Some longstanding Democrats were appalled last night by the booing and disruptive chanting of Bernie Sanders supporters during the opening night of the Democratic National Convention.
"They dominated the entire day," wrote New York magazine's Jon Chait about Sanders's supporters ongoing disruption inside the convention hall. "It was a testament to the power of a fanatical, disruptive minority."
Rep. Keith Ellison, who also gave a speech on the convention floor yesterday, takes a less critical view. The second member of the House to endorse Sanders, Ellison — also the first Muslim-American Congress member — argued that the surface-level discord represented a healthy and necessary working out of underlying divisions.
"People invested their whole hearts into Bernie's campaign," Ellison told me in an interview Tuesday morning. "So it's to be expected that some folks were taking a little longer adjusting to the reality that Hillary Clinton got more votes than our side. I think people are coming there."
Ellison also offered a theory for why Sanders fans are continuing to act out long after it became clear that Clinton would be the Democratic nominee.
"There is a certain school of thought that says, 'If Hillary is going to be the president, we want to let her know how we feel now," Ellison said. "We want her to be clear that we're not for these free trade deals, and we're not for these foreign interventions.' That school of thought is that the way to partner with our president and guide our country in the right direction is by making our voices heard now. It's not a putdown. It's, 'We feel strongly about these issues, and we want you to hear it.'"
Below is our Tuesday morning interview, lightly edited for length and clarity.
Jeff Stein: So obviously it looked like there was quite a lot of discord at the Democratic convention last night. Do you think the worst of that is behind us after last night or a preview of what's to come?
Keith Ellison: People invested their whole hearts into Bernie's campaign — they knocked on doors, they donated, and there were some things that made them feel that things weren't exactly fair. So it's to be expected that some folks were taking a little longer adjusting to the reality that Hillary Clinton got more votes than our side. I think people are coming there.
I think Bernie's speech was awesome — focusing on the platform and memorializing what Democrats believe in, and the progress we made on that. And I think Michelle Obama was helpful in that regard, too, by saying, "I'm trying to raise my kids," and "I can’t afford to have a thin-skinned person in the White House."
JS: Did you sense that last night was beginning to convince the Bernie holdouts to come on board?
KE: Yes. I'd go from yesterday to today. Yesterday, I was at some state party delegations where the feelings very raw and very strong, and I found myself mediating between people a little bit. Not a little bit — a lot.
And this morning, I didn't sense any of that in the breakfasts, and I was going to states where there was a strong Bernie contingent. I think Hillary will continue to thank Bernie for infusing energy and young people into the Democratic Party and showing us you don't need to use big party donors. And as long as people feel that their efforts are recognized and appreciated, we will be absolutely fine.
The patience of some of the folks who have been with Hillary all along is very much valued. They could just say, "We won; that's it." I don't sense people are taking that position; there's this sense of, "We're all in this together, and debate is healthy and it's not negative." That, "We had different views and approaches but we're in this together."
JS: You mention the importance of having the DNC and Clinton appreciating Sanders and bringing him into the fold. What are you looking for as evidence that they're recognizing Bernie's impact on the party?
KE: I think acknowledging that Bernie brought a lot of young people in and acknowledging that spirit of movement is a really important element — recognizing that Bernie really did bring that spirit of social justice, I think that would do really well.
JS: There’s been a lot of hand-wringing over parts of the Sanders delegation booing during many of the Democrats’ speeches, even when Elizabeth Warren was up there. Do you think that’s a bad sign for the party’s divisions?
KE: Some of it is not even upset; some of it is exuberant. There were people chanting during Bernie's speech. Of course, they don't disrespect him — they admire him. [Some] think, "There's Bernie's trying to talk and they're yelling, 'Bernie! Bernie!,'" and you could think that's a protest.
Others were yelling "No TPP! No TPP!" That's not so much protesting that individual. That's saying, "We don't like TPP." I think it's important not to get too excited by that or too appalled if someone does something that you may not view as the most polite thing to do. This is a convention: It's not a manners convention. People are feeling strong and they're going to express their views.
Here’s something I want to point out: Look at Ted Cruz, who won’t even endorse Trump. The luminaries of the Republican Party won't even show up. And then look at Bernie Sanders showing up talking about Hillary Clinton and that they made a difference not just on the platform but beyond.
There were some boos. Fine, we can deal with that. But we're all on the same page. Nobody's walking out. We'll be fine.
JS: Last night, there was a lot of concern among some parts of the party when members of the Bernie delegation were chanting "war hawk!" during Sen. Corey Booker's speech. What did you think of that?
KE: I would not join in that chant, but I don't think people offended by it should let that guide them too much.
There is a certain school of thought that says, "If Hillary is going to be the president, we want to let her know how we feel now. We want her to be clear that we're not for these free trade deals and we're not for these foreign interventions." That school of thought is that the way to partner with our president and guide our country in the right direction is by making our voices heard now. It's not a putdown; it's, "We feel strongly about these issues and we want you to hear it."
Just remember: We're all used to these conventions where it's all over months before and we know the nominee. We've forgotten what the conventions are: They really are a place to select who the nominee is going to be. We really need to keep in mind that it's not outside the nature of the convention for there to be arguing.
JS: I know I have to let you go, but is there anything else that people outside the Bernie movement need to understand about its internal dynamics? What do people looking from the outside in here tend to miss about what's driving these Sanders delegates to boo and make a ruckus at the convention?
KE: The best way for me to help people understand it is that so many folks think that what happens in Washington is mostly about Washington and not the rest of the country.
People feel that nobody's trying to help them get a better way to collectively bargain, to protect their communities from environmental disaster, to avoid starvation wages. They see Democrats taking money from the big businesses that are doing damage to working-class families. And they really just think they're doing everything they can do to draw attention to this devastating situation.
These families are devastated by payday lenders and they don't want to see the Democrats in bed with them and the big banks. So these people are smart, and they know that their families' best chance is with the Democratic Party. But there's no polite way to depart from the status quo; it's always going to be disruptive. For the ordinary citizens who feel that $27 is a lot of money, they feel locked out. And all they can do is try to raise a little hell to be heard.