Diehard Sanders backers descend on Democratic convention vowing 'Bernie or Bust'

Some loyal Bernie Sanders voters have organized multiple events and rallies in support of the failed Democratic presidential nominee in Philadelphia to coincide with the party's convention. "Bernie or Bust" adherents say there is no way they will vote for Hillary Clinton.

Some say they won't vote for Hillary Clinton, threaten a 'DemExit' if party doesn't reform its processes

A supporter of Senator Bernie Sanders holds a sign during the event with Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire on July 12, when Sanders congratulated her and endorsed her for the Democratic presidential nomination. (Mary Schwalm/Reuters)

They answered Bernie's call for a political revolution and they are carrying their unwavering support for him to the Democratic convention in Philadelphia this week. Some are even carrying it by foot.

A diehard group of a dozen Bernie Sanders supporters set off on the longest walk of their lives on July 15 from Washington, D.C., to Philadelphia. 

"They were awful blisters," John Friedrich said, describing the painful welts he quickly acquired thanks to a pair of shoes that were definitely not designed for walking more than 200 kilometres.

The blueberry farmer from Alton, Va., joined the "DC to DNC" march when he found out about it online.

"I thought it was important," he said by cellphone last week as the group departed from Joppa, Md., after a night of camping. "I think that there is a new moral compass growing in America and it's beyond this one election."

The 34-year-old has not given up on the idea that Sanders could still win the Democratic nomination. "He hasn't conceded," said Friedrich. "Nothing is over until the balloting."

John Friedrich, a farmer from Virginia, joined the walk from Washington to Philadelphia to show his support for Bernie Sanders. (John Friedrich)

While it's true Sanders did not officially end his campaign and release his delegates, he did acknowledge that Hillary Clinton has more pledged delegates and superdelegates (party officials, members of Congress and other party members who get to vote) on her side.

On July 12, he and Clinton held an event where he congratulated her for winning and endorsed her.

Ed Higgins, the creator of this march, and others believe Sanders is "the rightful nominee" and that the Democratic National Committee stacked the deck against him and made it impossible for him to claim the crown.

'They are still trying to rig it'

"They are still trying to rig it in favour of the Queen," Higgins said, referring to Clinton. "And we're not about to coronate her."

Sanders throwing his support behind Clinton was an olive branch after a competitive race. She thanked him and encouraged his supporters to join her campaign.

Billy Taylor is among those rejecting Clinton's invitation. Like Higgins, he counts himself in the "Bernie or Bust" camp.

Senator Bernie Sanders endorsed Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton on July 12 and said he will do everything he can to ensure she wins the November presidential election. (Jim Cole/Associated Press)

He's the organizer of a big march and rally in support of Sanders planned for Sunday in Philadelphia. "Bernie was robbed," said Taylor.

His group is aiming to show support for Sanders and to change the DNC's rules for future elections. They have a list of demands, including the abolition of superdelegates. If the DNC does not meet those demands, they say, they will organize a massive effort to de-register voters from the party.

Borrowing from the term for the United Kingdom voting to "Brexit" the European Union, they call it a "DemExit."

Sanders is credited with drawing thousands of new members to the party, especially young voters. Taylor said millennial voters like himself have lost respect for the Democratic National Committee because of its treatment of the Vermont senator, who sat as an independent.

"If they want us back they are going to have to earn it," said Taylor, 31.

Trump jumps in

In his acceptance speech Thursday night, Republican nominee Donald Trump seized upon the view that the Democratic race was "rigged" against Sanders, and appealed to Sanders' supporters.

"His supporters will join our movement, because we will fix his biggest issue: trade," Trump said. "Millions of Democrats will join our movement because we are going to fix the system so it works for all Americans."

Sanders tweeted a series of derisive responses, calling Trump a "hypocrite" on trade for manufacturing his products in "low-wage countries abroad."

Disagreements over backing Clinton

But Bernie or Bust people maintain they will not under any circumstance vote for Clinton. They reject the argument that their refusal to support her puts her at risk of losing to Republican Donald Trump.

"We're not going to vote for the demon named Hillary because you are threatening us with the devil named Trump," said Taylor.

The Bernie or Bust subscribers, however, do not have the support of all Sanders backers.

For example, Laurie Dodd, a delegate to the convention who volunteered for Sanders in Virginia, says she will vote for him in Philadelphia, and for Clinton in the November presidential election.

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders attends a campaign rally in June in California. Sanders gave Hillary Clinton a competitive race for the Democratic presidential nomination and drew many new voters, especially young people, to the party. (John Locher/Associated Press)

"I will be doing all I can to encourage other Bernie supporters to do the same," Dodd said in an interview. "I do my best to point out the policy similarities between what she wants and what Sanders wants."

Yes, she said, she expects conflicts at the convention with anti-Clinton Sanders supporters, "But disagreements are part of democracy, we've got to work through this."

Dodd said she hopes the Bernie or Bust adherents recognize there are other ways to advance the agenda he campaigned on, without abandoning the party. "Bernie always said this is about us, not me," said Dodd.

Jackrabbit Pollack, who was inspired by Sanders and volunteered on the campaign in Illinois, said the single-minded, Sanders-or-nothing approach is problematic.

Revolution is not about Sanders

"I actually think it's kind of counterproductive to make it all about him as a personality because that takes away from the issues," Pollack said in an interview from Philadelphia.

In an effort to keep a focus on the issues and continue the political revolution that Sanders called for, Pollack and his girlfriend Shana East created the "People's Revolution."

They are holding their own convention in Philadelphia, and they wrote a policy platform that they want Democrats and Republicans to consider. Their grassroots organization is designed to put power in the hands of people, not political parties, which Pollack says have ignored voters for far too long.

Pollack said he understands the frustration of Bernie or Bust supporters. "They don't know where else to turn."

That frustration will be on display at rallies and protests throughout the week in Philadelphia. Higgins, the DC to DNC walk organizer, said they will ensure their message is heard.

"There will be tons of disruption," he said. "The fight is not over, it's still continuing."


Meagan Fitzpatrick is a multiplatform reporter with CBC News in Toronto. She joined the CBC in 2011 and previously worked in the Parliament Hill and Washington bureaus. She has also reported for the CBC from Hong Kong. Meagan started her career as a print reporter in Ottawa.