to stick together and try to achieve Bernie's political revolution through more conventional means like influencing the Democratic Party platform and working in the grassroots for like-minded down-ballot candidates.

In the basement of the Lakeside Center, where the Summit was held, some of those younger Sanders supporters prepared for what they called "direct action" — loud, consistent, and perhaps disruptive protest outside the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. Several dozen of them attended a training on how to march, how to follow a chant, how to defy police orders to disperse by sitting and locking arms in what's called a "human chain," and how to conduct themselves when the police stepped in and physically removed them.

Trainers wearing fake badges waded among the chanting and human-chained "protesters," pulling them apart, putting their hands behind their backs, and leading them away.

The simulation was for what training leaders called "a blockade," but they stressed blocking busy intersections or other disruptions may not be what the final protest plan looks like. "Direct action," said participants in the training, is non-violent and peaceful.

Thousands of Sanders supporters have already signed a Facebook petition promising to protest the Democratic convention. Many of those gathered at The People's Summit expected those protests to include police stepping in. Rumors of police efforts to push protests back from the convention site or other efforts by the authorities to quiet the Sanders uprising abounded in the training session.

"They're going to arrest people, period, end of story. So we just want to prepare ourselves," said Cassidy Turner of San Diego. "We're not going to be violent, we don't really have a reason to get arrested but it's going to happen. So we want to prepare ourselves."

The protests will be ineffective if they don't attract at least some attention from delegates in Philadelphia, Sanders supporters said.

"If we just let it be as convenient as possible, then that's usually what's most inconvenient for America," said Cain Deheve of Chicago. "We don't want to disrupt the outside world. We want to show them that there's something serious going on here and we wouldn't just be risking getting arrested or anything else for no reason."

"Getting arrested itself is not what really proves anything. But I believe that there is a reason that [Philadelphia authorities] have made it illegal to do protests and stuff like that," he said. "The establishment does not want us to disrupt the actions that they are doing. They want us to stay calm. It's not about getting arrested. It's about questioning authority."

UPDATE

A spokesperson for Philadelphia Mayor James Kenney rejected the idea that the city's police are out to make arrests during the Democratic convention.

"In the last paragraph, you quote an individual who says the City of Philadelphia has made protests illegal," Lauren Hitt, Kenney's communications director, told BuzzFeed News in an email. "We have not. In fact, we recently decriminalized several demonstration-related infractions, including refusal to disperse."

In recent days, elected officials in Philadelphia have passed legislation that lets police issue $100 fines for infractions similar to those which led to highly-publicized arrests during the 2000 Republican convention held in the city.

Evan McMorris-Santoro is the White House correspondent for BuzzFeed News.

Contact Evan McMorris-Santoro at evan@buzzfeed.com.

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