DNC protest moves from flag-burning to candlelight vigil

Protesters and police meet in a tense but peaceful encounter on South Broad Street at the DNC at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.

Protests continued into Tuesday night, on Broad Street and around the Wells Fargo Center, as Bernie Sanders supporters continued to protest Hillary Clinton's nomination and other issues, including Black Lives Matter, income inequality and foreign wars.

Around 9:30 p.m., tweets from one part of the protest indicated that things were lightening up, with singing and drumming as the people danced.  Meanwhile, nearer to the Wells Fargo Center, it appeared police were trying to block the protesters from crossing.

Around 10 p.m. images from the area showed at least one United States flag and pamphlets being burned at the security perimeter outside the Wells Fargo Center.

A crowd around one burning flag at one point chanted "Feel the Bern! Feel the Bern!"  After a female protester put the fire out, a debate ensued and a man asked her: "What gives you the right to stomp on someone else's protest? This is their protest, let them protest."

And by 10:30, the crowd had shifted back to peaceful debates and candlelight vigils.

Earlier, Jill Stein had come out to meet the crowd: 

"Thank you so much for your courage, for your conviction. Thank you for starting this revolution and refusing to let it die," she told hundreds of hushed protesters.

She talked about a jobs program called the Green New Deal, and putting wealth in the hands of everyday Americans. She called for the country to be using 100 percent clean renewable energy by 2030, and reiterated that they can't allow Hillary Clinton to become president.

She ended her speech, which lasted several minutes, with: "Onward we go to victory together." 

Earlier, shortly after Clinton clinched the nomination, a group of Sanders delegates and supporters had filed out of the Wells Fargo Center and occupied large, air-conditioned media tents nearby.

Other disgruntled loyalists, prevented from entering, held signs up to the windows of the tent as members of the media snapped photos.

Press members rushed from individual tents toward the protest as the crowd of about 75 men and women sat on the floor — some with tape over their mouths — holding hands. Some wept openly. Many held signs and fists up in the air saying “Never Hillary” “Wikileaks = DNC” and “Bernie.”

Armed state troopers and numerous Philadelphia police officers stood watch over the peaceful occupation as night fell. Officers formed a line in front of the tents as the angry Sanders delegates talked to reporters.

Because of the DNC security issues, SEPTA announced the temporary closing of subway service on the Broad Street Line, allowing it to run only as far south as Oregon Station, less than a mile north of the Wells Fargo Center. Northbound service was not interrupted.

>>Follow our DNC Live Blog all week at philly.com/dnclive.

After the roll call vote securing Clinton’s nomination ended, the Sanders delegates staged what one called a “peaceful, quiet, decisive” action by gathering outside the press tents.

The action, called “No voice, No unity,” seeks to communicate with grassroots activists across the country who strongly support the Sanders movement, said Shyla Nelson, a delegate who had just spoken from the podium before the roll call on behalf of her home state of Vermont.

Police stood watch in a line in front of the media tent doors as Nelson and other Sanders delegates took questions from hordes of media. The action, said Nelson, was “organic,” and put together by groups of delegates who felt disenfranchised by the party establishment.

Any notion of unity, she said, is unfounded at the moment.

“It will not be possible,” Nelson said, “if the grassroots voices in the country are not heard.”

But not all Sanders supporters were thrilled by the display of discord so soon after the party’s nominee had been chosen. Connor Callahan, 24, a Sanders delegate from Cecil County, Md., came outside to try and persuade them to stop.

“We should be inside listening to mothers of the movement,” said Callahan. “It’s drawing attention away from the convention itself. If we are to provide a united front in November, we need to stand together through this convention.”

Meanwhile, inside the vast interconnected media tents, a sizable group of Sanders supporters stood at tent windows, facing media representatives who were gathered outside. Some of the supporters had white tape over their mouths with the words “No Voice” written in black marker.

Kristy Douglas, a delegate from Tennessee, said she first heard talk of the walkout on Facebook on a thread started by California delegates.

Douglas, 35, a student and home cleaner, said she wasn't sure what she would do until she saw people leaving their seats. She had received the email sent by Sanders urging no protest but shrugged it off.

"This is what he would do. I think he'd be proud," she said. "If we can't get our voices heard by the democratic process, this is our path --  we don't want to be violent, we just want to be heard."

North Dakota delegate Michael Lopez said he walked out for a simple reason. "I came here to cast my vote for Senator Bernie Sanders. I did that. I'm done."

Earlier, protesters upset about several issues -- from police-involved killings of unarmed black men to the imprisonment of Philadelphia cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal -- took to the streets in two locations Tuesday and merged into one huge gathering just as the Democratic National Convention gaveled its second night session to order.

At City Hall, as the crowd swelled, chants arose of "Brick by brick, wall by wall, we're gonna free Mumia Abu-Jamal." Mumia, convicted of the 1981 murder of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner, is serving a life prison sentence. His incarceration -- and Faulkner's death -- have long ignited bitter discontent among blacks and whites in the city.

Police were out in force for both the City Hall demonstration and along North Broad, where a group of Black Lives Matter protesters and the Philly Coalition for REAL Justice joined others organized at Diamond on the northern edge of the Temple University campus. As they marched 2.5 miles toward Center City, chants of "Free Mumia" arose among them, as well.

"We are not starting a race war, we are trying to end one," said one sign carried by a black man in the back of a white pickup truck, its tailgate down.

As they moved down Broad Street in North Philadelphia -- through some of the city's poorest neighborhoods -- some in the group chanted "Don't vote for Hillary. She's killing black people." Earlier, some chanted "No justice, no peace. Take it to the streets" and finished with a vulgar epithet at police.

"Stop killing black people," others chanted.

One organizer named Kamau, carrying a bullhorn and a Black Liberation flag affixed to a long cardboard tube, explained the importance of the march.

"It's important to highlight black voices because so often, black people don't have a voice," he said, declining to give his last name.

Two men suspected of being undercover police officers were kicked out of the Broad Street protest and organizers ordered participants who had crowded around them: "Back to the march!"

One organizer warned the crowd against any "anarchist" behavior. "We will not be pepper-sprayed," she said.

Larry Payton, 21, of Tabernacle, Burlington County, yelled at the City Hall crowd, angry over seeing what he called "hammer and sickle" flags.

"There's a bunch of cop-haters here," Payton said, carrying a single red rose. "There's a lot of groups here trying to divide people by racial lines."

A crowd of about 500 protesters gathered on the south side of City Hall. As the crowd swelled, the issues they discussed ranged from Palestine to the incarceration of Mumia. Some Bernie Sanders loyalists expressed their disappointment in his endorsement of Hillary Clinton.

"It hurts," said Lou Mongo, 27, of Philadelphia.

One of the speakers, Scott Williams, 27, said the "rigged system" brought the people out.

"We are totally against the two-party system," he said.

The Philly Coalition for REAL Justice, one of the city's most vocal black anti-police brutality groups, approached City Hall in the blazing heat, planning to press on to the Wells Fargo Center. It was the first large-scale march led by a black activist group during convention week.

As they assembled, organizers asked black and brown protesters to move to the front of the crowd -- to serve as the faces of the march -- and for white activists and media to move behind them. Generally, protesters did so.

"We like you, you're nice, you eat organic food," an organizer said later, to laughter. "But we have to liberate ourselves, because we're the ones catching hell."

Organizers then distributed signs with the names of black shooting victims lettered on them.

Carrying a sign that read "Arrest killer cops," protester Olga Tzogas, who is white, said: "We need to be supportive and lift our brothers and sisters up. It's not about us, it's about people of color and their struggle and being in solidarity."

Speakers decried gentrification, the proposal to build a football stadium on Temple's campus, and the police, reading the names of black people killed by police and repeating "We honor you."

Many protesters were in from out of town, but REAL Justice is homegrown, a group of vocal activists who have staged large anti-police brutality protests for the last two years here.

"The solidarity we were speaking when we were planning for the past half year is unfolding," said Brianna Jones, the head of the protest-coordinating group DNC Action Committee. "There are so many familiar faces, from the Bernie marches, from the climate march, from [Green Party candidate] Jill Stein's speech. Everybody's here."

The protest also focused on Philly-centric issues. Speakers cited gentrification in North and South Philadelphia. They lamented the city's financially troubled school system and called for more black teachers. They read the names of victims of police brutality -- Philadelphians were on the list, too. And they chanted for Mumia's freedom.

"We know what our goals are," Kamau said. "The important part is those killed by police violence and creating a better world for black people."

Farther south on Broad Street, as the crowd headed toward the Wells Fargo Center, a young Point Breeze mother stood at the corner of Broad and Morris and tried to explain to her 4-year-old son what he was witnessing.

"When people aren't happy with something, they go out in the street like this," Tia Jones, 24, said to little Elijah, who was leaning against her leg. "It's called a protest. It's not a parade," she said.

Jones said she worries about her son, who is autistic, and what -- and who -- he could run into some day when he's not by her side.

"I'm trying to teach him that everybody matters," Jones said.

The boy stood, playing with a toy truck and watching police on their bicycles.

"A protest?" he asked.

Staff writers Michaelle Bond, Maria Panaritis and Julia Terruso contributed to this article.

Continue Reading