The first night of the Democratic National Convention was a convergence of two powerful personal narratives that were both compelling stories no matter your politics. While at the outset, there was a sense in the Wells Fargo Center main hall of a lingering factionalism between the Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders camps, by the end of the night there appeared to be at least a superficial cohesion.
For first lady Michelle Obama, it was the poignant closing of a chapter for the nation’s first African-American first family’s two terms in office. For Sen. Bernie Sanders, the evening marked the capstone achievement of a man in his 70s sparking a political movement that captured the imagination of millions of young people.
While recounting the historic realities of the brutality of slavery, Michelle Obama referenced "the lash of bondage, the shame of servitude, and the sting of segregation" but also mentioned her gratitude for her own family’s circumstances and the role the nation played in them.
“I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves,” she said. “And I watch my daughters — two beautiful intelligent black young women — play with the dog on the White House lawn.”
But Obama was also on a political mission. She needed to pivot by making the case that the election of Hillary Clinton to the presidency was part of a progressive continuum that included the election of the nation’s first black president. “And because of Hillary Clinton, my daughters and all of our sons and daughters now take for granted that a woman can be president of the United States,” the first lady said.
“Don't let anyone ever tell you that this country is not great,” she continued, taking square aim at Republican nominee Donald Trump’s core message – without mentioning the Republican nominee by name. "That somehow we need to make it great again. Because this right now is the greatest country on Earth.”
No doubt, the longest ovation of the night belonged to Sanders, who repeatedly tried to start his speech, only to drowned out by waves of affection from the audience. In the end, Sanders could not resist taking one more shot at the media. “This election is not about political gossip,” he scolded. “It’s not about polls. It’s not about campaign strategy. It’s not about fundraising. It’s not about all the things the media spends so much time discussing.
“This election is about ending the 40-year decline of our middle class, the reality that 47 million men, women and children live in poverty,” he continued. “It is about understanding that if we do not transform our economy, our younger generation will likely have a lower standard of living than their parents."
This election, he said, "is about ending the grotesque level of income and wealth inequality that we currently experience, the worst it has been since 1928. It is not moral, not acceptable and not sustainable that the top one-tenth of 1 percent now own almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent, or that the top 1 percent in recent years has earned 85 percent of all new income. That is unacceptable. That must change.”
Sanders' endorsement of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Monday night's speech was hard for some of his younger supporters to take. One young woman, appearing to be in her late teens, bolted up from her arena chair and shrieked, "No!"
City & State polled close to 30 Sanders supporters in the arena from several states and got a wide range of responses in terms of just how much they planned on doing for the Clinton campaign going forward.
“I have been a socialist my entire adult life,” said Harlan Baker, a Sanders delegate from Maine. “I was a state legislator for 10 years, from 1979 until 1989, and I sponsored a bill for collective bargaining for county employees. I sponsored a bill, which was known as the gay rights bill in 1979, before it was fashionable.”
As for endorsing Clinton, Baker said the delegation had yet to take its official vote. "I will tell you this much: I think it is important to do anything necessary to defeat Donald Trump. That means not sitting out the election."
While Sanders supporters were not uniform in their level of support for Clinton, all of them had plans to continue organizing back home to recruit local candidates or run themselves. Several said that Sanders supporters were determined to learn from what they said was the demobilizing of President Obama’s political organization, Obama for America, that had been so effective in 2008.
Kentucky delegate Evan Westphal is a Sanders supporter who also worked in 2008 for the election of President Obama. “In 2008, the Obama for America organization was this huge, grassroots organization that involved so many people in a way that had never been done before. Yet after the election was over, we felt like that organization was shut down.
“What’s different this time around – it is less tied to Bernie Sanders as a person, as a candidate, as it is actually tied to those profound moral issues that he has brought forward,” Westphal said.
Sanders supporters are also hoping to have an impact on congressional races by running a slate across the country under the banner Brand New Congress. “What we are looking to do is capture this momentum and apply pressure with that sense of fervor that we have right now up until 2018,” said Mary Nishimuta, of Brand New Congress.
Patty Rose is active in the Berks County Democratic Party. She is a Sanders supporter who ran as a delegate and lost, but is still involved going forward. “We have a very active group called Berks for Bernie and we are going to continue to meet and work on local issues on things like fracking and single payer,” Rose said.