The split between Sanders and Clinton threatens to obscure the mutual understanding between supporters of the rival candidates. The public forum convened on Wednesday for the party platform served as a reminder that many on the political left agree on the problems, even if they disagree about precisely what should be done in response.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t deep cracks and fissures within the party—just that the divisions facing Democrats can’t neatly be summed up by allegiances to the presidential candidates. Some Clinton supporters, for example, are just as disturbed by the idea that special interests have infiltrated the Democratic Party as the most ardent Sanders voter. “The Clinton supporters I know are ... all are very concerned that the party has lent its brand to the lobbying and commercial interests of the country, and have pandered to their beliefs, and their money,” said Stan Merriman, a 79-year-old resident of Wilmington, Delaware, who showed up to the event wearing a button with the Clinton campaign logo encircled by a heart.
Merriman and his 65-year-old wife, Julie Jackson, are concerned that the Democratic Party has grown corrupt and overly dependent on special-interest money, but they support Clinton, not Sanders. They see her as more experienced and capable. Beyond that, they stand with Clinton for the simple reason that they are loyal Democrats. “The party is no more perfect than the people that make it up. You forgive people and you do that with the party, too,” Jackson said, adding: “It’s like the old saying: ‘They might be a son of a bitch, but they’re our son of a bitch.’”
For other voters, loyalty is not a given. Some progressive activists warn that trust must be earned and emphasize that the burden of creating unity falls to the party. “When young people have a hard time distinguishing between their adversaries and their allies, that’s going to be an issue and the DNC needs to figure that out quickly,” said Anthony Rogers-Wright, the policy director for the nonprofit Environmental Action who showed up outside the hotel to call for a fracking ban in the party platform.
The platform is an imperfect mechanism for change since it is non-binding. Still, it will still act as a statement of priority, and offers an opportunity for party leaders to show disaffected voters that their concerns are taken seriously. “This is supposed to be the overall idea of the Democratic Party, a document that says this is where are are,” said Tara Houska, the national campaigns director of the Native American environmental organization Honor the Earth. “It’s something that says this is what we want.”
The Democratic race has entered a sort of zombie stage. The contest is lurching forward, but party power brokers are signaling that the primary is effectively dead. Sanders defiantly remains in the race, but Clinton has already declared. There are some indications that a negotiation of the terms of surrender is underway. Sanders is slated to meet with President Obama on Thursday. Conversations are reportedly taking place between top officials from each campaign.