Bernie Blackout Outside the Detroit Democratic Debate
by Mel Herrera-Baird
Greetings from Atlanta! It’s been quite the week for Detroit DSA, with ten of your comrades down in Georgia representing at the national convention, just days after we had a powerful showing at the Democratic Party’s debates at the Fox Theater on Tuesday, July 30.
I did not join the beginning of the protest because I had volunteered to coordinate Bernie supporters for the CNN “visibility zone,” after several people at the organization I worked for said I’m the most enthusiastic Bernie supporter within the org. The “visibility zone” was the area set aside for the general public in the parking lot across the street from the Fox Theater. It was set up right behind the CNN anchors.
As a Bernie supporter since 2010, I was one of the first people to donate to his campaign in 2015. I tabled at the Old Oakland (California) Farmers Market for him, attended his huge rally in front of Oakland City Hall, and traveled to Philly to protest the DNC’s corruption as part of my honeymoon, amongst other things.
When he announced his 2020 run I immediately started a monthly donation. I’ve been canvassing and tabling with Detroit DSA and was excited to get to do more work for Bernie, especially after an incredibly energizing fundraiser the Saturday before the debates.
From the beginning, our visibility action was a debacle. My campaign contact was given incorrect information by police and sent to a location a few blocks from the “visibility zone.” When we were finally allowed into the zone, we found it plastered with Biden posters despite the fact that there were only five Biden supporters and he wasn’t even appearing on stage until the following evening.
The Marianne Williamson contingent had a much bigger crowd than Biden. Really nice people, and several asked for Bernie signs to go along with their purple and pink ones.
As for me and the Bernie campaign person, who prefers to remain anonymous, we lingered around the security gate, wondering where the 30+ people who RSVP’d could be. Slowly, a few people walked up to us, ready to cheer for Bernie.
Then the phone calls and texts started. Folks were told by police and security that the visibility zone was for Williamson and Biden supporters only (despite the fact that there were Warren supporters inside), and that no handmade signs were allowed (despite several handmade signs being brought in). Some folks were sent to the Green New Deal action down the street. Police refused several people entry to the visibility zone, despite RSVPs, prompting a couple of folks to sneak in through a parking garage. I kept having to leave the zone to escort people in.
After about an hour, we had a solid group of around 20 people. Our group split up to cover both sides of the zone, with about 15 of us squeezing ourselves next to the Warren supporters and their huge signs to get visibility behind the CNN anchors.
At first the Bernie and Warren supporters went back and forth with chants about our respective candidates. At one point, we unified in an anti-Trump chant, drawing approval from some of the CNN anchors. Then a cameraman came out for a crowd pan, moving the camera slowly from one side to the other, to show the size of the crowd.
First, the Marianne supporters, then Warren; the two Biden supporters got in there too. We, the Bernie supporters, prepared to be featured. The cameraman got to me and stopped, put his camera down and walked away. One of our contingent called him out, letting the cameraman know that we saw and objected to his actions. He shrugged and kept walking away.
While all this was happening, I was in contact with DSA comrades, including my spouse, at the Frontline coalition event in Cass Park. After we were ignored by the camera, I asked our DSA comrades to please join us in the visibility zone. Bernie, who DSA endorsed at a national level, was once again being screwed by the media and we needed to show out.
I left the zone to escort the fairly large DSA contingent in. As the police saw us marching down to the entrance, they physically moved barricades and multiplied from one officer to about 15. We were told we had to support a candidate, and that our group and banners were too big. Even after we showed them our Bernie signs and agreed to leave the banners outside, they told us to take up any issues we had with CNN, as the police were taking their directives from the network.
I gave up on the visibility zone and we marched back to meet up with the Green New Deal action.
We should not let this blackout stand. We know how this turned out in 2016 and we cannot allow the media to once again silence the voice of the people. Do not wait until 2020 to voice your support for Bernie. Show up in force to the debates (the next one is on September 12–13 in Houston), canvass your city starting now, register voters and encourage people to vote in the primaries.
To borrow from the DSA national convention, we have a world to win.
Mel Herrera-Baird was a Detroit delegate for the 2019 Democratic Socialists of America convention, and an enthusiastic Bernie volunteer. Follow her on Twitter @ComradeMelBearr