Byko: Protesters are Berning mad

IN DISAPPOINTING numbers, but with chips the size of hassocks on their shoulders, the first Philadelphia assembly of the Bernie Sanders Brigade gathered on the plaza in front of the Municipal Services Building Sunday at 1:30 p.m., under blistering Sunday heat.

Their common bond, according to the platform speakers and people I interviewed, was love for Bernie and loathing for Hillary Clinton, the presumed Democratic nominee for president - even if some of them can't bring themselves to concede that.

That's because one of the speakers, whose name I couldn't hear, said while Bernie had endorsed Hillary, he had not "conceded." Among the dead-enders, such as my daughter, there is a belief Bernie will somehow steal the nomination back by getting superdelegates to switch from Hillary to Bernie.

Woven into their tapestry of principle and sincerity is fantasy. The only conceivable tactic that might stampede the superedelegates - who are the party's elite - would be overwhelming numbers. The dead-enders were expecting up to 1 million Berners to flood the city streets.

Speaking at the rally, Kevin Useni from Chicago, organizer of the 1 Million for Bernie organization, told the crowd in front of the MSB - no more than 3,000 - that 750,000 people had arrived already and another 250,000 were expected Monday.


I asked him where they were, because they weren't here.

He told me the number was a police estimate.

Chief Inspector Joe Sullivan told me what I already knew - Philly cops don't do crowd estimates. Useni's number was fantasy.

I don't want to dwell on the numbers because that draws attention away from the issues the Berners care about - democracy, equality, honesty, and fair play. His insurgent candidacy had almost done the impossible.

On the Sunday-morning talk shows one hot topic was the WikiLeaks exposure of Democratic National Committee emails that showed the Democratic establishment put its thumb on the scale to favor Hillary.

I'm shocked, I tell you, shocked.

OK, maybe not that shocked.

Many Berners were happy to learn that Democratic National Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz would not be showing her face at the convention - and later resigned her leadership post.

Score one for the Berners against the elites.

The Sunday Inquirer carried an editorial enumerating recent Democratic office-holders carted off to jail. Welcome delegates!

That helps to explain why I am a disloyal Democrat who finds, as JFK once said, that party loyalty can ask too much.

I voted for Bernie in the primary, partly because of my belief in his integrity, partly in protest, and partly because my father was a democratic socialist and died a bit too soon to cast his own vote for Bernie.

You're welcome, Dad.

How I will vote in November is still up in the air, as it is for Bruce Carter, a business coach who came from Dallas with the Black Men for Bernie group.

He's for Bernie "because he understands that people are struggling all over the country," he told me, and that "racism is at an all-time high in my lifetime."

He said he will not vote for Hillary.

"Donald Trump?," I asked him as a joke.

"Not decided," he said. Whoa.

Jill Stein?

"Not decided."

Scattered around the crowd were #Demexit signs, a takeoff on the Brexit, when Great Britain voted to leave the European Union. When Carter gets home, he said, he will be leading an effort to de-register Democratic voters.

Silloo Peters-Marshall, who was born in South Korea and adopted by an American couple, drove alone from Salisbury, Conn., to protest the DNC.

"My husband told me I shouldn't go alone," she said. "I'm not alone. I'm with the Bernsters, they're like family."

She is here to protest "corporate financing of elections, everyone is so corrupt," she said. "It feels like North Korea or China."

Part of the blame, she said, falls on the media, "which is only there for the entertainment ."

She was going to vote for Bernie, and still will, writing in his name to remain in the "beautiful circle of Bernie-ism."

Her son, however, a business major at Northeastern University, is outside the beautiful circle. "He doesn't want Bernie. I could kill him."

The threat was a joke, but it segues into the subject of violence.

From the Berners at the rally, there was none. Zero. Not even bad language. The worst I heard was "CNN sucks." Don't know what CNN did, but I'm sure I'll find out.

One of the rally leaders, retired firefighter Dicky Wurfel from Portland, Maine, said he had been working with Philly cops for eight weeks to make sure everything went smoothly.

Chief Inspector Sullivan said the Berners "had done a good job in organizing and communicating" for the protesters, which he instantly changed to "demonstrators." Wurfel offered "marchers," so now we know the politically correct word.

But, gee, no, that's wrong. The Berners are here to protest how - in their view - their guy got screwed by the DNC.

One of the more unusual protesters was Shay, an alpaca, brought to the plaza by Ethan the Farmer, as he calls himself, who travels the nation protesting what "the government is doing to farms, food, family, and freedom." He said the people must become "the fourth branch of government."

During Wurfel's remarks from the stage - saying like in The Blues Brothers movie, "We are on a mission from God" - he called Sullivan up to the stage and gave him a sincere hug.

Made me proud to be a Philadelphian.

Sullivan said he was glad to see everyone happy in Philly and that the police were there to guarantee their First Amendment rights. Cheers, not cat calls.

During the rotisserie hot afternoon, I was made proud to be an American by how my fellow Americans exercised their right to peaceably air their grievances.

I was proud of the Berners, who are hopping mad, but who conducted themselves with a grace that outshone their seething, righteous anger.

I've seen polls reporting a vast majority of Berners will support Hillary.

I didn't find one saying that Sunday, but these are True Believers and it's a long way to November.

The Berners cheered calls to break up the big banks, to transfer wealth from the 1 percent to the 99 percent, to drive corporate money out of politics, banish superdelegates, hold open primaries, and provide free health care and higher education.

Then, a few ticks after 3 p.m., the Berners headed south down Broad to a rally in FDR Park and an uncertain future.

215-854-5977 @StuBykofsky