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Living and Learning, my experience protesting the Democratic National Convention [Political Editorial]

Over two weeks ago I left on a cross country American journey to protest the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on a Greyhound bus from Portland, Oregon. West Coast to East Coast I had many adventures along the way as it is a 4 day ride (each way) that I only paid $230 for round trip. The people I met on the bus range from a various array of a two-tour veteran of Afghanistan and Iraq who was fresh out of prison for allegedly possessing 3 joints of Marijuana and ended up doing 6 years in Oklahoma, a farm girl from Indiana returning home for a visit after living in Oregon for the past year, Amish folks from Ohio traveling too far to travel by horse and buggy, as well as other protesters on their way to protest the DNC for a wide range of reasons. My personal reason to protest the DNC comes from the belief that we are being done wrong by a two party system in which we much choose from two candidates that do not seem to reflect the will or the beliefs of the majority of American people. I believe that in America, we are supposed to have options as we have freedom of speech and expression, and the Democratic Party and the Republican Party are starting to look more and more like the same option as the range of problems we face in this country become larger and more profound.

Armed with only a backpack full of minor necessities and about 4 days worth of clothes I chose to save money and ride the bus, as one of the reasons I am protesting is because it’s become harder and harder to gain savings for the people in my generation. I also feel the urge to travel all the time and what better way to take a road trip than to jump on a bus for cheaper than the price of gas, you can jump off in any city the bus stops in and with a non-refundable ticket you can still pay $20 cash only every time you “miss your bus” while exploring on your long layovers and leave whenever you are ready. Making new friends in the moment and seeing old ones along the way, it’s always an adventure on Greyhound Bus Lines.

City Hall at night, taken by Cameron Stark

Arriving in Philadelphia after traveling almost 3,000 miles from home almost felt like a new world. I was no longer in my valley back in Oregon surrounded by mountains and forest only an hour drive from the Pacific Ocean, and no longer in the flat farm lands of the Midwest. I was in one of, if not the most historic cities in the United States of America surrounded by millions of locals and probably well over a million visitors for the convention. Lots of cultures, lots of mixed emotions, some of these people being large political icons such as President Obama, actress Susan Sarandon, Green Party presidential candidate Dr. Jill Stein, civil rights activist Dr. Cornel West, Congressman John Lewis, and so on…

photo credit: Stephen Melisethian –

As soon as I stepped off the bus there was action! People protesting for Bernie Sanders claiming that he was not being treated fairly by the Democratic National Committee overtook the streets, delegates from all states representing Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, business men and women in town to network with whoever else may be attending the convention, as well as many locals out living their daily lives and watching as their city was occupied by outsiders. I arrived early Monday afternoon on July 25th, 2016 and almost immediately went to city hall for the March For Our Lives put on by a wide range of sponsors where I marched from the heart of Downtown Philadelphia to the Wells Fargo Convention Center at the very South end of town, almost 4 miles. There I met up with a fellow humanitarian activist Alyssa Pagan, and we marched alongside Dr. Cornel West, Dr. Jill Stein, and famous rappers Immoral Technique and Mike Crenshaw, as well as many others I am sure. Once we reached the convention center, the Green Party had set up a covered space where many members and supporters of the party spoke before ultimately we saw their presidential candidate Jill Stein give a wonderful speech about equality and justice that we could all relate to. Her message resonated loud and clear with me; the two party system is failing us and we have found ourselves in a constant state of war around the world while we are struggling here on American soil with our own lives. As a physician, I believe I could trust her stance on proper medication regulation, her agreeance with legalization of Marijuana primarily for medical use, and her stance on environmental health risks. She spoke to us much more in depth than I had seen other candidates do about modern day problems we face in this country that have roots in government regulation such as The War On Drugs. Maybe just another left-wing solution? But we have to strive for progress before we reach perfection.

Dr. Jill Stein, Green Party Presidential Canidate. Photo credit: Reuters/Dominick Reuter –

During Jill’s speech a downpour of rain covered the convention, possibly foreshadowing what was to occur in the following days? The walk back towards the train was brutal and wet as the station right outside the stadium had been shut off to the public and was only serving those attending the convention. We had to go to the next stop about half a mile away at Oregon street (Oregon in the rain, how ironic). That night I hit up a friend of mine who is an escort and was in town for the convention as well. She had a very classy hotel located in the city center and was responding to calls only in exchange for her time. She didn’t spend much time in the room as most of her calls were “out-calls” for the night. So some room service, a shower, and a 5 star bed to myself was exactly what I needed!

Photo credit: Charles Davis

The next morning I woke up and got ready to attend the Black DNC Resistance March Against Police Terrorism & State Repression on the Northside of Philadelphia at Broad Street and Diamond Street, which is a historically black neighborhood. I must say I was overwhelmed at the masses of people I saw marching for #BlackLivesMatter, word on the street was that up to 10,000 people attended that march. I had been to many protests before mainly in Portland and Seattle, but never one of this size. Rumors are that a few people were maced and arrested, but otherwise it was a peaceful march from what I experienced. People of all colors, backgrounds, and sexual identities showed in solidarity asking that we stop the violence around the world with call and response chants like “Hands up, don’t shoot”, “Stop killing us”, “Black lives matter”, and many other beautiful messages that are cries for help at heart. From there we reach city hall where we met up with many other groups and organizations that joined in solidarity onward to the DNC at the Wells Fargo Center.

Many individuals spoke of radical ideas of how to implement community policing, abolish police unions and changing collective bargaining agreements that currently protect violent police officers from being held accountable, and even as far as taking our money out of corporate banks such as Wells Fargo who is supporting and sponsoring the Democratic Convention and investing in banks based in our own communities to empower our neighbors. Here I learned my first lesson of the trip, we are all in this together fighting for the same cause. No matter if we look different, come from different backgrounds, or we have different ideas and tactics of how to go about obtaining justice – we have to forget our differences and look at the bigger picture; the current system is not working for us.

Photo credit: unknown

I learned my second lesson in communicating with my friend Gregory McKelvey, who was a Bernie Sanders delegate from Oregon, as well as other sources from inside the convention. On the second day of the convention following the roll call in which Bernie Sanders lost, his supporters held their own form of protest in which they walked out of the convention . Photos from inside the convention show what seems to be nearly half of the entire convention had left the building. Very conflicting reports came from major media outlets, and the more I spoke with people who were inside the convention, the more I was seeing that what was being reported by major media and played on TV was not what was actually going on inside the convention. Multiple reports of security and ushers taking away Bernie Sanders support signs (while leaving Hillary delegates signs alone), disruptions and forms of protests were constantly breaking out, and members of non-corporate media outlets were having their badges stripped from them and forced to leave the convention after traveling there for the week. I follow Cassandra Fairbanks , an author at The Free Thought Project on Twitter and boy does she have some horror stories! As if Wikileaks email leak of the DNC showing favoritism towards Mrs. Clinton didn’t make the DNC look shady enough, the grievances of those inside the convention made it pretty hard to trust the Democratic Party.

The third day at the convention was much less eventful from my perspective I believe. Though that night a group of protesters very briefly broke through the gates at the Wells Fargo Center, many were busy that day scrambling to hear Jill Stein speak outside city hall as they were looking at other options on who to vote for since Bernie Sanders had exited the race. There was bitterness in the air, Hillary supporters were angry at the resistance and refusal of Bernie supporters to support the nominee, and Bernie supporters were highly disappointed in Bernie himself who endorsed Hillary Clinton and warned his supporters against voting third party. Didn’t seem like his supporters agreed with this message from Sanders and his campaign; choosing to support the Democratic party after all the scandals that occurred through the primary season. And although the Vermont Senator is returning to the Senate as an Independent, only time will tell if Hillary Clinton will be able to gain the trust of his supporters enough to vote for the Democrats again in November.

Photo credit: Jill Stein campaign

My adventures through the city while not protesting consisted of the classic tourist Philly Cheesesteak hunt which took me to a small corner store on the Northside of town that had the best in town supposedly, sightseeing at the Liberty Bell and other historical monuments that date back centuries, and testing out the different trendy neighborhoods such as Fairmount and the Old City bar district based around Market Street. I stayed in a shady motel in Trenton, New Jersey and then the next night found myself in a 5-star hotel in Wilmington, Delaware. You could say I got the whole Philly experience! And a special shout out to the Arch Street United Methodist Church for all their support of the activists during the convention, free food was donated as well as a safe space to cool down from the heat, charge your phone, and even store your stuff while we were out of a place to stay during the days.

Philadelphia Police’s Counter Terrorism Incident Response Team on the scene at the Wells Fargo Center, taken by Cameron Stark.

My adventures of the fourth and final day begin at the church, where I met up and organized the final day’s protests with two groups in which I am going to refrain from mentioning their names. One such group held a ceremony in which they burned an American flag outside of the convention, the other made an attempt to organize a situation to which they would get inside the convention with some delegate badges and cause a disruption during Hillary Clinton’s speech. I met back up with one of the protesters who was selected to try to enter the convention that night and though he said his entrance was compromised, others in his group made it inside and there were also 2 more vans filled that possibly made it inside. But beyond that we’ll never know what actually happened inside the convention because the mainstream media that was let inside was not reporting of any such disturbances, all we saw were tons of balloons and smiles. Tensions were very high that night outside the convention with massive crowds of protesters late into the night. I remember speaking with fellow protesters saying that it all seemed so unreal like a scene from War of the Worlds. Helicopters overhead, SWAT team making advances at crowds of people, Counter Terrorism task force and the Department of Homeland Security were observing every move, while mask anarchists caused all sorts of confusion and confrontations to the sound of a group of hippies singing songs of peace and ending war. The scene I saw and the action I experienced that night at the gates of the Wells Fargo Center was like nothing I’ve ever seen before. It didn’t feel like freedom, it didn’t feel like justice, it didn’t feel like America. It felt and looked like war. I am well aware that the War on Drugs is America’s war against it’s own citizens, but this right here was the resistance; and this was only one small battle in the grand scheme of things.

The final night I stayed with a teacher from California that I had met who had an Air B&B in the trendy Fairmount District. We stopped at a bar called the Urban Saloon and spoke about our plans for the future to continue our activism. Her field being high school education she wishes to educate the future generations of her experiences that she has learned in activism and teach her students ways that they can incorporate their passions into direct action. Through this conversation I learned the most important lesson of all during my trip: direct action is more powerful than voting. What I mean by that is no matter who gets elected we must continue with non-violent direct action in order to ensure that our voices are heard and that they make the right decision based on public opinion. Ultimately no matter who they vote for, we are ungovernable.

I left Philadelphia pretty early that next morning and got on my bus headed back West, where I stopped in Indiana to visit with some family and take some time to clear my thoughts. Finally I had the comfort of sleeping in the same bed for more than one night, and finally I got a good family home cooked meal. Over time in Indiana I learned to appreciate the country life and the peace it gave me, we tried not to talk politics but just coming fresh from the convention they were interested to hear my side of the story and take advice on what I think they could do to help their community at the home level. From there I took my adventure on to Denver, Colorado where I am writing this story now. I was invited to see LCD Soundsystem with a group of strangers at Red Rocks for my first time, which I gladly accepted. My phone died at the beginning of the show so I got to fully experience everything in the moment, and I wouldn’t have asked for it any other way. If you take everything in life as a learning experience, you will never be let down. So here I am, ready to learn whatever the world has to offer me.

Photo credit: Charles Davis

In conclusion I would like to add that I identify as non-partisan, I do not agree nor disagree completely with any side of the political spectrum. I also do not get paid or try to receive funding for protesting and activism, as it is a donation of my time to better my community which is our planet Earth. I am simply here to try and make this world a better place for those suffering. My tactics and my views may not reflect everyone’s and that’s ok, I ask to be challenged daily and I love to see diversity more than anything. So with that I would like to make a call to action: get involved. Get involved in your local food bank, organize with your local social justice bandits, run for that seat in office you think you would be best at. Together we stand, divided we fall so let’s collectively create a generation that does care and is involved in what’s happening in the world. Don’t look back later and say “I wish I would have done something”. As Nike says: Just do it.

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